John B. Hickman is the efficient and accommodating county horticultural commissioner of Monterey county, with headquarters at the Farm Advisor’s office, on Main street, Salinas. A native of England, he was born in Oxford, January 18, 1848, but was reared and educated in Buffalo, New York, his parents having come to the United States when he was three months old.
In 1868 Mr. Hickman came to California by way of the Isthmus of Panama. He was locomotive engineer on the Central Pacific during the building of the road through Nevada, and he worked on the construction of the Sacramento Valley Railroad, serving also as a guard in the Folsom State Prison in early days. In 1873 he came to Monterey county and taught school at El Carneros. Through the following twenty-seven years he was a teacher in the county schools, ten years of this period having been devoted to teaching in the city of Monterey. During the vacation periods, Mr. Hickman gathered native California plants and shipped them to Europe, and made such an exhaustive study of plants and insects that it is not surprising that he has been horticultural commissioner of the county since 1902. He has originated numerous varieties of the increasingly popular garden plants, including narcissus, dahlias, Watsonias and others, and at an exhibit of wild flowers held at Watsonville, he displayed one hundred and sixty varieties from his collections. He has been a great help in the development of the pear and almond orchards in the county and for fifty years he has worked with the botanical department of the University of California. His home is on his ranch of one hundred and sixty-five acres, a part of the Carpenteria Spanish grant located at El Carneros, in Monterey county. When Father Junipero Seira was building the San Juan Mission, he made the ranch his headquarters and its was there he established a sheep corral, a home for live sheep and also for their herders. A pear orchard was also planted and some of the trees are still standing. The old spring which came from the rocky hills still supplies Mr. Hickman with the finest water in the state, and the spring has never been dry. The remains of the old but of the sheep-herders is still there, and many Indian relics have been found in the plowing of the ranch, including daggers, bull-mouth rifles, ornamental jars and dishes of many kinds. From the records of the Indians, the other spring, the main one on the ranch, has not failed for one hundred and sixty years, and is giving as much water as it ever did. A small part of the hill pasture has yielded thousands of bulbs, which have in time paid for the ranch, many having been shipped to Europe. Rarely, if ever, elsewhere in California, may the traveler find an equally interesting historic old rancho.
The present Mrs. Hickman was Miss Frances Orton before her marriage, and she will long be pleasantly remembered by many who attended her school and enjoyed the benefits of her instruction, and who were proud to hear her acclaimed the best teacher of English in the Golden state. They have two daughters: Mrs. F. M. Carnahan, of Long Beach and Mrs. S. B. Koch of Berkeley. In many ways Mr. Hickman has contributed to the development and up-building of this county and as horticultural commissioner his work is extremely valuable to the community.
Source: History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California : cradle of California’s history and romance : dating from the planting of the cross of Christendom upon the shores of Monterey Bay by Fr. Junipero Serra, and those intrepid adventurers who accompanied him, down to the present day. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1925.