Orange County









            Colonel Solomon Henderson Finley, of Santa Ana, is a prominent civil engineer whose professional activities have constituted an important factor in the development of Orange County.  He was born in Lincoln County, Missouri, October 10, 1863, a son of Andrew Ramsey and Caroline (Gibson) Finley.  His great-great-great-grandfather, James Finley, the American progenitor of the family, was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1687, and died in Pennsylvania in 1753.  The great-great-grandfather, William Finley, also a native of Ireland, born in 1712, died in Augusta County, Virginia, in 1789.  His son, John Finley, the great-grandfather of Colonel Finley, was born in 1737, in Augusta County, Virginia, where his death occurred in 1802.  James Finley, grandfather of Colonel Finley, was born in Augusta County, Virginia, in 1783, and passed away in Lincoln County, Missouri, in 1866.  Andrew Ramsey Finley, father of the Colonel, was born in Shelby County, Kentucky, in 1818, and died in Santa Ana, California, in 1896.

            Solomon H. Finley was a little lad of about seven years when in 1870 he came with his parents to California, the family locating first in Monterey County and a year later in Sacramento County, while in 1878 they took up their permanent abode in Orange County.  Our subject is a graduate of Monmouth College of Illinois, which institution conferred upon him the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1886 and that of Master of Arts in 1889.  The record of his professional activities indicates his pronounced success in the field of civil engineering.  In 1891 he supervised the construction of the original city water system.  He served as county surveyor of Orange County, California, for twelve years, was city engineer of Santa Ana for six years.  During the period between 1890 and 1905 he was engineer of five drainage districts to reclaim the flooded areas southwest and west of Santa Ana.  In 1893 he served as engineer for McFadden Brothers in the construction of a railroad from Santa Ana to Newport Beach, which was later extended to Huntington Beach and Westminster.  In 1900 Colonel Finley built a concrete dam in Santiago Canon for Madam Modjeska to supply domestic water for her “Forest of Arden” home.  He acted as chief engineer of the Orange County highway committee during the construction of the original paved road system in 1915 and 1916.

            The activities of Colonel Finley have also been of a most important character, beginning with his service as a member of the board of education in Santa Ana in 1887.  He was a member of the board of trustees of the city of Santa Ana from 1900 until 1904 and served as mayor during the two latter years of that period, when the original city hall was constructed.  In 1907 the California legislature was on the point of cutting off a considerable area from the western section of Orange County and adding it to Los Angeles County.  The Orange County people, interested in retaining the county boundary as it was originally fixed when organized in 1889, sent James McFadden and Colonel Finley, who were active in its original formation, to the state capitol to combat the proposed legislation.  They were successful in their mission.  For a period of twelve years, from 1916 to 1928, Colonel Finley was a member of the board of supervisors of Orange County.  In 1920 he became a member of the Boulder Dam Association, with the object of securing the construction of a dam across the Colorado River to conserve flood waters.  In 1923 he was one of the organizers and became secretary of the Colorado River Aqueduct Association, with the object of promoting the organization of the district to deliver water from the Boulder Canon reservoir to the coastal plains in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.  He was appointed by Governor Young in 1927 a member of the California commission to negotiate with Arizona and Nevada representatives for adjustment of water rights on the Colorado River.  The following year he was one of the organizers of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and became a member and secretary of its board of directors, representing Santa Ana.

            In the year 1901 in association with P. A. Stanton and J. N. Anderson, Colonel Finley secured the contract to purchase from Colonel R. J. Northam fifteen hundred acres of land on which the city of Huntington Beach is now located.  An interesting feature of this transaction was that annual payments were to be made until the death of the grantor, when the title should pass to the three grantees.  The first subdivision made by the group was called Pacific City.  Later the Huntington Beach Company was organized to more adequately finance the project, the Pacific Electric Railway was built and the name of the city was changed to Huntington Beach.

            On the 8th of January, 1891, Colonel Finley was united in marriage to Ida Hedges, a native of New York.  They are the parents of five children, as follows:  Gailene, who is Mrs. Donald Mynard Swarthout; Malcolm Hedges, a physician by profession; Knox Henderson, who is also a doctor of medicine; Wendell William, a certified public accountant; and Rhodes Andrew, a student.

            There is an interesting military chapter in the life record of Colonel Finley.  He served in the California National Guard from 1890 to 1908 and during the latter four years of that period was colonel of the Seventh Regiment, retiring with that rank.  In 1898 at the time of the Spanish-American War, he was captain of Company L, Seventh California United States Volunteers.  His name is on the membership rolls of the Spanish War Veterans and the Sons of the Revolution.  He gives his political allegiance to the Democratic Party, is a member of the Rotary Club and is a Presbyterian in religious faith.  His deep love for the city and county of his adoption has been expressed by tangible efforts in their behalf, and a well ordered, upright life of marked usefulness has won for him the respect, confidence and good-will of his fellow men as well as individual success.




Transcribed by V. Gerald Iaquinta.

Source: California of the South Vol. IV, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 415-418, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis.  1933.

© 2012  V. Gerald Iaquinta.