Alva Byron Cowgill

Alva B. Cowgill was a key figure in the development of the citrus growing interests in Redlands and, more important still, in the marketing of the product he and other growers in the area grew.
Alva Byron Cowgill was born at Spencer’s Station in Guernsey County, Ohio, on February 9, 1856, and his parents, P. C. and Ellen (Spencer) Cowgill, were also natives of the Buckeye state. His father was a merchant. Their four children were Alva, Charles, Ella and Grant, all of whom lived into the 1920s, except for Grant, who died at Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Alva was eight years old when his father left home to serve in the Civil war and nine when Lincoln was assassinated.
Alva B. Cowgill lived an involved and busy life practically from the earliest stages of his childhood. On his way to school he attended to the opening of his father’s store in the morning, then put in the regular hours at his studies, and after being dismissed from class, clerked until closing time. Later for three years he was clerk and assistant in his father’s business, and then for five years was ticket and freight agent with the Baltimore and Ohio Railway. In 1879, Cowgill, after finishing a course in a business college, entered the old firm of Graham, Bailey & Company, wholesale and retail druggists at Zanesville, Ohio. He became an accountant, making $40 a month. He learned the business as well as the routine of its accounting system, and at the end of three years had become a part owner. About that time the business was incorporated as the Bailey Drug Company. Mr. Cowgill for eight years was the head traveling representative, and was then called back to the general offices and made manager and treasurer.
Mr. Bailey in the meantime had accumulated extensive banking interests and turned over practically the entire executive management of the business to Cowgill. This proved a wised decision on Bailey’s part, as the business prospered under Cowgill’s management.
For eleven years Cowgill devoted himself wholly to the interests and welfare of the business, and at the end of that time found his health so impaired that it was imperative he seek outdoor employment. In the meantime he had achieved financial security, represented in his holdings of stock in Bailey’s successful drugstore.
Selling out his business at Zanesville, Ohio, Cowgill came to Los Angeles in 1901 and spent some time investigating the various areas of Southern California. His first purchase was a 20-acre orange grove in the Redlands district, and later he bought 16 acres of unimproved land, 10 acres of which he set to Washington navels and 6 acres to grapefruit. For five years he lived on this land and worked outside in cultivating, planting, pruning and caring for his trees. He had his groves in a most satisfactory condition and, even better, his health and strength were completely restored. He then sought an opportunity again to connect himself with some of the broader commercial work for which his previous training had so well qualified him. He therefore became one of the two principals, the other being Arthur Gregory, in the organization of the Redlands Mutual Orange Company in 1906, and after its organization became its secretary and general manager.
By the 1920s the Redlands Mutual Orange Company was one of the leading growers’ marketing organization in the Redlands district. In 1906, the Mutual Orange Distributors, a co-operative selling organization was also organized, and Cowgill served as its secretary and director. In no small degree the strength and efficiency of those organizations depended upon Cowgill, who recognized in them an important opportunity for a public spirited service to his associated growers, and he did much to improve the marketing and distributing facilities available to the producers in the Redlands section. At the same time he acquired interests in several irrigation companies that brought water to an increased area of citrus land.
He had his first ride in an automobile, a one-cylinder Cadillac, when he was 48 years old.
In 1880, Cowgill had married Miss Nellie Broomhall, who was born in Quaker City, Ohio, August 12, 1858, the daughter of W. P. and Rachel (Redd) Broomhall, natives of Ohio. Mr. and Mrs. Cowgill’s four children were all born at Zanesville, Ohio. Ethel M., born June 23, 1882, was married May 24, 1911, to Fred C. Knapp, a contractor and builder of Los Angeles. They had a daughter, Kathryn Claire Knapp, born in Los Angeles July 11, 1912.
The second child, Claire Cowgill, was born June 25, 1886, and graduated from the Redlands High School and from Smith College at Northampton, Massachusetts, with an A.B. degree.
Chester B. Cowgill, born April 14, 1890, was educated at Redlands High School, spent four years in the University of California at Berkeley, and is went into business in Los Angeles. On March 19, 1918, he enlisted from Redlands, and was sworn into military service at Rockwell Aviation Field at San Diego March 23rd, being assigned to
Squadron C. He was transferred to March Aviation Field at Riverside in August, 1918, was promoted to private first class and acted as sergeant in charge of power plants, and November 13, 1918, was transferred to the Field Artillery Officers Training School at Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville, Kentucky, being assigned to the Seventeenth Observational Battery. He received his honorable discharge December 7, 1918.
On August 27, 1917, C. B. Cowgill married Gladys Ingersoll, of Los Angeles, who is also a graduate of the Redlands High School, the California State Normal School. She was a very talented musician, both vocal and instrumental, and before her marriage was a teacher in the public schools of Los Angeles.
The fourth child, Ralph Cowgill, was born February 6, 1894, graduated from the high school in Redlands, attended the State University and a business college, and was connected in the early 1920s with the refinery of the Standard Oil Company at Bakersfield. He married Miss Ruth E. Swan at Redlands December 23, 1916. She was a graduate of the Redlands High School. He joined the Naval Reserves for a period of four years, and was on active duty until released after the signing of the armistice in November 1918. Both of Alva Cowgill’s sons were married and held good positions, yet they waived all claims for exemption when they were called to the colors.
According to John Brown and James Boyd in their History of San Bernardino And Riverside Counties published in 1922, Alva Cowgill led “a busy life” and compiled “a record of usefulness and honor. Mr. Cowgill is truly one of the men who have been instrumental in making the country around Redlands bloom and blossom as the rose.”
In 1926, three years after Nellie Bromhall Cowgill’s 1923 death, Alva Cowgill remarried, taking as his second wife , Mary Mason Howlett Cowgill, who was born in 1877 and was the widow of Richard A. Mason (1876 – 1919).
Cowgill served as the secretary and manager of the Redlands Mutual Orange Company for 19 years and was its president for four years. A charter member of Rediands Kiwanis club, he was a regular attendant at the weekly luncheons. He was a member of Trinity Episcopal church for 15 years.
Alva Cowgill died on November 3, 1943 at the age of 87. He was stlll the secretary for Mutual Orange Distributors at the time of his death, being the only secretary of the company in its 37 year history at that time and he had continued to serve on its board of directors until a month before his death, at which time he had asked to be relieved of that duty. He was also still a director of the Redlands Mutual Orange Company at the time of his death.
J. A. Steward, general manager of the mutual Orange Distributors, said at the time of Alva Cowgill’s death, “Every member of the organization feels a keen personal loss in the death of Mr. Cowgill. The orange business was his life and I have heard him say that he would rather die than not be able to report, as he did faithfully for years, for his regular day’s stint at the Mutual Orange Distributors. He was much loved by all who knew him. Mild mannered and efficient, he took pride in his work. We considered him one of our most valued friends and co-workers.”

Leave a Reply