Matthew Gage. – Perhaps no part of the United States, or the world, abounds in men of larger mental grasp, more daring enterprise and greater executive ability than does Southern California; men who possess the genius to conceive and the courage to undertake and carry forward to completion gigantic schemes which advance the welfare of whole communities and are so far-reaching in their effects that their benefits cannot be computed. Among the first of this class of public benefactors ranks Matthew Gage, the founder and constructor of the great irrigating canal and water system which bears his name. Born in Ireland forty-six years ago his last birthday, he immigrated to America in his boyhood, and resided for many years in Canada, where he attended school and learned the trade of making watches and jewelry, which he pursued while there and after coming to the United States up to the past few years.
Mr. Gage came to Riverside, San Bernardino County, in March 1881, and during that year took up a section of land under the desert land act, on the plain above the canals of the Riverside colony and eastward from the settlement. All the visible water supply having been previously appropriated, he began to cast about to obtain a sufficiency of this liquid monarch to enable him to improve his arid land, which was considered valueless without it. He gave much thought and time to the subject of developing water from some unknown source, not only for his own tract, but for the thousands of fertile but barren acres lying about it. He first bought some old water-rights in the Santa Ana river; then, conceiving the idea of developing a sufficient flow of water for irrigating on an extensive scale by means of artesian wells, he purchased a large tract of bottom land along that stream, about two miles southeast of the city of San Bernardino, and began sinking wells. Although practically without moneyed capital, he also commenced in 1882 the construction of the great canal, the cost of which would eventually reach hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hence Mr. Gage was compelled, through his own personal efforts, to create the values which enabled him to carry forward his great work as it progressed step by step. The task was Herculean. Obstacles numerous and varied were met and overcome which would have discouraged and crushed men of less persistent energy and fertility of resource. Not the least of the difficulties he had to con-tend with was the determined opposition of jealous, narrow-minded people, who were unable to comprehend the magnitude of the importance of his grand enterprise.
The first section of twelve miles of the canal were completed in little more than a year. Despite all impediments the work of construction advanced to completion without the sale of a dollar of stock or an acre of land. The canal is twenty-two miles in length and includes sixteen tunnels, besides aqueducts and flumes, which are built with a capacity to carry 4,500 miner’s inches of water. The cost of the work up to date-April, 1890-is $1,400,000. The Gage water system covers 12,000 acres of choice citrus fruit lands, which prior to the inauguration of his enterprise was a drug at $1.25 per acre, but which is now selling, with water right, for $300 to $500 an acre unimproved. Water rights have been sold for about 4,000 acres of this land, 3,000 acres of which have been planted to oranges and lemons.
With a view to interest moneyed men and secure the in vestment of capital in still further carrying out his ideal, Mr. Gage twice visited Europe during the past two years, and succeeded in associating with himself a number of wealthy Englishmen in a company known as the Riverside Trust Company, of London, incorporated under the laws of Great Britain, for the purpose of the further development of the property connected with and belonging to the Gage canal and land system, which is now worth several millions of dollars. This company is composed of some of the most prominent people financially and socially in Great Britain. Mr. Gage is managing director of the company and has the entire active charge of its business, ably assisted by his brother, Robert Gage, as general superintendent, and his brother-in-law, William Irving, as chief engineer. The company, which has its working office in Riverside, and its financial office in London, is investing a large sum of money in enlarging the water supply and putting in a system of steel distributing pipes costing $75,000 to $100,000, which convey it to every ten-acre tract of their land, known as Arlington Heights, together with the construction of streets and avenues, and other extensive improvements of an ornamental and useful character. They are building one main avenue, which has been named in honor of England’s reigning sovereign Victoria. This magnificent street is to connect with Magnolia Avenue, and will be about twelve miles in length, and when finished according to design will be one of the most elegant rural drives in the world.
Mr. Gage has had opportunity to dispose of his property and retire with an ample fortune, but declined, preferring to place it in its present shape, and devote his talent and energies for years to come to the perfecting and expansion of his grand ideal. Besides his large interests in the company, of which he is the directing head, he owns thirty acres of bearing orange grove in Riverside, where he and his family reside.
Mr. Gage married Miss Jane Gibson in Canada, the land of her birth. Their family consists of seven living children. Though but just at the meridian of life, Mr. Gage has accomplished alone and unaided a work which for magnitude of achievement and beneficent results to society, is equaled by the life-work of but few men; and he deserves to live many years to contemplate with satisfaction his struggles and enjoy his triumph.