Downey, South California, USA

John Gately Downey

John Gately Downey was born on 24th June, 1827 in the townland of Castlesampson in the parish of Taughmaconnell, Co. Roscommon.  His parents were Denis Downey and Bridget Gately.  In local tradition their house was made from stones retrieved from an Old Norman castle in John's grand father's time.  The locality comprised of small farms and in the course of time harsh living conditions and emigration had severely dwindled the population.  When interviewed in later years, Downey hinted at the hardships of life in the Irish countryside of those years. “I did all kinds of work as a boy and that experience made me satisfied at all times and with whatever I got to eat and wherever I went.”  His hard experiences were typical of a time when many a labourer worked from dawn to dusk, year after year, merely for his bed and keep, with an occasional bonus of a suit of clothes and a pair of hobnailed boots.

In 1842 at the age of 15, Downey left for America and lived in Maryland with his two half-sisters.  There he attended a Latin School under a teacher John Cochran.  After school John was apprenticed to a druggist (pharmacist) in Washington D.C and within three years he became a fully-fledged pharmacist in Bicksburg, Mississippi and Cincinnati, Ohio. When gold was discovered in California he joined the rush to the West Coast.  This was an arduous journey overland by wagon train that would take many months and posed many dangers.   However, having reached there he found that he was unsuited to the rigours of mining; he moved south and became involved in land development in Los Angeles.   Not long before, in 1850, California had been admitted to statehood.   It had been under the falag of Mexiceo since 1822, itself gaining independence from Spain in 1821.  Before John Downey was thirty years old he had become an American citizen and married a Califronian woman.  He was elected to the Los Angeles City Council and helped to establish The Sisters of Charity to provide hospital services and care of orphans.

In 1854 he purchased 2,400 acres of land with two partners,Banning and Wilson.  On this land they created the city of Wilmington and improved the harbour.  With this project Downey laid claim to be Southern California’s first land developer.   In 1855 he was elected to the state legislature as an assemblyman.  In 1859 his name was put forward as a candidate for Lieutenant Governor and with a large Irish vote won easily.  When Governor Latham resigned in Jan. 1860 to fill a vacancy in the senate, Downey became Governor at the age of 32.  He was the seventh to hold the title and the first Irishman in the prestigious post.  In fact Dwoney was the first Irish born Governor of any state in the Union.

This was on the eve of the Civil War, and Downey moved quickly and raised five regiments of infantry and six cavalry companies to aid the Union cause.  He sent the first ever telegraph from California to President Linclon.  The previous November (1859) Downey and his former drugstore partner, James McFarland, bought the Rancho Santa Gertrudes, 17,000acres for $60,000.  As Governor he presided at the ground braking of the Capitol building in Sacramento, reduced the public debt, improved Indian relations and lent support to the new wine industry.  In 1863 he was nominated as the Democratic candidate for Governor but was defeated.   As a private citizen, Downey was heavily involved in a wide rang of business including banking, agriculture, trade, real estate, and transport.  He opened the first bank in Los Angeles with a James A Hayward.  He also founded the second horse railway in the city and persuaded the Southern Pacific Railroad to enter Los Angeles.  Downey's wife, Rafael Guarado, whom he married in 1852, was killed in a railroad accident in 1883.  In 1888 he married Rose V Kelly and she died in 1892.  He had no children from either marriage.

On 1st March 1894, after a short illness, John G Downey, who arrived in Califronia with "10 dollars and a goldwatch”, died one of the richest men in the history of that State, and more importantly, one of the most respected.  Downey City, near Los Angeles in southern California is named in honour of John Downey, 7th Governor of California.  

Downey City

Downey today is noted for being important in the aviation industry beginning in 1929.  It later evolved into aerospace when Rockwell International Space Systems Division became the chief design and engineering plant behind the Space Shuttle Discovery employing more that 6,000 people so it is home to where the Apollo Space Program began its journey to the stars. Downey is where you can find the world’s oldest McDonalds restaurant and the site of the first Taco Bell eatery. This is the city where the pop recording artists "The Carpenters" were inspired with many hit records. Today, the city is admired for its strong retail base with quality housing.

Downey is a unique community in the heart of Southern California that combines the best of both large and small. It is an active city of 110,000 with a small town atmosphere. This is a place of pride, history, involvement, and community. It is highly recognized for our centralized location, top medical facilities, quality residential neighbourhoods and schools, excellent golf courses, and an unmatched family lifestyle. In fact, Downey has been rated in the top 25% of "100 Best Cities To Do Business in California" by California Business Magazine.Downey's winning formula can be the key to your business success or family lifestyle. Come discover Downey, the place where America began its journey to the stars.


The people of Taughmaconnell are proud of their native son and in 2008 the Taughmaconnell Heritage and Historical Society set about erecting a life size bust of Governor Downey in the village.  The Society is also heavily involved in maintaining the Old Cemetery and have published a book on the history of the Parish.  On October 15th 2010 a Bronze Bust was unveiled in his memory in the village of Taughmaconnell by the US Ambassador HE Daniel M Rooney and his wile Patricia. This was a very proud day for the people of County Roscommon, the people of the parish and the members of the Taughmaconnell Heritage and Historical Society. Contact has been established between Taughmaconnell, Roscommon County Council and Downey City Council but no formal visits or twinning arrangements have been made.  But Governor Downey has also been honoured by Downey City Council and in December 2010 a bronze bust was unveiled in front of Downey City Hall California.

Supported By

This project received grant aid from Roscommon LEADER Partnership Rural Development Programme which is financed by the Irish Government under the Rural Development Programme Ireland 2007-2013 and by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development:Europe investing in Rural Areas.