In 1888 Fletcher, age 15, came to San Diego alone, and with $6.10 in his pocket began selling produce. He was a born salesman and soon had his own business with a partner. In 1901, he entered the real estate business as a land agent, and started a partnership in 1908 with William J. Gross, silent film actor and producer. That partnership developed Grossmont, Mt. Helix, and Del Mar. Fletcher donated land on Mt. Helix where Easter Sunrise services are held.
In 1907, Fletcher was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the California National Guard, which earned him the title "Colonel", which stuck for the remainder of his life.
Fletcher became interested in road building and saw to it many road projects were completed. With Fred Jackson, Fletcher raised civic interest to building a road to Imperial Valley, thence a plank road across the desert to Yuma, Arizona. Fletcher was later active in having state and U.S. highways built to San Diego.
Fletcher also took an interest in developing projects delivering water to San Diego, including creating Lake Hodges. Fletcher and Montana businessman James A. Murray purchased the San Diego Flume Company on June 1, 1910, renaming it the Cuyamaca Water Company. Fletcher and Murray owned and operated the company for 15 years, making or planning improvements to the water system of San Diego County including the construction of the San Vicente Dam and Reservoir, among others.
Fletcher was a director of the Panama-California Exposition (1915) and California Pacific International Exposition (1935). After the 1915 Expo, he raised funds to save the well-received temporary buildings from destruction. He also raised funds to buy land for the Naval Training Station in San Diego, and for building the YMCA.
In 1934 Fletcher was elected to the California State Senate, and served until 1947. Sometime while in the Senate, he switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democratic. He authored laws creating the San Diego County Water Authority and transferring ownership of Mission Bay to the city. While in the Senate he was able to acquire for San Diego a heroic statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, donated to the state in 1939 by the government of Portugal and claimed by both San Diego and Oakland. Fletcher personally "kidnapped" the statue from its storage in a garage at a private residence in Oakland; the statue is now on display at Cabrillo National Monument.
Fletcher married Mary C. Batchelder April 8, 1896 at Ayer, Massachusetts. They had ten children: Catherine, Edward Jr., Congressman Charles K. Fletcher, Lawrence, Willis, Stephen, Ferdinand, Mary Louise, Eugene, and Virginia.
Fletcher died in 1955 in San Diego.
Ed Fletcher's legacy includes a number of landmarks in the San Diego area. These include:
- Fletcher Parkway in La Mesa,
- Fletcher Hills in El Cajon
- Fletcher Chimes of Hardy Memorial Tower at San Diego State University
- Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach
- Fletcher Point on the southern shore of Lake Hodges
The Fletcher Building, located at Sixth and Broadway in San Diego, was built by Fletcher in 1906 along with Frank Salmans, and designed by Edward Quayle. As of 2005[update] it was being remodeled by Champion Development Group.
- Fletcher, Ed (1952). Memoirs of Ed Fletcher.
- Black, Samuel T. (1913). San Diego County California; a record of settlement, organization, progress and achievement. The S. J. Clark Publishing Company, Chicago., vol. 1, pp. 346-350: "Roads, by Ed Fletcher"; and vol. 2, pp. 128–132: "Ed Fletcher", includes portrait.
- Heilbron, Carl (1936). History of San Diego County. San Diego Press Club. Biography. Also has biography of his wife.
- Newland, James D. (2015). Around Mt. Helix. Arcadia Publishing., pp. 27-47: "A Colony for Artists: 1902-1917"; photos.
- Black, Samuel T. (1913). San Diego county, California; a record of settlement, organization, progress and achievement. Chicago, S.J. Clarke. p. 128. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
- "Register of Cuyamaca Water Company Records - MSS 503". libraries.ucsd.edu. Retrieved 2015-07-12.
- Crawford, Richard (August 3, 2008). "Cabrillo statue's journey to San Diego marked by legal twists". San Diego Union Tribune. Archived from the original on 7 March 2013. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
- CurtCo/SDM LLC (October 2005). San Diego Magazine. CurtCo/SDM LLC. p. 142. ISSN 0036-4045. Retrieved 2014-09-14.