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Madera Biographies: SCHMITZ

Ranch home of J. W. Schmitz

J.  W. SCHM ITZ - One of the foremost agriculturists of the San Joaquin valley, and a citizen of much prominence, J. W. Schmitz is worthy of more than passing mention in this volume. Associated with Miller & Lux, he is manager of the Poso district, which includes the Helen, Poso, Central, Temple and River Camp, Corm Camp and Colony ranches, and of the east side division, in which are New Ranch, and the New and Old Columbia ranches. He is also manager of large grain ranches in the Madera Berendo country. A man of unbounded energy, great enterprise, and strong force of character, he has been influential in the development of the resources of this section of Fresno, Madera and Merced counties and the prime factor in making irrigation successful, having been the first to make and utilize permanent head gates. Possessing a thorough knowledge of the occupation to which he is giving his best sound judgment and wisdom the decisions quick and accurate; his place of eminence among the keen and progressive and business-like farmers of the community which he resides. A native of Germany born April 14, 1846, a son of F. P. Schmitz.

A man of great mechanical ability F.P. Schmitz learned the trade of gunsmith in Germany, and for a number of years was a commissioned officer in the German army serving as gunsmith to Emperor Frederick William.  Immigrating with his family to America in 1854, resided in Detroit, Mich., until his death which occurred in 1857. His wife, whose maiden name was Isabella Birk, was born in Germany and died in Detroit, Mich.  Of the children born of their union, J, W. is the only survivor.

Completing his early education schools of Detroit, J. W. Schmitz left Michigan in 1862, his venturesome spirit deciding him to try the hazard of new fortunes. Going to Atichison, Kans., he joined a freighting outfit as train clerk, but later drove six yoke of oxen across the plains to Salt Lake City, being three months en route, and afterwards resuming his former position as train clerk. Desirous of extending travels, he next became train clerk for Forbes brothers, and with them went to the East mines, now Montana, driving an ox-team on the way, and arriving in the fall of 1862. Following close in the footsteps of the on rush Schmitz continued his journey to Virginia City, Mont., where he was employed in mining for four years and ten months, prospecting and opening up different claims. Starting for California in 1867, he journeyed on horse back to Walla Walla, thence by steamer down to Columbia river to Portland, Ore., and from there to San Francisco by water. Going at once to Calaveras County, Mr. Schmitz was for ten months engaged in quartz mining near Point. Not particularly successful, he proceeded to Santa Clara county, where he made an entire change of occupation, becoming bridge builder for the old San Francisco and San Jose Railroad company, on the line now known as the Coast Line. When the road was completed as far as Gilroy, he continued with the same company as a carpenter in the bridge department, remaining thus employed until the old company sold out to the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, when he settled as a carpenter in San Jose side of the San Joaquin valley as fence builder on the Santa Rita ranch. Proving himself capable and faithful, he was given the entire charge of fence building on that ranch, and held the position from1871, until the summer of 1873, when he was made superintendent of Santa Rita. He at once began needed improvements on the place, and during that year the canal was built through that estate, and the S. J. & K. R. C. & I. Company was begun. Giving up the management of the ranch in 1874, he worked as a fence maker for his former employers a few years building fences on the east and west sides of the valley, and in Santa Clara and Monterey counties, and also superintended the building of Chowchilla canal. In 1877, Mr. Schmitz built a head gate that proved successful, answering requirements, and marking a revolution in farming. During the ensuing two years he was in developing irrigation on both sides of the valley, and at Los Banos began raising alfalfa as an experiment. From year to year he made improvements of a marked character, developing the country included between Los Banos and Firebaugh, in which previously there had been no water, by his efforts making it one of most fertile productive regions of central California. He has had charge of the Chowchilla canal since its completion, and superintended also the improvement of the east side, and a part of Dos Palos ranch, of which he had in 1879. In 1884 Mr. Schmitz began working in a systematic and scientific manner at the Poso ranch, and as mentioned above is manager of the entire Poso district, and of the east side division. He raises large quantities of alfalfa on each of the ranches, and likewise and raises stock of all kinds. He is also advisory manager of the Santa Rita ranch, and supervision of the grain farms in Madera County.

Schmitz is personally interested in farming and stock raising in Madera County, being of owner of the old Chapman ranch, the Howard and Wilson ranches, the three farms containing five-thousand acres of land.  This state he devotes to the raising of grain and fruit, he has there a fine orchard thirty-five acres; a vineyard of twenty-five acres; four hundred acres of alfalfa, four and one-half sections of grain, and two sections of grass land.  His property is finely improved, and bountiful harvests each year bringing him in a princely income.

February 11, 1886, in Detroit, Mich., Mr. Schmitz married Mary Van Leyen, who was born that city, a daughter of John Van Leyen, who was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, and makes his home in Detroit. By his marriage Hendrina Look [Van Leyen] there were five children born, of whom Mrs. Schmitz is the only one in California. The maternal grandfather of Mrs. Schmitz, John Look, served as a commissioned officer in Napoleon s army at Moscow. He subsequently came to America, locating at Detroit, Mich., where he engaged in farming, living there until his death, at the advanced age of ninety-three years. The only child of Mr. and Mrs. Schmitz, J. Walter Schmitz, is attending Santa Clara College. Politically Mr. Schmitz is a stanch Republican. Fraternally he was made a Mason in Merced, and now belongs to Madera Lodge, F. & A. M., of which he is a charter member.

Guinn, J. M., History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the San Joaquin Valley, California, (Chicago: Chapman Publishing, 1905), page 604.

Transcribed by Harriet Sturk.

Last update: January 29, 2003
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