The Vanderbilt Story
However, New York State Claims the name Vanderbilt among its first families. In Volume 1 of the Documentary History of the State of New York, published in Albany in 1849, on page 659 appears the list of those who took the oath of allegiance to England from the 26th to the 30th of September, 1687. Beside each name is listed the years of residence, if they had migrated or were a native. Beside the name of Jacob Vanderbilt is the word “Native”, meaning he was born in the Province of New York.
In Volume IV, page 209 we find that Jacob Vanderbilt was a “Captain of Foot Militia in the County of Orange, Province of New York”. Jacob had a son, John, who married Elizabeth Henderson. This John had distinguished Revolutionary War service, and served with General Washington at Valley Forge.
John and Elizabeth (Henderson) Vanderbilt’s son John married Anna Conover. John and Anna (Conover) Vanderbilt were the parents of a son, Abraam, who was born August 7, 1798.
Abraam Henderson Vanderbilt married Julie Paton, and they were the parents of William Paton Vanderbilt who came to Marin County in 1857. He arrived in California seven years previously in 1850. The 1880 History of Marin County devotes almost a page to William P. Vanderbilt and his family, including a picture.
In the late thirties William’s youngest son, Newell Fitzgerald Vanderbilt compiled for his family the stories and legends that he had heard his father tell, and from the letter sent by his grandmother Julie to her son William. The “Memoirs” of Newell Vanderbilt add pattern an color to the weft of vital statistics of the 1880 History of Marin County.
William was the youngest of twelve children of Abraam H. and Julia (Paton) Vanderbilt. He was born May 25, 1831, in Lyons, Wayne County, New York. It was in this Dutch Family, whose motto was “God, Country and Family”, surrounded by the traditions of the early troubled days of American History, that William spent the first eleven years of his life.
As the youngest child he was the pet of the family, surrounded by eleven brothers and sisters and affectionate parents, he had a happy childhood.
But all of this changed on October 22, 1841, for his father was suddenly taken ill and died. At the age of ten, the days of William’s childhood were over.
Newell Vanderbilt in his Memoirs recalls how his father often told of being sent a year after the death of his father, when he was eleven, to the home of Asa Tuttle of Adrian, Michigan, an old friend of his grandmother Paton’s family.
He was to work for his food, shelter and clothing, but no salary, in exchange for training as an expert carpenter and cabinet maker. By today’s standards this seems harsh, but it was the custom of the day for families to thus provide for their sons to learn a trade. William attended school at Lyons until he left to go to the Tuttles. The Memoirs do not mention his attending school while at the Tuttles, but events later in his life and his handwriting give the impression that he pursued some form of formal education while learning a trade.
The Tuttles had no son of their own, and they evidently made young Williams feel at home in this strange new place. However, as the youngest child of so large a family no doubt at times he felt lonely and remote.
He labored seven years, and frequently Mr. Tuttle wrote of his progress to his family. At the end of seven years he made his “masterpiece” , a complete set of carpenter and cabinet makers’ tools, and a handsome walnut chest to contain them. He returned to his home.
His mother’s house was note completed, and a barn was needed to house the stock in the cold New York winters. The memoirs relate how William finished the house and built the barn. Newell Vanderbilt in 1906 while visited in New York State, inspected the barn, constructed of hand hewn lumber, and every joint fitted together without a nail in the structure. After completing the house and barn, he worked as a master carpenter in Lyons to earn money so he could leave hi mother provided for and to pay his passage to California.
He obtained passage on a ship bound for California by way of the Horne, but when it stopped at the Isthmus he had a premonition to leave the vessel. It was well for he learned later that the ship was lost in a storm and [there were] no survivors. He crossed the Isthmus with the usual difficulties to Panama. There were no ships for California and the living conditions were of the worst. Yellow fever and cholera were very bad. William often told his children that his life was saved by a kind Spanish lady who warned him not to eat chicken or eggs, and to drink only boiled water. From her garden she supplied him with quantities of green peppers and onions. He acquired a taste for onions that stayed with him, and his on recalls his father when sitting down to the table and not seeing onions served would say to his mother, “Mary, where are the onions?”
After a long wait he obtained passage on a ship as carpenter, and his patroness loaded him with green peppers and onions to take on board. Often he told his children in later years how the other passengers became ill with scurvy, and he divided his hoard of peppers and onions and saved many lives.
According to the 1880 History and the Memoirs, William P. Vanderbilt arrived in San Francisco “early in 1850”. The Memoirs say he came ashore in a row boat and landed in the mud flats at the foot of Market and Montgomery Street.
When William cleaned his boots of mud he found himself in a strange new world. He was only nineteen years old, a master carpenter in a world living too fast to put up enduring buildings. The first influx of the gold rush was over, and this was the time that separated the real miners from the novices. The best transportation was by water, for what served as roads were deep in dust in the summer, and impassible with mud in the rainy season.
The Constitutional Convention had adjourned the preceding October 13, 1849 at Monterey. A Constitution had been adopted, and General Fremont and William M. Gwinn had gone to Washington to represent the state, but had not as yet been seated in Congress. California obtained news at the minimum of thirty days and was confused as to its status in the family of states.
William, realizing that San Francisco had no place for a “master carpenter an cabinet maker”, decided to try his luck at the mines. He first went to Sacramento, and later mined in Placer and Eldorado Counties.
With two other miners he formed a partnership and went to Southern Oregon where a gold stride has been made in the Sprint of ’51.1 Evidently the venture was a successful one, for in 1857 when the partnership was dissolved, William and one of the partners gave the third partner five thousand dollars each to take East to their respective families.
The mails were slow and uncertain in 1857. William waited impatiently for news from his family of the receipt of the money. At long last word came that the partner had visited Lyons, but there was not a word concerning the money he had sent. When the partner was questioned about the East and what he had accomplished there, he was evasive.
William sent word to this mother and the family that he had entrusted five thousand dollars to this man to deliver to them, only his mother and younger sister believed him. His brothers and sisters became estranged from his, and I was not until years later when he made a trip East that he was able to explain the situation to them. No trace of the money or former partner was ever found.
When William returned to San Francisco he looked about for a job, but bank failures and the Vigilante of 1856 made a future in the city seem uncertain.
Discarding the idea of locating in San Francisco, William decided that Marin County offered the best opportunities for the future. 1857 was the year that the Taylor Paper Mill was established, and dairy and agriculture at Tomales had promise for a young man of twenty-six.
Warren Dutton had established a store at Tomales in 1864, after an unsuccessful career at farming. Franklin W. Holland, the grandfather of our beloved historian Florence Donnelly, was managing the store. William Vanderbilt went to work as a clerk for Dutton in 1857.
Evidently hi ability was appreciated and recognized, for in the debacle of Marin politics of 1858, when the Board of Supervisors resigned as a body, and the position of County Assessor was left vacant, William P. Vanderbilt was appointed on February 8, 1859. He served for a year as Assessor at that time.
Perhaps his duties as Assessor made him acquainted with the people of the County. In the northern part of the County he became especially well acquainted with the settlers who had taken up land on the Bosa de Tomales. This was a land grant of 1845, granted by the Mexican Government to Juan Padilla, soldiers and former saloon keeper in Yerba Buena in 1844-1845. It contained some twenty-five thousand acres of the choicest land in the County. The case had been in litigation for years. Some twenty- eight settlers had taken up what they thought was free land and had spent considerable money in establishing homes and farms.
The settlers had handed themselves together as early as 1854 to fight the case.2 Jerome Barney began the publication of the Marin County Journal on March 23, 1861, the first newspaper in the County. The settlers read in the paper of June 29, 1861 that the case had been decided against them and they were to be ejected from their land.
A meeting was called. Everyone was excited and angry. William Vanderbilt was among the group, and he alone seemed calm and self-possessed. He was only thirty years old. Most of the men were of about his age. There were a few who were older that William. John Keys was seven years older, and Warren Dutton was eight year his elder. But for the rest, they were most of them in their late twenties and early thirties. This calm young Dutchman talked to them, and what he advised pleased them. His advice was to carry the case to a still higher court and to fight for their homes.
They liked what he said and at once elected him to be the one to represent them. William was reluctant to accept. In April of that year the War between the States began and William’s name was on the list of the 554 selected to served in the war. He had no idea when he was to be called. He did not have a legal education and therefore could not plead in any court. The settlers were insistent. They urged him to go to Sacramento and “read” in the Law Library there so he could qualify as an attorney. They agreed to look after his land in the interval.
William was reluctant for there was till another reason that held him to Tomales. This was a pretty Irish girl, Mary Fitzgerald, who was helping Mrs. Dutton. Girls were few in that part of the country, and this girl had so many suitors that in after years William would tell how the hitching post was always full in front of the Dutton house.
Evidently he went to Sacramento, and being a quick study he was able to qualify as an attorney. He appeared for the settlers. Meeting with them the decision was made to take the case to Washington.
But law did not take all of his time for on December 29, 1862, five days before Christmas, William Paton Vanderbilt and Mary Fitzgerald were married, and according to their son, “moved on a ranch on the ridge below Tomales”. It was a lonely Christmas and New Years for Mary, because on December 22 William was called as a deputy sheriff and did not return for two weeks.
The Memoirs do not say whether William went by ship or overland to Washington, D. C., but in any event he returned overland after presenting the case before the Supreme Court. Quoting from the Memoirs.
Early in March of 1863, the United States Supreme Court decided in favor of the settlers. To celebrate the occasion, the settlers placed in the Marin Journal of March 21, an invitation to a barbecue on April 2nd, 1863. It appeared again the next week on the 28th. We publish the invitation just as it appeared.
When you look at the April 4th, 1863 issue expecting to read an account of the affair, you are disappointed. The editor devotes only four lines to the celebration. He reports that he had intended to go, but due to the fact this subscribers had not paid their subscriptions, his purse was empty.
“not being able to go, he could say nothing about the celebration.” The April 11th issue carries half a column, contributed by someone from Tomales.
What the writer lacked in journalism, he made up in enthusiasm. He began his story by describing the day as perfect…
Warren Dutton, Esq. was Chief Marshall and led the guests to an arbor where the program was to be held. The Bloomfield Brass Band supplied the music. The citizens of Petaluma presented a silk banner to the victorious settlers.
The speakers were Capt. Allen of the Marion Rangers, Judge Collins of Petaluma, and a “Mr. Clark of San Francisco”.3
After the speeches the writer says that no less that fifteen hundred sat down for dinner together. A ball followed in the evening.
The Victory Celebration was not the only cause of happiness for the Vanderbilts, for Mary was carrying their first child, born the following November. He was their first-born, name William Abraam for his father and his grandfather.
However, the May 21, 1864 issue of the Marin Journal tells of the death of William Abraam Vanderbilt: “on April 29, infant son of William and Mary Vanderbilt, age seven months, fourteen days. “ So it was that Williams namesake and the old traditional Dutch name of Abraam was lost.
Other children came to the Vanderbilts, beginning with George Winton. On June 22, 1866, a daughter Minnie; June 18, 1868, another son, Frank H.; Charles B., April 2, 1870; February 20, 1872, another daughter, Nellie C., and Newell Fitzgerald Vanderbilt, June 4th, 1874.
Newell was not a year old yet when tragedy struck the Vanderbilt home again. His Memoirs do not include any mention of this unhappiness. The Marin County Journal of April 15th, 1875, in a column devoted to news from Tomales, records the fact that George, the eldest child of William and Mary Vanderbilt was gravely ill. George a favorite in the community, was remembered in the prayers of everyone.
In brackets below this item the editor inserted the information that since the above was not set in type, news of the death of the boy had arrived as noted in another column.
The notice is there in the third column: George Winton Vanderbilt, age eleven years, four months and on day, died Tuesday, April 18, 1875. The son of William and Mary Vanderbilt.” Below the notice isa poem of eight verses “In Memoriam” and signed with the initials, E. P.
In 1871 William Vanderbilt was again elected Assessor of Marin County, for the second time. He served four years until 1875. These were busy years: a growing family with all the needs of school and the demands of childhood. These was a farm to manage, and during this time legal affairs occupied a great deal of time. He handled many cases, and acted frequently as executor of estates, and guardian of minor children. His name appears frequently in the records in both County Clerk and Recorders office.
In an old record book in the office of the Superintendent of Schools, we find on page 6 that A. I. Barney, Superintendent of the Public Schools, appointed William Vanderbilt on August 28, 1868, to fill out the unexpired term as Trustee of the Tomales School, of E. W. Dutton who had resigned.
On July 15, 1873, the first Grange in California was organized at Napa.4 This was a movement by the farmers of the state, led by the old pione3er, John Bidwell, that made rapid strides in the seventies and eighties. William Vanderbilt served the Granger movement in several capacities. The Tomales Grange was organized December 17, 1873, and William Vanderbilt was Master of the Grange. The Point Reyes Grange was organized three days later on December 20th, and two days after that, on December 22, the Nicasio Grange was organized. The three Granges had a membership of ninety members and was made up of many of the early pioneers of our County.
The Grangers’ Bank was organized February 18, 1873. William Vanderbilt served as secretary and was a member of the Board of Directors. The family moved to San Francisco for two hears while he took part in the early development of the bank. The “Grangers Business Association” was another organization in which William Vanderbilt took an active part.
The Memoirs record the fact that the Vanderbilt family moved to San Francisco for two year while William was associated with the bank. This must have been between 1875 to 1879.
In 1879 Vanderbilt was again Assessor of Marin County. He continued in the office until 1895.
These years of the late sixties through the eighties were the years of change for Marin County. Where once stretched mile after mile of unbroken fields, now there were fences enclosing houses and barns. Only remnants of the original California families remained. The Italian Swiss who migrated to Marin in the seventies developed dairying as a major industry. The railroads provided transportation, and the lumber industry that once dominated Marin County was gone.
In 1888 after a large family gathering of the Vanderbilts, only Mary and the younger children were in the house, as the older members of the family were seeing the guests safely on their journey. The house caught fire and burned to the ground. Fortunately no one was hurt, for neighbors seeing the smoke came to the rescue, but family pictures and heirlooms were destroyed. It must have happened in the Fall for the Memoirs record the fact that the family lived that winter in one of the farm buildings. This must have been a trying experience for Mary, to care for the younger children, cook for the family and the hands, and maintain a semblance of a home.
The house we illustrate is the one built by William Vanderbilt in Tomales for his family. In the Memoirs, Newell Vanderbilt ways of this time:
“Then Father built in Tomales, and in 1890 we moved to San Rafael.”
Book 18 of Deeds, page 137, records that on September 24, 1891, William and Mary Vanderbilt sold a house, barns, water tank, etc., to a John Carter.
At this point the Memoirs supply us with valuable but tantalizing information. To quote, referring to the move to San Rafael:
“Incidentally, he (William Vanderbilt) there pulled off something unusual again in the building line. Finding an acceptable lot on Ross Street, he searched around for a building. Being a master carpenter as before mentioned, his search was especially concentrated on find one of the old well-built houses of early days. This proved to be the old Sais home near Yolanda, said to be the first house built in the valley. This he moved into San Rafael – chimneys, plastered walls and all, to the wonderment of those who claimed it could not be done. The house still stands, and unless burned down some day, will be one of the first to go. They do not build houses that way today.”
William Murray Vanderbilt took your editor to see this house where it is located today at 112 Ross Street in San Rafael.
In trying to establish proof, we have only been able so far to locate what historians call supposition evidence.
We offer it for what it is worth.
First, let us consider the Memoirs of Newell Vanderbilt. The Memoirs were written between 1937 and 1938. Vanderbilt was in his early sixties, and writing of a time when he was between seventeen and eighteen years old. He was not recalling he impressions and memories of a small child. He was alert and aware of life up unto the day of his death. We may safely assume that he was able to reliably recall how his father obtained the house.
In consulting with Mrs. J. E. Mazzini, a descendant of Domingo Sais, who has studied and made record of the genealogy of the Sais family. She recalls that Newell Vanderbilt told her this same story. He located among his father’s papers some substantiating evidence.
Manuella Marie Sais, the widow of Domingo, died September 6, 1891. Her son-in-law, Salvador Pacheco was the executor of her estate. On page 296 of Book 19 of Deeds, on February 20, 1892, Salvador A. Pacheco sells 237 acres of land of the estate of Manuella M. Sais. CERTAIN BUILDING ARE TO GO WITH THE SALE OF THE LAND, EXCEPTING SOME BUILDINGS WHICH SALVADORE A. PACHECO HAS SIXTY DAYS TO REMOVE.
On page 328 of the same Volume 19 of Deeds we find that William Vanderbilt purchased on February 24, 1982 a log on Ross Street near Marin, from Valentine Guide.
Careful research in the Marin Journal of 1891 and 1893 concerning the moving of the Sail house to 112 Ross Street has so far escaped us. Consulting with Mr. Noel Giacomini, our Marin County Recorder, he offered this advice:
“A move like that would have taken some time, so it was not considered news as everyone knew about it. To the people of that day it was not early6 as important as a news item as it is to you today.”
The independent of October 21, 1913, under the headline “Old Settlers Gather at Tamalpais Center”, there is a paragraph devoted to an article written by a “Mrs. Crisp” – no initial. However, research reveals that “Edward Crisp, a San Francisco attorney, died in May of 1905”. He is listed in the San Francisco Directory of 18923, as an attorney with offices in the Phelan Building, and living in San Anselmo. Con conversation with Mrs. Warren Landon of San Anselmo offered evidence that “Mrs. Crisp” could have been the widow of Edward Crisp.
Mrs. Crisp gave many details of the early days of San Anselmo, and then she added one remark that may help to establish the house. She said… “up to about 1890 there lived in a LARGE SQUARE HOUSE in what is now the Carrigan Tract, the widow of the original owner of this part of the country, Senor Domingo Sais…”
The house at 112 Ross Street, San Rafael, is square.
It is a known fact that the original Domingo Sais home was of adobe. This wooden house could have been built at a later time. Perhaps someone who reads this can offer further evidence. Photographs, letters, recollections, would e helpful.
Newell Vanderbilt attended the schools in Tomales until the family move d to San Rafael. There he enrolled at the Mount Tamalpais Military Academy, graduating with the class of 1894.
He joined Co. D of the California National Guard at San Rafael. Co., D, according to a story in the Marin Journal in October 1935, was organized from the “James G. Blaine for President Uniformed Club” in 1885. In the 1907 California Blue Book on page 161, B. Lauck, a Civil War officer is credited with organizing Co. D at San Rafael.
One of the purposes for organizing Co. D was to act as a check on the numerous breaks from San Quentin Prison. Co. D was frequently mentioned in the newspapers and gained a national reputation for sharp shooting. The command locally was known as the hub and center of the social life of San Rafael. The annual Masked Ball was a particular feature. The encampments at San Cruz, Santa Rosa, etc., and the camps and marches at Bolinas, Petaluma and Healdsburg were often the reason for a celebration.
Shortly after graduation in 1894, Col. D was ordered in July to strike duty at the Southern Pacific yards in Oakland. They remained there but a short time [later] and were transferred to San Jose, returning in July 21 to San Rafael.
Newell Vanderbilt remained on at the Academy after graduation as an instructor. He entered the University of California anticipating to graduate with the class of 1901.
Suddenly this all changed, in the Spring of 1898. Spain declared war on the United States and Co. D was alerted for duty. Not waiting to be called Newell volunteered and the memoirs tell of his going to William and Mary and telling them what he had done. His action met with their approval but William made his son promise that if he returned he would complete his University Education. He gave his father his promise and received the blessing of his parents.
All Marin County was very patriotic that Spring of ’98. Nothing was too good for the Boyd of Co. D who had volunteered. Sausalito was the first to organize a Red Cross Chapter, but less than a week later San Rafael organized followed by Belvedere and Mill Valley.5
The San Rafael Chapter dedicated itself to Co. D. They got together a fund of $2,349.55 and this was spent for “supplies of blankets, hats, leggings, underwear, camp equipment and regimental band instruments for Co. D.
Social affairs crowded one affair after another on the calendar. At the end of June Co. D, known as Co. D United States Volunteer Infantry, since it was made up entirely of volunteers, left San Rafael preceded by elaborate farewell ceremonies. No doubt the Vanderbilts were at the depot that morning to see Corporal Newell depart. They first went to Camp Barret at Oakland and the transferred to Vancouver, Washington. Newell was made First Sergeant shortly after arriving in Vancouver.
Mary became ill late in the Fall. She made no improvement during the long October days. It became evident that she was seriously ill. She died Nov. 27 1898. During her illness there had been constant communication with Newell in Vancouver and he was given leave to return to Marin for a few days. In his Memoirs he recalls the last words of his mother:
“In your life be as good as you can, never forget to the father you have had.”
Mary was taken to Tomales to be placed beside her two sons.
In February of 1899, Co. D Eighth California Volunteer Infantry was mustered out and returned home from Vancouver Barracks. When the boys returned a reception and ball was given in their honor.
Newell Vanderbilt true to his promise to his father applied for admission to the University of California to continue his work toward a degree. His sister, Nellie Vanderbilt had been engaged to John Schlosser before her mother’s death in November of ’98. She felt it was important that her father be provided with a home and to live in a different atmosphere than his old residence at 112 Ross Street that held so many memories. John Schlosser built a house for his prospective bride and he and Nellie were married on March 11, 1899. William Vanderbilt went to live with them in their new home on Belle Avenue and Newell when time permitted stayed there.
Newell returned to teaching again at the Academy for summer sessions. He graduated from the University of California with the class of 1902. He was a Colonel of the University Cadets and received recognition for military science at the Commencement exercises.
William Vanderbilt was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the American Valley School in 1877 to fill the unexpired term of S. Webster who resigned.6 He was again appointed in 1878 and 1879. In the election of July 1, 1885 he was elected school trustee for the Tamales School and was again elected to the same office in 1886.7
After retiring as County Assessor in 1895 William Vanderbilt was appointed by the state as diary inspector. According to the newspaper accounts of that time Marin County Milk was forbidden to be marketed in Oakland or Berkeley. Vanderbilt worked to build up the standards of Marin County Dairies.
In April of 1903 William Vanderbilt became assessor of the city of San Rafael. He was serving in this position when he died on August 11, 1905.
The Marin County Journal devoted a while column on page one to the obituary of William Paton Vanderbilt. The service was held in Tomales and the funeral train from San Rafael to Tomales the day of the service arrived many of his old friends and family. After the service William was placed to rest beside Mary and their two sons.
1 Sunset Magazine, August 1906, Page 139.
2 Petaluma Argus Courier, Centennial Edition, Thursday, August 18, 1955. Section E, Pages 1 and 8. A. B. Dickinson. At the end of the article Dickinson lists the 1854 Settlers Organization.
3 Jerimiah Clark, a San Francisco attorney, Clark was well acquainted in the county as he handled many of the land cases.
4 Patrons of Husbandry on the Pacific Coast by E. S. Carr, published in San Francisco by A. L. Bancroft & Co., 1875.
5 “A Record of the Red Cross on the Pacific Slope.” 1902. Pacific Press publishing Co., Oakland, Calif. Sausalito, Page 313; San Rafael, Page 311; Mill Valley, Page 264; Belvedere, Page 223.
6 The Golden Book of California. Edited by Robert Sibley. Published by the Alumni Association, 1937. Page 244.
7 School Trustees Record Book from 1868 to 1885. Office of Marin County Superintendent of Schools. Pages 48-91.