Perhaps the outstanding character among the first settlers in the community of El Monte was that of Ira W. Thompson. Without doubt it could be truthfully stated that few men were more directly connected with the founding of the town at its beginning, for it was he who established the first stage depot on the site of the camp of the first pioneer arrivals.
Ira Thompson was born in Vermont in the year 1800. No records are available locally as to his parentage or their nativity. Early in life he became a stonemason and practiced his trade in that state, later moving to Massachusetts, where, in 1832, he was married to Miss Rebecca Hall, a member of an old Vermont family.
Mr. and Mrs. Thompson for a time made their home in Amherst, later moving to Wisconsin and finally, (before their departure for California) to Iowa. According to family records, Mr. Thompson was the first man in his community following the receipt of news of the gold discoveries in California, to decide to make the westward trip. For four months he and his family planned, built equipment, and stored provisions for the journey. Their intentions were to make the trip leisurely, avoiding the hardships of too much haste and the possibility of running short of supplies. They brought extra oxen for emergencies, and a herd of cows for milk along the way. However, their journey was destined not to be so smooth and easy.
In June of 1850 the family set out from Independence, Missouri, in company with several other parties for California. During the journey, at Fort Yuma, Arizona, a daughter was born to Mrs. Thompson. In July of 1851, nearly fourteen months after their departure from Independence and following many privations and hardships, they arrived in California, and camped on a site which is now El Monte. Here the wagon train camped for a time, Mr. Thompson finally deciding to remain here and establish a stage depot. This he did, and later he built a hotel which he named the “Willow Grove Hotel”. This was to become an important institution in El Monte’s history and development. Mr. Thompson also improved and farmed fifty acres of land nearby.
To Mr. and Mrs. Thompson were born six children: Susan, Elbridge R., Ira S., Lucy, Joseph and Harriet R. The eldest daughter, Susan, later became the wife of David Lewis, a well-known pioneer farmer and hop raiser in the vicinity of El Monte. Later, following Mr. Lewis’ death in 1886, Mrs. Lewis was married to Elkanah Parrish, a farmer of this locality.
Death called Mr. Thompson in his sixty sixth year while he was still active in his pioneer work. At the time of his death in 1866, he was still acting as El Monte’s first postmaster, the post office being in the “Willow Grove Hotel” of which he was also proprietor.
Source: C. D. Mayon, F. Brow, L. Stoddard, and C. Mudd; El Monte from the Pioneer Days. WPA Project No. N-5740, 1936. In record 19-187072. (California Historical Landmark No. 765: El Monte). On file at the SCCIC, CSU Fullerton.