The Valley of Heart's Delight


BIO- Sawyers-History of Santa Clara

  A notably successful career is that of Lee R. Lenfest, a prominent land developer residing in Santa Clara County, the owner of a valuable ranch in the northeastern part of the city of San Jose, and a fine tract of land near Manteca, while the methods employed in the cultivation and development of these places are the expression of the latest scientific research along agricultural lines. A native of Maine, Mr. Lenfest was born in Knox County, September 27, 1859, his parents being Daniel and Elizabeth (Whitten) Lenfest. The ancestral record is traced back to Normandy, whence members of the Lenfest family migrated to the Isle of Guernsey, which was the home of the great-grandfather of our subject, the family name originally being spelled Lenfeste. At the outbreak of the War of 1812 he was conscripted into the British forces, and when the ship reached a short distance from the American Coast, he jumped overboard and swam ashore. His son, Peter Lenfest, who was a farmer in Washington Township, Maine, married Margaret Campbell, a Scotchwoman, and they became the parents of thirteen children. The eldest of this family, Daniel Lenfest, removed to Clay County, Nebr., settling twenty-eight miles from Hastings, when the Indians, buffalo and elk were numerous on the plains. There he took up a tree claim and also preempted eighty acres; he was seven years in proving up on these claims, which aggregated 240 acres, where he raised grain and stock, but he died soon after proving up on his land.

  Lee R. Lenfest received few educational advantages, being obliged to walk a distance of four and a half miles to the nearest school, which he attended only during the winter months. However he was enabled to secure a certificate to teach a country school, which he did for a couple of seasons. The care of his mother and sister devolved upon him after the death of his father, about 1881, and he took charge of the home property, being among the first to grow alfalfa in that country. In 1894 he left Nebraska for Louisiana, settling at Lake Charles, where he turned his attention to the rice business, organizing a company which erected the second rice mill west of New Orleans. The venture proved such a success that the company enlarged its activities, purchasing a tract of 2,000 acres, which they planted to rice, irrigated by pumping plants with water from the river. They raised large crops of rice, the entire development being made under Mr. Lenfest's personal supervision, but after twelve years spent in that state, failing health compelled the family to seek the more salubrious climate of California is 1905.

 The family home has been in San Jose since 1913, Mr. Lenfest retaining his property interests in Louisiana until 1915. They settled first at Los Gatos, where Mr. Lenfest purchased The Big Oaks Ranch, having forty-seven acres in prunes, apricots, pears and peaches. After improving this place, he disposed of it three years later and bought a ranch of 100 acres at Empire, Cal., near Modesto, on which he engaged in growing alfalfa. At the end of four years he again sold, but in the meantime he had acquired a ranch of 143 acres north of Santa Clara, a part of the old Morse seed farm. This property being in a badly run-down condition, he made many improvements thereon, including the installation of a splendid pumping plant, and ninety acres he devoted to alfalfa. He wrought a great transformation in the appearance of the place, which he sold at the end of two years for $350 an acre, an advance of $150 per acre over the purchase price. He next bought 229 acres in the northeastern part of San Jose, of which 116 acres are now leased for dairy purposes and ten acres for vegetables. He has thirty acres in pears, and about fifty-five acres now being prepared for this fruit, the intention being to set the entire tract to pears of the best varieties. When Mr. Lenfest sold his interests in Louisiana, he acquired 220 acres in Tulare County, which he developed to prunes and alfalfa, installing a pumping plant and pipe lines. He next bought 1,200 acres near Manteca, which he is highly developing along modern lines, and is putting out 400 acres to grapes and 600 acres in alfalfa. He brings to his work a true sense of agricultural economics, and never allows an acre of his holdings to be unproductive, his enterprises being ably directed.

  On September 6, 1883, in Clay County, Nebr., Mr. Lenfest was united in marriage with Miss Lillie E. Slawson, a native of McHenry County, Ill., and a daughter of Henry H. and Polly (Lake) Slawson. Originally residents of New York state, they became early settlers of Illinois, where the father engaged in farming, hauling grain to Fort Dearborn, the site of the present metropolis of Chicago, then but a trading post. Mr. and Mrs. Lenfest have become the parents of six children: Blossom married Lavergne Graves, an oil expert; they have three children and now reside in Texas. Ray is interested with his father as a partner in developing their ranch property. Nellie, Mrs. Samuel Worsley, is the mother of two daughters and lives in Providence, R. I. Bessie and Dora, the youngest child, are at home, while Jasper is attending the San Luis Obispo State Technical School.

  In his political views Mr. Lenfest is a Republican and he keeps well informed on the questions of the day, as affecting the welfare and progress of the country. His life record illustrates the power of honesty, determination and diligence in insuring success, his labors ever having been of a constructive nature, and have resulted in placing him in the front rank of progressive agriculturists of California.

Transcribed by Joseph Kral, from Eugene T. Sawyers' History of Santa Clara County,California,
 published by Historic Record Co. , 1407


SANTA CLARA COUNTY HISTORY- The Valley of Heart's Delight