*George Dexter Whitcomb 1834-1914*

Born in 1834 in Brandon, Vermont to Dexter and Emily (Tilton) Whitcomb,
George Dexter Whitcomb was the second of eight children. The family
relocated to Franklin Mills (now Kent) Ohio, where Dexter worked as a
shoemaker and mechanic. Young Whitcomb attended public schools and
later worked as a ticketing agent and telegrapher for the Panhandle Railroad
to pay his tuition while at business college in Akron, Ohio. This was
the beginning of a lifelong career and association with railroading.

In 1856, he moved Saint Paul, Minnesota, to manage a company that was
trading with American Indians on the frontier. There, in 1857, he met
and began courting Leadora Bennett. Leadora was the daughter of Captain
Abraham Bennett, a well known pioneer steamboat captain and owner on


the upper Mississippi River. She was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, and
had graduated from the Young Ladies Seminary there.

Shortly after their marriage, in 1859, the Whitcombs moved to Chicago,
where George returned to railroading and became a purchasing agent for
the Chicago and Alton Railroad. When the Civil War broke out, George
volunteered for duty with the Union army, and his service assignment
was production of ties and supplies for use on Union railroads. While
assigned to the war construction supply, he and Leadora lost their
infant son Henry, in January 1864.

After the war, George continued to push railroad development. He saw
the potential for westward continental expansion and he threw himself into
work with the railroads. His endeavors included a construction contract
for a major bridge across the Ohio River and several hundred miles of
track for the Panhandle Railroad. In an attempt to cheer Leadora and
help them through the loss of their infant son, he built a steamboat on
the nearby Mississippi River named the “Leadora,” in her honor.

By 1865, Whitcomb had been promoted to General Purchasing Agent for the
Panhandle Railroad and the family included George Bennett Whitcomb and
Carroll Sylvanius Whitcomb. George was now moving on to ownership of
his own company and relocated to Chicago. His new company was engaged in
production of coal mining machinery and coal field development to
supply the railroads. In 1871, the disastrous Chicago Fire destroyed most of
the central city. The offices of the Whitcomb Mining and Manufacturing
Company were relocated to the corner of LaSalle and Adams Street in the
Loop area of downtown Chicago. The Schlosser Block, where the company
offices were located, was a four story impressive granite faced
building, just doors from the famed “Rookery” building by the
architects Burnham and Root. These were heady days in Chicago. A rebirth swept the
city after the fire and it was a time for men with ideas and dreams to
seize potential.

Whitcomb was swept into this renaissance and continued the development
and manufacture of all manner of mining machinery as well as other
kinds of small machinery. With the completion of the Transcontinental
Railroad in 1869, easier quicker and cheaper methods of locating and processing
coal were now in great demand. That demand drove the need for more
advanced drilling and processing machinery as well as a safer method to
transport the coal from the inside of the mines. Men with pickaxes and
mules and wagons had long been the means of locating and moving the
coal to the surface. Whitcomb recognized the need for more advanced methods
and went on to invent a small battery operated locomotive that would
pull coal cars safely from the mines. He also developed more precise
coal drills and processing machinery that speeded up as well as made
safer the coal mining process.

By the late 1870’s George Whitcomb had a successful company and a fine
home in the Drexel Park area of Chicago and his family had grown once
again to include William Card Whitcomb, Leadora Whitcomb, Elizabeth
Emily Whitcomb, and Virginia Whitcomb. However, the failing health of
his son Carroll and the continued health problems of his beloved wife
forced dramatic changes on the family very quickly. Through his entire
life, George was a dedicated husband and family man and his foremost
thoughts were always of his family’s security and wellbeing.
Remembering the pain of the loss of their son, the couple was willing to do
whatever the doctors advised to recover the health of both Carroll and Leadora.
A milder climate such as Arizona or Southern California was suggested,
and the Whitcombs soon began investigating the Los Angeles area. Since the
expansion of the railroads was complete, travel that before took four
to six months time overland, had now been reduced to six days. The western
states were now much more attractive and the more temperate climate of
southern California was the place where people went to escape the harsh
winters and humid summers of the east coast.

Using the same attention he had to previously concentrated on his
company, George scoured the Los Angeles basin and determined that he
should relocate the family there. He would continue to run his company,
now renamed the Whitcomb Locomotive Company, through the means of
telegraph messages and with the assistance of trusted employees in the
Chicago offices. By the early 1880’s the family was living in a rented
home near downtown Los Angeles and George was honing in on the location
for his latest and most lasting endeavor, the creation of a new
foothill town.

He finally settled on land that had once been part of the western end
of the old /Dalton// Rancho/. He purchased several hundred acres and
became associated with John W. Cook (an LA County Board of Supervisors member)
and Merrick Reynolds (owner of the San Pedro Lumber Company). The three
formed the Glendora Land Company and the Glendora Water Company.
Whitcomb constructed a lovely 26 room villa at the northern most end of
Vista Bonita Avenue. There he laid out his own groves of oranges and
deciduous fruits. Once his residence was established and his family was
settled, his work began in earnest to develop the new town. He chose
the name */Glendora/*, a combination of two words, the first being the
location of his new home (in a /glen/ of the foothills of the San
Gabriel Mountains) and the second was his wife’s nickname (/Dora/).
Combined they became “*/Glendora/*.”

The company set about to establish infrastructures that would support a
family town founded with a sense of permanence. The company built a
comfortable hotel (the Belleview) and a land office, both elegant
Victorian structures. Whitcomb donated land and $5000 for the
construction of a school. He also donated land for the Methodist
Church. Drilling equipment was brought in to locate a reliable source of water.
Streets were laid out and named and thousands of pepper trees were
planted. Whitcomb entered into negotiations to relocate the planned
rail line to the north of the South Hills. He used his past affiliations
with rail officials and could be seen assisting the survey crews to bring
the line along the southern most edge of the town site. He was able to
attract a newspaper to the new village to spread the local news and
continue to attract new settlers. The town development was a vision
with foresight, designed to attract solid families as settlers looking for
schools, churches and reliable businesses. The founding of Glendora
represented a lifetime’s work, accomplished in less than three years
time.
Whitcomb continued his untiring interest in Glendora for the next 30
years. During those years, he convinced locals to delay the
incorporation of Glendora until the Board of Supervisors agreeded to
pave Foothill Boulevard and make several other civic improvements in
Glendora with county funds. He worked to bring the Pacific Electric
line to Glendora. He helped to form the Glendora School District and he
served on the first board of trustees.

He and Leadora traveled regularly to Chicago and Rochelle, Illinois
(where his factory had relocated) to check on his company, which was by
now manufacturing locomotives, an automobile, small machinery and
mining equipment. They also traveled regularly to Sacramento to follow the


state legislature.In 1914, after a lifetime of achievements, George Dexter Whitcomb died
in his home in Glendora, at the age of 80. He is buried in Inglewood
Cemetery, in Los Angeles. He left his beloved wife Leadora, three
surviving sons and three daughters. His company, the Whitcomb
Locomotive Works continued to operate until 1931, when controlling interest was
sold to Baldwin Locomotives. His beautiful home in Glendora, know as
“The White House,” was destroyed by fire in the 1920’s. In his honor
today in Glendora there remains, Whitcomb Avenue, Whitcomb High School
and The Whitcomb Courtyard at the Glendora Historical Society on
Glendora Avenue. But surely the greatest tribute to his memory was the
founding of the city of Glendora, California.

 

Submitted by Theresa Whitcomb
Page design Copyright 2006 by Ray Ensing