This is taken from the book "Saratoga's First Hundred Years".

Authored by Florence R Cunningham.

This article came from the Archives of San José Historical Museum.

Chapter 9

Inimitable Charles Maclay

Then came one of Saratoga's colorful, controversial and stormy petrels. Charles Maclay, who, impressed by its natural resources, began planning big things for the community and himself. He felt that its equable climate and potential wealth destined it to become one of the major western cities under his leadership.

Maclay wore a coat of many colors. He came to California in 1851 as a circuit-riding Methodist minister with his two brothers, Alexander and John. They settled temporarily in San Francisco, but within a short time came to Santa Clara Valley. The two brothers remained active in the ministry, but Charles turned his prolific energies to politics, real estate speculation, manufacturing and empire building. Before long, his name was a household word in every portion of the state.

He was an imposing figure, five feet and ten inches tall, with a square build, florid complexion and penetrating blue eyes. He had a boldness of imagination, determination and dynamic leadership. A positive thinker, he never hesitated to express his views, speaking to the point in short, concise sentences.

First, he bought Haun's Redwood Mill and changed the name to Bank Mills. In fact, he even had the name of McCartysville post office officially changed to Bank Mills on December 22, 1863. Later, as has been previously mentioned, the town changed the name to Saratoga.

Next, he planned a Maclaytown real estate development. His erratic subdividing of forty-seven lots was hard to fathom. Some lots were quite large, while thirty of them were only twenty-five feet wide and about one-third were almost perpendicular. Consequently they did not sell.

It had been said there were two strong points to Maclay's career, his political ambitions and devotion to Methodism.

He entered actively into public affairs and was one of the men who helped organize the Republican Party on the Pacific coast. Later, Santa Clara county elected him to the State Assembly on the Republican ticket in 1861 and 1862, then sent him to the State Senate in 1864 for two terms. He was also one of the presidential electors at President Lincoln's second election.

Within ten years, Maclay changed his party registration three times; first, Republican; second to the Independent party; and third to the Democratic party. After Lincoln's assassination, Maclay made such an eloquent speech in favor of Andrew Jackson at a public meeting in San José, that he won the favor with the conservative Democrats. They asked him to accept the nomination for State Senate, which he did, and won.

Newspapers were not so tolerant of his vacillating political views. San José Mercury editor J. J. Owen, in an editorial dated July 4, 1867, said, "The Hon. Charles Maclay was one of the Republican representatives from this county in the Legislature of 1861. An original abolitionist and an ardent supporter of Lincoln's emancipation policy he was so bitter against the Democratic traitors of California that he even introduced a bill into the Legislature of '62 to confiscate their property to the state and now we find him trading with those same Democrats. Truly, there are kinks and quirks in human character that would bother a philoscopic angel to unravel."

Other central California newspapers carried similar stories.

Still, for eight years he was a senate leader noted for his remarkable comprehensive mind, clearness of description and rare business capacity! He gained influence because he was never known to break his promise. It was often remarked in Sacramento, "Once you get Maclay to promise a thing, he will do it and you need not trouble yourself any more about it."

When Maclay first came to Santa Clara County he established residence in Santa Clara. Then he moved to Saratoga, where he built a nine-room, two-story house near his many enterprises. Here he was a frequent speaker for civic functions, and gave support to community progress. His outstanding contribution was the organization of the Saratoga-Pescadero Turnpike and Wagon Road Company often referred to as Maclay's Turnpike, which is described in a later chapter.

His fearlessness was unchallenged. One late November afternoon, while driving his team of horses to Santa Clara, he outsmarted a bandit who attempted to hold him up. Hiding in the high mustard stalks by the highway, the robber managed to stop the team, but he had not reckoned with Maclay's quick thinking. Maclay swung with his long buggy whip, startling the horses into action, and then with a forceful whack sent the bandit rolling with pain into the mustard.

He tolerated no delay on this particular trip because he was heading for San Francisco to secure insurance on his tannery and grist mill on Lumber Street.

But a horseman overtook him with the news that his mill was "burning down." Racing back to McCartysville, Maclay arrived just as Bank Mills was reduced to smoldering ruins, together with 200 cords of bark and a large quantity of hay and grain.

This was one of the first great fires in Saratoga on Friday, November 13, 1863. Not only was the grist mill destroyed, but also the first rate tannery with all the modern improvements and best tan yard in the state. The first hides were already in the vats for tanning when the fire broke out.

The San José Mercury reported "The entire loss is estimated at $30,000 with no insurance. Much of the grain belonged to farmers in the vicinity. The loss to the firm is about $20,000."

Ironically, the next day it began to rain with a continuous and heavy downpour for two days. Had the fire only been the following night, the loss might not have been so great. Frank Farwell's rain gage registered six inches for the two nights with four inches falling on the first night alone.

With his usual energy, Maclay borrowed money and began rebuilding a bigger and better Bank Mills across the road from the old site. In 1865, he was back in business again with an additional expansion of manufacturing boots, shoes, harnesses, saddles and wagons of various kinds.

A lively little settlement known as Maclaytown was now developing around the well-stocked Bank Mills.

In the meantime Maclay's political ambitions absorbed so much of his time that he neglected to supervise the management of his many business enterprises. During his absence his luck started to run out.

Before long he was in dire financial trouble and was trying hard to save his property. This situation was followed by a crushing blow, his overwhelming defeat in the 1873 election to retain his seat in the state senate. He polled only 329 votes against his opponent, Thomas H. Laine's 2,156 votes!

When he first entered the senate it was said his estate was valued from $70,000 to $80,000, but at the close of his term he was compelled to borrow money. Some attributed this shattering fortune to his generosity and indulgence to his many friends, while others said mismanagement of his enterprises was at fault.

In an effort to recoup his fortunes, he widely advertised a public auction of his grist mill, machinery, stone store building, his home and all other possessions. The auction even included the forty-seven lots of the Maclaytown subdivision.

Apparently the public had lost confidence in Maclay, and his highly advertised auction was a complete failure. Even today the forty-seven lots are still intact. Some are part of an orchard, while the perpendicular ones are enveloped in a wild growth of bushes and trees. Only one house is standing in the old Maclaytown, the still attractive two-story frame home of this once dynamic, inimitable Charles Maclay. It is located by the Saratoga Creek on the right side of Highway 9 just west of town around the bend.

With his political career as legislator ended, his personal fortune gone, he moved his family to Southern California, hoping to identify with the growth and development of that area.

Gone was this man who was instrumental in bringing the State Normal School, now State College, to San José and the University of the Pacific to Santa Clara. He built the first Protestant Church in Santa Clara and helped in building the old Methodist Church in San José.

According to his dictation to Bancroft's correspondent, Edwin W. Fowler, he said, "I did as much in developing Santa Clara County as any other man."

In Los Angeles, he learned of a wonderful opportunity. Elogio F. de Celis and Andres Pico were about to lose their large rancho by mortgage foreclosure. The upper half of the Rancho, ex-Mission de San Fernando, was to be sold for $117,500 for approximately 56,000 acres. Unfortunately, the terms were cash, and Charles Maclay had no cash, but he did have a very good friend, Leland Stanford!

Stanford lent him the money without taking a note for it. During Maclay's political career, he used his influence to secure Stanford's nomination for governor. Once he was governor, Maclay always acted for his best interest and now "former Governor Stanford" was repaying his loyalty.

With Stanford's financial backing, Maclay and his partners, George K. Porter, a San Francisco shoe manufacturer and Benjamin F. Porter, his cousin, purchased the land, divided the large tracts between them, and immediately planted large sections of wheat.

Maclay and his family lived in the Mission San Fernando as guests of General Andres Pico until their home in San Fernando was complete. The area adjoining the mission was platted by Maclay into the town of San Fernando on September 15, 1874.

Despite his unfortunate experiences at Maclaytown, he began to dream of another empire. With the aid of his nephew, Judge Robert M. Widney, a sub-division was launched with part of the land divided into forty-acre farm sections and part into lots.

Town lots, 25' X 100' were advertised for $10 to $50 each, while the farm land sold for $5 to $40 per acre. In April of 1874, the sales were off to a successful start with the free excursion train passage from Los Angeles to the big auction.

Within a few years, San Fernando Valley changed from a waste land to one of the most beautiful and valuable areas of southern California. A circular published by the California Immigrant Union said "The soil of the Maclay San Fernando Ranch is without exception the richest on the Southern Coast."

Thus Charles Maclay accumulated another fortune from his promotions!

This time he told Judge Widney, "As soon as I come into possession of my second fortune, I do not intend to let that slip out of my hands without first having done something for God Almighty and the Church.

He built a three-story brick building for the Maclay School of Theology on a ten-acre campus with an endowment of $150,000 in land script of the San Fernando Land and Water Company. Its original value in 1885 was $150,000 but by 1887 it was worth $400,000, according to the Methodist Church. Maclay also stipulated that the faculty of the college could be subject to approval of the Board of Bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The school folded in 1893, when the land boom in southern California burst.

This generous gift of the theological school was one of his last. He became stricken with an incurable disease, lingered in great pain for several years, and died July 19, 1890, in San Fernando at age of only sixty-seven.

Maclay's lineage is traced back to John Maclay of County Antrim in the northern part of Ireland, and the distinguished Clan Maclays of Lurgan, Scotland, who came there between the years 1610 and 1650. Two brothers, John and Charles Maclay migrated to America in 1734 settling in Cumberland Valley, Pennsylvania, and from these descendents produced a genealogical tree bearing rich fruit of loyal, independent line of religious, community and political leaders, eminent lawyers, writers, farmers, merchants, and manufacturers. With this heritage, it is easy to understand how Charles Maclay had a marked influence upon any community.

Picture of the Bank Mill 1871

     Contact Me     

Last Upadated on Friday, October 20, 2000