Marcellus A. Nurse, state surveyor of California, has made a most creditable record in connection with various public works of vast benefit to the industry and commerce of the state, and is one of the foremost civil engineers of the west. Reclamation and irrigation work has occupied most of his time in the past few years, and he has carried to successful completion some plans whose ultimate value to the people of the state is inestimable. He is enthusiastic in the prosecution of his work, and loves his profession for its own sake as well as far the individual good he derives from it.

Mr. Nurse was born in Scioto county, Ohio, June 19, 1846, a son of Uri and Narcissa (Turner) Nurse. His father was of an old American family, and of the famous Rebecca Nurse stock. He was born in New York state, and died in 1876. He was an engineer and millwright, and while in Ohio was principally engaged in bridge buiding, and he owned a large flour and a saw mill. He was a successful and prominent man wherever his interest were found. He came to California among the original forty-niners, and for a time was a successful minr on Bidwell's bar on Feather river. He returned to the east in 1851, and in 1862 brought his family out to California. He was engaged in quartz mining in Amador county, and also in stock-raising, and later did surveying. In the declining years of his life he bought a farm in Yolo county and lived there until his death. He was a descendant of Sir John Rodgers, one of the earliest emigrants from England to America. Mrs. Narcissa Nurse was born in Virginia, of an old Revolutionary family, and she died in 1889. Her brother John was county clerk of Scioto county, Ohio, for forty-four years, and was also mayor of Portsmouth, Ohio, and president of the bank there. His son was appointed by President Lincoln as chief justice of Nevada territory. Mr. M. A. Nurse has three sisters: Louisa, the widow of William McKinney, and residing in San Francisco; Caroline, the widow of William Morton, of Kentucky; and Phoebe, the widow of Obe Salladay, and residing in Los Angeles.

Marcellus A. Nurse attended the public schools at Portsmouth, Ohio, and began a course of civil engineering while still in the high school. He came out to California with his father, and then began work on the western division of the Central Pacific Railroad, in the engineering corps, for a time having charge of a division on that road, with headquarters at Pleasanton, Alameda county. Three years later he gave up railroad work and accepted a position with the Clear Lake Water Company, who were engaged in placing irrigation and navigation works through Yolo and Lake counties, and he had charge of the reclamation enterprises near Knights Landing, on the west side of the Sacramento river. He became connected with the state department of public works just after the election of Governor Markham, and at first was appointed as an assistant on the river surveys. At the election of Governor Budd he was made chief engineer, and has held that position ever since.

The greater part of the river improvement work has been done since Mr. Nurse has been in this office, and many hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone into the work. The San Joaquin river channel has been straightened; extensive jetties have been placed in the Sacramento river for the removal of the Newtown shoals, which had long been a menace to navigation; a system of waste weirs has been devised and partly introduced for regulating a maximum flow of water in the river channel instead of permitting it to leave the channels to the basins adjacent. These weirs have been successful, and are built permanently, of solid concrete. Every piece of work done is a part of a comprehensive plan for the general improvement of all navigation and irrigation enterprises in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys. Mr. Nurse, assisted by George N. Randle, who has been his assistant engineer for the past nine years, has devised the entire system of river improvement, and plans for further and more complete improvements have been prepared and submitted to the legislature.

Mr. Nurse has also some important mining interests in Sonora, Mexico, consisting of copper, gold and silver deposits, and which are now in course of development. His principal property consists of farming land. He owns one hundred and sixty acres of fruit and grain land in Yolo county, and four hundred acres of vegetable land in Sutter county.

Mr. Nurse was married in Yolo county, September 15, 1872, to Miss Mary Wood, a native of California and a daughter of Joel Wood, who was a pioneer of 1849 to this state and in 1850 settled in Yolo county, where he has been prominent in affairs and well known as an extensive grower of cattle and sheep. The Wood family, originally from England, emigrated from Virginia to Tennessee. Mr. and Mrs. Nurse have three sons and four daughters: Albert R., who is conducting his father's farm in Yolo county and frequently assists on the surveys; Jay C., a student in the State University; Ray, at the Sacramento high school; Clare, who is the wife of W. L. Ely, of Yolo county; Mollie, the wife of George N. Randle, assistant state engineer; and Estella and Edith, both in school.

Mr. Nurse is a Democrat, but has taken little part in politics. At the solicitation of his friends he accepted the nomination for county surveyor of Yolo county, but later resigned. His professional work on the public utilities has been his most important duty, and it has met with general approval, the best evidence of which being that further appropriations have always been readily granted by the legislature. He has fraternal affiliations with the Independent Order of Foresters.

Source: History of the New California Its Resources and People, Volume I

The Lewis Publishing Company - 1905
Edited by Leigh H. Irvine

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