Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mining and Irrigation Developer, and Boise Founder John A. O’Farrell [otd 02/13]

John O'Farrell. H. T. French photo.
World traveler and Boise pioneer John Andrew O'Farrell was born February 13, 1823, in Ulster, Ireland. He went to sea after two years in a naval school: The round trip from London to Calcutta and back made O'Farrell a seasoned sailor at 16. He then became a crew member on an East India Company ship that sailed to Sydney, Australia, and widespread points in between.

O’Farrell remained in England for a year or so, qualifying as a shipyard worker. He then signed on with a ship that landed him in the United States in January 1843. Here, he worked in a shipyard for a time. During the Mexican War, Andrew served successively on a stores ship and then a mail packet.

After the annexation of California and the discovery of gold at Sutter's mill, he tried his hand at placer mining. When California was admitted to the Union in September 1850, all male residents over 21 years old – including O'Farrell – were granted U.S. citizenship.

O'Farrell returned to sea for a round trip voyage to New Zealand and Australia, with stops in Honolulu. After more mining, he worked ships between the Caribbean and England.
HMS Agamemnon. Magazine lithograph, 1857.

The Crimean War began in 1853, and O’Farrell shipped on the HMS Agamemnon, the first screw-powered British battleship. In November 1854, O'Farrell received a “Crimean Medal” for meritorious service in the siege of Sevastopol, where he was wounded.

He returned to the U.S. after the war and, in 1860, was among the early prospectors who discovered gold in the Pike's Peak area of Colorado. However, in late 1861, O’Farrell went East to Kentucky and got married. Two years later, he chose to put down roots in the Boise Valley.

Major Pinkney Lugenbeel’s troops were already in the Valley when O’Farrell arrived there in June. By coincidence or design, Andrew located his cabin within a quarter mile or so of where the Major finally sited (the new) Fort Boise. The log cabin O'Farrell built in what soon became Boise City is considered the first family home in the area. For many years, area Roman Catholics used his home as a place to hold services.
O'Farrell Cabin. City of Boise.

With his wife and growing family settled, O'Farrell promoted the development of the city and of the Boise Valley. Andrew eventually owned considerable Valley farm land as well as town real estate. Later, he helped fund and promote irrigation canals in the area. One of those projects included the New York Canal [blog June 20], of which he was one of the original promoters.

Yet he found time to travel extensively to oversee mining investments all over the west, from Washington and Montana south to Arizona and New Mexico.  O’Farrell was also known to be bright and inventive (his father was a military engineer). In 1897, he exhibited a patented rail-car coupler designed so the operator did not have to go between the cars, the largest single cause of railway accidents in that era. However, his mechanism was in competition with many others, and was never adopted.

O’Farrell’s wife of almost forty years, Mary Ann, died in May 1900. Together, they had raised four children of their own (three others died in infancy), plus seven adopted orphans. John survived his wife by a bit over five months.

Boise still has an Ofarrell Street. The original cabin, although relocated by a couple hundred feet, has been restored and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
References: [Brit], [French], [Illust-State]
 “A Car Coupler,” Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho (October 17, 1897).
"O'Farrell Cabin," CityofBoise.org web site.
Carolyn Thomas Foreman, “Colonel Pinkney Lugenbeel,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 24, No. 4, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City (1946).

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