Winfield Scott Whitaker, son of John M. Whitaker, was born in Indiana on February 18, 1832. His father, who was born on February 11, 1801, was a member of the Legislature of Iowa for twenty years off and on, and had the honor of selecting the State University lands. He married Mrs. Jane Phillips, a native of Ohio, and daughter of William Phillips. They had six children, five sons and one daughter.
Winfield Whitaker was raised and educated in Van Buren County, Iowa and lived on a farm. When he reached the age of 21, in 1853, he came to California where he first engaged in mining at Dry Town in Calaveras County without any success. He then went to Grizzly Flats in El Dorado County where he worked two years and saved $2,000. During the last winter he spent in the mines, he was one of four men who took out twenty-six ounces of gold, worth $468, in one day. During the first winter he spent in the mountains, six miles above Grizzly Flats, he prospected unsuccessfully and suffered a great deal. He became afflicted with scurvy and was forced to walk out through three-foot deep snow to Grizzly Flats where he could get some vegetables in his diet. In the summer of 1856 he and his partner sold out and Whitaker received $600 for his share. The parties who bought their claim took out large quantities of gold in subsequent years.
Mr. Whitaker returned to Iowa via the Isthmus of Panama, arriving on June 17, 1856. In 1858 he was married there to Mary Gross who had come to Iowa with as a child with her parents. He engaged in the mercantile business until 1863 when he went back to California with his family. He settled in Marin County, remained there during the winter, went to Nevada where he mined and prospected six months, and, on October 7, 1863, came to San Luis Obispo County. He purchased a ranch on which he lived during the winter and, in the spring, he helped organize the firm of Grant, Lull & Co. Lull went to San Francisco after goods and, while he was away, Whitaker moved the logs of a log house down San Simeon Creek and rebuilt it near the Coast Road as a store. It was ready when the $1800 worth of goods arrived.
After doing business there for six months, they moved to Cambria where they built one of the first stores at that place and put in $8,000 worth of goods. In 1867 Cambria’s first post office was established in the Grant and Lull store on the southeast corner of Bridge and Main Streets and Winfield Whitaker became the first postmaster. Mr. Whitaker’s firm continued the business until 1869, when he sold his interest and moved to San Simeon where he was postmaster from February,1875 until April, 1876 when the post office was temporarily closed. He prospected and mined and later was in charge of the San Simeon wharf and was agent for the Pacific Coast Steamship Company.
On August 31, 1871, Thomas H. and Rhoda C. Clendenen sold lots 10, 11 and 12, together with the small house they built on those lots, to W. S. Whitaker and Job C. Apsey for $100. The house was later called the Guthrie–Bianchini House and currently is the home of the Cambria Historical Museum on the northeast corner of Center Street and Burton Drive.
During the height of the quicksilver mining industry in the area, Whitaker had an interest in a mine with George Van Gordon and others. They a made a contract for a new process of saving the quicksilver, but, after much expense, it proved a failure because the device did not separate the mercury as well as expected.
On November 10, 1869, Whitaker received a patent on 77.57 acres located on the south shore of San Simeon Creek about a mile inland from the mouth. It was here that Whitaker and his son engaged in a dairy business on their ranch which had grown to 420 acres by 1891.
Mr. Whitaker had three children, Ira Ray, Alice C. who became Mrs. William Bordine, and Lottie (or Lucy) who became Mrs. L. A. McCabe of San Luis Obispo. Ira and Alice were born in Winchester, Iowa, and Lotty was born in San Luis Obispo County. He died at his San Simeon ranch on December 31, 1894 and his wife died in February, 1915, when she was seventy-seven years old.