Separated Materials note
Title: William McPherson Papers
Date (inclusive): 1664/65-1970
Date (bulk): 1884-1945
Collection number: H.Mss.0524
22.5 linear feet (53 boxes + 1 map case drawer).
Claremont Colleges. Library. Special Collections, Honnold/Mudd
Library. Claremont, CA 91711
Correspondence, diaries, photographs, account
books and journals, land and tax records, manuscripts, scrapbooks, notes,
transcripts, reports, newspapers, clippings, promotional materials, and ephemera,
relating to the family, life, career, and intellectual pursuits of Orange County,
California, avocado rancher and historian William McPherson (1885-1964). Family
papers document the McPhersons' settlement in Orange County in the 1870s, and their
involvement in local agriculture, first in the raisin grape industry, and then in
the avocado industry. Half the collection consists of original Spanish- and
English-language correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, printed materials, and
ephemera collected by McPherson in the pursuit of his intellectual interests, in
particular the history and anthropology of Orange County--and especially Rancho
Santiago de Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano--from the 1770s to the 1920s. The
collection includes papers of 19th-century entrepreneur Alfred Henry Wilcox and
California State Assemblyman Jeffry Joseph Prendergast, as well as a large number of
documents with a focus beyond Orange County and Southern California, including Civil
war diaries and letters, a collection of ship logbooks from the 1820s to the 1850s,
literary scrapbooks, and McPherson’s collection of autograph letters and documents
relating primarily to American, British, and California history, and dating from
1665 to 1932.
Please consult repository.
Language of Material: Materials in English and Spanish.
Restrictions on Access
This collection is open for research.
All requests for permission to reproduce or to publish must be submitted in
writing to Special Collections.
[Identification of item], William McPherson Papers (Collection H.Mss.0524).
Special Collections, Honnold Mudd Library, Claremont University Consortium.
Bequest of William McPherson, 1964.
Custodial History note
The papers were taken into the custody of William McPherson's friend and
colleague, Don Meadows, acting as agent for McPherson's custodians, in early
1962. They were transferred to the Library of the Claremont Colleges, most
probably in stages, between that time and approximately 1972.
Limited accruals to the collection are anticipated.
Processing Information note
The papers were processed by Michael P. Palmer in 2013.
William Frederick ("Will") McPherson was born in the family home (later given the
address 11601 Prospect Avenue), east of Orange, California, on 16 July 1882, the
second son and middle child of Stephen McPherson (1839-1917), a school teacher
and viticulturist, and his wife, Jennie Vincent (1849-1935). His father, born in
Chaumont, Jefferson County, New York, had come to Santa Clara County,
California, by way of Ohio, in 1862, and to Southern California in 1872. Will
McPherson graduated from Santa Ana High School in 1904, obtained a teaching
credential, and for the school years 1905/1906 through 1908/1909 served as
principal-teacher of the San Juan Capistrano Grammar School; dismissed from that
position for an indiscretion with the daughter of a prominent local family, he
obtained a similar position for the school year 1909/1910 at Fountain Valley. In
August 1910, McPherson entered the University of California at Berkeley,
originally studying civil engineering, but later switching to law; he graduated
in June 1914. Unable to obtain other work, he returned to teaching. Despite the
escapade of 1909, he was again employed as principal-teacher at San Juan
Capistrano for the school year 1915/1916, but his intemperate support of Germany
led to his dismissal in June 1918. This ended McPherson's formal employment: he
joined his elder brother Vincent on the family farm, which was planted primarily
in Valencia oranges, rare table grapes, and avocados, the latter still
considered an exotic fruit, and only recently cultivated in sufficient numbers
to be considered a "commercial" crop. The McPherson brothers became leading
avocado growers, and Will was active in both the California Avocado Association
(of which he was Secretary from 1927 to 1930) and in the California Avocado
Growers Exchange (from 1927, Calavo Growers of California) cooperative.
Although McPherson supported himself financially as a rancher, his real love was
history and literature, in particular the history, literature, and anthropology
of Southern California. Always a voracious reader, he began collecting in his
teens, and in earnest when his positions as principal-teacher, and then as
successful rancher, provided him with disposable income. Although McPherson
initially collected only books, by the mid-1920s he had begun to collect
manuscripts, newspapers, magazines, maps, and photographs as well. By 1929, the
collection had grown to more than 10,000 bound volumes, plus thousands of maps,
manuscripts, and ephemera, the finest private library of Southern Californiana
in the country. It was so extensive that the McPherson brothers built two
separate buildings, the larger eighteen by thirty feet, to house it. Although
financial difficulties in the early years of the Great Depression forced
McPherson to dispose of duplicate works, and even to part with some of his more
valuable items, he resumed collecting in the late 1930s, and some of his most
significant acquisitions of manuscripts and other archival materials date from
the early 1940s. Although he published only seven articles and one book,
McPherson was considered a leading expert in Southern California history,
anthropology, and agriculture, and was often consulted by other researchers.
However, by 1950, McPherson had ceased to collect new materials, and the order
and condition of the library had begun to deteriorate. The living conditions of
the McPherson brothers evidenced increasing squalor. In late 1960, Will
McPherson had descended into dementia, and was removed to a nursing facility in
Garden Grove; at the same time, his elder brother Vincent, who did not suffer
from dementia but was frail, moved from the family home to the house of
Mexican-born friends who lived nearby, where he died in May 1962. Will McPherson
died in the nursing home in Garden Grove on 8 September 1964. Both brothers are
buried alongside their parents and other members of the extended McPherson
family in the Santa Ana Cemetery.
- Don Meadows,
A California Paisano; the life of
(Claremont: Honnold Library Society,
- William McPherson Papers, H.Mss.0524, Special Collections, Honnold
Mudd Library, Claremont University Consortium.
Publications by William McPherson
- "C. P. Taft, An Avocado Pioneer; Given before The Growers Institute,
Anaheim, June 9, 1931", California Avocado Association
Yearbook, 1931, pp. 207-210.
- "California Land Grants," in
, vol. 1 (Santa Ana: Orange County Historical
Society, 1931), pp. 9-18.
- "Citrus Culture in Orange County", in
of Orange County, California
, edited by Mrs. J. E.
Pleasants, vol. 1 (Los Angeles: J. R. Fennell & Sons, 1931), pp.
- "Image Ceremony of the Mission Indians", in
Orange County History Series, vol. 1 (Santa Ana: Orange
County Historical Society, 1931), pp. 135-139.
- Editor of
From San Diego to the Colorado in
, by Cave J. Couts (Los Angeles: Arthur M. Ellis,
- "Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in Orange County", in
Orange County History Series, vol. 2 (Santa
Ana: Orange County Historical Society, 1932), pp. 23-35.
- "Joseph Edward Pleasants, '49er", in
County History Series
, vol. 3 (1939), pp. 41-50.
- "A Horse Drive to Utah in 1876," in
County History Series
, vol. 3 (1939), pp. 107-112.
Scope and Contents of the Collection
This collection consists of correspondence, diaries, photographs, account books
and journals, land and tax records, manuscripts, scrapbooks, notes, transcripts,
reports, newspapers, clippings, promotional materials, and ephemera, relating to
the family, life, career, and intellectual pursuits of Orange County,
California, avocado rancher and historian William McPherson (1885-1964).
The collection consists of two record groups of approximately equal size.
The first record group contains correspondence, diaries, photographs, account
books and journals, land and tax records, scrapbooks, notes, newspaper and
periodical clippings, ephemera, and other materials relating to the McPherson
family. The materials document the family’s immediate origins in Chaumont, New
York, the move of two brothers and their cousin to California in the 1860s,
their settlement in what became Orange County in the 1870s, and their
involvement in local agriculture, in particular in the raisin grape industry of
the 1880s. The bulk of the record group consists of the papers of William
McPherson (1885-1964). These include his diarie--which extend, in effect, from
1898 to 1945 (with sporadic entries until 1951), and supplement those of his
father, which extend from 1864 to 1892--chronicling in detail McPherson’s life
as a rancher active in the promotion of the avocado industry, historian, and
collector of books and manuscripts; his notebooks, which contain extensive
research notes on Southern California, and in particular, Orange County, history
and anthropology; and his geographic and subject files, which are especially
rich in late 19th- and early 20th-century promotional materials for Orange, San
Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties. Photographs in the record group,
most of which date from before 1920, document sites throughout California and
neighboring states; the majority were taken by McPherson himself between 1906
and 1912, and document in particular the mission and community of San Juan
Capistrano and life in rural Orange County in the early years of the 20th
The second record group consists of several discrete collections of
non-family-related primary materials acquired by McPherson by purchase, gift, or
trade. The largest of these is the Avocado Collection, a hybrid collection
consisting of records of the Secretary of the California Avocado Association,
primarily for 1919-1925; miscellaneous records and papers of the California
Avocado Exchange (from 1927, Calavo Growers of California), for 1924-1958;
records of McPherson’s involvement in the avocado industry; and McPherson’s
subject files on the avocado industry. The materials include correspondence,
reports, minutes, catalogs, circulars, flyers, newspaper clippings, and
periodical publications and document all aspects of the avocado industry in
Southern California, including efforts of the industry to perfect cultivation
methods, standardize varieties, improve the quality of the avocados produced,
and market what was still considered an “exotic” fruit to the general
population. The Orange County Ranchos collection consists of material--primarily
photographic reproductions, but including some original document--relating to
the history of Orange County ranchos, in particular Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana
and and the mission and community of San Juan Capistrano. The collection of 19th
century California newspapers includes what appears to be a unique copy of the
Santa Ana Herald for 12 October 1878. The
Historical manuscripts collection consists of historical document--primarily
letters, but also including appointments, bills, commercial drafts and papers,
financial accounts, legal proceedings, logbooks, passports, receipts, reports,
stock certificates, and surveys--acquired by McPherson as single items or in
small groups. The collection contains substantial numbers of Spanish- and
English-language materials relating to California that were directly relevant to
McPherson’s research. However, most of the documents do not relate to
California; they appear to have been collected for their connection to
well-known individuals or specific events, and represent McPherson’s eclectic
collecting interests. These documents include Americana (1748-1932), British
materials (1664/65-1921), Civil War papers, ship logbooks (1822-1855), literary
scrapbooks (1846-1908), and American and British women (1828-1928). Smaller
collections within this record group include the political papers, 1920-1925, of
California State Assemblyman Jeffrey Joseph Prendergast (R-Redlands) (1875-1962)
and correspondence, bills, and legal papers, 1876-1895, relating to the business
interests and probate of Colorado River steamboat captain and San Diego
businessman and banker Alfred Henry Wilcox (1823-1883).
- Record Group 1. McPherson family papers, 1848-1968
- Series 1.1. McPherson Brothers, 1884-1889.
- Series 1.2. McPherson family, 1848-1903 .
- Series 1.3. McPherson, Stephen, 1864-1907.
- Series 1.4. McPherson, William, 1849-1968.
- Series 1.5. Photographs, circa 1870-1961.
- Subseries 1.5.1. Photograph albums, circa
- Subseries 1.5.2. Photographs, circa 1880-1961.
- Record Group 2. William McPherson collections 1848-circa 1965.
- Series 2.1. Avocado collection, 1911-1960.
- Subseries 2.1.1. California Avocado Association,
- Subseries 2.1.2. California Avocado Growers Exchange /
Calavo Growers of California [from 1927], 1924-1958.
- Subseries 2.1.3. General files, 1911-1940.
- Subseries 2.1.4. McPherson, William. Avocado business,
- Series 2.2. Billingsley family papers, circa 1882-1924.
- Series 2.3. Bradshaw, Cornelius B. and Mary Freelove (Hixon).
- Series 2.4. California newspapers (19th century),
- Series 2.5. Historical manuscripts, 1664/65-1932.
- Subseries 2.5.1. Americana, 1748-1932.
- Subseries 2.5.2. Artists (British), circa
- Subseries 2.5.3. Autographs, 1716-1929.
- Subseries 2.5.4. British materials, 1664/65-1921.
- Subseries 2.5.5. California and the West, Spanish-Language
- Subseries 2.5.6. Californiana, English-Language,
- Subseries 2.5.7. Civil War papers, diaries, and letters,
- Subseries 2.5.8. Clergy, 1822-1924.
- Subseries 2.5.9. Financial and commercial papers,
- Subseries 2.5.10. German and Austrian materials, 1736,
- Subseries 2.5.11. Logbooks, 1822-1855.
- Subseries 2.5.12. Scrapbooks (literary), 1846-1878,
- Subseries 2.5.13. Women (American and British),
- Subseries 2.5.14. Writers, editors, journalists,
publishers (American and British), 1840-1917.
- Series 2.6. Orange County (California) Ranchos,
- Series 2.7. Perry, Belmont. Collection of bound articles on the
American Southwest, circa 1895-1910.
- Series 2.8. Photographs, Prints, and Drawings, circa 1850-1965.
- Subseries 2.8.1 Photographs, circa 1920-1965.
- Subseries 2.8.2 Prints and Drawings, circa
- Series 2.9. Prendergast, Jeffry Joseph. Political papers,
- Series 2.10. Wilcox, Alfred Henry. Papers, 1876-1895.
Separated Materials note
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Calavo Growers of California.
California Avocado Society.
Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Nash, Jonathan, Captain,
Prendergast, Jeffry Joseph,
Wilcox, Alfred Henry, 1823-1883
Clippings (Books, newspapers, etc.)
Logbooks--United States--19th century
Manuscripts, Great Britain
Orange County (Calif.)--History
Publishers and publishing
San Juan Capistrano (Calif.)--History
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865