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Thomas Jefferson Wood is one of the earliest pioneers of Riverside and has been identified with Riverside city and colony since, and even before, the first soil was turned, or the first nail was driven in the building improvements. In 1870 Mr. Wood was living near San Bernardino, engaged in farming, and also at his trade as a carpenter and builder. In September of that year at the solicitation of Judge North and Dr. Greves he came to the lands now occupied by Riverside and erected the first building ever built upon the Riverside colony lands. This building was the office of the Southern California Colony Association and was occupied by Judge North, the president, and Dr. Greves, the secretary, of the association. Mr. Wood was made acquainted with the projects of the colony association, and early saw the possibilities of the future and became a warm supporter of the scheme. He purchased a block of land between Sixth and Vine and Mulberry streets. Upon this block, at the corner of Seventh and Vine streets, he built his residence. This was the first home established in Riverside. October 28, 1870, Mr. Wood installed his family in his new home.
Mrs. Wood was the first white woman to reside in Riverside and her advent was not allowed to pass without a fitting reception. Welcoming speeches were made and a cordial reception extended by the gentlemen present, among whom was the Rev. Mr. Higbie, who indulged in depicting the glorious future that awaited the colony, saying, “within fifteen years the iron-horse will be plowing through the valley, and Riverside will be furnishing the Eastern States with oranges.” How little of those present realized what wonderful changes were to be wrought, even in less time than predicted by Mr. Higbie. Mr. Wood from the very first took a deep interest in the growth and prosperity of his chosen colony. He was engaged in building and there were few of the first cottages erected that were not the work of his hands. He identified himself with all enterprises that tended to establish the colony on a sound basis and advance the welfare of the settlers. He was the first school trustee of the district, receiving his appointment from the board of supervisors of the county, and at the first election held was unanimously elected to succeed himself in that responsible position. He was the principal mover in establishing the first school and erecting the first schoolhouse in Riverside, and contributed liberally toward the establishing of churches, etc.
Mr. Wood was energetic and progressive and fully improved his land, planting some of the first ornamental trees in Riverside and also citrus and deciduous fruit trees and vines. A thoroughly practical man, of sound business principles, he was employed by the colony association as a foreman, and superintendent in the construction of the canals by which the colony lands were irrigated. A large portion of what is known as the upper canal was constructed under his supervision. Mr. Wood kept pace with the advance of Riverside, and has done much toward building up the city. Among the most noticeable of his buildings is the Wood block, a fine three-story brick building 46 x 72 feet, on the east side of Orange street, near the corner of Eighth street, which is one of the most substantial buildings in the city, erected in 1887; two commodious and well ordered stores, 20 x 40 feet, occupying the lower story, between which is a broad entrance and stairway to the upper stories, which are arranged with well lighted rooms for offices and lodgers. Upon the south side of the building are broad porticos extending the whole length of the block, that give to the inmates the advantages of the outdoor air without descending to the ground floor. Just north of this block, Mr. Wood has his residence, which is a substantial one-and-a-half story brick cottage, surrounded by well-ordered grounds.
Mr. Wood was born in Spartanburg, South Carolina, February 20, 1830. His parents were Captain Coleman C. and Clarissa (Bomar) Wood, both natives of that State, and descendants of old colonial families. His father was a veteran of the war of 1812. His mother was a daughter of Rev. Thomas Bomar, a prominent divine, well known throughout South Carolina. Mr. Wood’s father was a planter by occupation and largely engaged in agricultural pursuits. In 1844 he moved his family to Georgia and settled in Cass County, about eighty miles north of Atlanta, where he resided until 1848, and then located in Poinsett County, Arkansas, and later to Greene County in the same State, where he resided until his death, in 1857. He was largely engaged in farming, stock-raising and land speculations. Mr. Wood was raised to agricultural pursuits, and also learned the trade of a carpenter.
In 1850, when twenty years of age, he started in life on his own account. He left the parental roof and spent the next five years in various places in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. In 1855 he decided to seek his fortunes in the El Dorado of the West (California), and in May of that year left Westport, now Kansas City, Missouri, with a party of forty-one others, for a trip across the plains. With the exception of several skirmishes with roving bands of Indians, the monotony of the long journey was only relieved by the labors and hardships incident to the overland trip of that day.
In September 1850, Mr. Wood arrived in Colusa County, where he spent a year in mining and other occupations and then, in connection with Thomas Etzler, took up, or located upon 160 acres of land, of the Thomas O. Larkin grant. The grant was confirmed, but Mr. Wood could not conform to the demands of Mr. Larkin. He therefore abandoned his improvements and located at Red Bluff, Tehama County, and there entered the hotel business, and was at one time the proprietor of the well-known and famous old Eagle Hotel. He also established himself in the dairy business and other enterprises. He was successful in some of his industries and unfortunate in others, and in 1860 he gathered his little capital together and went to Mendocino County, and there established himself in the stock business.
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In 1864 the mining excitement in Eastern Oregon was at its height, and Mr. Wood sought his fortune in that section. He followed the life of a miner for about a year and was successful in his operations. He then established a hotel at Marysville, near Canon City, investing nearly all his capital in that enterprise. In June 1865, a flood occurred throughout that country; his hotel and property were swept away, and he was financially ruined, having lost everything but a few hundred dollars that he had on his person. Mr. Wood then made quite an extensive prospecting trip through Washington Territory, but not suited with his discoveries he came to San Francisco, and in the fall of 1865, located in Santa Clara County, working at his trade and other pursuits until December, 1866. He then came to San Bernardino County and located upon a farm about one and one-half miles north of the court-house. He resided there until be established himself in Riverside.
In October 1868, Mr. Wood married Miss Susan Rhyne, a native of Virginia. She is the daughter of Isaac and Phoebe (Nesbitt) Rhyne, also natives of that State. From this marriage there are three children, viz.: Claudina L., now Mrs. William Studabecker, of Riverside; Minnie B and J. Shirley. Mr. Wood is well known in the community with which he has been so prominently identified.
His straightforward and consistent course of life has gained him a large circle of warm friends. In political affairs he is a consistent Democrat, and takes a deep interest in the success of his party and principles. As a worker in its ranks he has often served as a delegate to conventions, and as a member of the county central committee. In the years of 1882-’83 and 1884 he served as deputy sheriff of the county. In 1886 he was appointed as deputy assessor, a position that he now holds. He is a member, and Past Grand of Riverside Lodge, No. 282, I. O. O. F., and Star Encampment, No. 73, of the same order and was the Noble Grand and delegate to the Grand Lodge of the State in 1884. He is a consistent member of the Baptist Church, and has been a trustee of the same since its first establishment in Riverside.