Robert James Laws, who died October 20, 1904, was connected throughout his business career with railroad construction, and at the time of his death was superintendent of the Sacramento division of the Southern Pacific Railroad. He was born in Albany county, New York, in 1847. His ancestral history is one of long and close connection with America, for in the early part of the seventeenth century his ancestors came from England and founded the family in Virginia, being among the earliest colonists of the Old Dominion. The Laws family were active in support of the cause of independence at the time of the Revolutionary war, and they built the first government fortifications--Fortress Monroe, near Norfolk, Virginia. Bolitha Laws, the father of our subject, ws born in Virginia and became a contractor and builder, following that pursuit in New York city for many years or up to the time of his retirement from active life. He executed many important contracts in the Empire state, including the building of some of the first cotton and woolen mills at Cohoes, New York. He died in 1865, at the age of fifty-five years. His wife, who bore the maiden name of Anne Adams and was also a native of virginia, died during the cholera epidemic of 1853.

Robert James Laws, the third in order of birth of their eleven children, began his education in the public schools of his native state, afterward attended a preparatory school in Troy, New York, andlater became a student in Cooper Institute in New York city, continuing his studies until nineteen years of age. He afterward became connected with the American Telegraph Company in the telegraph instrument manufacturing department, and after serving there for three years he went to Troy, New York, where he entered the mathematical and surveying works of W. & L. E. Gurley, with whom he continued for two years.

Mr. Laws arrived inCalifornia in April, 1868, and here entered the employ of the chief engineer of the Central pacific Railroad Company--S. S. Montague--in the surveying department. He was thus employed until 1876 when he entered the operating department as road master on the Sacramento division. When two years had passed he was transferred to Oakland with jurisdiction as roadmaster on the western division between Oakland and Sacramento, and in May, 1880, he was engaged by D. O. Mills and H. M. Yerington to go to Nevada to build what is now the Carson & Colorado Railroad. After completing the construction of his line he remained in charge as assistant superintendent and chief engineer until April, 1902. In the meantime the road became the property of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, and he was transferred to Sacramento in April, 1902, as superintendent of the Sacramento division, which position he filled till his death. Throughout the years of his residence in the west he had been connected with railroad service, largely in the line of civil engineering and construction work, and his efficiency was acknowledged by his long continuance in the employ of one road and its successor. Since preparing for this field of labor his course had been marked by steady and consecutive progress, and his business course had therefore been one of success.

On the 11th of June, 1874, Mr. Laws was united in marriage to Miss anna Louise Church, a native of New York. Four children have been born to them: Robert Graham; Charlotte C., the wife of D. F. Beldin; Alice W.; and Clara V. The friends of the family in Sacramento and in other places in which they havelived are many. Mr. Laws had the warm fraternal regard of his brethren of the Masonic lodge. His political support was given the Republican party, but while he kept well informed on the questions and issues of the day, the honors and emoluments of office had no attraction for him, as he found his time and attention fully occupied by his business duties.

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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