|Mayor James Blethen (Newspaper image: Oakland Tribune)|
James Blethen was born on June 25, 1828 in Maine and came to California during the Gold Rush, where he set up shop as a contractor in San Francisco. He paid for his passage aboard he Golconda by working as a carpenter on the ship, a trade he had learned in Dover (now Dover-Foxcroft, Maine).
He was married twice and had nine children.
In 1868, he and a partner bought the Pioneer Mill at 1st and Broadway in Oakland, where they did mill work, specializing is sashes and doors. The business proved quite successful and Blethen developed an interest in politics during this time, spurred by the debates over the Chinese Exclusion Act.
He was a two-term Mayor of Oakland, serving in 1881 and 1882 (when Mayor's were elected to one-year terms). A year after he left office his good fortune began to decline. His Pioneer Planing Company became the target of boycotts and he accrued debts of $60,000 ($1.5 million in 2019 dollars) to the likes of Dr. Samuel Merritt, Knowland & Co and the Oakland Bank of Savings.
|The Port of Oakland around 1882|
The Herald ran an account of him in his later years, describing him as "Old and bent and gray, his clothes patched and threadbare...Blethen, once Mayor of Oakland, now flags the trains of the Southern Pacific...the old man sits on a bench, leans against the Delger Block and either reads the papers or dreams of the days when he was Mayor, and could count more friends than any other citizen of Oakland."
His memorial service was held at the Masonic Temple and he was buried in the Blethen family plot.
Sources: The San Francisco Call, Wikipedia, Ancestry.com, Find-a-Grave, City of Oakland Planning Department, Sacramento Daily Record-Union, History of the Port of Oakland by DeWitt Jones, Oakland Tribune