John Henry Stewart, one of the most prominent citizens of San Bernardino, was born of Scotch parents in Williamstown, Massachusetts, April 28, 1823. His father, Samuel Stewart, removed his family to Oswego County, New York, when John Henry was but two years old, and his childhood and youth were passed there. At an early age he learned the trade of house carpentering and joining, which he followed for many years. Being the oldest in a family of eight children and his father not enjoying good health, a large share of the support of the family fell on his shoulders,-a burden which proved too heavy for his youthful years; so he came westward to Illinois, and worked at his trade in Rockford.
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In 1846 he returned to New York State, and was there married to Miss Charlotte Woodworth, in September of that year, and returned with his wife to Rockford, Illinois. In 1850 failing health induced him to come to California. In 1852 he returned to Rockford for his family, and on their arrival they settled at Sutterville, Sacramento County, where he engaged in the freighting business, and also worked at his trade, receiving $16 a day. In 1855 he removed to Cloverdale, Sonoma County, bought 400 acres of laud and engaged in stock raising. A year later he was stricken down with a severe and protracted illness, which resulted in a permanent muscular paralysis of his lower limbs, and lie was never again able to walk without the aid of crutches or canes. In 1857 Mrs. Stewart died, leaving two sons, Clarence and Richard, who are respected citizens of the county, the former a resident of Riverside and the latter of San Bernardino.
In December, 1857, Mr. Stewart was joined in marriage with Miss Martha D. Kenfield, a native of Worcester County, Massachusetts, and an old friend of Mr. Stewart’s, who, in spite of the opposition of her relatives, whose friendship she thereby sacrificed, was willing to assume a double responsibility of feet to the lame and mother to the orphans. With the loyalty of noble womanhood, she performed the voluntary task of wifely devotion to “her crippled husband for nearly twenty-eight of the best years of her life.
In 1858 they moved to Petaluma, selling their property in Cloverdale, and in 1865 they exchanged their property in Petaluma for a block of land in San Bernardino, situated a little west of the business portion of the town, bounded by Second, Third, D and E streets. In 1867 Mr. Stewart erected the first brick building in San Bernardino, on the corner of Third and D streets, now known as the Meyerstein Corner. In 1872 he built the three stores next west of that, in 1878 he erected another block of three stores. For some time previous to the accident which caused his death Mr. Stewart had contemplated building a fine hotel which should be a credit to the city; he had drawn the plans, and began the foundation for it on the site of the present Stewart Hotel, expecting to push forward the work in 1885. On February 14, of that year, he was thrown from his carriage, receiving a compound fracture of the thigh, too close to the body to admit of amputation. After eighteen weeks of untold suffering, death came to his relief; on June 22, 1885.
Mr. Stewart was ever one of the foremost workers for the advancement of every worthy enterprise benefiting the county, the merits of which his discriminating judgment never failed to discover and appreciate. As an instance of his wise foresight: He was one of the projectors of the Silk Center Association of Southern California, organized in November, 1869, for the purpose of colonization and promotion of raw-silk-producing industry, the intention being to cultivate the variety of mulberry tree suitable for silk-worm food by irrigation. An arrangement was made to purchase land, a preliminary survey was made for a canal, and some work done on it in the spring of 1870, but the death of Louis Pevost, the president of the company, suspended the work.
In September of that year the first settlement of Riverside was made under the name of Jurupa, and the Silk Center Association was merged into the Southern California Colony Association about the middle of that month. The principal stockholders of this new association were: C. N. Felton, Henry Hamilton, M. W. Childs, J. H. Stewart, Dudley Pine, W. J. Linville, J. W. North, Dr. J. P. Greves and Dr. K. D. Shugart. Mr. North was elected president, and Mr. Stewart, treasurer of the company. The enterprise has succeeded in transforming the once arid lands of Jurupa and Rubidoux ranches into a veritable Eden of floral beauty. The name Jurupa was changed to Riverside in December 1870. In 1877 Mr. Stewart sold his stock and retired from the association. While acquiring the ample fortune which he made and which he left his family, appraised at $90,000, but worth much more, he, by his generous assistance, enabled many a struggling fellow man to attain a comfortable prosperity which they could not other-wise have secured.
He was possessed of extraordinary business tact and judgment; was noted for his public spirit and hospitality; was strong and constant in his friendship, tender in sympathy, broad and comprehensive in mental grasp and in energy indomitable.
The hotel he was preparing to erect was built by others after his death and bears his name. His will divided his large estate equally between his widow and two sons. At the time of his second marriage his estate was worth but $10,000, and he gave half of that to his sons to aid them in starting in life; so that nearly all his property was accumulated after he became a cripple, with the help of his noble wife, whose loyalty never faltered through more than a quarter of a century of devotion to him in his abiding illness.