The Valley of Heart's Delight

Capitalist-  Gilroy

BIO- Pen Pictures


But few of those men who came to Gilroy when it was a mere stage station yet remain to note the great development which has been shown by the little hamlet of that day, and by the country surrounding. Perhaps no other name has been so intimately associated with that progress from the first as that of Thomas Rea.

Mr. Rea is a native of Gallia County, Ohio, where he was born November 22, 1820. His father, James Rea, was born in Greenbriar County, Virginia, of Welsh-Irish extraction. He was reared in his native State, and there married Hannah Hutsinpiller, whose parents were Pennsylvanians. He served his country in the war with Mexico, being in the command of Col. E. D. Baker, afterward Senator from Oregon. In his politics, he was identified with the old Whig party, and became a Republican when the political lines were re-drawn and that party formed. He was a man of remarkable memory, which he retained unimpaired until his death, in 1879, after he had reached his eightieth year. Even in the latter years of his life, he could vividly recall the lessons from the history of his country learned in early youth, while the happenings of later days and the movements in battles, campaigns, and marches, during the Mexican War were indelibly imprinted on his mind. His wife preceded him to the grave, her death having occurred in 1871. They rest side by side in the cemetery at San Jose.

Thomas Rea, whose name heads this sketch, was the second in order of birth of their twelve children. He grew up amid the primitive surroundings of his native county in Ohio, and Hancock County in the same State, whither the family removed in 1833. He received the usual education afforded by a pioneer community, which was, of course, limited. In 1838 the family removed to Macon County, Illinois, and there he continued his studies, having for a tutor an uncle of his father, a well-educated man. Attaining his majority, Mr. Rea, filled with the spirit of adventure, was not at all satisfied with the idea of settling down to the quiet life of an Illinois farmer. Accordingly, in 1842, he went to Grant County, Wisconsin, where he engaged in lead mining, continuing in that occupation until November 1849. At that time stories of the new El Dorado led him to become one of the gold seekers of California. En route,  he passed down the Mississippi to New Orleans, thence via steamer and Isthmus route to Panama, where he embarked on the old whale-ship Norman, which had been converted into a passenger boat by the necessities of emigration. He reached San Francisco February 22, 1850, thence, a few days later, passed on to Sacramento, and directly to the placer mines at Auburn. There and at other points the season was spent in mining and in prospecting. Before winter set in, he was engaged in mining operations at Downieville, where he remained until March 1852. On the fifteenth of the next month, Mr. Rea embarked for Panama, and returned to Illinois. Looking after his interest in the lead mines and visiting friends, occupied a few months. Meantime he arranged for his return to California, in which State he had determined to establish his future home. The important preliminary preparations were consummated April 11, 1853, the day he wedded Miss Mary Ann Jones. Mr. Rea, with his wife, his brother-in-law, Mr. G. B. Montgomery, and others, left Illinois the same month, and, crossing the plains, deserts, and mountains, made the overland trip to California. Late in August, in company with his brother-in-law, he reached San Jose. Resting a few days, they reached Gilroy September 3. But little promise of the present was then to be seen. One store, conducted by L. C. Everitt, three residences, and a school-house made the Gilroy of that date. The post-office and hotel were in the same building, which is yet standing near the present residence of Mr. A. Lewis.

Mr. Rea first settled on the Solis Ranch, and established a dairy business, this becoming one of the pioneers of the county in that industry. He expended about $2,000 in improving that property, but in June 1857, not being fully satisfied with his location, he bought 160 acres out of the Los Animas Ranch.  Year by year he added to his purchase until he owned and yet owns about 935 acres of the Los Animas Ranch. His residence was about three miles from Gilroy, although the boundary of his land was but a little more than a mile from the city. Constantly increasing, his dairy industry was successfully  prosecuted, until 1871, when, desiring a life more retired, Mr. Rea removed to Gilroy. His present fine residence, on Commodious shaded grounds, was erected by himself with regard to comfort and convenience, rather than to cost, and was taken possession of in June, 1873.

Mr. Rea was one of the incorporators and principal stockholders of the Gilroy Bank, and until January, 1874, when he sold out his interests, he was one of the Board of Directory and President of that institution. Upon his retirement, he was presented by the stockholders with a handsome clock, as a testimonial of their respect and esteem.

Mr. Rea is prominent in political as well as in business and social circles. A Whig until the organization of the Republican party, he needed no schooling to fit him for leading in the new organization. Under the teaching of Henry Clay, he had learned to oppose the extension of slavery, and had adopted the doctrine of protection to American industries. In the General Assembly of the State, he represented his district in 1873 and ' 74, serving with credit on the Committees on Corporations and Counties, County Boundaries, and several special committees. From 1872 to 1876 he served Gilroy in its City Council, and from 1886 to 1888 as its Mayor. Although a member of no religious organization, Mr. Rea recognizes the power exerted by all for good, and while devoting more of his means to the upbuilding of the Congregational Church, of which he is one of the Trustees, he helps all denominations.

Mrs. Rea was born in Palestine, in Vermillion County, Illinois. Her father, Wm. A. Jones, died in 1854, and her mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Jones, in 1868. Mr. and Mrs. Rea are the parents of the following children: James W., who resides on the Alameda road between San Jose and Santa Clara, and is one of the State Railroad Commissioners of California; Addie, who is the wife of E. W. Strange, of San Francisco; Emma, who is the wife of Louis L
oupe, of Gilroy; Carrie, who has her home with her parents; Clara, who is the wife of Jacob Hanna, of Livermore; and Geore Elmer, who lives on his father's ranch; and one adopted daughter, Mary, is now the wife of D. M. Pyle, of Bakersfield.

The parents of Mr. Rea naturally followed him to California, coming one year later, in 1854. They lived near the Seven Mile House, on the road from San Jose to Gilroy, until about 1865, when they removed to Gilroy Township, where they spent the rest of their lives.

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.           page 336-337   Transcribed by Roena Wilson          

SANTA CLARA COUNTY -The Valley of Heart's Delight