Isaac Wickersham, one of Petaluma’s leading citizens and bankers was born in York County, Pennsylvania in 1820. In 1853, he arrived in Petaluma; a “frail and nervous young man” of 33 years of age; but one”possessed of enormous talent and energy.”
Prior to his starting the first bank in Sonoma County in 1865, Mr. Wickersham sold hay and cattle, served as district attorney for a two-year term, as well as a Notary Public and a lender of money. Several railroad companies were organized between 1868 and 1870. They included the Petaluma and Healdsburg Railroad, the Petaluma and Cloverdale Railroad, and the Sonoma County Railroad. Unfortunately, building a railroad was too big an undertaking for Isaac Wickersham, John McNear and others. Unable to sustain the necessary cash flow required, their enterprises were soon bankrupt. Another venture – the Sonoma and Marin Railroad was organized in 1872 with Mr. Wickersham as president. This attempt to extend a line south of town to San Rafael also ended in failure.
At age 37, Isaac Wickersham married Lydia C. Pickett, the love of his life. They had four children; two boys and two girls. One of his daughters, Liz, married the local veterinarian, Thomas McClay. The Wickershams were members of the St. John’s Episcopal Church and participated in many community activities. Tragedy struck the family when Mr. Wickersham’s nephew and his wife were found murdered at their ranch in Healdsburg in 1886.
Upon his death on October 20, 1899, Isaac Wickersham left the largest estate the County had every seen. One gift of $500 was left to his church. Lydia, his wife for over 40 years, died just eight months later. They were buried in the family plot at Cypress Hill Cemetery. The Wickersham Park, of today at 4th & G Streets, was dedicated in 1939 by his daughter, Elizabeth.
Some of Isaac Wickersham’s enterprises, in true American fashion, did not survive; but nonetheless, he was a powerful force for over 40 years in Petaluma and his legacy lives on.