Tuesday, May 26, 2009

John W. Coleman, Jr. (1832-1893); Telegraph Pioneer and Railway Entrepeneur

[Photo of Coleman Family Mausoleum by Michael Colbruno]

John W. Coleman was born on September 22, 1832 in Woodford County, Kentucky.

In 1853, Coleman left for California, but stopped in Independence, Missouri where he worked as a clerk. He arrived in Placerville, California in 1854 where he worked for the Alta Telegraph Company.

In 1860, he became the manager of the California State Telegraph Company. A year later, he married the former Julia Pearson, with whom he had two children, a son Harry and a daughter Jessie. The Colemans built a beautiful home in Oakland at 8th & Brush but also resided at 1822 Sacramento Street in San Francisco.

In 1865, along with his business partner Jesse Wall, he constructed a telegraph line from San Francisco to Salt Lake City. In 1872, he entered a partnership with Henry Williams in the firm James R. Keene & Company making a small fortune in mining interests.

He went on to purchase a controlling interest in the San Francisco and North Pacific Coast Railroad, becoming president and general manager. He sold his interest in the company to J.B. Stetson.

He served as President of the San Francisco Stock and Exchange Board and played a key role in the construction of its building and laid the cornerstone. He also served on a number of mining and bank boards and was a member of the Union Club in San Francisco.

Coleman, along with George McNear and J.E. McElrath founded the Oakland Consolidated Street Railway, the first electric railway system built in the Bay Area. In 1893, Francis M. Smith bought controlling interest in the company, as well as the Central Avenue Railway Company and consolidated them in what became the Key System.

According to the San Francisco Call newspaper he died in 1896 from a “stroke of paralysis.”

Frederic(k) James Masters (1850-1900): Ran Christian Chinese Mission

[Photo of Masters gravestone by Michael Colbruno]

Frederic(k) James Masters (1850-1900)

Frederic James Masters, was born near Stratforn-on-Avon in England on September 23, 1850 to a devout Christian family. He had thirteen brothers and sisters, eight of whom were in the ministry. Frederic Masters became the head of the Methodist Episcopal mission for the Pacific coast.

Masters graduated from Richmond College in 1874 and for the next ten years served as a missionary in Canton after his father said it was willed from God. While there, he mastered the Chinese language and married the former Mary Galbraith, a Presbyterian missionary from Vermont.

In 1884, on a return trip to England he passed through San Francisco where he met Dr. Otis Gibson, who was converting the Chinese to Christianity. He took over Otis’ missionary work on the Pacific coast, which stretched from the Puget Sound in Washington to San Diego. Masters was often known to preach on the streets of Sacramento, San Francisco, Porland and Los Angeles. He took great pride in getting runaway girls off the street, for which his actions were occasionally criticized as “over-aggressive.”.

He continued this work until his death in Berkeley, California on January 2, 1900.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Eli Huggins (1842-1929): Medal of Honor Recipient

From the Home of Heroes website:

Entered Service in the US Army from Minnesota

Earned The Medal of Honor During the Indian Campaigns For heroism April 01, 1880 at O'Fallons Creek, MT

In early March 1887, a large band of Sioux crossed the border into Montana without warning. C Troop from Camp Stambaugh, Wyoming, and E Troop from Fort Sanders, Wyoming, were quickly dispatched into Montana. The Second Cavalry pursued the Sioux for over 150 miles, finally surprising their camp at O'Fallon's Creek, Montana. In fierce fighting, the cavalry killed many braves and killed or captured 46 horses.

Captain Eli L. Huggins was awarded the Medal of Honor for his action at O'Fallon's Creek, where he surprised the Indians in their stronghold and boldly fought them with great courage. Second Lieutenant Brett Lloyd also earned the Medal of Honor in this battle.

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Alban Nelson Towne (1829 - 1896)

[Photo of Towne plot by Michael Colbruno; Bio by Michael Colbruno with additional material by Barbara Smith]

Plot 18A, Lot 3

Alban Nelson Towne was born in Dresser Hill, Massachusetts on May 26, 1829. Unable to afford a formal education, he was educated primarily by his father. In 1850, he married the former Caroline Amelia Mansfield, the daughter of early settlers. They had one daughter, Evelyn Amelia Towne, who was born on September 2, 1862.

When he was eighteen, Towne’s father died and he had to help support his family. Before long, he ended up joining two of his brothers in Galesburg, Illinois working at the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. Beginning as a brakeman, he rose to serve as assistant superintendent of the CB&QR. After a few years he accepted a position with the Chicago and Great Eastern Railway, which connected Chicago to Cincinnati,, but after a year he returned to the CB&QR as assistant general superintendant.

In 1869, he accepted a prestigious appointment as general superintendent of the Central Pacific Railroad, considered the greatest railway on the continent. Towne oversaw a huge share of the 8,000 miles of railway in the United States, as well as steamer lines on the Colorado and Sacramento rivers.

Unlike his counterparts at the Central Pacific, he showed little interest in politics other than what was necessary to ensure the survival of his rail lines.

The San Francisco home where he and his wife Caroline lived with their daughter occupies a special place in the history of San Francisco. Although it was destroyed in the 1906 fire, its entrance portico remained untouched. A handsome architectural piece, it was moved to Golden Gate Park where it survives as “Portals of the Past.”

Towne was known to have been an extremely hard worker who seldom took part in high society. He died of heart failure.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

David Douty Colton (1831 - 1878)

[Photo of Colton Mausoleum by Michael Colbruno; Bio by Barbara Smith and Michael Colbruno]

Plot 14

David Douty Colton was born to Isaac Colton and the former Abigail Douty on July 17, 1831 in Monson, Maine. When he was five years old, the family moved to Galesburg, Illinois, which consisted of only a dozen cabins at the time. By the time he was ready for college, Knox College had been formed and the young man attended the school. Bored with college, he moved to Berlin, Illinois and taught in a country school.

While teaching, he met Ellen White, the daughter of a Chicago doctor, and married her despite her family's objections over his lack of wealth. Colton convinced the father he would find wealth in California where gold had been discovered. He left for Sacramento in 1850 where he found work in the mines for $10 a day. Colton soon came down with a malignant form of typhoid fever and ended up in a state of delirium for six weeks. After his recovery, he spent time in San Francisco and Portland where he taught school and unsuccessfully practiced law.

Colton ended up in what would later become Siskiyou County where he engaged in a brutal battle with Native Americans that ended up in the hanging of the Chief. Colton became a folk hero and was elected Sheriff only to have it discovered that he was not yet twenty-one, making him ineligible for office. He eventually did become Sheriff, but returned to Galesburg to get his bride.

Colton ended up in San Francisco and became vice-president of the Southern Pacific Railroad and financial director of the Occidental & Oriental Steamship Company.

Colton eventually became involved with the "Big Four" (Crocker, Huntington, Hopkins and Stanford) of the Central Pacific Railroad so closely that they were sometimes called “the Big Four and a Half."

He built a mansion on Nob Hill where Collis P. Huntington later lived, which is now the site of Huntington Park. For the last four years of his life, Colton was the confidential manager of the railroad’s considerable political interests in California, a parallel function to that handled in Washington by Huntington. The two carried on a detailed correspondence regarding the Southern Pacific’s practice of buying legislators’ votes, and in general influencing legislative measures which would benefit the railroad -- often through questionable methods.

Colton's death was the subject of much speculation after he arrived home terribly injured. The official cause of death was listed as a fall from a horse on his ranch, but persistant rumors existed that Colton had been stabbed to death.

After Colton's death, the railroad gave Mrs. Colton a very low evaluation on her husband’s stock -- far lower than the value put on the shares owned by Mark Hopkins when the details of his estate were made public a short time later. Mrs. Colton requested an equitable evaluation of the Colton shares, but was coldly refused, resulting in her filing a lawsuit against the railroad. During the course of the trial, Mrs. Colton’s attorney entered into evidence copies of the “Colton Letters” which publicly revealed how the Big Four operated. Although Mrs. Colton did not prevail in her lawsuit, the reputations of the Big Four, as well as that of the Southern Pacific, were damaged for many years.

The town of Colton in Southern California was named for him at the time the railroad first went through the area.

Colton and Mt. Diablo: In 1877 Colton bought the Central Pacific’s interest in the large Mt. Diablo acreage originally owned by William Camron (see Marsh) who had been one of the builders of the first toll road on Mt. Diablo. The estate, known as Oakwood Stock Farms, was enlarged by Colton’s heirs to eventually include Dan Cook Canyon, Rock City, Devil’s Slide and the central portions of the park along what is now South Gate Road. In 1912 Colton’s niece, Louise Boyd, sold to developers who subdivided the lower portions of the property to create Diablo Country Club and its surrounding residential enclave.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Captain Richard Parks Thomas (1826-1900): Soap maker; Civil War Vet; Deeded La Loma Park to Berkeley

[Photo of Thomas gravesite by Michael Colbruno]

[Excerpted from Daniella Thompson’s 3-part series on Thomas and Maybeck for the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and the Berkeley Daily Planet]

Richard Parks Thomas was born in Berne, Albany County, New York. In his early years he was apprenticed to a merchant in Ithaca but abandoned that job and left for New York. In 1846, he entered the U.S. Navy and served for two and a half years on a man-of-war in the Mediterranean.

Thomas eventually moved to Syracuse, N.Y., where he established a small soap factory. After his factory was destroyed by fire he moved to Pennsylvania, where he attempted to start a cavalry, only to be told by the Secretary of War that there was no need. He eventually ended up convincing a wealthy man to provide horses for a cavalry, which became the Civil War’s first voluntary cavalry.

Thomas eventually became adjutant of the 2nd Battalion and took part in the battles of Yorktown, Williamsburg, Mechanicsville, Cold Harbor, Fair Oaks, Games’ Mills, Savage Station, White Oak Swamp, Harrison’s Landing, Fredericksburg, Bull Run, and Antietam. Wounded in the leg by a rifle ball at White Oak Swamp, he was honorably discharged in November 1863.

Seeking his fortune in California, the war veteran joined Cogswell’s Standard Soap factory in San Francisco. He wasted no time in becoming a partner, and soon acquired the business, making it grow through further acquisitions. Wanting to consolidate his operations in a single location, Thomas chose the West Berkeley waterfront, where both water and transportation were within easy reach. Constructed in 1875, the Standard Soap Works occupied a full block on Third Street between Addison and Allston Way (the site is now occupied by the Takara Sake Company).

Until the rail tracks were built along Third Street, transporting freight by water was the only economic option. Thomas got into the transportation business by acquiring the ferry Mare Island, which not only carried his goods and those of other firms but had a virtual monopoly on the Berkeley-San Francisco route for many years. This led to a fierce battle with other ferry companies, which escalated into a “ferry war” before an agreement was reached whereby all goods would be shipped at the same rate.

Standard Soap made Thomas rich, and by the mid-1880s he was casting about for new ventures. In October 1886, he founded the California National Bank of San Francisco, located in the Palace Hotel building on Market Street.

Within two years, his California National Bank of San Francisco went into receivership, and one of its stockholders, John Chetwood, Jr., sued the three members of the bank’s executive committee, seeking to recover the bank’s losses from them.

In December 1892, the plaintiff won a preliminary decision with Thomas owing $139.419. Thomas wasn’t about to hand over the money and put up quite a fight against Chetwood, including hiding his liquid assets. Chetwood then went after Thomas’ 32-acre North Berkeley estate, La Loma Park, which was valued at $40,000. The California Supreme Court eventually ruled in Thomas’ favor and Chetwood unsuccessfully appealed to the US Supreme Court.

In March 1897, Captain Thomas offered to deed his estate to Berkeley, to be used as a public park. The city did not jump at the offer and he died of a stroke on May 28, 1900 leaving the land to his wife, who quickly subdivided the land and sold it to Easton & Eldridge.

Among the first nine lot purchasers was Professor Andrew C. Lawson, the famed geologist. He would wait seven years to build his La Loma Avenue house, designed by Bernard Maybeck. The architect himself would not buy land in La Loma Park until 1905 or 1906, but once he began building there, he created the largest concentration of Maybeck houses to be found anywhere.

You can read Daniella Thompson’s entire 3-part series on Thomas and Maybeck at http://berkeleyheritage.com/eastbay_then-now/rp_thomas.html

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Sunday, May 17, 2009


[Photo of cenotaph at Mountain View Cemetery by Michael Colbruno]

A cenotaph is a tomb or a monument erected in honor of a person or group of persons whose remains are elsewhere. It can also be the initial tomb for a person who has since been interred elsewhere. The word derives from the Greek κενοτάϕιον (kenos, one meaning being "empty", and taphos, "tomb"). Although the vast majority of cenotaphs are erected in honor of individuals, many of the best-known cenotaphs are instead dedicated to the memories of groups of individuals, such as the war dead of one country or empire.

Although most notable cenotaphs commemorate notable individuals buried elsewhere, many cenotaphs pay tribute to people whose remains have never been located. One of the most striking cenotaphs to be found in Arlington National Cemetery is that of RMS Titanic victim Major Archibald Butt, aide to President William Taft, whose body was not recovered after the sinking.

I don't know the history behind Mary Smith's cenotaph at Mountain View.

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