John Shiels


Left: John Shiels & Sons display room on Market Street. Right: John Shiels & Sons workshop.

John Shiels was born in Prescott, Ontario, Canada. As a young man he apprenticed as a tinsmith in Kingston, Ontario, and when he completed his apprenticeship, worked as a tinsmith there for about nine years. He left Ontario for California with his wife, Emily, and three of their five children, Charles, William, and Margaret. He started out by working at the plumbing firm, Davis & Trowbridge, but on March 1, 1883, John opened a tinsmith shop at Main and Ninth Streets, gradually adding plumbing to his services.

In 1888, John took sons, Charles and William into the business, renaming it John Shiels & Sons and in 1891, they moved the business to Tenth and Market Streets. The Shiels were listed in the city directory as “tin and coppersmiths, gas fitters, plumbers and bell hangers.”

In 1904, Emily died and Margaret began to keep house for her father and brothers. In 1905, William married Lydia and in 1907, they had a daughter named Frances Emily Shiels.

John purchased a house for himself, Charles, and Margaret in 1906, putting the house in Margaret’s name to protect it in case the firm suffered a business loss. The charming Victorian was part of the Prospect Place subdivision, owned by John G. North, son of Riverside’s founder, and G.O. Newman, Frank Miller’s business partner and brother-in-law. The real estate firm of Frank Augustus Miller and Albert S. White sold the lots.

The John Shiels & Sons plumbing firm became highly successful, securing large contracts and opening a spacious display room and separate workshop in a new brick building on Market Street. John died in 1911, and Charles and William continued the business as Shiels brothers. William died in 1914, and Charles continued alone for a few years until he became county sealer of weights and measures. Margaret and Charles continued to live in the house and Charles was listed as the owner.

Margaret never married and died in 1948, followed by Charles in 1952. The house passed to William’s daughter, Frances Emily, and she lived there until her death in 1972.