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The Services were early Ceres pioneers
Julia Service and John Service in their retirement years in Berkeley. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

(This article originally ran in the Oct. 13, 1941 edition of the Ceres Courier. It has been expanded for this edition).

John Service, Ceres pioneer, was one of its largest grain farmers of the early days, after planting 1,000 acres of wheat in a season.

A native of New York, he moved to Michigan when two years of age with his parents, where they were pioneer farmers near Morenci. He was Scotch-Irish descent and inherited the business instincts of his forebears as well as their fearless courage. He crossed the Plains with ox teams in 1859, was employed for a time in Napa then went to Auburn and freighted over the mountains into the mines. He farmed for a while at Placer Creek, the improvements of which were completely washed away in the flood of 1862.

He married in 1867, Miss Julia Hall Warner, the adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs. C.P. Warner who came to California with her foster parents when about six years of age, crossing the Isthmus of Panama by rail and mule back, locating in Placer County later moving to Stanislaus.

The Services first came to Ceres in 1867 after the encouragement of Daniel Whitmore. With Mr. Warner he sowed 200 acres of wheat in the winter of 1867-68 and harvested a fine crop. The two men had purchased 320 acres for $9 an acre. He wrote: "The crop all through the Whitmore tract was so good that first winter that Daniel Whitmore called the little settlement south of the Tuolumne (River) Ceres after the Greek goddess of agriculture, Ceres."

His business partner, Mr. Warner, had asthma so bad in the Valley that he returned to Auburn. He bought from Warner 320 acres of land, six horses, two wagons, a harness and stove for a grand total of $3,456.50!

The Services built a home in Ceres in 1868.

Mr. Service at one time owned 1,000 acres of land between La Grange and Snelling.

The wheat crops of 1868 and 1869 were satisfactory but not so good in 1870 and 1871. "We didn't get more than enough for seed and feed," Service wrote. "This made it impossible for me to pay Mr. Warner what I owed him until later."

The following year was better - 2,158 sacks of wheat to sell. Wheat was selling for about $1.80 a sack back then. Things went along fine until 1877 when drought hit. He eventually purchased a wheat thrasher and provided that service for neighboring farms.

From that time until 1885, the Services were prominently identified with the farming interests of the county.

About 1880 Mr. Service became a silent partner in a Ceres store owned by Henry Starks. The store operated for 12 years. The store, operated by Gilman Hill, ran a profit - until Russell Curry was allowed to buy out Starks' share of the store and badly mismanaged it, allowing too many people to buy goods on credit without collecting.
"That was a particularly hard time for me," wrote Service. "I was paying $150 interest on money I owed for land I had bought. I went to Sacramento and talked it over with Mr. Linley, our creditor there, and finally have him a mortgage on some free land that I had. Then I came back to Ceres and told Curry that he better turn the store over to me, just as it was, debts and all, and I would undertake the responsibility of settling everything. We owned just $7,119.15 and had due us from different parties $6,058.41. This was September 1, 1894. Of the amount which was owed us, I never succeeded in collecting more than about $3,000. I still have old bills for over $3,000. I ran the store one year longer with Gilman Hill as my representative and then sold out the stock to Clinton Whitmore. Taking everything into account I consider that I got out in fair shape but it looked bad at one time."

Mr. and Mrs. Service became the parents of 11 children, four of whom live in Ceres at the present time: Mrs. Lynda Sperry and Messrs. H.E., W.R. and L.E. Service.

They moved away from Ceres in 1885 on account his failing health. The Services moved to Berkeley in September 1899 where their son Roy was attending the university. They lived in a rented house at 2421 Fulton Street in Berkeley. They attended the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904 and when they returned to a new home they bought at 1740 Oxford Street, Berkeley. There they occupied the home for 16 years. It was among the over 600 houses that burned to the ground in the great Berkeley fire of 1923.

It is said that Mr. Service stubbornly clung onto the old fashioned horse and buggy method of traveling around Oakland and Berkeley. After his horse, Old Ned, stumbled a few times, his boys urged him to buy a car. Mr. Service purchased a Chandler automobile. On a trip to the store he set some eggs in the seat next to him and when he rounded the corner and the eggs went sliding, Mr. Service tried to rescue them while allowing the car to hit a pole. He said, "Grief! I guess I got into the wrong pew when I got into the driver's seat of that auto."

Tragedy struck the couple when their son John Henry Service, 19, drowned in the lake on the campus of Stanford University on May 3, 1908.

They celebrated their golden anniversary in Berkeley July 3, 1917. Mrs. Service passed away on April 5, 1918. It is said that her death grieved John Service greatly and he became rather restless and lonely. Mr. Service passed away at Ceres on July 5, 1920, while on a visit to his sons. He was buried in Oakland.