James Ross Clark (1850-1927)

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Biographical Notes

J. Ross Clark, together with his brother William A. Clark, organized and built the San Pedro, Los Anglees & Salt Lake Railroad (SPLA&SL) between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Completed in 1905, the railroad was jointly owned by the Clarks and Union Pacific. In 1916 the name was shortened to Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad, and in 1921, Union Pacific took full control and ownership. To better integrate the LA&SL with the other parts of its system of railroads, in 1936 Union Pacific formally leased the LA&SL. In 1987, the LA&SL was formally merged with Union Pacific. (Read more about the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad)

J. Ross Clark died on September 18, 1927 at his home in Los Angeles, at age 77. J. Ross Clark had been a Vice President of SPLA&SL, and later LA&SL, for 20 years.

The following comes from California of the South Volume IV, by John Steven McGroarty:

The genealogy of J. Ross Clark is traced to his great-grandfather, who was of Scotch descent although he was born in Ireland; whither his ancestors had migrated during religious persecution in Scotland. When a young man this ancestor moved to the United States and located in Pennsylvania, where his family grew up. His descendants were Presbyterians and farmers, as were his ancestors in Europe.

J. Ross Clark was born at Connellsville, Pennsylvania, April 10, 1850, one of eight children born to John and Mary (Andrews) Clark. 

J. Ross Clark was taken by his parents to Van Buren County, Iowa, in 1856 and there he received his education in the public schools and in the Bentonport Academy of Bentonport, Iowa, but his wide business associations furnished him with a breadth of knowledge no school course could have provided. When twenty-one he went to Montana, whither his older brother, William A. had preceded him. 

In company with his brother, Joseph K. Clark, Mr. Clark was engaged in the United States contract mail business with headquarters at Horse Plains, Montana, until 1876. That year he was engaged as bookkeeper for the Dexter Milling Company in Butte and in 1877 accepted a position as cashier in the bank of Donnell, Clark and Larabie, continuing until 1886. In 1884 he had acquired Mr. Donnell's interest in the business, and soon thereafter Mr. Larabie retired and the firm name became W. A. Clark & Brother, so continuing for many years. Besides banking the Clark brothers were interested in many business ventures of various kinds.

In 1892 Mr. Clark came to Los Angeles to make his home and here he saw opportunities in an immense field for development, and where his family could live in more comfortable surroundings. He organized the Los Alamitos Sugar Company in 1896, built the factory and had the actual management of the business for many years. Later his sons, Walter Miller Clark, assumed the management. Mr. Clark early became a stockholder in the Citizens National Bank and the Citizens Trust & Savings Bank and at the time of his death was president of the board of directors of the Citizens National Bank.

He had a vision of a direct railroad line from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City and in association with his brother, W. A. Clark and friends this project was put through by the floating of a seventy million dollar bond issue, a stupendous accomplishment for that time. Mr. Clark was vice president and executive head of this road for a number of years. Later it became an important part of the Union Pacific Railroad System. He was president of the Montana Land Company which owned large tracts of land on the Signal Trail. He had a deep and sincere faith in Los Angeles and his interest in many southern California corporations and with many of the larger movements of Greater Los Angeles had indelibly placed his name in the annals of the history of California's growth and development. When the Young Men's Christian Association was in financial straits it was Mr. Clark and his associates who put their shoulders to the wheel. Mr. Clark took charge of its affairs and after a hard struggle he brought the organization through with funds adequate to establish branches in various parts of the city. He served as its president for a time and was also a director of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.

On April 16, 1878, at Butte, Montana, J. Ross Clark was united in marriage with Miss Miriam A. Evans, who was born in Ohio but was residing in Montana at the time of her marriage. Two children grew to years of maturity:  Ella Harriot, who married Henry Carlton Lee and is deceased; and Walter Miller Clark, who died a hero with the sinking of the Titanic, leaving a son, J. Ross Clark, II.

Mr. Clark died in Los Angeles on September 18, 1927, aged seventy-seven years. He was a staunch Democrat and was a member of the First Congregational Church, which he liberally supported but without ostentation, as he did all other worthwhile charitable and civic organizations. He was a member of the Masons, the Jonathan Club, the California Club, the Midwick and the Los Angeles Country Club, and the Sierra Madre Club, all of Los Angeles; the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, and the Silver Bow Club of Butte. (California of the South Volume IV, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 5-8, Clarke Publishing, 1933)


April 10, 1850
Born in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, to John William Clark (1797–1873) and Mary Jane Kithcart Andrews (1814–1904). One of 10 children, seven daughters and three sons: William Andrews Clark, 1839-1925; Joseph Kithcart Clark, 1842-1903; and James Ross Clark, 1850-1927.

Family moved to Van Buren County, Iowa (southeast Iowa, near Keokuk and Fort Madison)

J. Ross Clark, at age 21, moved to Butte, Montana, following his brother William, who had previously made the move in about 1868 or 1869.

At about this same time, he and his brother Joseph began operating as the mail contract carriers with headquarters at Horse Plains, Montana Territory (later Plains, Montana, 194 miles northwest of Butte)

After a year as a bookkeeper, in 1877, J. Ross Clark entered the banking business a cashier, and within seven years became a bank owner, together with his brother, William A. Clark.

Banking business in Butte, Montana, became W. A. Clark & Brother

Moved to Los Angeles, California.

August 21, 1900
Together with his brother, W. A. Clark, and associates, J. Ross Clark purchased an interest in the Los Angeles Terminal Railway, with the announced plans to extend the railroad to Salt Lake City.

July 7, 1903
Half interest in San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad was sold to Oregon Short Line Railroad, a subsidiary of Union Pacific.

April 15, 1912
J. Ross Clark's son Walter William Clark died during the sinking of R. M. S. Titanic.

August 25, 1916
The 'San Pedro' portion of the railroad's name was dropped, becoming simply the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad.

April 27, 1921
Remaining half interest in Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad was sold to Union Pacific.

September 18, 1927
J. Ross Clark died on September 18, 1927, at his home in Los Angeles. He was 77 years old.

More Information

San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad