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Capt. Marcus Harloe, shipmaster, left his name and imprint on SLO County

Captain Marcus Harloe commanded the steamer Santa Maria, running along the California coast and to the Sandwich Islands. This advertisement is from the June 19, 1885, San Luis Obispo Tribune.
Captain Marcus Harloe commanded the steamer Santa Maria, running along the California coast and to the Sandwich Islands. This advertisement is from the June 19, 1885, San Luis Obispo Tribune. History Center of San Luis Obispo

Recent rains have illustrated how many roads serve at the pleasure of Mother Nature.

Even with diesel-fueled heavy equipment, there are days when rain and snow overpower the best efforts of man.

Turn the clock back to 1885, and California roads were little better than dusty or muddy cow paths. In San Luis Obispo County, the only train was a narrow gauge feeder line to Port San Luis and the premier way to travel, steamship.

A good ship’s captain was in a position to make money and well-placed friends among the travelers. Many captains retired to ranch or do business on the Central Coast. Capt. Marcus Harloe was one.

According to a biography, “History of San Luis Obispo County and Environs, California, with Biographical Sketches,” by Annie L. Morrison and John H. Haydon, Capt. Harloe “held the highest license ever granted any master of vessels by the United States government.”

This allowed him to be inspector or commander of ships in any ocean. Harloe commanded ships from San Diego to Seattle and on to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii.) A long and respected career avoiding the rocky ship graveyards along the Pacific’s shores speaks to his ability.

He was an advocate for education and served as a school trustee for many years.

One of his sons, Archie, married Margaret Eliza Phoenix. Margaret Harloe had a long career teaching in schools in Arroyo Grande and Harloe School was named for her in 1954.

Her father-in-law was remembered in the San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram when he died at the age of 75. The story was published on July 30, 1908.

Harloe, The San Luis Pioneer, Dead

He resided in Huasna Valley on a great ranch for several years previous to year of 1875

The sad news has been received in this city of the death of Capt. Marcus Harloe, who passed away in San Francisco at 2:45 o’clock yesterday afternoon, surrounded by the members of his family.

The funeral will be held in the metropolis at 11 o’clock this morning from King Solomon’s Temple under the auspices of (Masonic) Excelsior Lodge No. 167, F and A.M., of which deceased had been a life-long member, internment being Woodlawn Cemetary.

Besides a wife, deceased leaves five sons and daughters to mourn his loss, they being Marcus Harloe, Archie Harloe, George Harloe, John Harloe and Miss Cushie Harloe.

Capt. Harloe was a native of Ireland, born March 17, 1833. His mother was a Scotch shipmaster’s daughter of Campbeltown, Argyleshire, and his father’s ancestors were both Irish and English.

Much of Capt. Harloe’s boyhood was spent in Ireland and Scotland, where he attended school. Early in life he evinced a strong desire for the sea, and in 1847 came to the United States. The next three years were spent before the mast, and in 1850 he arrived in California.

He made his headquarters in San Francisco and for 20 years or more led a seafaring life on the Pacific, and more especially on the California coast. From 1862 to 1875 he was master of many of the steamers plying between San Francisco and San Diego, and from San Francisco north to Portland.

He was also engaged as commanding officer with the Pacific Mail Steamship Company for a time. For two years, 1865 to 1867, he was harbor master in San Francisco and in 1880 was appointed chief wharfinger, serving a term of four years. In 1866 Capt. Harloe married Miss Flora Sparks, the eldest daughter of Isaac J. Sparks, of Santa Barbara by whom he had seven children, two daughters and five sons.

For many years subsequent to 1857 Capt. and Mrs. Harloe resided in Huasna Valley, their ranch consisting of two square leagues of land. During his residence there Capt. Harloe served as supervisor for two years, 1876-1877, and Sept. 1, 1890 was nominated for the Assembly by the Republican County Convention and was elected over Dr. Murphy, of San Miguel.

He was most popular with all classes and was held in highest esteem by all who knew him.

David Middlecamp: 805-781-7942, @DavidMiddlecamp