Biography of John Congreve

John Congreve, one of the well-known business men of Riverside and San Bernardino County, with which he has been identified for many years, is the general manager of the Riverside branch of the Pioneer Lumber and Mill Company, one of the largest and best known lumber enterprises in Southern California. The Riverside branch was established in January 1886, under the firm name of William H. Perry Lumber and Mill Company, and continued until January 1, 1887. The present company was then organized with M. A. Murphy as president, and S. H. Moot, secretary, and at that time Mr. Congreve took charge of the Riverside yards as manager. Mr. Congreve is a well trained business man, who came to Southern California more than thirty years ago, after a long business career in the Eastern States, and ever since his arrival has been connected with the lumber interests of Southern California. There are few, if any, men in that business that are better qualified to meet the growing demands of the trade than he.

The few facts obtained of his earlier life are of interest. Mr. Congreve was born in Waterford County, Ireland, January 3, 1827. His parents were in indigent circumstances, and from early boyhood he was dependent upon himself for support and education. At fifteen years of age, when more favored youths were pursuing their school studies, he started in life as a boy before the mast, in a seafaring life, following that occupation for the next seven years. By his attention to his duties and quick intelligence, he mastered the details of his calling and rose to a position among the subordinate officers of his vessel.

In 1849 he found himself in the Southern States, and he located first in Florida, engaged in steam boating on Tampa bay, and thence to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1852, and there engaged in mercantile pursuits. He was successful, and in the years that followed ranked among the solid merchants of the city. The war of the Rebellion, that was inaugurated in that city in 1861, found him conducting a prosperous and profitable business, but the blockading of the Southern ports that soon followed produced a general stagnation, and eventually broke up his business, and left him financially ruined.

Mr. Congreve, though a strong opponent of the secession movement, and a Union man, was compelled to take a part in the stirring events of that date. He was a member of the Montgomery Guards, and when they were called out at the commencement of hostilities, shouldered his musket and appeared for duty. His command was stationed at Cummings Point, on Morris Island, and he saw the first gun fired upon Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861, the report of which inaugurated one of the greatest civil wars of modern times, and at the sound of which hundreds of thousands of America’s most gallant sons rushed to a combat that did not end until more than four years later. Mr. Congreve’s strong Union sentiments were known, and he was subjected to many annoyances, and almost persecutions, made with an object of compelling him to enter the Confederate service. He escaped entering the ranks, but was employed in a civil capacity with the sutler’s department of the army. In 1864 he managed to secure a position, which his former seafaring life had fitted him for, upon a blockade-runner, bound for Nassau. The voyage was successfully accomplished, and from that port he proceeded to New York, and there engaged in mercantile pursuits until 1868.

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In that year he came to California and located in Los Angeles, and soon after entered the employ of J. G. Jackson & Co., in establishing the first lumberyard ever opened in that city. In 1875 he was the agent for Perry & Woodworth, and established a lumberyard at Spadra, and had charge until 1875, when he established the Colton yard for the same firm. Mr. Congreve was the first businessman locating in that city, and established the first business conducted at that point. A year or so later he returned to Los Angeles, and with the exception of the time spent in an extended tour through the Eastern States and Europe, was engaged in the lumber business in that city until coming to Riverside in 1887. He did not come as a stranger, the old colonists of Riverside had known him for years. As the railroad had advanced in the direction of their colony, he had followed with the lumber to meet their increasing demands, and his arrival in their midst, with the well-stocked yards of the Pioneer Company, was hailed with pleasure, and considered by all as a most desirable acquisition to the city.

Mr. Congreve promptly identified himself with Riverside and her interests. In political matters he is a Republican. He is a member of Evergreen Lodge, No. 259, F. & A. M., of Riverside, and still retains his membership with Solomon Lodge, No. 1, of Charleston, South Carolina, the oldest chartered lodge in the United States, having received its charter in 1735.


The Lewis Publishing Company. An Illustrated History of Southern California embracing the counties of San Diego San Bernardino Los Angeles and Orange and the peninsula of lower California. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. 1890.

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