The Valley of Heart's Delight

bio- Sawyers


GARRETT J. BYRNE.--A varied and interesting career was that of the late Garrett J. Byrne, one of the best known of the Irish pioneers in California, who was one of the earliest dry goods merchants in the state, his progressive spirit and capability bringing him unqualified success in his business ventures. Mr. Byrne was born on November 20, 1827, on the sunny slopes of Tellabyrnes, near the noted St. John's well, six miles from Kilkenny, Ireland. The eldest of a family of nine brothers and four sisters, he finished his schooling at the age of sixteen to go to work on the farm. At nineteen he started to learn the dry goods business--four years of apprenticeship and no pay. His father had to pay for his clothes all during that time and twenty-five pounds besides. When his time was up, he could not get any employment near his home, so went up to Dublin but met with the same result, as those were hard times in Ireland. Starting for Liverpool on the Trafalgar, he took passage on the sailing vessel, Grace McRae--no steamers on the Atlantic at that time--and after a perilous voyage he landed at New York, where he secured a position with Abraham Gunst at 295 Bowery, the father of Moses Gunst, the cigar man.

Mr. Byrne remained in New York until October 19, 1852, when he sailed for San Francisco on the Star of the West, stopping at Jamaica and arriving at Aspinwall in due time. They poled across the Chagres River in a flat boat to Gorgona, walked across the Isthmus eighteen miles to Panama, and after ten days took passage on the Cortes, which was making the trip up the coast. He arrived at San Francisco, and as he said in an account of his active life published in the Leader in 1920.

"When I arrived in California, the only capital I had was youth, energy and perseverance, and I needed them badly. My first job in the city was to roll a lot of barrels on Sansome Street from the sidewalk to the cellar, for which I received $2.50 for two hours' work. The firm I worked for was Rising, Casella & Company, and I will never forget my first job in San Francisco. After a few days I got a position with Thos. Masterson on Clay Street at $200 a month and a percentage on my sales. I had $1,000 in a short time, which I loaned at three per cent a month--thirty-six per cent a year--so I made money fast. Those were great old times. The bay was up to Montgomery and Jackson streets then; the old ship Niantic was high and dry at Sansome and Clay streets and was used as a rooming house. I remained with Masterson for a few years, until I started in business at Marysville, December 1, 1855. Mine was, I might say, the first regular dry goods store there. . I attended the first Christian midnight mass, December 25, 1854, at St. Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco, and five weeks from that time mine was the first marriage that took place there, February 1, 1855. The Rev. Hugh Gallagher welded the golden chains that were broken by my wife's death September 26, 1900. February 1, 1855 was the happiest day of my life and will ever find a warm corner in this old Irish heart of mine."

Mrs. Byrne before her marriage was Miss Annie McCloud; she was born at Sidney, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the daughter of Donald McCloud, also born there and descended from an old and prominent family. He was a successful farmer and owned a beautiful place which was enhanced by fine natural lakes. On her maternal side Annie McCloud was a McGilvery and her grandfather was a Sutherland, of the famed house of Sutherland. With her sister Kate, who later became Mrs. J. H. Tobin, she came to San Francisco in 1852 with Captain and Mrs. Urey, making the trip across the Isthmus of Panama on mule back. She supported herself and her sister by sewing, and sent her sister to the convent of the Sisters of Charity, then located on the present site of the Palace Hotel, and later Kate McCloud attended the public schools in San Francisco. While trading at Masterson's store in San Francisco, Annie McCloud met Mr. Byrne, and the admiration of the young people being mutual, the acquaintance later resulted in their marriage.

Mr. and Mrs. Byrne were the parents of a large family--eleven children: Bessie died while attending Notre Dame in March, 1868, the first death at that institution; Margaret died in infancy; Garry died in 1882; Robert died in San Francisco sixteen years ago, Martin died in 1898 at Glenbrook Farm; Allen resides at Sunnyvale; Charles lives at San Mateo; Joseph died in infancy; James died in 1918; Elizabeth, the wife of J. A. McDonald, and Kathryn M. and these two daughters jointly own and make their home at Glenbrook Farm. In 1873 Mrs. Byrne made a trip to Ireland with the children, then eight in number, and they spent two and a half years there, when they returned to San Francisco. She was a noble woman and devoted her time to the rearing of her family and in a careful oversight of their education. The boys attended Sacred Heart and St. Mary's academies, while the daughters were educated in the Dominican and Notre Dame Academy at Santa Clara. Mrs. Byrne was prominent and active in the social life of San Francisco, being a brilliant and accomplished woman; she and her sister, Mrs. Tobin, were both very popular and were considered two of the most beautiful women in the Bay city.

After conducting his business in Marysville until 1858, Mr. Byrne returned to San Francisco, establishing himself on Clay Street, where he remained until the Lick House was opened in December, 1862. He then went into partnership with Robert Kirby, who had married Mrs. Byrne's sister, Margaret McCloud, and the Kirby-Byrne Company opened their establishment at 7 Montgomery Street. Mr. Byrne was extremely successful in his business and made what was then considered a fortune in fifteen years, but like many Californians, lost much of it in mining ventures. After retiring from business he was for some years a deputy in the county assessor's office in San Francisco.

In 1879 Mr. and Mrs. Byrne purchased the ranch on Stevens Creek, Santa Clara County, named by Mrs. Byrne, Glenbrook Farm, from a beautiful place she had known in Ireland, and here the family made their home, developing it into an attractive estate. After his wife's death, Mr. Byrne made a trip in 1903 to Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, and two years later he crossed the Atlantic to visit his old home in Ireland, after an absence of fifty-four years. The remainder of his years were spent in comfortable retirement at Glenbrook Farm, where he passed away on January 14, 1917, highly esteemed by all who knew him, his death closing a career of unusual activity and accomplishment.

Transcribed by Joe Kral, from Eugene T. Sawyers' History of Santa Clara County,California,  
published by Historic Record Co. , 1922. page 490