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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • First City History: John Snyder's growth from LV grocer to California pioneer

  • In Greenwood Memorial Park Cemetery in San Diego, there is a large monument marking the final†resting place of John Harrison Snyder and his wife, Jennie.Carved on this monument are the dates of their birth and death, but more importantly, down in the bottom right corner, the words carved in this granite monument read, ...
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  • In Greenwood Memorial Park Cemetery in San Diego, there is a large monument marking the final resting place of John Harrison Snyder and his wife, Jennie.
    Carved on this monument are the dates of their birth and death, but more importantly, down in the bottom right corner, the words carved in this granite monument read, “San Diego Pioneers.”
    But, before they conquered the wilds of San Diego, they had to survive the early days of “bloody Kansas.”
    John Harrison Snyder was born Aug. 29, 1843, the son of Solomon Jacob Henry Snyder and Susan Winklepeck in Tuscarawas County, Ohio.
    His father had cleared 160 acres of heavy timber land and operated a prosperous farm in that county until 1848, when Susan died, according to the Genealogical and Biographical Record of North-Eastern Kansas. His father sold all of his holdings and left his children with neighbors, and then traveled 4,000 miles in an endeavor to forget his great loss and overcome Susan's death.
    Soon after Solomon returned, he married Eliza Fisher, and in 1852, he removed his family to Indiana. In 1854, the Snyder family traveled further west to Kansas.
    It's said that on the morning of May 4, 1854, he made the first legal homestead claim ever entered in Kansas, comprising the land upon which the southern part of the city of Leavenworth now stands, according to his Biographical Record. He then returned to Indiana for his family.
    Upon his return, he discovered his claim “jumped,” and the county was in the hands of border ruffians.
    He was driven from the polls at the first election in Kansas Territory on account of his Free Soil principles, according to the Biographical Record. Two other claims he bought were wrested from him by a pro-slavery “squatter court.” Fearing for his life and his family, Solomon left Leavenworth behind and moved 38 miles north into Atchison County, where he founded the town of Monrovia.
    Because Kansas was so thinly settled, there was no schoolhouse for 11-year-old John to attend, so he was deprived of an education, according to "An Illustrated History of Southern California." His young life was spent on the farm, as was the case of the children of early day settlers of Leavenworth County.
    There were many changes in the Snyder family in 1862.
    Solomon was elected to the state legislature and would serve two terms in the House of Representatives and one in the senate, where he did faithful and conscientious work on behalf of the people of Kansas, according to "The History of Atchison County."
    That same year, John would enlist in Company F, 13th Regiment, Kansas Volunteers Infantry, which was organized at Atchison.
    His company would see action throughout Missouri and Arkansas under the leadership of Gen. James G. Blunt. Snyder suffered several severe illnesses, but was never wounded. He was mustered out June 26, 1865, and discharged at Fort Leavenworth on July 13, 1865, according to the National Park Service.
    Page 2 of 2 - The Leavenworth City Directory has Snyder listed as the owner of a grocery store on the northeast corner of Seventh and Pawnee with his residence at the same address. He continues to be a grocer at this address for several years, and because his location was next to the military post, business was very good.
    It is not known when he met Mary Jane "Jennie" Whitely, who was living on a farm in Platte County with her family.
    But, the two shared similar upbringings. The Whiteley's had located to Platte County from Ohio and had been engaged in farming.
    Jennie's father, Abner, was a bit of an inventer and had indeed invented machines for the Champion Harvesting Machines of Ohio, according to "Whiteley's in America."
    "Mr. Whitely came to Platte County just at the time when the feeling between abolitionist and slave owners was waxing hot. He chose his claim in Missouri and staked it out," according to the Kansas City Journal on July 1, 1908.
    He was an abolitionist living in the wrong state at the wrong time, but he never gave up his land despite numerous attempts made towards his life.
    In 1873, Snyder is no longer listed as a grocer in Leavenworth.
    It had been four years since the Golden Spike had been driven at Promontory Summit, Utah, and the tracks of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads were coming together to complete the first transcontinental railroad.
    California became the new frontier and a place of vision for many early pioneers and Snyder was to be one of them.
    Just as his father had done leaving Indiana for Kansas, Snyder became a pioneer of San Diego. California in 1874 was thinly settled and there was an estimated 2,000 people living in San Diego at that time.
    After visiting various localities on the coast,  according to "An Illustrated History of Southern California, 1890," he concluded to locate permanently in San Diego. Believing in the future commercial importance of the city, he invested to some extent in city property.
    Snyder returned to Leavenworth and married Jennie Whitely on June 29, 1875, returning immediately to San Diego.
    Snyder would be elected city trustee three times and would serve six years with the last term as president of the board.
    The population of San Diego by 1885 was less than 5,000, but that was the year everything would change for Snyder, and he would become president of the San Diego harbor commission.
    More later on this later …

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