For sixteen years San Francisco has numbered Willis Guy Witter among its most progressive and public-spirited citizens. He has been the promoter of many of the leading business enterprises of California and at the same time, as a member of the bar, has gained a position of distinctive preferment. The natural resources of the state have been developed through his co-operation, with a foresight that enabled him to look beyond the exigencies of the moment to the possibilities of the future, and he has so directed his labors that California has benefited by his efforts in no unimportant degree. His connection with any undertaking insures a prosperous outcome of the same, because it is in his nature to carry forward to successful completion any enterprise with which he becomes associated.

Mr. Witter's residence on the Pacific coast dates from 1889. He was born in Grand Rapids, Wood county, Wisconisn, April 23, 1862, a son of Dr. G. F. and Frances l. (Phelps) Witter. The father, a native of New York, was a representative of an old American family founded in New England at an early day. He became one of the pioneer residents of Wisconsin, and for many years practiced his profession with success in Grand Rapids, that state. His mother, also a native of the Empire state, was a member of the Phelps family of New England. Her grandfather was a colonel in the Revolutionary war, and her father held the rank of captain in the war of 1812. The Witter family was also represented in the early wars of America. To Dr. Witter and his wife were born two sons and a daughter.

Willis Guy Witter began his education in the public schools of his native town and continued his studies in the high school of both Grand Rapids, Wisconsin, and Grand Rapids, Michigan. He afterward engaged in teaching in a district school at Auburndale, Wood county, Wisconsin, for a year, before entering the state university of his native state, in which he completed a course by graduation with the class of 1883. While there he belonged to the Hesperian Society, and served as its president during his senior year. Continuing his work as an educator he was the superintendent of the public schools of Wausau, Wisconsin, from 1884 until 1886, and at Menominee, Michigan, from 1886 until 1888. He accredited the Wausau high school to the Wisconsin University in the scientific and English courses, and the Menominee high school to Ann Arbor University, of Michigan, in the modern classical and scientific courses.

When in the University of WisconsinMr. Witter had prepared for the bar, and in 1889 he sought a home on the Pacific coast, believing that the west offered better opportunities to the young man of ambition with his own way to make in the world. Locating in San Francisco he began practice, and his thorough preparation and capability were soon manifest in his careful handling of the causes entrusted to him. His legal work brought him favorable attentions, and in 1891 he was appointed assistant United States attorney for the northern district of California, in which capacity he served for four years, or until 1895. Since that time he has continued in the active practice of law in San Francisco, and in his profession he devotes his time to corporation law. He is considered a safe and conservative attorney and counsellor and one whose presentation of a case is based upon a thorough knowledge of the law applicable thereto. He is a nephew of the late Hon. Timothy Guy Phelps, of San Mateo county, and represents the heirs in the administration of the estate.

Mr. Witter's efforts along other lines have been of marked value to the state, and at the same time have greatly enhanced his individual prosperity. While there is no state in the Union richer in its natural resources than California, nature has seemed to conspire that man shall be her co-laborer in production, and the efforts of the individual must needs supplement those of nature in order that she shall yield of her bounty and fruits. The delta and overflowed lands of San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys are the most fertile in the state, and are capable of being brought to the highest state of cultivation and productiveness after once leveed, reclaimed, and prepared to cultivation, and in this connection the labors of Mr. Witter have been most effective and beneficial. He has been identified with the reclamation and management of the delta lands of the San Joaquin river, and is an authority upon the subject of these lands, recognizing their possibilities to a large degree. Through his efforts have been reclaimed upward of fifteen thousand acres, thus redeeming the tract from a worthless condition to one of great value, the present market price being one hundred dollars per acre. This work has added to the assessed value of these properties fully one-half million dollars. He is the president of the Golden Gate Dredging & Reclamation Company, which has been engaged in several enterprises of vast importance to the general public, including the straightening of the San Joaquin river channel from Antioch to Stockton, California, and the removal of Arch Rock and of Shag Rocks, Nos. 1 and 2, which were serious obstructions to navigation in San Francisco bay. The company has also improved the deep water channel at Vallejo, as well as doing extensive work upon Stockton and Petaluma channels and that of the Napa river. He is a stockholder of the California and Nevada Land and Improvement Company, and of the Bradford Reclamation Company. He also has valuable interests in business property in Oakland, and has been largely identified with vine culture in California, in which connection he is the owner of the Belle Roche vineyard, at Asti, Sonoma county, California. This is one of the choicest vineyarads in the Russian river valley, comprising about three hundred acres.

In 1886 Mr. Witter was united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth Gooding, a native of Illinois and a daughter of Alonzo Gooding, a member of an old New York family. They have six children: Dean, who is sixteen years of age; Margaret, aged thirteen; Willis Guy, Jr.; Elizabeth G.; charles; and John Irving.

Mr. Witter belongs to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and to the Union Club, a social organization of Berkeley, in which city he and his family make their home. His political allegiance is given to Republican principles, and he was formerly active in the work of the party, but in more recent years his extensive business interests have made heavy demands upon his time, and he therefore has not been a participant in the labors of the political organization. To him there has come the attainment of a distinguished position in connection with the legal profession and also with the great material enterprises of the state, and his efforts have been so discerningly directed along well defined lines that he seems to have realized at any one point of progress the full measure of his possibilities for accomplishment at that point. He is an important factor in the development of the natural resources of the state and in the upbuilding and promotion of the enterprises which add not alone to his individual prosperity, but also advance the welfare and general prosperity of central California.

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

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

Return to Biographies Index, Volume II

Return to California AHGP home page

Return to Sacramento County AHGP home page