Monterey County California Genealogy and History

Monterey County: Biographies


No man in this section of California has a more intimate acquaintance with the development of the general commercial and industrial interests of this region than has Fred A. Kilburn, treasurer and first vice president of the Charles Ford Company at Watsonville, successor to the old Ford & Sanborn concern, in point of establishment the oldest general merchandise business in continuous operation hereabout. Mr. Kilburn has been connected with the affairs of this concern for forty-five years and during that time has witnessed the development of the company from "its day of small things" to its present substantial status in the commercial life of California.

Fred A. Kilburn was born in the village of Hampden, a suburb of the city of Bangor, Penobscot county, Maine, September 8, 1849, and is a son of Paran and Elizabeth (Treat) Kilburn, both members of old New England families and of sturdy colonial stock. Captain Paran Kilburn was a seafaring man, skipper of vessels in trade in the days of the picturesque sailing craft and was widely known in his day in shipping circles in the world's chief ports of call. He and his wife were the parents of three children, of whom the subject of this biographical review alone now survives, he having had a brother, William B. Kilburn, at one time a well-to-do shoe merchant in the city of Boston, and a sister, Miss Abbie Kilburn, whose last days were spent in his home at Watsonville.

Reared at Hampden, Fred A. Kilburn received his education in the schools of that village and in 1868 at the age of nineteen, came to California on a visit to his maternal uncle, George Treat, who had removed to this state with the first great ous figures in the sporting life of California, his large business interests permitting his indulgence in his favorite sport of horse-racing, and for years he maintained a racing stable at San Francisco that was second in excellence to none in that day.

Mr. Kilburn had had some training in commercial forms back in the old home. town and upon his arrival in California he was made bookkeeper in the office of his uncle's lumber camp at Santa Cruz, where he gained a practical insight into the operations of the lumber business as applied to the California trade. For some little time he remained in this lumber camp and then became attracted to the life of the mines and went on an expedition into Nevada. At White Pine, more than a hundred miles from "civilization," away east of Elko, he spent a year, acquiring there a variety of experience that in many ways later was to prove valuable. Upon his return to Santa Cruz he resumed his position in the office of the lumber mills but not long afterward was induced to take a position as bookkeeper in a mercantile establishment at San Jose. From there he went into the Sierras to take a job as bookkeeper in a mining camp in the Yosemite country and then on April 1, 1880, entered upon the duties of bookkeeper in the office of the general mercantile establishment and lumber mill of Ford & Sanborn at Watsonville.

Mr. Kilburn recalls that when he went to work in the office of the old Ford & Sanborn Company in the spring of 1880 he told Mr. Ford that he was not "over smart" but that he believed that he was honest and was sure that he possessed the quality of application to the duties of the job. This modest display of his personal wares seemed acceptable to his employer and it was not long until he found himself thoroughly "sold" to Mr. Ford, who continued to advance him even over the heads of his seniors in service, until in time he was virtually at the head of the business, confidential manager in behalf of Mr. Ford.

For seven years Mr. Kilburn rendered service as bookkeeper in the lumber department of the Ford & Sanborn enterprises, meantime marrying and establishing his home at Watsonville. Mr. Ford then put him in charge of his interest and he thus continued as the personal representative of the dominant Ford interest in this mercantile establishment until the death of Mr. Ford in 1900, his service with the concern then having covered a period of thirty years. As stated above, Mr. Kilburn then served as administrator of the Ford estate, Mr. Ford having been a bachelor with no kinsmen nearer than the Atlantic seaboard. The successful administration of this estate required several years of Mr. Kilburn's time, during which he was required to make frequent trips east. When the present Charles Ford Company was organized following the death of Mr. Ford, Mr. Kilburn was elected first vice president of the company as well as treasurer and has since continued to serve in that dual capacity, despite his growing years constantly "on the job," even as he has been all through the forty-five years of his continuous service with this establishment, at the store every day and greeting the trade in the same old cheery wholesome way that has so greatly endeared him to the hearts of all within this wide trade area.

He is one of the principal stockholders of the company, and during his executive connection, as before, has aided in the promotion of the company's interests until they now represent a sum many times greater than that which marked the assets of the corporation at the time of Mr. Ford's death a quarter of a century ago. Not only is Mr. Kilburn the oldest man in continuous business service in Watsonville but he represents the greatest single commercial interest there and has thus for many years occupied an outstanding position in the business life of this community.

It was on December 9, 1874, that Fred A. Kilburn was united in marriage to Miss Fannie Bliss of Santa Cruz, California. Mr. and Mrs. Kilburn reside in a handsome new and.modern bungalow at 31 North Brennan street and it was there that they celebrated their "golden wedding," December 10, 1924, and the occasion was made one of hearty felicitation on the part of the countless friends of this fine old couple, with well wishes for "many happy returns." They have two daughters and a son: Mabel, wife of Victor Tuttle of Hollywood, California; Bertha, wife of H. A. Hyde of Watsonville, and Dr. C. M. Kilburn, a dental surgeon long engaged in practice in Watsonville. Not only has Mr. Kilburn been faithful in business affairs but he has found time to render effective service in the public behalf. For two terms he served as a member of the common council of the city and also for two terms as a member of the local school board and was clerk of the board at the time the first high school building was erected at Watsonville. He is a Mason of fifty-three years standing, having been initiated into the order at Santa Cruz, and has attained to the capitular (Royal Arch) degree in that ancient order. He has ever been a faithful follower of the teachings of the craft-based on the brotherhood, of mankind, and has been equally loyal to all the high ideals that mark the representative business man, the progressive citizen and the worthwhile friends.

Source: History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California : cradle of California's history and romance : dating from the planting of the cross of Christendom upon the shores of Monterey Bay by Fr. Junipero Serra, and those intrepid adventurers who accompanied him, down to the present day. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1925, 890 pgs.