Anna Lee Gunn Marston (1853-1940)

Anna Lee Gunn was born in Sonora, California, May 20, 1853. Her family moved to San Francisco in 1861, and remained there until Anna’s older brothers Douglas and Chester came to San Diego in 1869. The rest of the family soon followed, but Anna stayed to teach school. She moved to San Diego in 1875. The following is an excerpt from her book.

In May 1878 I was married to George W. Marston, whose grandfather, Judge Stephen Marston, had been the friend and neighbor of my grandmother, Elizabeth Wright, in Newburyport. Judge Marston’s oldest son, George P. Marston, was a pioneer merchant in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, and came with his family to San Diego in 1870.

While scarcely more than a village, San Diego in the seventies was a pleasant place to live in. There were many pretty homes surrounded by gardens of fruit trees and flowers, and many agreeable people who had time to know and enjoy each other. The army officers of the Department of the Southwest had their headquarters here, also officers of the Weather Bureau and the Coast Survey, and the government engineers who were building the San Diego River embankment. Many of them stayed at the Horton House on the Plaza, where the Grant Hotel now stands. They added to the importance and interest of the town, and there was much friendliness between them and the townspeople.

Occasionally people of distinction honored us by their visits and the town responded with a fitting reception, but our social life for the most part was informal and cordial. At our small evening gatherings there were readings and music, acting of original charades, and often dancing. Many books were read and loaned and discussed among friends, and a small company carried on weekly a reading-club with great pleasure for several years. The member of this group whose personality was most charming, and whose later life was most distinguished, as Henrietta Nesmith, who in 1878 married Lieutenant A. W. Greeley, at that time in charge of the Weather Bureau here and in later years renowned for his expedition in the Arctic Regions.

We were very proud of the concerts of the Philharmonic Society, in which there were many fine voices. The singing and acting in the several cantatas and light operas which were given were exceedingly good.

Excursions to La Jolla, the Old Mission, the Spanish Lighthouse, and the Monument on the Mexican line gave us long days of pleasure; and in the moonlight evenings there were horseback and buggy rides and rowing on the bay. A few of us still remember an ocean trip on Captain Wilcox’s yacht, the Restless , when the wind went down as we returned, and the men “poled” us slowly back at sunset through the water tinged with gold and rose. Several years later the Spreckels’ steam yacht, the Lurline , carried a large party to Ensenada. It was a joyous company that sang and danced on deck, and feasted on the porch of the hotel in that beautiful harbor. But on the return voyage, when the vessel was rocked by the heavy land swell, there were very few who cared to sing or to look at the beautiful waves.

In the early seventies there was a “general store” on the southwest corner of Fifth and F streets, where two young men, “Successors to Joseph Nash,” whose clerks they had been, were carrying on an enterprising business under the firm name of Hamilton and Marston. In 1878, after five years of partnership, the business was divided, and George Marston opened a dry-goods store on the northwest corner of Fifth and D streets, while Charles Hamilton carried on the grocery business in the Market Building on Fifth above G. His brother Fred was in charge of the hardware department. These two firms are among the very few that have continued in San Diego for over fifty years, and the regard which the two men have won in the community has been the result of their unselfish interest and helpfulness in all the town life, both having served in every capacity, from membership in the Volunteer Fire Department to the office of President of the City Council.

On George Marston’s seventy-third birthday a beautiful tribute to his service in the upbuilding of the city was paid him in a meeting in Balboa Park. Many friends gathered on the lawn behind the California Building to show him honor. His bust in bronze was unveiled and presented to the city. Beneath it was engraved the following inscription:


Those who took part on this happy and memorable occasion were Mr. Melville Klauber, who acted as chairman, Mrs. A. E. Horton, Mr. Ernest White, Rev. Howard B. Bard, Mr. Philip Morse and Senator M. L. Ward. Their speeches were marked by a warmth of affection and sincerity of praise that brought from my husband a reply full of deep feeling, lightened by his customary humor.

No similar expression of appreciation has been given to Charles Hamilton, but the multitude of those who love and praise him for his business integrity, his generosity, and his friendliness cannot be numbered.

Of his wife, our dear “Aunt Lizzie,” the grand children should know that the little child, who was so lovable in the Sonora home, became a woman of strong character and rare gifts. When she passed away, this tribute to her memory was written by one who knew her well: “There were, for her, busy years of community work in the rapidly growing town; there were, also, many sweet years of home happiness and family devotion; and out of her varied experiences was evolved a character so forceful, so generous, so lovable, that when the arresting hand of sickness ended further participation in the day’s work, her personality found an abiding place in the hearts of many friends from which to continue its inspiration.”

All of my children remember their visits to the Agua Tibia ranch and the wonderful times they enjoyed there, but only the older ones remember “Uncle Lee” to whom Aunt Sarah was married in 1875. Major Lee H. Utt was little more than a boy when he enlisted in the Civil War. In an early engagement he suffered the loss of a foot. When scarcely recovered, he re-enlisted in the cavalry. He was captain of Company A of the Seventh Kansas Regiment when he was retired. His health was so seriously affected that he spent much time at army sanitariums before coming to California in 1867. He studied law and acquired a fine knowledge of history and general literature, and, owing to his retentive memory and natural gift of expression, he was a most interesting and entertaining talker. He bought the Agua Tibia, to which he was attracted by the warm sulphur spring and the enormous fig trees, said to be the largest in the county. This ranch, on a spur of Palomar mountain, three miles above the Pala Mission, had been the home of an Indian chief. It had a comfortable adobe house of several rooms and a vineyard of mission grapes as well as the fig trees. The view down the San Luis Rey galley was very fine. Major Utt so far regained his health that at the time of his marriage he had improved the ranch by the building of reservoirs and the planting of several large groves of olive and apricot trees. Here Anita and Lewis spent their childhood. Having an opportunity to sell the place in 1887, the family spent several years in the Eastern States and in Mexico and finally returned to make their home in Redlands, where Major Utt died in 1895.

The company that had bought the ranch failed to make the last payments, and Aunt Sarah and the children were obliged to return and live there for several years before finally disposing of it. During these years the cousins made many of their summer visits. They recall with delight the playground in the shade of the great fig trees where they waded in the brook and made mud-pies; the long tramps through the canyon, and the horse-back rides over the mountains; the beautiful apricot orchard in bloom and again with trays of drying fruit; the olive-gathering by the Indian laborers; the big bath at the warm spring; Aunt Sarah’s always bountiful table, and the continuous celebration of birthdays.

In 1905 Aunt Sarah and her children came to San Diego to live. For many years she entered with active interest into the life of the city and in 1910 she greatly enjoyed a trip around the world. Her strong interest and joy in life helped her to ignore the pain of arthritis which attacked her in later years. She lived to be just eighty-two years old, passing away in February, 1928.

Douglas Gunn continued as proprietor and editor of the Union until 1886, when he sold it and devoted a year to the preparation and publication of Picturesque San Diego , and of a smaller book called San Diego Illustrated , of which latter book he donated several thousand copies to the Chamber of Commerce for gratuitous distribution. In 1888 several months were devoted to the construction of a new city charter. Elected the first mayor under this charter he served from May 1889 to May 1891. After retiring from business he gave much time to measures of public welfare. He died November 27, 1891. In the newspapers of California a very general respect was paid to his memory, and appreciation shown of his services. He was said to have done “an uncommon work in an enduring way, and by his intelligent and persistent efforts to have been one of the chief builders of the city of San Diego.”

Chester Gunn became engineer of the Owens Mine in Julian in 1869. During the fall and winter when the mine was shut down he ran a pony express between Julian and San Diego, making one trip a week over the mountains, on the Indian trails, in all kinds of weather. It was a hard trip, but he made it regularly for six months, and people were glad to pay ten cents a letter because they knew they could depend on him. When the Foster and Frary stage line was started, there was no longer need for the pony express and Chester opened the first store in Julian, which had grown to be a village of five hundred inhabitants. In the neighboring country there were about five thousand people, including miners, whose supplies had to be brought from San Diego; consequently business in the Julian store grew rapidly. Chester was also postmaster and agent of Wells Fargo Express Company. As considerable gold was shipped Out in those days and he received a percentage on all the business of the company, he often collected as much as two hundred dollars a month as his share. In 1873 he was married to Elizabeth A. Kelley, the local schoolteacher. He again changed his occupation, taking up fruit-raising and planting the first apple orchard in the Julian mountain district, which has become noted for the quality of this fruit. While farming, he was Deputy County Assessor for four years and County Supervisor for five years. In 1908 he moved with his family to San Diego where he engaged in a real estate business. On November 18, 1923, he and his wife celebrated their golden wedding with their eight children and thirteen grandchildren and many relatives and friends of both early and later days. His years of hard work over, Chester continued active in business and full of interest in the community life, until his last short illness in June, 1928. Throughout his long life of nearly eighty-five years he was always a helper of others, gentle and kindly in Spirit, and generous in his judgments.

When the family first came to San Diego they lived in a small cottage on C Street between Second and Third. Later they moved to the southwest corner of State and B, into a larger house, with a pleasant garden of flowers and trees; in this house my sisters and I were married.

In 1878 Charles Hamilton bought the cottage on the northeast corner of Sixth and A Streets. It had a charming garden, with a remarkably large bougainvilla vine, which covered the south porch. Father, mother and Douglas made their home there also, and there Tom was born. In 1886 father built the house on Seventh and Beech. It was in that spacious home that Aunt Lizzie presided so beautifully and with such generous hospitality for many years. It was the scene of our parents” golden wedding in 1889. Another member of their family at that time was Aunt Hannah Stickney, who had come from Philadelphia after Aunt Mary’s death in 1887. It is to her that we owe the pieces of antique furniture which she brought from the Philadelphia home.

In 1891 Douglas died, and in the following year our father passed away, and Aunt Hannah in 1893. In 1901 Aunt Lizzie’s serious illness commenced and mother came to live with me. Soon after, “the house on the hill” was sold.

George and I began housekeeping in a tiny cottage on the northeast corner of Sixth and C Streets. We lived in several other rented houses before we built, in 1885, the house on Third and Ash streets in which we lived for twenty years. There our five children grew up with many happy companions. In front was the broad lawn with its shade trees and in the back yard a tall swing and a big pepper tree with a platform in its branches, drygoods-box play-houses, and plenty of room for the digging of trenches and a fort and the building of a boat. The most cherished indoor memories of the house center in the large living room, with grandmother’s chair in the big bay-window, and the fire-place bordered with the Shakespeare tiles which we rejoiced to purchase again when the house was recently torn down. In 1905 we built the home on Seventh Street above the Park. It was hallowed by my dear mother’s presence during the first year. Her old age was very peaceful and beautiful. The children remember her best with her knitting in her hands, an open book on the rest before her, and flowers on her table. Even with failing memory, these were a delight to her. She passed away after a short period of illness in October, 1906, being almost ninety-six years old.

During the twenty-three years in this home we have greatly enjoyed planting the grounds, which are distinguished by the tall pines and eucalyptus trees, the broad lawns and the canyon-slope covered with blossoming trees and shrubs. On May 3, 1928, we held a reception in the garden to celebrate our golden wedding. It was a rarely beautiful day, and we were happy in receiving a large company of our friends. Nearly all of our relatives and all of our children and grandchildren were present.

[from Marston, Anna Lee [ed.]. Records of a California family: Journals and letters of Lewis C. Gunn and Elizabeth Le Breton Gunn. San Diego, California: s.n., 1928.]

Return to Biography.