Julius Paul Smith became a prominent figure in advancing the borax and vineyard industries of California. With the business interests of this state he identified himself in the early seventies, and remained a factor therein until his death on June 29, 1904. In 1888 he had moved with his family to New York City, maintaining his home there twelve years, when a stroke of paralysis made it necessary to curtail his activities. During the period of his residence in the national metropolis he returned with his family to California each year, passing the vintage seasons on his fine vineyard estate near Livermore, Alameda County. This property comprised-2000 acres and is known as "Olivina," a combination of the words Olive and vine. The late Mr. Smith was a man of fine intellectuality, was much of a linguist, and his critical knowledge of literature was sure and authoritative.
Representing one of the sterling pioneer families of the Badger State, he was born on a farm near Richmond, Wisconsin, in December, 1842. His parents, Henry and Charlotte (Paul) Smith, were born and reared in the State of New York, were early settlers in Wisconsin, but they passed the latter part of their lives in California. Their children besides Julius P., were: Byron G., deceased; Francis M., a resident of Oakland, California; Mrs. Ella Rosencranz, a resident of San Jose; and Mrs. Julia Sperry and Mrs. Ida Calkins, both deceased.
After the discipline of the common schools of Wisconsin Julius Paul Smith also had collegiate advantages, but at the age of nineteen laid aside his studies and tendered his aid in defense of the Union, when the Civil war began. He enlisted in a regiment of Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry and was in the service three years, participating in many engagements. He was captured by the enemy and held for some time in Libby Prison at Richmond, Virginia. At the Battle of Resaca, Georgia, on May 3, 1864, while making a charge, he received a wound in his right arm, incapacitating him for further active duties in the field. Though compelled thereafter to use his left hand in writing, he developed in time an excellent penmanship.
After the close of the war Mr. Smith became associated with his brother Byron in the farm implement and machinery business at Janesville, Wisconsin. He was also engaged in the retail grocery business there, and owned a farm of ninety acres near the city. Mr. Smith came to San Francisco about the year 1873. At Chicago, he promoted and formed a company which procured the requisite machinery, and with his brother Francis M. he established at Teels Marsh in Nevada a borax factory. This enterprise developed into one of broad scope and importance, with headquarters in San Francisco, where William T. Coleman was the company's agent. The business was carried on as Smith Brothers and eventually became the Pacific Coast Borax Company. Julius P. Smith had much to do with making borax, a familiar household article, it being his idea to pack the product in small packages that could be advertised and could be easily sold and distributed by retail merchants.
After establishing this business on a firm basis Mr. Smith found his attention attracted to the wonderful possibilities of California as a vine growing state, and around about 1881, after extensive travel, he purchased a large tract in the southern part of the Livermore Valley, known as Olivina, and undertook the development of his great and splendid California vineyard. Preliminary to his business of wine making he spent three years abroad, leaving the development of his vineyards with a local manager. He studied intimately the methods of vine tillage and wine making in the European countries. He carried with him credentials from James G. Blaine, then secretary of state, and he was admitted to some of the most noted cellars of Europe. He used his knowledge not only in private enterprises but through magazine articles and in other ways did much to educate the people of California to the value of the wine grapes. He succeeded under great difficulties in building up a fine business and always sold his wine under the California label. He was perfectly willing to let his wine go before the public on its merit, and he popularized wines under his own brand and those made in California. In this business he found both pleasure and profit, and his example serves as a great impetus to the wine industry of the entire state. He, while abroad, sent cuttings from some of the principal vineyards of Europe to Olivina and in time the Olivina itself acquired a world wide reputation. In about 1887 he bought out his brother's interest, and after selling back to his brother his interest in the borax industry, about 1891, he devoted the remainder of his life to the growing of grapes and the development of a wine that was generally conceded to equal any foreign product.
He made his home at Olivina a delight to those cultured people who had the pleasure of visiting it. It contained a collection of rare and valuable paintings gathered in his European travels, and included many interesting curios from all parts of the world. He was a man of most engaging personality, and his circle of friends was co-extensive with that of his acquaintances. In New York City he was a member of the Colonial and the Manhattan Chess clubs, and in San Francisco he held membership in the Cosmos Club and the Chess Club.
Among the many tributes paid him at the time of his death a paragraph from one is roughly expressive of the feeling and judgment of his many friends:
"Although Julius Paul Smith has passed from the sphere of his usefulness his spirit lives. For generations to come California will profit by his cleverness and patriotism which prompted him to devote a large part of his life to the exemplification of the possibilities of California's hillsides if put under proper cultivation."
On November 24, 1870, Mr. Smith married Miss Sarah Barker. Mrs. Smith, who for nearly twenty years has been proprietor of Olivina, was born and reared in the State of New York. She continued the operation of the Livermore property and also maintains a home in San Francisco. In addition to her numerous business responsibilities she has found time for extensive travel, spending one winter in London, one in New York City and one in Florida, and has toured the continent and has been entirely around the world. She is the daughter of the late James Barker, a New York merchant and prominent in Masonic circles. There were eighteen Barker officers in the Revolutionary war, Mrs. Smith's father being a descendant of one of them. Her mother was Olive (Phelps) Barker, a native of New York and of Revolutionary stock and English descent. All her grandparents were New England people, one of them being of Quaker stock. Mrs. Smith's grandmother Barker was a lineal descendant of Josiah Bartlett, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Mrs. Smith is a member of the Knickerbocker Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the National Society of New England Women and the National California Club, all in New York; the California Club, the American College Club, the San Francisco Center of the Civic League, National League for Women, Service Club, University of Fine Arts, all in San Francisco. She is also a life member of the Red Cross Society, a life member of "Save the Redwoods" Society, and a member of the Woman's San Francisco Building Association. She is a life member of the Navy League, and attended a banquet of that organization in Washington, District of Columbia, at the inauguration of President Harding.
Transcribed by Marilyn R. Pankey.
Source: "The San Francisco Bay Region" by Bailey Millard Vol. 3 page 173-178. Published by The American Historical Society, Inc. 1924.
© 2004 Marilyn R. Pankey
California Biography Project
San Francisco County
Golden Nugget Library