Niles Searls (variant:
Searles) (December 22, 1825 – April 27, 1907) was
an attorney, politician, and the Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court of California.
born in Coeymans, New
His father, Abraham Searls (born 1802), of
English descent, worked as a farmer. His mother, Lydia Niles, was
of Scottish descent. Searles had three brothers, Wilson (born
1823), John (born 1832), and Abraham (1844-1877/80, as well as four
sisters, Johanna (born 1827), Alice (born 1829), Theresa (born
1835), and Lydia Jane (born 1839/40).
family moved to Prince Edward, Ontario, Canada, Searls
attended school in Wellington for five years before returning to New York to
study at Rensselaerville Academy for the next three years.
he spent a year in the law office of O.H. Chittenden, preparing
himself for the practice of law before attending John W. Fowler's
newly established State
and National Law School
with fellow students Chancellor Hartson
and Tim N. Machin
was admitted to the New York bar May 2, 1848.
travelled to Kentucky and Illinois before
settling for a short time in Missouri to practice law.
When he decided to join the
California Gold Rush
, he chose
the wagon train company endorsed by the Daily Missouri
, the Pioneer Line. He traveled with his friend from
law school, Charles Mulford. Arriving in California in October
1849, they mined and traded.
he settled in the town of Nevada (which later became known as
City) where he practiced law. Two years later, he
was elected district attorney of Nevada
Elected on the Know
ticket, from 1855 through 1862, he was a judge of the
14th judicial district.
In 1864, Searls moved back to New York and became a farmer for the
next six years before returning to his mountain home in California,
and retiring. However, in 1877, Searls was elected to represent
Nevada County in the California
, and later became Chairman of the Debris
At the 1884
Democratic National Convention
, Searls nominated General
for Vice President of the United
, but Thomas A.
went on to be selected
as the running mate to Grover
Searls was appointed California State Supreme Court Commissioner in
1885, serving in this office until April 19, 1887, when he became
the 14th Chief Justice of California's Supreme Court. Defeated for
re-election in November 1888, he became a Supreme Court
Commissioner for a second time during the period of
Searls sat on the Board of Directors of the Nevada County Narrow Gauge
Searls returned to New York to marry his first cousin, Mary
Corinthia Niles (1830-1910) of Rensselaerville, New York, and brought her back to Nevada City, traveling by
steamer with their friends, Charles Mulford and his new bride,
They had two children, one of whom, Fred Searls (born
1854) engaged in the practice of law, and the other was a mechanical engineer
He kept a diary about his experiences in 1869 during an arduous
rail trip from New York to California and wrote a book about it,
"Coast to coast by railroad: The journey of Niles Searls--May,
Searls was Vice President of the Society of California
. Along with Aaron A.
, Searls was a Freemason
of the Nevada
California in 1899, and died at his home eight years
He was a Protestant
Searls' grandson, Fred Searls, Jr., and great-grandson, Carroll
Searls, were all attorneys. His great-grandson, Frederick Searls
(1912-1998), also an attorney, was Vice President of Pacific Gas and Electric
Searls' first cousin, and Mary's brother, Addison Niles
, was an Associate Justice
on the California
Supreme Court during the period of 1872-1880.
Built in 1872, Searls' brick, two room, single story law office on
Church Street, across from the Nevada County Courthouse, was
converted into the Searls Library, containing the historical
documents collection of the Nevada County Historical Society.
- Niles Searls diary : ms. S, 1849 May 9-Oct.
- (1869), Coast to coast by railroad: the journey of Niles
- Coast to coast by railroad: The journey of Niles Searls--May,
- Reid, p. 247