Among the best-known of the old-timers now living in Merced is Henry Nelson, whose memory carries him back to the earliest days in the forming of the county, and who is able to recount the happenings of those early days when a “man was a man” and stood upon his own feet. Mr. Nelson was born in Frederickton, New Brunswick, on August 17, 1844, the son of William and Anna C. (Campbell) Nelson. The former died in May, 1896, at Sonora, and the latter in September, 1895, at Merced Falls; both are buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Snelling.
Henry Nelson attended school in San Francisco and Merced Falls and at Nicholson’s Seminary in Stockton, in 1865, and the Pacific Business College in San Francisco in 1866. This school became the nucleus of Heald’s Business College, Mr. Heald being Nelson‘s teacher. In the first school he attended, the first in San Francisco, on Washington Street, Professor Pelton was the principal. His school days over, young Nelson returned to Merced County and began driving team for his father, who ran Nelson’s Flouring Mill at Merced Falls, delivering flour through Mariposa and parts of Tuolumne and Fresno Counties for three years. They sold over $2,500,000 worth of flour from the mill during its existence from 1854 to 1893, mostly in the hills. He then became solicitor for the mill, and also was bookkeeper a little later. In 1866 he was taken into partnership by his father, William Nelson, in the mill at Merced Falls. He secured the stock subscribers for the Merced Falls Woolen Mill erected there in 1869. In 1868 Mr. Nelson bought wheat up and down the Merced River, some 500 tons, paying thirty dollars a ton for same; in two weeks the price jumped to fifty dollars per ton and he made a profit of $10,000. On April 4, 1872, the woolen mill burned down, also the flour mill. The fire is supposed to have caught in the picker room of the woolen mill. Nelson & Son had the controlling interest, amounting to about $20,000, in the concern. Both mills were rebuilt, but were again burned to the ground on September 23, 1893. While living in Merced Falls, William Nelson was postmaster of the place and Henry had all the work to do for about thirty years; he also was secretary of the Woolen Mill Corporation.
Henry Nelson was married on June 16, 1869, at the Odd Fellows Hall in Hornitos, to Miss Lola Antoinette Lawrence, a daughter of Michael and Adelia (Heicox) Lawrence. Her father was born in Alsace-Lorraine and her mother in Naugatuck, Connecticut, and Mrs. Nelson first saw the light at Lyons, Wayne County, New York. Of their marriage the following children have been born: William H., of Yosemite; Mrs. Lola A. Cease, superintendent of Ahwahnee Sanitarium; Alma May, wife of John Taylor, of Merced; Inez Mildred, wife of Louis Dorn, of San Antonio, Texas; Miss Etta Myrtle, of Merced; and Beatrice Hazel, who married Frank J. Duncan, of Merced.
Mrs. Nelson came out from the East with her father and three sisters, via Panama. Eudora married William Franklin Overstreet; and their daughter Fanny Eudora, who became the wife of George Kelsey, was reared by Mrs. Nelson after the death of her mother, when she was a little girl. William Lorenzo Overstreet, brother of Mrs. Kelsey, is editor of the paper at Carmel. Gussie married James D. Craighan, and their children are: Lilly, of San Francisco; Mrs. Minnie Morris, of Hollywood; Nettie Louise, a teacher in San Francisco; Mrs. Delia Viola, wife of Charles K. Weller, of Fort Bragg; Mrs. C. E. (Favorite May) Kocher, of Berkeley; James D. Jr., of Sacramento. Louise, the oldest sister of Mrs. Nelson, married Mr. Logsdin and died on March 26, 1905. The four brothers of Mrs. Nelson are: Dr. Lorenzo Lawrence, who died in Sonoma about 1894; W. H. H. Lawrence, who died in Salinas in 1924 at the age of eighty-six; Raymond, who died in Mexico; and Francis, who died in early childhood in New York State. The mother also died there, after which the remaining members of the family came to California.
Mr. Nelson has always voted the Republican ticket on national issues, but in local affairs he considers the men best qualified for public office, regardless of their politics. He served as a member of the board of supervisors from District No. 1 for four years. Fraternally he was a member of the Odd Fellows, having joined Willow Lodge No. 121, I. O. O. F., at Snelling, when he was twenty-one; later he withdrew to join Hornitos Lodge No. 99, I. O. O. F., where he held his membership until about 1896. He also belonged to the Oso Encampment at Bear Valley, and passed the chairs of the lodge in the early nineties; and he was a member of the workmen until 1910. In early days Mr. Nelson belonged to the Sonora Rifle Club, of which Fred Sutton, Dr. Bromley, and Mr. Nelson are the only survivors.
Source: Outcalt, John. A history of Merced County, California : with a biographical review of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present; Los Angeles, Calif. : Historic Record Company, 1925.