SESQUICENTENNIAL Robert Gilroy (left) and Phill Laursen stand with a sculpture of John Gilroy in downtown Gilroy while holding a copy of a recently released biography of the city’s namesake. Submitted photo

Much of the life of Gilroy’s namesake is unknown to many people, said Phill Laursen of the Gilroy Historical Society.

As the city’s sesquicentennial wraps up, Gilroyans now have the chance to learn more about John Gilroy and how he arrived in Rancho San Ysidro, which covered present-day Gilroy. 

The Gilroy Historical Society recently released a biography of John Gilroy written by Truda Cooling Nelson.

“Few people know much beyond rumors about John Gilroy, how he got here and why he lost so much of his land,” Laursen said. “I’m sure people will enjoy learning about our city’s namesake, to discover how he came to California. They’ll be impressed by his skills and learn about his travels around Central California.”

About five years ago, Laursen said he became aware that the Gilroy Museum had a copy of Nelson’s master’s thesis about John Gilroy, which was written in 1981.

He reached out to Nelson, who now lives near Folsom, who immediately gave her permission to publish the work.

Laursen then digitized the photocopied text and added maps, photos and sketches of the era, working with The Printing Spot in Gilroy to make the 80-page book a reality.

John Cameron was born in Scotland in 1794. He eventually changed his surname to his mother’s maiden name, Gilroy, and arrived in Monterey in 1814. 

He made his way to Rancho San Ysidro, where he raised cattle and ran a soap-making business, and later served as mayor of San Ysidro.

“On Gilroy’s 150th anniversary, people can finally discover solid information about the man behind the name,” Laursen said.

The book is available for $15 at Shipping to addresses out of the area is an additional $4 charge.

It can also be purchased at the Gilroy Museum by appointment for $15. Call the museum at 408.846.0446 to make arrangements. The book is also available at the California Welcome Center at the Gilroy Premium Outlets.

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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