The Maguire Family and Mount Lowe

From John Maguire comes this fascinating bit of family history and imagery from his personal collection.

Read on from his correspondence with us:


I have a photo taken of one of the Mt Lowe cars taken by my Grandfather. Two of my Great Uncles were Mt Lowe Railway employees and both are shown in the photo — one is at the controls. Their Uncle (my Great-Great Uncle was an investor). I was wondering if someone could tell me where exactly on the line the photo was taken, also if any employee or investor records have survived?

Thank you for getting back to me.

First a bit of background.

My paternal Grandfather, Ira H.B. Maguire, who was born in 1876 in Ontario, Canada, passed in 1950 (before I was born). As a young man he had worked as a ‘boomer machinist’ for various railways in Canada, Mexico and the US including the Southern Pacific Railway and Santa Fe Railways in Arizona and California. By March 1902 he was working in the LA area (see attached employment record). His older brothers A.E. Wallis Maguire b. 1871 and James Harvey C Maguire b. 1873 were already living in California. Their Uncle Joseph Choate Maguire had also been living there (near Redlands) until his death in 1895.

My late father had told me that Wallis had invested in something called “the incline railway” in LA after marrying his late Uncle Joseph’s much younger widow. Eventually Wallis lost most of her inheritance when the project went under. I had always assumed this was a sort of electric tram right in LA that maybe took paying pedestrians up a small incline just as I have seen in Europe (eg. Zagreb, Croatia). Over the years I had talked to Dad about the story but he could tell me no more. Neither of us had ever been to California.

When my Dad’s elder brother passed in 2006 we inherited a box of old photos that had been my Grandpa Ira’s. Last year while working on our family tree I started to go through the box which contains photos of Ira’s time in Arizona and California mostly from the 1901-02 period (some are dated). In amongst them, I found this small snapshot of what looked to me like a trolley car – no caption (see first attachment).

I believe my Grandfather would have taken this photo. Comparing the photo with other photos of J. Harvey and Wallis, it is clear to me that the conductor (the only person in the photo who is actually looking at the camera) is indeed my Uncle Harvey. Moreover, the tall man standing on the ground just in the front with his left arm holding the rail appears to be my other Great Uncle Wallis.

Then I discovered a few other things. Echo Mt was listed as Harvey’s address on the marriage licence when he married a Canadian woman in 1898. Echo Mt was also the site for their wedding.

Also in Jan 1900 the US Census was showing both Wallis and Harvey’s occupations as “Electric RR Conductor”. That census lists their residence as Pasadena but the Census index states the location as Echo Mt. Other persons on the page seem to be involved in the same endeavours.

Harvey next makes an appearance in the records in 1906 when he is appointed Postmaster at Echo Mountain but by 1910 he is living in Nome, Alaska — a late Goldrush entrant. The same (1910) census shows that Wallis was by that date a Fruit Farm owner living in Santa Ana Ward 3, Orange, California. So both brothers are clearly ‘out’ of the Railway’s employ by that date.

Then I started googling the terms “Echo Mountain” and “incline railway” and at eventually discovered that there had been a Mount Lowe Railway established in the Mount Echo area in the right time frame and that this was possibly the incline railway my father had told me about. I eventually made my way to your webpage, and I now see there is also a photo of a car #9 although that one seems to have no canopy?

So that is the background. I have enclosed the photo of the trolley car, the census page, marriage references, postmaster reference and the employment record that puts my Grandfather Ira in LA in 1902.

So, I have a few questions I was hoping you might help with:

1. Can you confirm that this is a photo of one of the cars that was actually in use by the Mount Lowe Railway?
2. If yes, when approximately would this car have been in service and where on the rail line route do you think the photo was taken? Could it be 1902?
4. Do you know if any employee records survived?
5. Do you know if any lists of investors exists?

Thank you for any assistance you may be able to provide! I am attending a wedding in Palm Springs in June and plan to rent a car and take a drive to Echo Mountain to hike the ruins. Confirming my family connection to the site would be wonderful so any help you can provide would be much appreciated.

Wallis had originally come to the US in order to fight in the Spanish American War. His naturalization papers indicate that he crossed the border (Kootenay River) by row-boat at Jennings, Montana in 1898. He had been at Fort Steele, British Columbia (presumably hoping to cash in on that town’s mineral rush of 1897). Wallis later served in the Philippines Campaign with Co B of the 1st Regiment of the Washington State Infantry. His service medals are in my possession.

Harvey did not strike it rich in Nome Alaska. However, he stayed on in Alaska for many years to teach school and study native bird life. He sent a couple of small ivory Inuit sculptures to his brother Ira’s children which are still in our possession.

Wallis and his wife Emma had no children and died at Glendale in 1942. Harvey had one son (James) but James died without issue so neither man have any living descendants. I am including larger photos of both men.

A few weeks ago I was over at my mother’s house and was looking at my Grandfather Ira’s collection of spoons from each place he worked. There is one for LA. The spoon handle is a set of Railway tracks — and yes in small print it reads Mt Lowe railway!

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Showing 3 comments
  • John Maguire

    Mathew, thanks so much for your help with the location. I hope to walk the trail next week so your insight is quite timely.

  • John

    To close the loop on this small history, I am happy to report that author Michael Patris kindly responded to me by email stating the following, among other things:

    “Yes, the car is from the Alpine Division of the Mount Lowe Railway. It definitely could have been taken in 1902, before Henry Huntington took over the line later
    that year. Shortly after the take-over, the cars were slowly replaced, and this is an early car which could have easily been in service since the opening on July 4,

    “I am not aware of any employee records at all. Thaddeus Lowe incorporated and reincorporated the line about five times from 1890 through the time he lost
    control of it…. Because of the lawsuits and take-overs, the lawyers involved, the law firms and everyone else took records, seized records and court ordered
    records be shared and brought to court for the lawsuit. I would imagine the records were eventually tossed out and / or destroyed.”

    “No, I am not aware of any investor lists… Thaddeus Lowe and all the receiver owners tried to get money any way they could and I do know for a fact Lowe sold
    bonds for the railroad supposedly backed up by gold. I have only seen one bond in a local collection and we do not have any at all. …”

    My final thoughts on what I now believe to be the full story (or as much of it is known or might be surmised):

    The key to understanding my family’s involvement with the Mt Lowe Railway probably begins with my Great-Great Uncle Jacob Choate Maguire (b. 1832) who had come to the US from Ontario, Canada in 1865. He settled in Little Falls, Passaic, New Jersey where he came to run a felt factory and where he met and married his much younger (by 31 years) wife Emma (nee Crane). The well-off couple arrived in Pasadena about 1890. They had moved there for the climate as Joseph was by then unwell.

    In the last week I have discovered that Jacob was one of the principal shareholders of the Union Saving Bank when it opened for business on 6 March 1895 in Pasadena in the Masonic Temple block on the corner of Fair Oaks & Mission. This would have been 5 years after Thaddeus Lowe arrived in Pasadena. Another of this bank’s principal shareholders was J. S. Torrance. As I understand it, the railroad later fell into receivership under Torrance, so I strongly suspect that the bank had had some prior involvement in the venture and, as one of Torrance’s bank associates, it seems plausible that my great Uncle Joseph had as well. This bank seems to have undergone a number of name changes before winding up business in 1919.

    As a probable Mt Lowe ‘backer’, I suspect Joseph had used his connections to help his young nephew Harvey (b. 1873) gain employment as an electric RR conductor on the Alpine line and subsequently as a Mt Echo Postmaster. Harvey had arrived in California in 1890 and lived for a time with his childless Uncle Joseph and Aunt Emma. Then in July 1895 Joseph died suddenly. In 1898 Harvey’s brother Wallis (b. 1871) also emigrated to the US and by 1901 he too was working at Mt Lowe as a RR Conductor. With his Christmas Day 1901 marriage to his widowed Aunt Emma, Wallis assumed the management of his late Uncle Joseph’s estate and investments. Then in 1902 my grandfather Ira (b. 1876) arrived in the LA-Pasadena area and it is he that would have taken the photo of the trolley car and his two older brothers that was found with his effects. So now, I believe, I have most of the story worked out. Certainly, this all ‘fits’ with the family lore that Jacob and then his nephew Wallis had invested and lost heavily in an “incline railway”.

    There is another possible connection with the Mt Lowe story I wonder about but will likely never be able to prove/disprove and it concerns the Railway’s Civil Engineer. Wallis, Harvey and Ira had all grown up in Stratford, Ontario which was at that time the Ontario hub of operations for the Grand Trunk Railway. Their father Albert b. 1845 (Joseph’s brother) was a Superintendent with that Railway. Stratford is but 30 miles from London, Ontario where David Joseph Macpherson, was born in 1854. Albert’s duties often took him to London where his wife’s brother lived. While I cannot prove it, it is perhaps possible that some relationship had existed between David Joseph Macpherson and one or more of the Maguire’s that predated Joseph’s arrival in Pasadena? Even if not, perhaps the Canadian Expats found they had something in common once they all arrived in Pasadena (what today in business terms we might refer to as a “good fit”). For what its worth – and perhaps not much – I also see that Professor Lowe himself had spent time in Canada (in Ottawa, Ontario) during his early ballooning days (when he was known as Professor Carlincourt).

    I think I have taken my family research on this subject about as far as is possible. However, on 4 June 2019 I did manage to haul my 62 year old body up the Sam Merrill Trail to the old Alpine line route which brought me to Echo Mtn; then I hiked on to Inspiration Point (having a close encounter with a rattlesnake at a spring/stream along the way), then on to the Alpine Tavern ruins and back down the mountain. It took me 7 hours and 45 minutes with quite a few stops to catch my breath in the 80 degree plus heat. I stood in the exact spot where my grandfather took his photo 117 years ago and snapped one of my own. Before heading on I took a moment to toast my ancestors with a small flask of Irish Whiskey I had brought along for the occasion. It was the highlight of my short visit to California. I am now back in Canada.

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