Orchardist- Santa Clara County Pioneer
(see bio published 1888)


   Mourned by many who had come to recognize in him one of the most representative Californians, as he was certainly one of the foremost, influential citizens of Santa Clara County, George Bissell Polhemus, the well known orchardist, passed away on July 26, 1914, at his residence on Stockton Avenue, San Jose, following a short illness, although he had been in failing health for over a year. He was born in a San Francisco  on January 21, 1857, the son of the late Charles B. Polhmeus, a native of New Jersey, who made off to South America when he was seventeen years of age.  He pitched his tent at various points on the West Coast in Chile and Peru; but when the gold fever broke out in California, he hurried north and established a branch of Alsop & Company, then one of those largest Yankee houses in South America.  In 1864 he became interested with Messrs. Donahue, Newhall & Polhemus in the San Francisco & San Jose Railroad, which they guaranteed and subsequently owned; they worked the railroad up to 1867, and in the meantime built a branch to Gilroy, and then sold out to Stanford, Huntington and other pioneer railroad builders.

   This venture had one particularly interesting result. Through investing in this railroad, Mr. Polhemus was compelled to purchase the Commodore Stockton ranch of 2,000 acres, which was later subdivided, and he thus came to acquire the old Stockton ranch house on Stockton Avenue, which was brought from new York City by Commodore Stockton in 1849 or 1850, with eighteen other houses, around Cape Horn.  In 1867 Mr. Polhemus negotiated for himself and three associates the purchase of 180,000 acres of land in Los Angeles and San Bernadino County, which they bought at the almost fabulously low price, viewed in the light of later valuations, of $1.50 an acre--although at that time the land was more or less of a drug on the market.
   In 1852, Charles Polhemus was married to Miss Matilda Murphy, a native of new York, who is now deceased; and three children blessed their union.  One died in infancy; a daughter, Mary Josephine, now residing in Italy; while the other child was the subject of this review.  Charles Polhemus was a member of Lodge No. 14. F. & A. M., of Mt. Holly, N. J., founded, in part, by his father, Montgomery Polhemus, a merchant and a landowner in New Jersey, and the son of Major John Polhemus, a soldier in the Revolutionary Army.  The mention of his name and status recalls one of the prized heirlooms of the Polhemus family, a steel-engraving of the Major, a fine looking old gentleman, in the dress of the time.  It bears the following inscription:

        J. POLHEMUS
    Major John Polhemus, U. S. A., Commis-
    sioned as a Captain by order of Congress,
    Nov. 22, 1775; Promoted to a Majority at
    Valley Forge.  The "Jersey Bleu," organized
    by his father-in-law, John Hart (a signer
    of the Declaration of Indepencence), found
    a patriotic commander in him.
    Born May 25, A. D. 1738.  Died on the 94th
    anniversary of that day.

George Bissell Polhemus received his early education in San Francisco under the Rev. George Burrows, who took twelve students to prepare for a college course at Cambridge; but after devoting some years in the pursuit of that ambition, Mr. Polhemus decided to give up his college course, in which he had, as far as he went, laid the foundation, broad and deep, of an education which time and experience brought to a ripe fruition.  In 1887, Mr. Polhemus was married to Miss Jennie Ryder,the daughter of George W. Ryder, of the Santa Clara Valley, a gifted lady who shared his popularity.  One son, Charles Polhemus, sprang from this fortunate mating, and bids fair to perpetuate the renown of the family name. 

From Eugene T. Sawyers' History of Santa Clara County,California, published by Historic Record Co. , 1922. page 365
Transcribed by Joseph Kral


SANTA CLARA COUNTY The Valley of Heart's Delight