7th Governor of California. John Gately Downey was born in Rosscommon, Ireland. He and his family immigrated to America in 1842, prior to the Great Famine in his homeland. As a young man, he became an apothecary in Washington D.C., but in 1849, at the age of 22, headed west during the great California Gold Rush. He briefly did some mining in Grass Valley, but then went back to working as a druggist in the booming city of San Francisco. He moved to Southern California where he became involved in politics eventually becoming the 7th Governor of California (1860-1862). The American Civil War began during his term in office and although he pledged his support to the Union cause, his Democratic party was splintered on the issue of slavery. After his term as Governor was over, he returned to southern California where he pursued banking and business pursuits and along with others helped lay the groundwork for the founding of the University of Southern California (Downey Street on the USC campus is named for him). Tragedy stuck in 1883 when he and his wife, Maria Jesus Guirado, were involved in a train accident at Tehachapi Pass, and although he survived, his wife's body was never found. His legacy includes the distinction of being one of two California governors born outside the U.S. (the other being Arnold Schwarzeneggar), as well as having the California city of Downey named after him.
Bio by: Little Orange in the Big Apple