(see bio of his son Henry Jr.)



With many phases of Santa Clara County's development and upbuilding, Henry Willard Coe was closely associated. He was born in the village of Northwood, N. H., February 6, 1820, and his youthful years were spent in the midst of moral, as well as physical surroundings eminently calculated to make him a leader among men. He descended, on both sides, from famous families, prominent in Colonial and Revolutionary history, the genealogy tracing the family as far back as 1640. Very early in life his mother died and feeling keenly the loss, the lad was prompted to accept the offer of Zach Chandler to accompany him to the West.

With a meager stock of goods, which they carried with them, they were towed in a canal boat up the Hudson River, through the Erie Canal, and across the Great Lakes to Detroit, a journey occupying over a month. This offer of Mr. Chandler to a boy of sixteen, shows conclusively what was already thought of Henry Willard Coe. Within three years, a partnership in Mr. Chandler's great business was offered him, which proves that the expectations of Mr. Chandler were justified. However, the young man declined the flattering offer, and returning to his native town, purchased the business carried on by his father, and conducted it successfully. And now came one of those turns of the tide in the affairs of men which it is always delightful and helpful to recall because of the lesson they impress and the insight into character they furnish. One evening there came into the village a wary traveler from the West, who said that in the West his wife and all his children had died of fever. At the village inn, he asked for food and shelter, which was denied him. Mr. Coe, who happened to be standing near and heard the proprietor's refusal of hospitality, offered the man his home as long as he desired, and fed, clothed and entertained him with the warm hospitality for which he afterwards became famous. He was well repaid for his kindness. The stranger told him of a cotton manufactory in Cooperstown, N. Y., and that he knew the purchase would make him a fortune.

Mr. Coe made a very careful inquiry and purchased the property, and operated it at considerable profit. This was a most appreciable reward for the kindness that had helped the poor stranger, and it was practically the starting point of the well-known Phoenix Cotton Manufacturing plant at Cooperstown, N. Y.  Mr. Coe employed a large number of people, and not only manufactured cotton, but turned out calicoes of new and varied designs. Two years after entering upon this enterprise, Mr. Coe found himself with a substantial balance. Then came a period of uncertainty; values of every kind fluctuated almost hourly, but Mr. Coe decided that he would not sell his business at a loss. He doggedly held on for six months; then the crash came, Henry Clay was defeated and the election of Polk to the presidency meant the repeal of the tariff. Following the election of Mr. Polk came a panic and Mr. Coe was financially ruined; however, he did not grieve over his losses, but assigned all of his property to his creditors. The strain of the anxiety over the financial situation, undermined his health, and his physician advised a complete rest. He journeyed to Detroit, where his friend, Hon. Zachariah Chandler, still lived, but he only stopped there for a short time, going on to St. Louis, Mo.

Mr. Coe had always been fired by visions of the Northwest, and being naturally of an enterprising and generous disposition, with a cool head and a warm heart, he was a recognized leader of men and his associates appreciated his superior leadership. When the spring of 1847 came Mr. Coe set out with a large company for Oregon. The journey occupied six months and the hardships and perils were great; these have all been told in the narrative of his son, Charles W. Coe, "The Winners of the Great Northwest." Our history of Mr. Coe's life has more to do with his part in the development of the Golden State and what he did to further its interests. He had two brothers who distinguished themselves, Eben, the eldest, as a civil engineer, and George, as a very prominent financier and banker.

Toward the end of 1848, Henry W. Coe came down into California from Oregon. On this journey he discovered the value of the waters of Shasta Springs, where so many tourists stop to refresh themselves. Upon arrival in this state he spent some time in mining, discovering a valuable mine in Amador County, which he named the Phoenix, in memory of his old mill at Cooperstown, N. Y. He was fairly successful, enough so to induce him to accept an associate. This associate was of a burly build, and his character harmonized with it. One evening, in the hills, and in his associate's absence, there came along a lot of poor fellows, barely clothed, and to all appearances, more sparely fed. They proved to be veterans of the Mexican War, and the warm heart of Mr. Coe was moved to its very depth; he clothed and fed, and saw them on their way. Upon the return of his associate he declared Coe's foolish generosity had ruined them. With a smile, Mr. Coe walked away, and then occurred a very strange thing, which reads like a fairy tale. Away in the hills, a considerable distance from their camp, and walking with his eyes to the ground, as a prospector does, Mr. Coe noticed, almost at his feet, a string. He stopped and pulled it, and when he came to the end of it, there was a sack. The sack contained a beautiful meerschaum pipe, sundry gold coins, and at the bottom a number of ounces of gold dust, more than sufficient to repay, twice over, the amount the generosity of his heart had prompted him to bestow upon the weary travelers. There was no doubt that the pipe was a relic of the past. Mr. Coe kept the pipe for twenty-five years, hoping that the owner could be found. When Mr. Coe returned, he called his partner, paid him what was due him, showed him the door, and bade him a good day.

In those early days of mining in California, scientific methods wee unknown. Machinery had to be ordered in London and shipped round Cape Horn, and this required many months. In the meantime, Mr. Coe, who had determined to engage in the business of providing this, settled in San Francisco as a purchasing agent for miners' supplies. Not until 1858 did he revisit New York. He did so then on a mission of no small importance to himself. He married the lady of his choice, Miss Hannah Huntington Smith, who had waited for him nineteen years. Mrs. Coe was born August 16, 1821, in Camden, N. Y. She was the daughter of Rev. Henry Huntington Smith, a native of the village of Durham, N. H., and the son of Hon. Ebenezer and Mehitabel (Sheafe) Smith. Reverend Smith graduated from Bowdoin College in 1810, and finished his theological training at the Andover Theological Seminary in 1815. He was ordained as a minister during the year of 1817 at Camden, N. Y., and while engaged in his chosen work and during a vigorous exhortation, he was stricken and died July 19, 1828. This branch of the Smith family were prominent in the history of the Northeast, and many members of the family were connected with the affairs of state. The Huntingtons were among the Revolutionary soldiers.

When Mr. Coe returned to California with his bride, he found that his mining property had been taken possession of by Alvinza Hayward, who was reaping a handsome fortune each month therefrom. Happily Mr. Coe possessed an ample fortune of his own, as did his bride in her own right. They soon were attracted by the quiet of the country, so they came to San Jose, where Mr. Coe purchased 150 acres in the section known as The Willows. Here he established a beautiful country residence, the hospitality of which was nowhere surpassed. He cleared his tract, and was the first man to plant fruit trees and hops. Mr. Coe was the first extensive shipper of hops to New York, Liverpool and Australia, and he grew the first tobacco in California, from which he made cigars, and the first silk grown and manufactured from the native product of the United States was grown and manufactured at The Willows, the silk being made into a beautiful flag presented to Congress in 1872. This flag was afterwards exhibited at the Centennial Exposition, in Philadelphia; at the World's Fair, in Chicago, and is on exhibition today in the Smithsonian Institute at Washington. The experiment demonstrated the possibility of silk culture in Santa Clara Valley, both soil and climate being admirably adapted to the mulberry and cocoon.. Mr. Coe was extraordinarily successful as a grower of hops and was the first to use sulphur in bleaching hops and fruit, a process that is universally employed at the present time. Men traveled expressly from Europe to purchase hops from him as t hey were declared superior to any grown elsewhere in any land.

Later Mr. Coe suffered great financial losses and this induced him to part with all his property in The Willows, after holding it fifteen years. Thereafter he lead a retired life in the lovely San Felipe Valley, a fit haven of rest, among the beauties of nature, where he had often expressed the wish that the evening of his life might be spent until its close. Surrounded by all who were dearest to him, the end came at sunset on June 17, 1896, and thus ended a varied and worthy life. Whether considered as the merchant of pioneer Detroit days; the enterprising cotton manufacturer of Cooperstown, N. Y.; the pioneer crossing the plains and braving danger of every kind in 1847; the volunteer schoolmaster of Oregon City in the days of its foundation; exploring the Columbia; fighting, where all were heroes in the battle of the terrible Indian war in Oregon; migrating, a leader ever, from Oregon to California overland; whether considered as a miner or a merchant of the Golden State; in the hills, or in the city; or whether remembered finally, as a pioneer orchardist of Santa Clara Valley, bringing to San Jose its title of "The Garden City"; the first of its hop growers and silk producers; at whatever time of life recalled, Henry Willard Coe will ever stand to all who knew him as one of the highest types of the American gentleman, the enterprising, fearless, generous, highminded and public-spirited citizen.

In presence, Mr. Coe was slightly over six feet. He was a man of striking dignity, but of most kindly manner. He was exceptionally well read, with a memory that was remarkable, and he retained his faculties up to within an hour of his death. He remembered perfectly General LaFayette's visit to this country. He and his brother Eben had stood watching on the banks of the Hudson when Fulton first ran his steamer on its waters. He knew San Francisco when it contained only a population of five hundred. He was fond of dwelling upon the marvelous development of science that he had seen take place within his own lifetime. He was broad-minded in all things, and rejoiced in progress of every kind. Mr. Coe was survived by his widow, four years. She died January 17, 1901, beloved by all, as she had lived. Her womanly graces and her great kindness of heart had endeared her to all kinds and conditions of people from the moment she made her home among them. Two sons of her union with Mr. Coe survive them both: Henry W. Coe, who lives in the beautiful San Felipe Valley, of whom more extended mention is elsewhere given, and Charles W. Coe, for many years a resident of San Jose, but now of Phoenix. He married Miss Leontine Carteri, a native of Santa Barbara, who is a granddaughter of the first English settler in Southern California, William D. Foxen, who, in 1836, built the first ship in California. Mr. Foxen it was, also, who saved General Fremont's small body of troops from annihilation, by guiding them over the mountains, instead of journeying through the Goleta Pass, where destruction awaited them at the hands of General Castro. Four children, Eben, Willard, Leontine and Roger, have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Coe.   (note- Charles and Leontine Carteri  Coe purchased the former home of Civl War General Naglee on the corner of 12th and San Frenando Streets in San Jose-A History of the New California: Its Resources and People, edited by Leigh Hadley Irvine, published 1903)

It is to such men as Henry Willard Coe that the country really owes what is best in its character and achievements. He stood for advancement and progressiveness in all things and his labors were an effective force in bringing about improvements and upbuilding along numerous lines that have proven of untold worth to the communities in which he lived. 
Transcribed by Joseph Kral, from Eugene T. Sawyers' History of Santa Clara County,California,  published by Historic Record Co. , 1922. pge395