Dr. Charles Van Norden, D. D., LL. D., manager of the Central California Electric Company and resident director of the South Yuba Water Company, has passed a life of prominence and worthy activity in various states of the Union. His sphere of work and influence has been broad, and he has had correspondingly large attributes of mind and character, so that he has been capable of gaining success in whatever department of work he has engaged. Throughout his career he has been a scholar and student and litterateur of more than ordinary ability. While his health permitted he was a minister of the Congregational church, was afterwards a college president, and for the past decade has been one of the foremost business men and public-spirited citizens of Sacramento.
Dr. Van Norden was born in New York city, October 10, 1843, and on both sides of the house was a descendant of Knickerbocker ancestry. His father, Thomas L. Van Norden, a native of New York, was a wholesale provision merchant there and died in 1869. His mother, Margaret Hoghland Warner, was a descendant on two lines from Dr. Everardus Bogardus, who came from Holland in 1637, as pastor of the church of New Amsterdam, and, also on two lines, from Leiutenant Governor De la Montaigna, a Huguenot refugee of gentle blood, from France, who was in command at Fort Orange (Albany) when the Duke of York captured what became New York city. Her ancestry at one time owned a large area of land now covered with buildings of fabulous cost and countless in number.
Dr. Van Norden has one brother, Warner Van Norden, who was president of the Bank of North America in New York, and is now president of the board of directors and the largest stockholder of the Van Norden Trust Company. He is a very prominent man, and is a director and the executive manager of the American Board of Foreign Missions. Two brothers and two sisters are dead, and the two sisters living are Margaret, widow of the late John Lockwood, a wholesale dry-goods merchant of New York, and Cornelia C., widow of the late Professor P. W. Bedford, of the College of Pharmacy.
Charles Van Norden was educated in private schools in New York city, and graduated from the Mechanic Society school (similar to a high school) in 1856, being valedictorian of his class. In 1859 he entered Hamilton (New York) College, from which he graduated in 1863, also valedictorian of his class, and later received the degree of LL. D. from the same institution. He then studied theology at the Union Theological Seminary, and was graduated in the fall of 1866. His first charge as a Congregational minister was at New Orleans. Later he preached at Beverly, Massachusetts, and for ten years at St. Albans, Vermont. He was a pastor of the North Church at Springfield, Massachusetts, when his health failed.
During his ministry he had some unusual and ofttimes trying experiences, notably while in charge of a church in New Orleans in 1866. The Ku Klux Klan was flourishing at that time, and feeling against the United States government ran almost to the point of anarchy. On one occasion sickness alone saved him from massacre. The carpet-bagger element had plotted to secure possession of the state government by means of a constitutional convention and a new constitution. The disaffected classes decided to thwart this movement by massacring the convention, and the police joined with the mob in the undertaking. Knowing nothing of this, Dr. Van Norden, who was a newcomer, purposed to be present at the opening session, but was prevented by what seemed a light attack of yellow fever. He thus escaped a horrible death. The convention was massacred, and the clergyman who opened the session with prayer, the only other Union minister in the city, received many mortal wounds. Dr. Van Norden the next evening saw scores of bleeding and dying victims at the Marine Hospital, and among them his friend slowly passing away and in whose position he himself might have been.
Dr. Van Norden, in the winter of 1889, was elected president of Elmira College, where he served until 1893, at which time he came to California. He had been previously honored with the degree of D. D. from the University of the City of New York. After coming to California he became manager of the Central California Electric Company and resident director of the South Yuba Water Company, and has continued in those positions to the present time.
The South Yuba Water Company has owed much of its prosperity to Dr. Van Norden's ability as developer and promoter. It has over thirty reservoirs, four hundred miles of ditches, pipelines and tunnels, irrigates fifteen thousand acres, and supplies whater and power to the Nevada county miners. The electrical works develop five thousand horsepower, all now in use. As soon as the business demands it, the company will make arrangements to develop from twenty to thirty thousand horsepower. There are three power houses, finely equipped, and the power is now used in Sacramento city and county and in Nevada and Placer counties. Placer county's prosperity is due in large measure to the work of these companies. A number of cities and villages are supplied with power, light and water. The power is developed from water rights and storage reservoirs, which are six or seven thousand feet above sea level. The four offices of the company are in New York, Nevada City, Auburn and Sacramento.
Dr. Van Norden has done a large amount of writing. He is author of the philosophical work entitled "The Outermost Rim and Beyond," published by A. D. F. Randolph, of New York; "The Psychic Factor," published by appleton; also other books, and has contributed brief articles, short stories and romances to magazines. He is a Phi Beta Kappa; is president of the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; one of the directors of the Albert Bonnheim memorial fund to assist in educating young men and women; chairman of one of the committees of the chamber of commerce, and in the interest of these various concerns has often appeared as an advocate or witness before the board of supervisors and the board of trustees. In politics he is an independent Republican, but has not taken an active part in party affairs.
Dr. Van Norden was first married to Miss Anna H. Mygatt, who was a native of Brooklyn, New York, of New England descent. She died in 1896 leaving three sons, as follows: Rudolph W., who is a graduate of Stanford University, a prominent electrical engineer, and superintendent of the Electric Company above mentioned; Otto H., who has begun a promising business career in New York; and Max L., who graduates in 1904 from Stanford University. In 1902 Dr. Van Norden married Miss Ruth Spilman, a descendant of an old and aristocratic Virginia family. They have one daughter, Linda de la Montaigna.
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