REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
By B. P. AVERY.
One of the most able and useful citizens of California, from 1849 to 1869, was George Gordon, who died so recently as May 22d in the latter year, aged about 50. He was a man of great practical sagacity and enterprise, and joined to an original mind, strengthened by varied culture and observation, much public spirit and energy of will. Few men have so directly contributed to build up San Francisco, or have taken so large a share in advancing its material interests. Mr. Gordon was a Scotchman, and one of the best examples of his vigorous, thoughtful and thrifty race. He came to California in 1849, leading the first company through from New York by the Nicaragua transit route, and bringing at the same time, by vessel which he chartered, a cargo of lumber. He published a description of this route and his trip, which was marked by his usual graphic power as a writer. On his arrival in this city he immediately engaged in mechanical and mercantile pursuits. In 1850, he built Howison’s Pier, one of the earliest wharves. In 1852, he erected the first block of iron buildings, on Front street, between Clay and Washington. In 1851, he had formed a partnership with Mr. Steen, and the firm established the third iron foundry in the city. Not long after this he bought six 100-vara lots in a body, bounded by Second, Third, Bryant and Brannan Streets, and laid out South Park, the first attempt to establish urban recreation grounds. It was not so successful as he had expected, pecuniarily, although it was eventually surrounded by buildings, and is still very attractively cultivated as a private park. In 1857, he founded the San Francisco and Pacific Sugar Refinery, and was a principal owner and manager in it at the time of his death. This enterprise created a business which has since assumed very large proportions and become one of the leading manufacturing interests of the State. Mr. Gordon took some steps to introduce beet sugar making, and made researches on the subject during a visit to Europe, which suggested a series of interesting publications. His plan was abandoned for some reason, but the new industry was undertaken by others and has since been put in successful operation. He was always anxious to suggest or encourage new industries, and wrote and spoke frequently in behalf of such, displaying much ability as a political economist and a writer. During nearly the whole period of his active life in San Francisco, he contributed, at frequent intervals, to the leading newspapers, articles over his own name, treating on a variety of topics of practical interest, on which his well-informed mind and clear, logical method of statement always threw light. In reference to the once famous bulkhead question, he wrote a series of remarkably able articles. A powerful effort was being made to give the improvement and control of the whole city front into the hands of a few individuals, and the impolicy of this proposition was strikingly shown by the facts and arguments of Mr. Gordon. In 1859, he wrote a series of articles relative to taxing mortgages, which were admitted to be the ablest publications on that subject. He also furnished to the press many valuable communications on the subject of street grades, advancing views of controlling force. On the occurrence of the great earthquake, in October, 1868, he published a plan of building for protection against such shocks, which was the most striking and practical of all the suggestions on that subject, and which has in some instances been adopted by builders. He took a leading part in organizing the Earthquake Committee, which has been engaged for some months past in investigating the phenomena and effects of earthquakes, and the methods of protective architecture. He would have framed the report of this Committee but for him sickness and death. The loss of such a suggestive and earnest mind to a young State was justly regarded as an unusual one, and caused a feeling of profound regret throughout the city, where he was best known and appreciated. The Chamber of Commerce, of which he was an active and influential member, did honor to his memory in a series of resolutions aptly characterizing his merits, and attended his funeral in a body. The British Benevolent and St. Andrew’s Societies, of which he was also a member, gave similar evidences of esteem. Two hundred and fifty of his workmen passed resolutions of respect, and joined the long procession of dignitaries and citizens that followed him to his grave. He belonged to the same class of creating and leading minds as Wilson Flint and Capt. Osborn, who went before him. Like them, he was interested in everything likely to promote the manufacturing, commercial and agricultural interests of the State, and applied his fortune and his pen liberally in the direction of his opinions. As was said of him by R. B. Swain, at the Chamber of Commerce meeting, he combined the qualities of a successful business man with highly attainments in literature, a rare mechanical skill, a cultivated taste in art, and a general knowledge of science. With a disposition to theorize and suggest, he yet had the capacity to apply practically his theories and the disposition to work out his ideas. Indeed, he was too hard a worker, and laid the foundations of the disease which carried him off by excessive labor and application.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 115-117.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.