Sunday, March 2, 2008

Henry P. Coon - San Francisco Mayor, Teacher & Businessman

[Photo of Coon gravesite by Michael Colbruno; Entry excerpted from Wikipedia]

Plot 2

Henry Perrin Coon (September 30, 1822 - December 4, 1884) was the 11th Mayor of San Francisco 1863 to 1867. Henry Perrin Coon was one of the most versatile men ever to hold the office. He worked as a teacher, doctor, lawyer, druggist and businessman.

Henry Perrin Coon was born in Columbia County, New York, the youngest of 13 children. After college, a severe cold settled into his throat that spoiled his voice for public speaking, which he ultimately regained in California's milder climate. At that point, he selected medicine as his profession. After receiving his medical degree from the Philadelphia College of Medicine in 1848, he returned to Hudson, New York where he married Ruthetta Folger on September 18, 1849. He then established a medical practice in Syracuse, New York. In 1853, he left for California, leaving his wife and infant daughter behind for the time being, although they joined him the following year. He and Ruthetta ultimately had four children: three sons and a daughter.

After arriving in San Francisco in 1853, he established a new medical practice, complete with an apothecary shop and a chemical-importing company. Coon also participated in organizing manufacturing and wholesale vinegar businesses. He was an active member of San Francisco's Vigilance committee of 1856. When the Vigilance committee transformed itself into a political party called the Peoples' Party later that year, he was the party's nominee for police judge. He was elected to the judgeship on November 4, 1856, receiving 8,706 votes out of 11,038 cast.

Coon established a reputation for being tough on criminals (compared to the previous attitude of leniency toward them). Coon also gained notoriety for refusing to stop a duel between California Supreme Court Justice David S. Terry and U.S. Senator David C. Broderick, in which Broderick was killed. At the end of his second term in 1860, Coon stepped down from the post to return to his medical practice. In early 1861, he and his family traveled to the East Coast but returned to San Francisco late that year when he again resumed the practice of medicine.

Coon reluctantly ran for mayor in 1863 after being approached by the People's Party, winning by nearly a thousand votes in the election of May 16, 1863. While he spent his first two years in office with ceremonial duties, including participating in the opening of the Bank of California, and leading a procession through the streets after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, his second two-year term would be quite traumatic.

In the same election in which Coon was first elected, there had been a bond measure known as the Railroad Subscription Act. The measure -- which easily passed -- called for the city government to issue $650,000 in bonds for an equal amount of stock in the Central Pacific Railroad Company. Coon, at first, refused to issue the bonds. After the railroad company obtained an injunction ordering him to do so, he acquiesced.

He also opposed William Ralston's plan to extend Montgomery Street past Howard Street in the South of Market area, even though he helped Ralston open the Bank of California. Ralston had bought land south of the intersection and had obtained approval from the Board of Supervisors. However, after Coon's veto, Ralston had to content himself with building the Palace Hotel.

Coon also turned his energies to adorning the city. He hired a crew to survey a very sandy area in the western part of the city. This sandy area would be the site of Golden Gate Park.

After leaving office in 1867, he did not resume the practice of medicine but engaged in the insurance business as well as dealing in real estate. He amassed enough wealth to purchase two large ranches, one of them became part of the campus of Stanford University.

His wife, Ruthetta, died in 1877 and he remarried the next year to the widow of a Navy doctor.

Coon died of heart failure on December 4, 1884 at Ralston's Palace Hotel.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for the interesting post. I have one of the original 1865 $1,000 San Francisco Pacific Railroad Bond (#97) signed by San Francisco Mayor Henry P. Coon in my collection. You can see an image of it at:

Bruce C. Cooper
The Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum