O'Banion and Kent Orchard
A California '49er
Bio-Pen Pictures

            James E. Gordon was born while his parents were on their way from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, October 12, 1846.  His father, James Gordon, was a native of New Jersey, and his mother of New Orleans, Louisiana.  They did not reach California until 1849, although when they left New Jersey their objective point was San Francisco, but remained in Mexico during the Mexican War, contracting and furnishing the United States Army with supplies, and this and other business delayed their arrival in San Francisco.  At that time San Francisco was no larger than Los Gatos is to-day.  The vessel on which they made the voyage was an old Dutch bark called the Alexander Von Humboldt, and among her passengers were many who subsequently became prominently identified with the history of California, among them being C. P. Huntington, of the Central Pacific Railroad, and Isaac E. Davis, President of the Society of California Pioneers.  In 1852, Mr. Gordon attended for a short time the pioneer public school of California, in San Francisco, taught by John C. Pelton, and in 1860 the Rincon School, taught by the veteran John Swett; but the most of his education has been self-acquired.

 He went to the mines and participated as far as a boy could in the various mining experiences which made California’s history interesting.  He followed mining for about ten years, assisting his father a part of the time in extensive mining operations.  His father lost heavily in this business, and died in 1859, leaving James to support himself and mother.  In 1863 he entered the employ of L. B. Benchley & Co., wholesale hardware dealers in San Francisco, as errand-boy, at a salary of $20 per month, and left them in 1875 as manager, with a salary of $4,000 per annum.  He then bought out the old firm of Marsh, Pillsbury & Co., a branch of the Boston house of May & Co., the oldest hardward house in America.  He did business for five years as James E. Gordon & Co., when he incorporated as The Gordon Hardware Company, being the first jobbing house on the coast to incorporate, an example which was soon followed by the heaviest houses in that line.  In connection with the main house, branch houses were established at Seattle, Washington Territory, and at Los Angeles, under the same firm name.  The management of the three houses telling upon his health at that time, he closed up his business in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and disposed of the greater portion of his interest in the Seattle house, and retired permanently from the hardware business.The Seattle house continues to do the largest business in that line in the Territory. 

In 1885, realizing that the fruit business would hereafter become the leading industry of the State, he decided to identify himself with it, purchasing the famous O’Banion & Kent orchard at Saratoga.  The property consisted of eighty-six acres, all in bearing, for which he paid $72,000, which at that time was considered a ridiculously high price by those who were not aware of the profits derived from this class of property.  At the same time he purchased a large interest in the Los Gatos Fruit Packing Company, of which institution he is the financial director.  In 1887 Mr. Gordon organized the Saratoga Village Improvement Association, the object of which is to plant shade-trees, sprinkle roadways, cultivate social intercourse, and in other ways to make Saratoga a desirable place of residence.  Milton H. Myrick, ex-Supreme Court Justice of this State, is its President, and has contributed much to its success already achieved.  Mr. Gordon’s orchard consists of nearly 10,000 trees, composed of 3,000 apricots, 2,000 French prunes, 2,000 almonds, 1,000 peaches, and the remainder in plums, apples, pears, and cherries.  He is now erecting a series of buildings for grading and packing green fruits for the market, and also for canning, drying, and making glace fruit—a form of crystallized fruit.  A portion of the buildings will be ready for this season’s crop, with greater extensions to be made for the future.  Shortly after coming to the place he organized a stock company, and had the orchard incorporated under the name of the Saratoga Orchard Company, with a capital stock of $100,000, one of the objects being the acquiring of adjacent land and setting it out into orchards.  Mr. Gordon spends half of his time at his orchard, and the other half at his office in San Francisco, where he is operating on his own account in real estate.  These operations extend from British Columbia to Mexico, a business he has been engaged in since he earned his first $20 piece.

            Mr. Gordon was married October 11, 1873, to Carrie S. Hooke, of San Francisco, a daughter of William H. Hooke, a prominent lumber dealer of that city.  They have four children—three daughters and one son.

Pen Pictures From The Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, Illustrated. - Edited by H. S. Foote.- Chicago:  The Lewis Publishing Company, 1888.
Pg. 311-312
Transcribed by Kathy Sedler
Proofread by Betty Vickroy