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Thomas Hansford WILLIAMS


Thomas Hansford WILLIAMS, who died November 5, 1915, was a native of California, was distinguished by the great business interest, which he so ably managed, by national reputation as a horseman and turfman, and by a public-spirited generosity that made his personal services and his resources ever at the disposal of the state and community which he so loved.


He was born in the City of Sacramento, December 9, 1859, a son of Gen. Thomas Hansford and Mary Rebecca (BRYANT) WILLIAMS.His motherís people were long identified with the State of Mississippi, and were of the same stock as the great American poet, William Cullen BRYANT.The WILLIAMS family were old Virginians, later transplanting to Kentucky.His grandfather, Sherrod WILLIAMS, represented his Kentucky district in Congress twelve consecutive terms.He was a great friend of General HARRISON, and helped elect HARRISON to the presidency.The correspondence between HARRISON and Sherrod WILLIAMS is still preserved by the descendants of the late Thomas H. WILLIAMS, Jr.


Thomas H. WILLIAMS, Sr., came to California in 1850, was a lawyer by profession, and first practiced in Eldorado County.He came to rank as one of the ablest members of the bar, and subsequently was one of the largest land owners in the state.For several years he was also interested in the development of the great Comstock mines in Nevada.In 1859, he was elected attorney-general of California and filled that office for one term.


Thomas Hansford WILLIAMS Jr., was reared in the San Francisco Bay district, attended public school at San Jose, in 1872 entered the Oakland High School, was graduated in 1877 from the Golden Gate Academy, then entered the University of California, but completed his higher education after 1879 in Santa Clara College, where he was graduated with the degrees Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Sciences in 1880.While at the University of California he was president of his class and active in athletics.


His education completed, he found large and interesting responsibilities awaiting him.His father at that time owned over 100,000 acres of land in Sacramento, San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties.Young WILLIAMS became manager of these branch properties, and for eight years showed exceptional ability in producing banner crops of grain on some of the land in the delta of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers.Then resigning the active management to his brother Percy, in 1887, he became associated with Mr. FERRIS in the firm of FERRIS & WILLIAMS, contractors.This firm handled a great volume of business, much of it connected with the pioneer movement for the reclamation of lands in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys.They handled some contracts for the Government along these rivers, and also helped reclaim many thousands of acres in what is knows as Grand Island and Roberts Island.Roberts Island has been acquired by FERRIS & WILLIAMS from the Glasgow Land Company in 1890.This firm also did the grading on Sunset Heights.


As a great land owner, rancher and stockman, Mr. WILLIAMS had a busy program of responsibilities.In addition for several years before his death he had been president of the Federal Ballot Machine Company, president of the Mexican Investment Company, a director in the Pacific Packing Company of Guadalajara, Mexico, in the Shasta Water Company and the Jerome Garage Company in San Francisco.


He began the raising of thoroughbred horse in 1888, and in his stables were bred and trained some of the greatest horses claimed by California, and he was one of the most influential in contributing to the history of California turf records.He became vice president of the Blooded Horse Association in 1888, and the following year its president.In 1890, he secured control of the California Jockey Club and reorganized it as the New California Jockey Club, and was itís president until his death.Through this club he controlled the California tracks at Ingleside, Tanforan and Emeryville, and until racing was stopped by adverse legislation he kept the force at the very highest standard, and attracted nearly all the great track performers of the world to California.


Following the San Francisco fire of 1906 he threw open the Jockey Club grounds at Emeryville to over 4,000 homeless people, and subsequently he turned over the buildings at Ingleside for semi-permanent homes for the sufferers.This was one of the well known acts of public generosity, but throughout his life he was always seeking some opportunity to do good to individuals or the community, and he well deserves the reputation of generosity associated with his name.


Mr. WILLIAMS was a member of the Pacific-Union, Olympic, Press and San Francisco Golf and Country Clubs; the Athenian, Reliance, Athletic and Fairmont County Clubs of Oakland; the Marin County Club; Sutter Club of Sacramento; Yosemite Club of Stockton; the Brook and Rocky Mountain Club; and the National Hunt and Steeplechase Association of New York.


March 23, 1901, at Oakland, he married Miss Beatrice Gray Steele, of a prominent California family.Her father, E. L. G. STEELE, was of the firm E. L. G. STEELE & Company, successors to C. Adolph LOW & Company, one of the first commission houses in San Francisco.E. L. G. STEELE who died in July 1894, was knighted by King KALAKAUA for services to the Hawaiian Islands.E. L. G. STEELE was a son of Captain Joseph and Eliza Ann (GRAY) STEELE.Eliza Ann GRAY was the first American woman to enter Japan.Capt. Joseph STEELE had an interesting part in the American conquest of California, having sent some of his sailors ashore to protect the raising of the American flag in California.


The later Mr. WILLIAMS is survived by Mrs. WILLIAMS, whose home is at 3527 Clay Street, and two children, Thomas Hansford III and Beatrice Steele WILLIAMS.


Transcribed by Deana Schultz.

Source: "The San Francisco Bay Region" Vol. 3 page 268-270 by Bailey Millard. Published by The American Historical Society, Inc. 1924.

© 2004 Deana Schultz.


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