CAPTAIN STEPHEN STANLEY HILL
This venerable citizen, who has passed the eighty-seventh milestone of life’s journey, came to California at an early epoch in the development of the state, and while he was connected with the mining interests he also became an important factor in the development of the splendid agricultural resources of the state. When it was found that mining would not prove a profitable source of income to a great number of people who flocked to California after the discovery of gold, he was among those who tested the fertility of the soil and demonstrated the splendid possibilities of land here for farming purposes.
Captain S. S. Hill is a native of Concord, Essex County, Vermont, born March 28, 1831. He represents a family of English ancestors who settled in New England more than two hundred years ago. His grandfather, Moses Hill, was born in the state of Massachusetts and became a well-to-do farmer there. On the old homestead in the Bay state Elijah Hill, the father of our subject, was born, and the property is still in the possession of his descendants. He married Miss Caroline Reed, a native of New Hampshire and a daughter of Hines Reed, who served as a drummer boy in the Revolutionary army, while her grandfather, Joseph Reed, was a brigadier general and commanded a New Hampshire militia at the battle of Bunker Hill. The parents of our subject had seven children, five sons and two daughters, while three of the sons still survive. The father attained the ripe old age of eighty-eight and a half years, while his estimable wife passed away in the sixty-fifth year of her age.
Captain Stephen Stanley Hill, whose name introduces this record, was reared on his father’s farm and his educational privileges were limited, only two months’ attendance at the district schools during the winter, but his father was an old schoolteacher, under whose direction his son studied at night. Having a thirst for knowledge he thus acquired a good education, and in his eighteenth year he enjoyed the privilege of five weeks’ study in the academy of his native town. Subsequently he engaged in teaching through three winter seasons, before he attained his twenty-first year, and was highly recommended as a teacher. For about twelve years he followed that profession through the winter season, while in the summer months he worked at carpentering and as a salesman in a grocery store.
The year 1854 witnessed Mr. Hill’s arrival in California, the journey made by way of the Nicaragua route. He arrived at his destination, San Francisco, on the 1st of February, and there he was employed at anything that would yield him an honest living until the 1st of April, when he went to Knight’s Ferry to assist in building a saw and grist mill, being thus engaged for five months, after which he turned his attention to placer mining, making fair wages in his new venture. Subsequently he went to Keeler’s Ferry, where he opened a miner’s supply store and sold goods for two years, or until placer mining ceased to be profitable in that locality and the population of the neighborhood consequently decreased. He them removed his store to Knight’s Ferry, where he continued in trade for fifteen years, his sales bringing him an excellent income. In 1862, however, a flood came which washed away a part of the town and eight feet of water stood in his store room and caused him a loss of ten thousand dollars. He, however, continued business until 1870, but the inability of his patrons to pay him what they owed him finally forced him to abandon his enterprise. He then located one hundred and sixty acres of land four miles above Oakdale, and purchased another quarter-section, after which he furnished wood to the railroad company under contract. In that way he gained a good start in business. In 1874 he sold three hundred acres of land for four thousand dollars and removed to Oakdale, where he worked in the depot, shipping goods. Occasionally he also did some carpenter work.
In 1879, in company with a partner, he purchased six hundred and eighty-nine acres of land, lying on two sides of the town, for which they paid fifteen dollars an acre. Mr. Hill cleared and improved his portion of the property and engaged in farming until 1885, when he returned to the east to visit friends and relatives. He was also accompanied by his wife, who had three brothers in that portion of the country. They spent that season in the east and after his return Mr. Hill platted into town lots that portion of this farm which joined the corporation limits of Oakdale, and then sold town lots and acre lots, thus disposing of about one hundred acres. He continued to farm the remainder and also purchased another ranch of one hundred and sixty acres and leased eight hundred acres. He then bought farm implements and was extensively engaged in wheat raising; but light crops and poor prices caused him to run continually behind, and again misfortune overtook him, for his fine new barn caught fire and the flames spread to the other buildings on the place, so that the farm was almost utterly despoiled of its improvements.
Mr. Hill then sold his land, for fifty dollars per acre, and that, with the insurance on his buildings, helped him to again get a start. He reduced his debts to four thousand dollars and gave a trust deed on two hundred and sixty-five acres; but such was the stringency of the money market of the time that he could neither sell nor redeem his land, and after paying interest for a number of years he was at last compelled to let the property go. Now, in his old age, after an active and busy life, he has only four or five residences left of all his large property; yet he is hopeful and is a well preserved California pioneer, now in his eighty-eighth year. He is a good penman and writes a remarkably steady hand.
In 1843 Mr. Hill was united in marriage to Miss Lucy Ann Bingham, of Vermont, who was reared in his own neighborhood. She has a cottage at Pacific Grove, where she spends the hot summer months. She is in her seventy-eighth year and is a faithful companion and helpmate. She has traveled journey of life by her husband’s side for fifty-seven years. They had four children, but all died in infancy. Mr. Hill was a Jackson Democrat until 1856, when he voted for Fremont and has since been a Republican. For twenty years he was a notary public and for seven years a justice of the peace and such was his good judgment and understanding of the law that not one of his decisions was ever reversed. His has been an honorable and upright life, and though he has met financial reverses he has ever retained the respect and confidence of his fellow men, by reason of his fidelity to duty and his unquestioned integrity.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.