Isaac Elphinstone DAVIS. Many years have passed since Isaac Elphinstone DAVIS of San Francisco was called to his last reward, but the work he accomplished lives on.He was a very retiring man, but public-spirited to an unusual degree, and while he declined honors for himself, was always working to secure the advancement of his city and associates.He was born in Massachusetts, November 12, 1823, a son of Francis and Mary (PARMENTER) DAVIS, and one in a family of several children.Francis DAVIS was a farmer of Massachusetts, whose useful life terminated in 1838, his wife having passed away in 1833.

Losing his parents in his youth, Isaac E. DAVIS grew up a self-reliant lad, and after he had acquired a thorough grounding in the fundamentals of an education in the public schools of his native state he acquired a practical knowledge of engineering and went to Cuba on an engineering enterprise in Cuban waters.In December, 1849, he came to San Francisco on a sailing vessel by the Nicaragua route, and for a short time after his arrival went to work in the mines.He was a man of excellent judgment, and it did not take him long to determine that a fortune awaited those who, instead of working in the mines, provided for the necessities of the miners, and acting upon this conviction he established himself on San Francisquito Creek, below Redwood City, and operated a lime kiln.He had a small steamer plying between his lime kiln and San Francisco, and did a thriving business.In 1854, he associated with him A.P. JORDAN, and the lime kiln was transferred to Santa Cruz, where Mr. DAVIS had acquired some large land holdings, and this associationwas maintained until the death of Mr. JORDAN in 1864, during which period the business had assumed very large proportions, and the firm had acquired ownership of a number of sailing vessels which ran between San Francisco and Santa Cruz.Following the death of Mr. JORDAN, Mr. DAVIS took Henry COWELL into partnership, the firm becoming DAVIS & COWELL, and this name was continued until the death of Mr. DAVIS.THE business is now carried on as COWELL & Company, and is one of the largest on the coast dealing in cement, lime and fire brick.

About 1853 or 1854 Mr. DAVIS married the widow of Mr. KENDALL, an engineer who died of consumption at Honolulu.Mr. and Mrs. DAVIS became the parents of four children: Willis E. DAVIS, who married Elise KOHLER, both deceased: Gertrude, who married F. W. VAN SICKLEN of San Francisco: Ethel A., who is deceased was the wife of Edward C. HODGES: and Horace, who died as a child.

While he devoted himself to business cares and responsibilities Mr. DAVISí worth was recognized by his fellow citizens, who sought to have him accept the nomination for mayor of San Francisco or that of governor of California, but he always refused.Public honors had no attraction for him.During the early days he had proved his bravery and good citizenship as a member of the Vigilance Committee, which established law and maintained order.Long a member of the Society of California Pioneers, he served it as president for the year ending July 7, 1888, and he was also at the time of his death vice president of the Masonic Temple Association.The death of this most excellent man and good citizen occurred September 25, 1888.His type of citizen has passed away, unfortunately so, for the city and state still have need of thesemen of iron who, undaunted by obstacles , forged their way to the front, and through their own initiative, good judgment and broad vision amassed fortunes where those of a different caliber failed.It is upon the deeds of such men as Mr. DAVIS that San Francisco and California of today have been reared.


Transcribed by Deana Schultz.

Source: "The San Francisco Bay Region" Vol. 3 page 201-202 by Bailey Millard. Published by The American Historical Society, Inc. 1924.

© 2004 Deana Schultz.


California Biography Project


San Francisco County


California Statewide


Golden Nugget Library