James M. Drake is one of Riverside’s representative and well-known businessmen, and has for years been the treasurer of the city, which responsible and important office he fills with honor and credit to himself and the municipality whose interests he so ably guards. Although not a pioneer of Riverside, her history would be incomplete without a fitting mention of Mr. Drake’s eight or ten years’ association with her interests.
He is a native of Louisville, Kentucky, and dates his birth April 12, 1837. His parents were Charles and Mahala J. (Jeter) Drake. His father was a native of Virginia, a descendant of one of the old colonial families. Mr. Drake was reared in Louisville until the age of twelve years. At that time the death of his mother occurred and his father then moved to Marshall, Clark County, Illinois. After a residence of four years in that place the family moved to Nashville, Tennessee.
Mr. Drake terminated his school days in the public schools of that city and then returned to Louisville and started in life by learning the trade of au upholsterer and house-furnisher. He then established himself in Shelbyville, Kentucky, where he remained until early in 1858, when he established au upholstering and house-furnishing business in Huntsville, Alabama. He was successfully conducting his enterprise when the secession movement and the formation of the Confederate government plunged his State into the civil war. Mr. Drake was not a secessionist, nor did he believe that success would ever crown the efforts of the Southern leaders in disrupting the Union of the States, but he was a Southern man by birth and his fortunes were cast with his State. He was too manly to shirk the issue, and too brave to shrink from the support of his people upon the field of battle. He felt compelled to enter the war, and in 1862 he entered the Confederate army in Ward’s Battery as a Corporal. He was distinguished for his gallant service and was promoted and received a Lieutenant’s commission. He served faithfully throughout the war and was engaged in many of the hard-fought battles. His battery was for a long time serving in the Army of the Tennessee under General Johnston, and later in the Department of Mobile, and participated in the battles of Resaca, Marietta, Kenesaw, Peach-Tree Creek, Corinth, Jonesboro, Atlanta, Shelby, and many others.
The close of the war terminated his service, and in May 1865, he returned to his home in Alabama. His business was destroyed and he was financially ruined. He accepted the situation and went bravely to work in building up and establishing a new era in the South. He employed himself as a clerk in mercantile houses, and then in business on his own account.
In 1872 he moved to Scottsboro, and engaged in the hotel business as the proprietor of the well-known Harris Hotel. He spent nearly ten years in that business, and in 1881 decided to seek a home in California. In that year he came to Riverside, and in February 1882, established himself in business as a bookseller and stationer on Main street. This was the first bookstore ever opened in Riverside. He started in business with limited resources, but he met a much needed want of the community, and his straight-forward and honest dealing gained him their patronage and support, and he gradually increased and enlarged his business until at this writing he is at the head of the largest book-selling and stationery establishment-with but one exception-in San Bernardino County.
In June., 1888, Mr. Cundiff entered into partnership with Mr. Drake, under the firm name of Drake & Cundiff, since which time the business has been conducted by these gentlemen. Mr. Drake has not confined himself exclusively to mercantile pursuits. He is the owner of eighty-seven acres of land, six miles east of Riverside, near Box Springs, and has been engaged in agricultural and horticultural pursuits. His lands are capable of irrigation from the Bear valley water system, and it is only a question of time when the increasing demand for orange lands will render it a very valuable property. His residence in the city is located on Tenth Street, Franklin Square. He has taken a deep interest in the growth and prosperity of the city, and has ever been a willing and liberal contributor to enterprises that have tended to secure those results.
In politics he is, nationally, a Democrat, but locally, an independent. In 1886 he was elected City Treasurer. The confidence he inspired and the satisfaction he afforded the community by his honest administration of the affairs of the office, is best attested by the round majority by which he was re-elected in 1888; was re-elected April 14, 1890. Mr. Drake is a member of the following fraternal societies of Riverside: Lodge No. 282, and Encampment No. 73, I. O. O. F., Sunnyside Lodge No. 112, Knights of Pythias, and the uniform rank of the same order, and also a member of the Knights of Honor. He has for many years been a consistent member of the Methodist Church.
February 4, 1859, Mr. Drake married Miss Maria A. Jones, a native of Alabama. There is but one child living from this union, -John R., who is a resident of Riverside, engaged in ranching upon lands at Box Springs. The fourth child, Eugene C., was known in Riverside. He died in that city August 12, 1888, at the age of twenty-two years.