By Ellen Bell/Guest Columnist


JAMES H. IRVINE (1867-1947)

In 1888, James Harvey Irvine, son of the original owner of the Irvine Ranch, rode a two-wheeled velocipede from San Francisco to San Diego. The journey took him three months. Along the way, the 21-year-old was able to see the Irvine Ranch from a new perspective, surveying the beauty of the land that would soon become his life-long passion.

Unlike his father who emigrated from Ireland, James Harvey Irvine grew up in the privileged world of San Francisco high society. James Harvey inherited his father's ranch in on his 25th birthday. Many would have expected the Northern California son to sell off his father's undeveloped land. But James H. Irvine, also known as "J.I", had other plans.

James Harvey inherited his father's love for the land and his strong work ethic. Soon after gaining control of the Irvine Ranch, J.I. set out to transform the sleepy, sheep grazing operation into an agricultural powerhouse.

Irvine ran his ranch like a sea captain, making sure that each leased farm on his land was maintained in shipshape condition. He dictated what crops to grow and how to grow them. Nothing happened on the ranch without his knowledge or stamp of approval.

During his 55 years at the helm, the Irvine Ranch prospered.

No other member of the Irvine family had a greater impact on the land that would someday be the city of Irvine. Like his contemporary, Theodore Roosevelt, Irvine was a man of action who preferred to "speak softly and carry a big stick."

He was a progressive thinker, interested in scientific innovation and the latest technological advances of the time. But he also believed in responsible land management, conservation and the benefits of exploring the great outdoors. It was this passionate regard for the land, and his determination to keep it intact, that made the present-day city possible.

Ellen Bell lives in Irvine and is the author of "Irvine: Images of America" by Arcadia Publishing.