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June 24, 2009 > History: John Lyman Beard

History: John Lyman Beard

John Lyman Beard was born in Lafayette, Indiana in 1845. He came with his mother, Jane Beard and stepbrother, Henry Ellsworth, to join his father, Elias Lyman Beard at Mission San Jose in 1850. The family lived in some of the old mission buildings. John was a student of Rev. W. W. Brier at the mission in 1852 and both boys are listed in the school census for Santa Clara County that year - dated October 31, 1852.

John first attended school in Mission San Jose and later in San Francisco and Oakland. He then went to college and became one of the first graduates of the newly established College of California, later the University of California. Beard traveled for awhile and then settled down to help develop the family's farming enterprises. It was reported that he raised fruit at Centerville in 1867 while still in college.

The "most frightful train accident that had ever occurred in California" up to the time was a head-on collision near San Leandro, November 14, 1869. The accident took the lives of 14 people and John was fortunate to escape with a badly injured foot. By 1870 he was managing two farms, one north of Centerville and the other in Warm Springs.

On April 29, 1880 John married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Hawley. A native of Washington Township, Lizzie grew up on the family farm across the Alvarado-Centerville Road from the Jessie Beard Ranch. Her parents were James and Hetty Hawley. Lizzie taught for several years in the Dublin Canyon School. John and Lizzie had a small wedding at the Hawley home near Alviso School because John's father, Elias Beard, was near death. As a wedding gift, Elias gave the couple the former home of John's grandfather, Jessie. They lived most of their married life on this ranch except for the years 1887 to 1894 when they lived on their Warm Springs ranch. Historian M. W. Wood reported in 1883 that the family was engaged in "farming and fruit raising" on their ranch 2 1/2 miles north of Centerville.

John developed vineyards on both farms and became a leading producer. He was recognized as "one of the big wine growers of Centerville" and a "Warm Springs wine maker." His wines won medals at the State Fair and even at the Chicago Midwinter Fair. One of his Japanese employees learned the business and returned to Japan to become an industry leader there. Charles Shinn reported on Beard's vineyard in 1891 noting that John's winery was one of three in the Warm Springs area. He had 233 acres of bearing grapes in 1893 that produced 440 tons with a wine cooperage of 140,000 gallons.

Beard is listed as a farmer at Mission San Jose in 1870 and as a farmer with 1457 acres at Alvarado in 1879. The 1878 Atlas of Alameda County has a lithograph of John's residence and farm at Alvarado. The map shows his 203 acre farm and orchard just north of Alviso School with several large properties lying between Alvarado and the bay. John is also listed as one of the farmers interested in "good horse-flesh."

Nominated by the Republicans to represent the Twenty-Eighth District in the California State Senate, John was described as "a man of the people, an educated gentleman and a representative of the best type of the American farmer." He was elected to the Senate in 1894, served with honor until 1898 and was recognized as the "Hon. J. L. Beard of Mission San Jose." He was called on to speak before a variety of audiences and organizations including the Farmers Institute and advocated plating grapes that were good for table use as well as wine to give growers two sources of revenue.

John was the first graduate of the University of California to become a regent of the school. He was a member of the University of California Club, the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, a school trustee and a supporter of farm and wine associations. John served as a Board Director for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Their meeting of September 28, 1889 was held at the Lick Observatory.

Lizzie and John's children were Jessie, John, Jr., Hawley and Clara. Jessie lived in New York, Clara in Lone Pine and Hawley in Berkeley. John, Jr. became a doctor and served in the Army in World War I.

John Lyman Beard died in 1903 leaving his widow Lizzie with their 200-acre home and farm. She managed the 100-acre orchard and leased the farm for a few years, then moved to San Francisco with the children, Jessie, John, Jr., Hawley W., and Clara.

Writers of the History of Washington Township noted in 1904 that some of the Beard pear trees still bearing fruit had been brought across the plains in pioneer days. There were also many fine walnut and elm trees on the grounds. John was very proud of the resources and products of his ranches. He once bragged about a recent dinner of local products: oysters, fish and salt from the bay; peppers, lettuce, olives, onions, fruit and potatoes from the farm; and cheese, wine, sugar and vinegar he made himself.

Senator Beard was described as "a man of deep convictions and great force of character who looked on life through friendly eyes, seeing the good and beautiful in nature and other people." He had many friends and was a welcome guest in the foremost homes of the state.

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