Sunday, October 1, 2023

William "Wallace" Sheldon (1836-1915): Construction Engineer of Mark Hopkins Mansion & Santa Monica Pier


Mary & Wallace Sheldon; Grave photos by Michael Colbruno

Plot 14B, Lot 102

William Wallace Barbour Sheldon (May 15, 1836 – March 17, 1915), commonly known as Wallace, was an architectural engineer and pioneer of California, a leading figure of the engineering history of the California coast.  

Wallace began his career with the Central Pacific Railroad and was present at the laying of the Golden Spike at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869. In 1875 began work with the Pacific Improvement Company. His most famous work was in the personal home of Mark Hopkins, which was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, the original Santa Monica Pier, and the Del Monte Hotel in Del Monte, California. He also had control of the construction of several railroad terminals, including those in Sacramento, California, Los Angeles, California (Santa Fe Station) and Redlands, California. 

Mark Hopkins home atop Nob Hill in San Francisco

His father was a basic farmer of Quaker ancestry and his mother a housewife and descendant Thomas Stafford, an early settler of Warwick, Rhode Island and the first man to build a grist mill in the new world. His mother died when he was ten years old in 1846. The death of his father is unknown, but by the 1850 Census he is living as a student with his maternal aunts step-son, Henry Cole, in Westport.  At a young age he took on a trade as carpenter and moved to Brooklyn, New York, to make a living for himself. There he met Mary Campbell, who he married on January 31, 1856 in Brooklyn. 

The family was well known and liked in the society circles of San Francisco and Oakland, California, where they moved in 1880. They were often mentioned in the society columns of the Oakland Tribune. On February 4, 1908 - the couple celebrated their 52 wedding anniversary with a large lavish party. 

Wallace retired in 1909 and celebrated a number of marriages, anniversaries and births of his large family who stayed close to him. He died at his home on March 17, 1915, in Oakland. 

[Sources: SF Call, Feb 11, 1915; Wikipedia

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