The Valley of Heart's Delight

RODNEY ESCHENBURG , Gilroy, California Pioneer
Leading Dairy Farmer of Santa Clara Valley


     Esteemed and beloved among the sturdy pioneers who have been closely identified with the development of the wonderful resources of Santa Clara County, the late Rodney Eschenburg, a citizen of eminence of  Gilroy, began his interesting association with that town in 1889, after which he was not only an eyewitness to the growth of this section, but  did all that he could toward giving it prominence.  A native of  Delaware, Rodney Eschenburg was born in Wilmington on Washington's Birthday, 1831, one of eight children of John and Eliza (Rodney)  Eschenburg, his mother being a grandniece of Caesar A. Rodney, one of  the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  Her father was appointed U. S. Minister to the Argentine Republic, and he and his family took up their residence at Buenos Ayres, and in that beautiful South American city she was married, and there, too, four of her children were born.  While she was on a visit to her old home in Wilmington, the subject of our story entered the family as the fifth child.

     A native of the famous "free city" of Hamburg, John Eschenburg left his homeland while a young man and sought his fortune in far-away South America, and became a dealer in Peruvian bark, assembling his cargoes and shipping the same to the European markets.  There he met Miss Rodney, whom he later married, and by whom he had eight children: Emily, Ellen, John, Isabel, Rodney, Herman, Mariquita and Albertine.  Mr. Eschenburg lost the fortune he amassed when the South American Revolution swept away lives and property; and in 1834 he removed to Mexico, where he was very successful as a merchant for many years, also serving as Prussian consul at the City of Mexico.  About 1859, he came to the United States, and for ten years he followed agricultural pursuits in Madison County, Ill., about twenty miles from St. Louis.

In 1849, the gold fever drew three of his sons to California, while the remainder of the family returned to the old home in Delaware; and the next year, John Eschenburg himself hurried to the California gold-fields by way of the Isthmus.  In 1851, he returned to the East with part of the family; and in 1856 the rest followed.

 For years, after he had taken up his residence out there, John Eschenburg worked as a bookkeeper for Castle Bros. in San Francisco, and after his son, Rodney, had acquired a farm near Gilroy, he removed hither, in 1857, with his family.  In 1863, Mr. Eschenburg became secretary of the San Marcial Mining Company, and once again he removed to Mexico, where he worked in his secretarial capacity until within three days of his death, which occurred at San Marcial in 1865, when he had attained to the ripe old age of eighty-four years, and until 1874 he was survived by his widow, who died in San Francisco in her eighty-second year.

Rodney Eschenburg in 1849 set out with his brothers, Herman and John, to try to cross the great continent to California, and with dependable, if slow, mule-teams they accomplished the journey in 105 days.  They put up the first cabin at Auburn, and then plunged into mining.  On December 16, 1850, however, Herman passed away, not far from Nevada City, and the other two brothers were left to continue their mining ventures, with which they had only uncertain success, so that in
1858 they left the mines.  At Sacramento, Rodney got a job at unloading flour, for which he was paid one dollar an hour, working nearly twelve hours a day and handling 200-pound sacks.  He also worked on the first vessel ever sunk in California waters, the Lady Washington, later raised and salvaged.  About 1853, he went into the Santa Clara Valley about five miles east of Gilroy, and there bought a farm with some of the profits from his mining investments, thus acquiring some 343 acres, which he so improved that in time he had one of the finest dairy farms in that section.  On giving up mining, therefore, in '58, he naturally turned to farming, and for three decades he continued dairying, becoming one of the leading dairy-farmers of Santa Clara Valley, and a rancher whose progressive ideas influenced many in other parts of the county.

Retiring at last, he removed to Gilroy; and in June, 1921, he laid aside the cares and responsibilities of a world which had grown decidedly better for his having lived and toiled in it.  This 343-acre ranch is still known as the Eschenburg Dairy and is owned by the family.      Mr. Eschenburg was married in Gilroy on December 12, 1863, to Miss Maria Louise Thomas, one of the attractive daughters of John B. and Fanny (Smith) Thomas, who had six children, brought up in Delaware County, N. Y.  Three years prior to her wedding, Miss Thomas accompanied her sister, Mrs. John A. Perkins, of Fresno, on the even then somewhat difficult journey to California, coming out merely for a visit; but having met Mr. Eschenburg, who wooed and won her, she decided to stay and to help make the Golden State still more golden.  Two children were granted Mr. and Mrs. Eschenburg: Isabel Madeline became Mrs. Matthew McCurrie and was made secretary of the Humane Society of San Francisco; and they have two children, Donald Rodney and Gordon.  Herman R. Eschenburg married Miss Georgia Cobb, of Gilroy, and died, in August, 1903(ed note- died of wounds received on a hunting trip), the father of one boy, Herman Rodney Eschenburg, who graduated from the Davis Agricultural School in 1921, and is now making his home in Gilroy.

 Rodney Eschenburg assisted as a charter member in founding the Presbyterian Church at Gilroy in 1860, his wife also joining, and later he became an elder in the church.  He early joined the Republican party, and throughout his life labored to effect an elevation of all that pertained to politics.

Transcribed by Joseph Kral, from Eugene T. Sawyers' History of Santa Clara County,California,  published by Historic Record Co. , 1922. page 383



SANTA CLARA COUNTY- The Valley of Heart's Delight

July 16, 2005