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7th Governor of
California, January 14, 1860 - January 10, 1862

Born:  June 24, 1827, in Roscommon County, Ireland

Died:  March 1, 1894, in Los Angeles, California

Marriage:  Maria Guirado (1852); Rose V. Kelley (1888)


John Downey, beginning a term as lieutenant governor in 1860, became governor when Governor Latham resigned after just five days in office.


Early Life

Downey came from his native Ireland to the United States at age 15. He went to a Latin school in Maryland, and then became an apprentice to a pharmacist in Washington, D.C. After working in a drug store in Vicksburg, Mississippi, he and a partner opened a pharmacy in Cincinnati in 1846.



Three years later Downey was on his way by ship via Panama to the California gold fields. He tried mining briefly, but by 1851 he and a friend, James P. McFarland, opened a drugstore in Los Angeles, the only drug store between San Diego and San Francisco. Downey quickly became a wealthy civic leader in Los Angeles. After election to the State Assembly in 1855, he was named as lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket with Milton S. Latham.



It was Governor Downey who signed the bill that made Sacramento the state capital and funded construction of a capitol building. As Governor, Downey enforced law and order. He upheld the U.S. Land Commission’s decision against squatters on rancho lands. Although opposed to the Civil War as a means of preserving the Union, he supported the Union and sent troops to guard the overland mail route.


Later Years

Downey went back to Los Angeles when his term ended. He was an unsuccessful candidate for governor again in 1863, and then devoted his time to business. In 1868 he and partner James Alvinza Hayward opened the first bank in Los Angeles. Downey founded the second horse railway in Los Angeles and was part of a group that brought the Southern Pacific Railroad to Los Angeles. He drilled the first artesian wells in southern California. He donated land for the University of Southern California and served on its first board.

Downey’s first wife died in a train accident in 1883. He traveled in Europe for several years, then returned to Los Angeles, where he died of pneumonia in 1894. The city of Downey, named by the former governor in 1865, is on land that he once owned.


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