By Mark Gutglueck
Isaac Wilson Lord was born on June 10, 1836 in Warrenville, Illinois, some twenty-five miles east of what was described as the “squalid village of Chicago,” on the east bank of the DuPage River. Born into comfortable circumstance, he was the only son of Dr. Israel S.P. Lord and Mary G. (Wilson) Lord, the daughter of the Congressman Isaac Wilson, a close friend of the future president, James K. Polk.
In 1839, Dr. Lord sold his claim of one hundred and sixty acres on the DuPage River for two hundred dollars and moved seven miles west to the east bank of the Fox River, buying there a remote four-room log house and one hundred acres of prime land for one hundred dollars. He essentially founded a settlement at this spot, which he named the “Batavia” after his hometown in New York. He set about attracting others to the area and with the arrival of other families the following year, established what would grow into a thriving community.
Though he was reared by well-educated parents, Isaac Lord’s early education was somewhat limited in scope. He had the advantage of ample experience in connection with the labors and interests of the pioneer community in which he was raised. In 1853, when he was seventeen, he journeyed on foot to a place in Indiana roughly 200 miles south of Chicago where he found employment as a cattle drover. His first major assignment in this capacity was to work with eight men who herded three hundred and sixteen head of cattle from Shelbyville, in eastern Illinois, to California. This sojourn lasted six months and two days. No tents were provided for shelter, nor were the drovers furnished with horses or mules to ride. Food and other provisions were nonexistent, poor and scarce. The job entailed driving all day and standing guard every other night. Twice Indians stampeded the herd, but only three cows were lost in the brisk skirmishes which ensued. The exhausted party, with the cattle, reached Hangtown, California on September 16, 1853.
At that point, the placer mining of the 1849 Gold Rush was diminishing and rock-mining was just starting. There was little or no agriculture, horticulture, manufacturing or commerce in California. Thousands of people who had flocked to the Golden State seeking quick fortunes were penniless, flirting with starvation and unable to get back East to what they now knew as “God’s Country.” After his arrival in September, young Isaac Lord spent seven weeks washing pots and dishes at a Sacramento hotel, a menial, fourteen-hour-a-day task that was done in exchange for board and shelter in the hotel’s barn. He stayed at this job until he had advanced to the more dignified position of chief cook with the impressive stipend of $100 per month. Leaving this employ after saving up a small fund, he went into the mountains to try his hand at placer-mining. In this, he was an abject failure His nest egg was soon exhausted. He returned to cowpunching and with a few other enlisted with a band of Mexican vaqueros, driving cattle from what is now Bakersfield to Stockton. One trip took them to the Cahuenga Valley, the present site of Hollywood, where the 29 drovers secured thirteen hundred head of cattle.
In 1856, the twenty-year-old was informed that back in Illinois, his mother’s health was failing. He purchased a riding horse, mule and pack horse and set out alone for Batavia. This proved one of the defining undertakings of his life as he became the first man to cross the mountains and great plains alone. Before he reached St. Joseph, Missouri, on October 8, 1856, he was waylaid and held captive by the Shoshone Indians for three weeks. He arrived at his parent’ place of residence on November 2 and two days later headed the parade in honor of the famous surveyor, mapmaker and pathfinder, Colonel John C. Fremont. Mr. Lord still lacked by six months further maturity being old enough to vote for Fremont who was, that year the first nominee of the Republican Party for President of the United States.
He thereafter began studying, under his father’s tutelage, medicine. While yet in Batavia he proved himself eligible to practice as a physician, and engaged in the private practice of the medical arts for two years. He would conclude that the work was not to his liking and he then accepted employment as a bookkeeper for the Marshal Field and Company mercantile firm in Chicago. Eight months later he began working as cashier and bookkeeper in the freight department of the Great Northern Railroad, remaining in that post for about five years. In the meantime, he married. In March of 1872, accompanied by his wife and two small children, he returned to California.
He settled in Los Angeles, where he engaged in the furniture and carpet business as a member of the firm Dotter and Lord.
Lord’s first wife, with whom he had three daughters and a son, died after their move to Los Angeles in 1872.
He next entered into a partnership with Judge Robert M. Widney, promoting the building of the first streetcar line on the south coast of San Francisco. This proved profitable and together with Widney, he undertook to build the San Pedro streetcar line from Santa Monica Station to the River Station of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Lord was the president of this line.
Widney and Lord then turned their attention to the growing and harvesting of eucalyptus trees for firewood and owned two hundred acres of trees near the San Gabriel River. This venture, too, was successful. When the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce was organized in 1882, Widney was named its first president and Lord secretary and treasurer. Among other notable accomplishments, Lord was responsible for the construction of the first cable car line in Los Angeles.
In 1883, he married the widowed Mrs. Julia Emma (Stoddard) Scott, daughter of William Moses Stoddard of Sacramento. They had one daughter, Mrs. J.J. Vandergrift.
In 1885, Lord retired from active business and moved to Cucamonga, where he engaged in the planting of olive and citrus groves. In 1887, he founded the town of Lordsburg in Los Angeles County, which in August 1917 was renamed LaVerne.
In 1890, Lord was elected to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, representing the Second District, serving from January 5, 1891 to January 7, 1895. He was succeeded by Judge George R. Holbrook of Ontario. During his tenure, the board approved the construction of a granite courthouse, a new jail, a large hospital and seventeen bridges. The bridges were built at the impetus of Jacob N. Victor, a member of the board of supervisors whose only term in office coincided exactly with Lord’s. During the first two years of the 1891-95 San Bernardino County administration, there were more miles of roads opened in the county than had been thus improved during the entire preceding forty years of the county’s existence.
In 1907, Lord and his family returned to Los Angeles where he virtually retired from any business activity whatsoever, yet retained his civic zeal and was active in various organization until his death on March 16, 1917, at the age of 80. One daughter, Cornelia, and his son, Isaac, predeceased him. Two widowed daughters, Mrs. Hannah Randle and Mrs. Brooks, along with Mrs. Vanergrift and his second wife, survived him.
By Mark Gutglueck