The Works Progress Administration

Biography of James D. Durfee of El Monte California

James D. Durfee was one of the most successful farmers of this district. His fine farm is located on the Temple Road, about three miles south of El Monte.

Mr. Durfee was born in Adams County, Illinois, in 1840. His father, James Durfee, was a native of Rhode Island, and his mother, Nee Cynthia Soule, was born in New York. The death of his parents occurring when he was quite young left him an orphan, and dependent upon his own exertions for support and education. He remained in the county of his birth until fifteen years of age, and then started westward. He crossed the plains to Salt Lake City, with an emigrant train, then took the southern route into California. Upon his arrival in San Bernardino County, in the fall of 1855, he engaged in farming and other occupations until 1859, when he rented a tract of land about four miles south of El Monte, upon which he engaged in farming until the next year. He then purchased 125 acres – the present residence – of wild and uncultivated land, and commenced its improvement and cultivation. Mr. Durfee devoted himself to a system of diversified farming, planting a large variety of citrus and deciduous fruits for domestic use, and also a fine walnut grove, about his residence. He engaged in dairying for a time and also took great pride in fine horses, featuring the “Richmond” breed. Among the noticeable features of his place were the English walnut trees, which reached a remarkable growth. The oldest were planted in 1864, he being the first to experiment in walnut raising in this district.

A residence of sixty years in El Monte made Mr. Durfee well known. His straightforward, manly qualities and consistent mode of life gained him scores of warm friends. Undaunted by many obstacles unknown to his more favored competitors in the race of life, being an orphan, he by perseverance and self-education, fought his way to success. Taking a deep interest in schools, for more than twenty-five years, he serviced his school district as one of its active trustees. He was one of the founders of the Temple Grammar School, then known as the La Puente School. Mr. Durfee was instrumental in introducing free textbooks into public schools of California, the movement originating in the local district school (La Puente) of which he was for years a trustee. This was in about 1884.

Politically, he was a life long Republican, a worker in the ranks of his party, and represented his district as a delegate in many of the county conventions. In 1887-88 he was the assistant assessor, and made the assessment of his township. He was also an active member of the Patrons of Husbandry.

December 19, 1858, Mr. Durfee was untied in marriage with Miss Diantha Cleminson, a history of whose family is given in a sketch of her brother, James Cleminson, to be found in this volume. Mr. Durfee’s death occurred in October 1920, while Mrs. Durfee lived until 1925. To them were born five children, Eva Irene, (Mrs. Eva Slack) of Huntington Park, James R., of El Monte, and three children who died in infancy.

In 1908, Mr. and Mrs. Durfee celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary in their home on Durfee road with over one hundred relatives and friends as guests.

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.

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