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L. M. Holt was born August 9, 1840, in the town of Sylvan, Washtenaw County, Michigan, near where now stands the town of Chelsea. His parents, natives of Connecticut, immigrated to Michigan while this was still a Territory. In 1852 the father died at Hillsdale, leaving five children. From the age of fourteen the subject of this sketch depended upon his own resources for maintenance and education. Attending the Hillsdale College from 1856 to 1859, he then went to Iowa, where he learned the printing business in the office of the Eagle, Vinton, Iowa. In 1860 he was married to Miss Libbie J. Graves. Spending three years in teaching he was elected in 1863 Superintendent of Schools of Vinton County, having under his charge over 100 schools during his incumbency in 1864 and 1865.
In 1866 he established the Dallas County Gazette at Adel, Iowa, which he published for one year; then, selling out here, he removed to Boone, Iowa, purchased the Index, changed its name to the Standard, and published it for some little time, retiring in the spring of 1868. He was now elected a delegate to the Republican National Convention which placed General Grant in nomination for his first Presidential term.
In 1869 Mr. Holt came to financial wreck, in the endeavor to publish a Prohibition newspaper in Marshalltown, Iowa; and in December of that year be removed to California, and locating at Sacramento began work at his trade.
During the years 1872-’73 he was associate editor of the Russian River Flag, a Republican organ published at Healdsburg, Sonoma County. Prior to coming to California Mr. Holt had become an enthusiast on the subject of orange culture, thanks to conversations held with President Welsh of the Iowa State Agricultural College, who had brought his interest in this matter from Florida, whose United States Senator he had been during the reconstruction period.
In the fall of 1871 Mr. Holt learned of the founding, by a former Iowa acquaintance, of the town of Riverside, San Bernardino County. Accordingly he went thither in January 1872, and spent four weeks in Southern California. This was about six months after the first irrigating stream had reached Riverside, and people considered as dear land at $20 per acre, including water-right! At this time Mr. Holt visited the principal orange-growers of Los Angeles County, and gained all the information possible from the leading horticulturists of that time. Returning to Healdsburg, he organized a company with a capital stock of $50,000 for the purpose of planting an orange orchard in Southern California. The stock was all taken soon, and Mr. Holt was made president of the company; but, the stockholders considering him too enthusiastic, they elected a superintendent to proceed to Southern California to buy the land for the orchard. This, by the way, was located four miles northeast of Anaheim, and this is today one of the largest orchards of that section.
In 1873 Mr. Holt left the newspaper business and settled in Los Angeles, where he was made secretary of the Los Angeles Immigration and Land Cooperative Association. This company laid out the settlement of Artesia, in Los Angeles County, in the fall of 1871, and by the following spring had sold over $75,000 worth of land there, subsequently buying other 2,700 acres, and laying out and placing on the market the tract where now stands the town of Pomona. The financial panic which followed the failure of the Bank of California, in 1875, closed all the banks in Southern California, and nearly all in the States, and this association’s operations were brought to a close, with the bankruptcy of the stockholders, nearly all of whom had been considered solid men. In 1875 Mr. Holt was elected superintendent mud manager of a company formed at Los Angeles to plant a large orange orchard at Pomona, where he lived for two years, learning while in charge of the orchard the practical part of orange culture, which he had previously studied from a theoretical standpoint. In the spring of 1877 he issued a call to the fruit-growers of Southern California to meet in Los Angeles, to organize a horticultural society. A large meeting was held, with the result that the Southern California Horticultural Society was incorporated, with J. de Barth Shorb as president; L. M. Holt, secretary; and Thomas A. Garey, Dr. O. H. Cougar, Colonel J. Barbury, T. C. Severance and Milton Thomas, with the officers previously named, as the board of directors. This society held monthly meetings to discuss horticultural questions, particularly orange culture; and in 1876 it appointed a committee, consisting of its president, secretary, and several of its prominent members, to visit all sections of Southern California and report upon diseases of the orange and insect pests. The orchards were found in a very healthy condition, and no insect pests of a serious nature were discovered, with the exception of the red scale, which had gained a foothold in the orchard of L. J. Rose, of San Gabriel Valley. At that time these insects were not considered a serious matter, and it was little thought that it would within the next ten years destroy millions of dollars’ worth of property, and threaten to entirely destroy the orange culture in Los Angeles County.
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In 1876 the society established the Southern California Horticulturist, a monthly publication, of which Mr. Holt was made editor. In the fall of that year, after the Horticulturist had been published some three or four months, the society found that the work was extending so as to need the entire time of its secretary, and Mr. Holt resigned the position of manager of the orchard at Pomona and returned to Los Angeles, and up to the fall of 1879 devoted his entire time to building up the Horticultural Society and its monthly periodical. During this time the society held annual fairs, in the fall of the year for the exhibition of agricultural and horticultural products, together with other articles usually found in the pavilion department of agricultural fairs. The society secured a fine lot on Temple Street, with a frontage of 200 feet, on which they erected a pavilion for fair purposes. The depressed condition of trade, and the hard times which prevailed from the inception of this society up to the fall of 1879, made it impossible to carry on the work success-fully, the society became involved, and they lost their property for the want of less than $5,000, which it was impossible for them to raise from the fruit-growers of Southern California, or the business men of Los Angeles, and the pavilion the next year was torn down, the material going into residences. The land alone which the society lost for the want of that assistance, is today worth nearly $100,000. The society’s publication, the Southern California Horticulturist, was turned over to private parties, its name was changed, and the publication is now known as the Rural Californian.
During the latter part of December 1879, Mr. Holt, having retired from the Horticultural Society, which soon afterward ceased to exist, moved to Riverside, and bought the Riverside Press, a newspaper which had been established there a short time previous, taking possession of the same with the first issue in January, 1880; this paper he soon after changed into the Press and Horticulturist, and made it the recognized horticultural paper of Southern California. It soon obtained a large circulation, and was devoted principally to building up the interior valley of Southern California, located in San Bernardino County, becoming recognized authority in land and water matters, as well as fruit.
In 1884 Mr. Holt issued a call for a State irrigation convention to be held in Riverside in May of that year. This convention was largely attended by people interested in developing the irrigation resources of the State, and an executive committee appointed by this convention worked for many months to remodel the laws relating to irrigation matters. The second convention was held in Fresno in the fall of that year, and the third convention was afterward held in San Francisco. The executive commit-tee went before the Legislature during the session of 1884 and 1885, with several bills for the improvement of the irrigation laws, among them being one for the formation of irrigation districts. They failed in their work, and after holding their third convention in San Francisco, an extra session of the Legislature was called, which resulted in such disastrous failure for the cause in the summer of 1886. Afterward this same bill for the formation of irrigation districts was taken up by Mr. Wright, member of the Legislature, during the session of 1887; it was somewhat changed by him, and became the law as it stands at present.
For several years Mr. Holt saw the necessity of advertising Southern California in the Eastern States, and frequently advocated sending a citrus fair back to some of the Eastern cities. In the spring of 1886 he opened negotiations with the officials of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, to see if they would carry to Chicago material for a citrus fair. He desired twelve car loads of material, fruit and trees, together with sixteen men to take charge of the same, to be sent to Chicago by the railroad company free of charge; they finally replied to him, that their company would take six carloads of freight, and eight of the men, free of charge to Chicago, if the Santa Fe would take the other half, to which proposition the Santa Fe officials readily consented. Mr. Holt then associated with him, J. E. Clark, of Pasadena, and C. Z. Culver, of Orange, and a Mr. Rust, who agreed to assume the responsibility of conducting the fair in Chicago; fruit-growers responded with fruit and trees, and other products, and early in March the managers were in Chicago with a large exhibit, which was put up in Battery D Armory, on Michigan avenue, and opened to the public. This building was 140 by 160 feet in size, and it was full of exhibits, which constituted the finest citrus fair ever held up to that time on the American Continent. Several car-loads of orange and lemon trees, in fruit and in bloom, were placed on exhibition, together with hundreds of boxes of the choicest varieties of oranges and lemons, and other products of Southern California. This fair was kept open five weeks, during which time it was estimated that it was attended by 75,000 people from all parts of the great northwest. The great boom of Southern California during the years 1886 and 1887 was the result of three causes; the Chicago citrus fair, the completion of the Santa Fe system to Southern California, and the rate war, which had a run of several weeks at the same time the citrus fair was in progress in Chicago.
The business connected with the publication of the Press and Horticulturist made it necessary for the publisher to establish, in 1886, a tri-weekly edition of his paper, and this was changed to a daily a few months later.
Owing to an accident in July, 1888, in which Mr. Holt had his hip broken and was laid tip for several weeks, he sold his paper, on September 1st of that year; but a few months later he bought the San Bernardino Daily Times, which in February, 1889, was consolidated with the Daily Index, under the name of the Daily Times-Index, which is published by a company, of which Mr. Holt is managing editor.
Mr. Holt is recognized as an authority on his special topics. He is a firm believer in the natural virtues and advantages of Southern California, and a devoted and enthusiastic worker for his faith. He is full of energy, earnest, patient, and indomitable, and to him is due much of the advancement and enterprise manifested in the development of the citrus-fruit industries in Southern California.