Ep. 2: Real Estate Tumbled and So Did Elgin

Elgin was frugal, saving his money and buying 10 acres of land next to the Dougherty farm, close to Azusa. He did more than break the soil, plant seeds, water and harvest, he fell in love and shortly married Margaret Virginia Dougherty, known as Virginia, on June 8, 1887. Virginia, Walter’s mother and youngest of seven children, was born in Greenville, Texas on February 19, 1866 to Charles M. and Rosamond Joan Dougherty (née Hale).

Soon Elgin accepted a pastorate at a small church in, ironically, Greenville, California, not Texas, near modern day Newport Beach in Orange County. The newly-wed couple quickly realized this church with a small building, small congregation and small bank account couldn’t afford to support this young couple. Elgin must have prayed. He must have sought the Lord’s guidance. He must have misunderstood. They had no choice but to move back to the farm. There Elgin expanded his farming operation by purchasing an additional 60 acres of land and planting citrus trees. Elgin could farm and run a successful business.

Shortly thereafter Methodists, always traveling and ever persistent, knocked on Elgin’s door. They wanted to build a church in Pomona, California. They needed a pastor. They wanted Elgin. Reflecting on their previous failure, reason prevailed. Maybe this time he better understood the Lord’s soft voice. He chose a different path. His farming business was doing well. He would build it up, invest the profits, watch the land appreciate, and eventually sell the whole kit-and-kaboodle to support his family and future ministry. The California land boom of the 1880’s was roaring. Elgin’s farm was located in Lordsburg, where oranges, grapefruit and lemons were putting money in grateful pockets and real estate wealth was fueling speculator’s dreams. While waiting for his plan to bear fruit and honor his calling, Elgin was glad to help the Pomona Methodists by raising funds, recruiting a full-time pastor and acting as temporary pastor. His efforts helped to establish Pomona’s Westmont Methodist Church. One of their long-time members and financial supporters would be Walter Marvin Knott. California’s real estate boom tumbled and so did Elgin. While boarding a train in Pomona, the engine lurched forward. Elgin, on the back platform, stumbled, fell and punctured a lung. He never recovered. Elgin Charles Knott died on August 1, 1896, at the tender age of 37.


Virginia was devasted. Most likely overwhelmed. She had two sons to raise. Walter, born on December 11, 1889 in San Bernardino at Grandma Rosamond’s house, was six and Charles Elgin, who went by Elgin, born on October 17, 1891 in Lordsburg was four. The farm was highly mortgaged with land values still depressingly low. Fortunately, possibly because of his earlier health problems, Elgin had purchased life insurance, providing a minimum of financial security. Virginia scraped and scratched as best she could, eventually deciding it was unwise to continue the struggle. In 1899, she said farewell to the farm and hello to the city, purchasing a cottage in beautiful Pomona, four miles south of Lordsburg, for $490, the remainder of her late husband’s life insurance. Virginia was fortunate enough to find a job working in a laundry, Monday through Saturday, ten hours a day for $6.00 a week. In 1902, Virginia’s widowed mother, Rosamond, decided to sell her boarding house, The Star House in San Bernardino, and move in with Virginia and the boys in Pomona. Rosamond had invested wisely, enabling her to supplement Virginia’s meager resources.

Rosamond Joan Dougherty (née Hale) was born on February 12, 1822 in Elk Creek, Virginia.  On June 18, 1839 she married widower Charles M. Dougherty. Charles and Rosamond settled in Elk Creek. Appalachia grudgingly surrendered a livelihood. Things looked more promising westward, specifically Texas. On February 2, 1848 Mexico and the United States ended two years of conflict by signing the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican-American War. The treaty ceded undisputed control of Texas to the United States, as well as all of the current states of Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah and portions of Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. This was the year they loaded their covered wagon and headed west to Greenville, the heart of the Texas black land prairies, the heart of cotton country. Life was good on their large homesteaded cotton farm until the Civil War. The Union blockade of Southern ports made cotton exports almost impossible, limited to a few small, fast, steam-driven British blockade runners. Feeding the textile mills in England were paramount to the South’s survival. On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to the Union forces of Ulysses S. Grant.

It wasn’t a good time to be a cotton farmer in the United States. It would be years before the industry recovered, if it ever did. The Dougherty’s had little. Their money was worthless Confederate dollars. Farmland had little value. They did have some livestock. It might be time to move west before they had nothing. William Dougherty, Charles and Rosamond’s oldest son, had returned to Greenville from Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley. He was eager to recruit down-and-out family members and friends to a new land of milk and honey, a community of Texas pioneers known as “Little Texas”. On May 8, 1868, the Dougherty’s loaded their covered wagon with their few remaining possessions, abandoned the farm for lack of buyers, gathered their family, including two-year-old Virginia, and animals, became official members of a wagon train and headed west. It was a difficult 1,500-mile, four-month journey through the dry, hot, barren, Indian infested country between Greenville, Texas and “Little Texas,” California. The evidence of their exact route is scant up to the Yuma Crossing on the Colorado River. Two logical routes must be considered.