Friday, March 4, 2016

Noah Norton (1786-1877): Founded Nortonville where ghost of wife still haunts

Noah Norton's grave in the Webster Plot
PLOT 1, Lot 327

Noah Norton was a government agent, museum founder and California Gold Rush prospector. He was instrumental in founding the town of Adrian, Michigan and Nortonville, California.

Norton born was in Greene County, New York, on April 7, 1786. As a young man he moved to the area around Lake Ontario, and became a government officer tasked with stopping the smuggling of contraband traffic across the US-Canada border.

During the War of 1812 he volunteered and served as a Lieutenant and participated in the Battle of Lundy's Lane.

After the war,  Norton relocated his family to a wilderness area that would eventually become Adrian, Michigan. In 1827 the Norton residence was the site of the first church service in Adrian.

During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), Norton again volunteered his services and became a member of the secret service. After the war he spent a short time back in Adrian, then embarked on a mission to gather specimens and other objects of interest for a museum in Pensacola, Florida. He later founded a museum of his own at Adrian.

During the California Gold Rush, he disposed of the museum and joined a wagon train for California. He took the so-called "southern route," and was one of the first settlers of Los Angeles, California in 1850. After a few years working in Los Angeles as a farmer, Norton returned to Adrian where his wife soon died. He then remarried and moved back to California, this time settling in Contra Costa County, California, where he prospected for coal.

Nortonville, California
In 1855 he founded the town of Nortonville, California where a large coal mine named the "Black Diamond" was located. Nortonville is now a historic preserve managed by the East Bay Regional Park District. From the 1860s through the turn of the last century, five coal mining towns thrived in the Black Diamond area: Nortonville, Somersville, Stewartville, West Hartley and Judsonville. As the location of California's largest coal mining operation, nearly four million tons of coal ("black diamonds") were removed from the earth

Sarah Norton and her gravestone at Rose Hill Cemetery
His wife, Sarah Norton, became a locally famous midwife who met a violent death in October, 1879, by a run-away horse pulling her carriage on the way to Clayton. The townspeople tried to hold her funeral twice, but both times they were interrupted by violent storms. The story goes that after failing twice, they simply put her in the ground without a “Christian burial.” She is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, at Nortonville, where it is rumored that she periodically presents herself to visitors as a white ghost. 

Noah Norton died on January 31, 1877 and is buried in the Webster family plot, who were his grandchildren.

Sources: Excerpted primarily from Wikipedia, with additional information from East Bay Regional Parks and Mountain View Cemetery archives.

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