By Mark Gutglueck
John Perry Ensley was an accomplished citrus grower in Ontario and Upland and a politician in Ontario before during and after the turn of the 19th to the 20th Century. As a farmer, he followed in the footsteps of his father, George, who had worked the soil in Indiana, and who for a short time, like his son and at his son’s suggestion, was himself an orange grower in Ontario.
John Ensley was born in Butler Center in DeKalb County, near Auburn, Indiana on October 9, 1853, the seventh son of George and Lydia Ensley, née Noel. John Perry Ensley obtained a thorough education, attending and graduating from Auburn High School in Indiana and subsequently attending Indiana State University. He thereafter found employment as a teacher, and taught eight winter terms of school. When he was extended the opportunity to move into the position of principal of the Auburn schools, he spurned the offer.
His father, who was born in 1815, worked with his hands, both as a farmer and a mechanic in what was the first generation of the industrial revolution. At one point, George Ensley had operated a sawmill he had himself built. Admiring and emulating his father, John Ensley felt himself drawn to the practical vocation of farming.
In 1884, the same year that his mother died, John Ensley married Miss Clara B. Clark, a native of Indiana, and in 1886 for the benefit of her health, he came to Ontario and bought twenty acres of wild land at the northeast corner of Eighteenth Street and Euclid Avenue, in what is now Upland but at the time was considered north Ontario. He cleared the rocky soil and planted citrus trees there during 1887.
In 1886, George Ensley had come to Ontario, as well, where he had purchased a five-acre orange grove on West Fourth Street along with ten acres of unimproved land on West G Street.
August 1888 was a tough month for John Ensley. By that point his wife, Clara, had given birth to two of the Ensley’s children, one of whom had died in infancy. On August 1, Clara died. Twenty-five days later, on August 26, George Ensley died.
After his father’s death, John Ensley purchased from his father’s other heirs – his brothers and sisters – their combined interests in his father’s property in Ontario. He maintained the Fourth Street grove and developed the unimproved tract off of G Street into a citrus grove.
According to “History of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties” by John Brown and James Boyd, which was published in 1922, “All of this land he actually improved by his own labors and efforts, and in addition to his thirty-five acres of producing groves he had other valuable investments.”
On July 25, 1894, Ensley married Elizabeth Borthwick, who was born in Liverpool, England on October 23, 1865, her parents being John P. and Margaret Borthwick, née Dunn, natives of Scotland and Ireland, respectively. The Borthwicks crossed the Atlantic to the United States in 1869, locating first at Scranton, Pennsylvania, whence in April, 1884, they moved Ontario, where John Borthwick was a jeweler. Elizabeth was educated in Pennsylvania public schools. According to Brown and Boyd, “She was one of the first young ladies to live in Ontario.” Through her marriage to John Perry Ensley she became the mother of five children, four of whom survived into adulthood. Her stepson, Oliver P. Ensley, the son of John Ensley and Clara Ensley, was born in Indiana on May 6, 1886, graduated from the Chaffey High School in Ontario and then attended and graduated from the University of Southern California, where he pursued both classical and law courses. Oliver Ensley was admitted to the bar in 1912 and during that year pursued a commercial course in the Eastman Business College at Poughkeepsie, New York. He became a successful practicing attorney in Southern California, and was a member of the Masons and the Odd Fellows. Oliver Ensley married Miss Catherine Todd, of Indiana, in June, 1919, and they had three sons: Edward Clark, born March 23, 1921; Harold, born May 9, 1922; and George, born December 9, 1927. The oldest of John and Elizabeth’s children was Laura Isabelle, born April 2, 1899. She graduated from Chaffey Union High School and the University of Southern California, and married Fred Smith, of Riverside, with whom she had a son, Richard. Gladys Theresa, was John and Elizabeth Ensley’s second child, born December 24, 1901. She graduated from Chaffey Union High School, Chaffey Junior College and the University of Southern California. She married John Poyet of Anaheim. Elizabeth Borthwick born August 7, 1906, became the wife of Lyle P. Rathbun, a successful dentist in Ontario. She graduated from Chaffey Union High School and then from the University of Southern California.
John Ensley was a director of the A Street Citrus Association, and a member of the Ontario Fruit Association for nearly two decades, and represented that organization on the Ontario-Cucamonga Fruit Exchange Board.
Upon Ontario’s incorporation as a municipal entity in 1893, John Ensley was elected as a member of the city’s board of trustees, serving in that capacity for nine years, and was later the city’s mayor for multiple terms. He was subsequently elected to the Ontario City Council, last serving in that capacity in 1918.
Brown and Boyd credit him with “being largely instrumental in the building of good roads,” during his civic tenure.
Ensley was a prime mover in the formation of the San Antonio Water Company, and then served three one-year terms as one of the company’s directors after its formation.
Ensley was characterized as “one of the community’s strongest Democrats,” and as such was a member of the Democratic Central Committee for a number of years. “He always worked for good, clean government and decent citizenship,” according to Brown and Boyd.
For his wife, daughters and himself, he built a splendid home at 126 West D Street.
Upon reaching the age of 77 years one month and five days, Ensley died on Friday, November 14, 1930.
By Mark Gutglueck