By June A. Strudwick

Images from this issue


To visit the Whaley House today is to sweep back time like a curtain, leaving the visitor standing on the threshold of the 1850s — the age of stagecoaches and crinolines – in what for years was the only “grand mansion” in a dusty little frontier town.

Whaley House.Cross the long gallery, and you enter a house which has witnessed more history than any other building in the city. As you tread through the spacious hall, glimpsing the intimate family parlor with its soft Brussels carpets, its damask draperies and crystal chandelier, it is easy to imagine the many scenes which have taken place here — sessions of the court, a battle for the county seat, jury trials, the theatre, musical soirees, formal balls — a veritable bonanza of events. The vision could not be created without the help of the builder.

The age-mellowed house on the east side of San Diego Avenue was built by a civic-minded eastern merchant, Thomas Whaley, at a cost of over $10,000 in 1857. In building this home he used the details and plans currently so popular in the New York houses of the period. The formal spacings of the doors, windows, heavy porch posts; the nicely cut moldings, the contrast of white detail and red brick, the concealed roof and essential simplicity are all typical of the Greek Revival that flourished in the United States from 1820 to 1860. The plan of the main block of the house is like a city house on a limited scale; all the windows and doors, except three, face either front or back.

Like a great plantation house, it is adaptable to its climate and geographic conditions; it is as cool and comfortable as when it was erected one hundred and three years ago. Modern in every sense of the word and functionally correct are the heavy brick walls and high ceilings, that keep the rooms as cool as if they were air-conditioned. The materials for its building were taken from the land; native clay and river sand were made into bricks and baked in kilns. The embellishments came from the East; cedar for the woodwork, and hinges, doorknobs and locks from the New York establishment owned by Whaley & Pye. When Thomas Whaley cleaned out his desk drawers and files preparing for his retirement back in 1888, he did a great favor for present day historians. The accurate restoration work done by the County of San Diego in the re-building of the Whaley house was made possible through a careful study of the papers and documents he carefully preserved. From these papers emerges the story of the San Diego merchant, his family, his house and times. He was well equipped to be a leading citizen of his community; a businessman, merchant, architect, mechanic, public servant, and among other things a former President of the Board of Trustees of the city of San Diego.

He was born Oct. 5, 1823 in New York City, seventh child in a family of ten, to Rachel Pye and Thomas Alexander Whaley Sr. The name he bore ran through more than 800 years of English history. The family had been prominent in local and national affairs since 1067, and included names of Oliver Cromwell, Frances Goffe, and Major General Edward Whaley. Various causes growing out of the Civil Wars caused James Whaley to move his family to America. When he settled at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1722, he brought with him a goodly assortment of English flintlock muskets, several homemade firing mechanisms, and English flints. Weapons were desperately needed in every settlement along the Eastern seaboard to wage war on the wild animals that were a menace to the colonists. In the process of clearing his land, the sons became skilled riflemen, and the guns improved. Before the Revolutionary War the family migrated to that rich hunting ground of New York City. Alexander Whaley, a grandson, continued to improve and experiment with muskets and produced a smooth bore musket for hunters which sold at twelve to fourteen dollars. When the Revolution began George Washington badly needed additional guns for the Volunteers from New York. Alexander Whaley produced some of the flintlock muskets which were issued to the men who did not carry their own arms. His large two-story frame house near the toll gate at Buswick Cross Roads, L. I., became Washington’s headquarters. Whaley received an honor from Washington for carrying a message through enemy lines; he had saved the American command from being cut off at the Battle of White Plains.

Thomas Whaley Sr., son of the gunsmith, carried on the business. He served with the Militia from New York and was sent to Washington on August 14, 1814, the day the British burned the Capitol. Dolly Madison had superintended the last minute packing of plate, valuables, and the Stuart portrait of Washington, which was entrusted to the care of the New York militia — “the gentlemen from N. Y.” — for safe-keeping. After the war Thomas Whaley married Rachel Pye, whose father William was a manufacturer of locks in Brooklyn; he was taken into the firm. About the time his son Thomas was born, he established another business in New York City, where he manufactured engineers’ and surveyors’ instruments. His untimely death in 1832 caused the business burden to fall on his capable widow’s shoulders. Rachel Whaley was quite occupied raising four lively children, John, Henry, Thomas and Harriet. The years passed and Rachel increased the family holdings through shrewd purchases of real estate. One of the parcels of property she bought was located at Sheeps Meadows, a grazing land, which is now known as Central Park. She was also successful in leasing the business property on Fulton St. for a slaughterhouse. As John and Henry became older they took over the management of the locksmith business and succeeded in obtaining government contracts in Washington, D.C., and Harpers Ferry. Thomas, the youngest of the boys, showed an unusual ability for business and she decided that he would be given the best possible education available at that time, to manage the business affairs of the family. Harriet, meantime was growing to young womanhood. Thomas was sent to boarding school in Colcester, Connecticut, then enrolled in Washington Institute, and graduating with honors was sent to Europe under the watchful eyes of a tutor to travel and study for two years. Upon his return from Europe he managed his father’s business affairs, and rental properties for his mother, but difficulties arising out of the settlement of the estate concerning the locksmith business caused him to start out on his own career, and accept an offer with Sutton & Co., a ship-building firm.

One crisp December morning in 1848 he sat at his desk, reading a copy of the New York Herald. A tea caddy of gold nuggets had been delivered to President Polk, and the news of this first concrete evidence of gold in California had everyone in the office aroused. Rumors of a newly proposed line of government steamships to California had excited one of the men, George S. Wardle, who had planned to expand the operation to the west coast at San Francisco. Whaley was offered the opportunity to go, a possible partnership in the firm, and the price of a ticket. Times were hard in the East, and the outlook bad all over the world. Young men worked for low wages, totted slimming bank accounts. Whaley was young, in his veins was the tug of adventure, excitement, action. He decided to go to California — he must see this exciting, dangerous and wonderful land.


He quickly assembled a consignment of goods belonging to George Wardle, a stock of locks, window sashes and hardware from his father’s shop, guns from Grandfather Whaley’s establishment at No. 18 Catherine St., and a wagon. Grasping a strip of ticket, he squeezed through throngs of people and cross the snow-covered, slippery wooden planks of the wharf to board the Sutton, January 1, 1849. He had chosen the long way, around Cape Horn. As the ship was being towed toward Sandy Hook by the steamboat Hercules he began his journal: “… We are off now and no mistake. The day is fine the wind is fair. We set sail immediately.”

In his letterpress book he began a long series of letters, the first to his mother: “…My wish is granted. This is New Years Day — I bid you, my friends and country a long long farewell. God speed me to the distant land toward which my future hopes are centered and grant a fair realization of my wishes. At noon we set sail and ere this reaches you I shall be some hundreds of miles from home ploughing the mighty main. Regret not my absence, shed no tears but pray constantly for my safe return. A mother’s prayer will be heard. He who has protected me so long will surely bring me back to your arms again. I shall never forget that fond embrace and those tears which bedewed your furrowed cheeks upon parting with you — I shall endeavor not to let your good counsels be wholly lost, but try to profit from them as much as possible. The circumstances under which I am going are indeed very favourable and should I not succeed the cause can only be attributed to myself.

You might call on Mrs. Lannay, you will find her a very pleasant lady. I may as well inform you that I have a particular regard for her youngest daughter, Miss Anna, indeed I love her and intend marrying her if ever I return from California a rich man … I may send for her. She is a pleasant and amiable young lady of very affectionate disposition and gentle and innocent as a lamb. She is only 16 or 17 years of age. You would no doubt love her as a daughter-in-law. She attends Miss Green’s School on the 5th Avenue.”

The Sutton did not prove to be a “happy ship” on her 204-day run from New York to San Francisco. On Feb. 2 Whaley noted in his diary that the captain and the mate had quarreled, and the mate had been ordered off of the poop. Other journal entries follow:

Feb. 12 “… This morning I rose having spent a restless night. The heat is oppressive … the fact is there are too many passengers, more than there is accommodations for … I awake in the morning in a fever with my linen saturated with perspiration… How refreshing one finds the Sea Air after being pent up Seven or Eight hours in a small apartment no larger than six by four feet and this too shared with another.”

Feb. 27 Rio De Janeiro “… Last night at 10 1/2 Mr. Theophilus Valentine one of the forward passengers blew out his brains. Our ship was guarded in consequence. Passengers on board held prisoners. After being without fresh provisions for 24 hours they were relieved.”

Mar. 21 “… I now come to a most melancholy period of our voyage. Rough seas … Ship uneasy … Cry all hands on deck … Albertross … Sternboat gave way to four passengers in the Sea, quarter boat lowered, picked up one, two climbed up … Schoonmaker drowned. Sea was running mountain high and dangerous … I could not refrain from shedding a tear.”

Apr. 1 “… Mr. Wadsworth was engaged in reading the sermon when by a sudden squall the Ship was taken aback. This is the worst thing that can happen to a ship particularly when the wind blows fresh. Every timber in her shook and it seemed as though the mast would be taken out of her.”

Apr. 17 “… Quite a flare-up … 2nd mate damning Dr. Johnson who is creating ill feeling among the officers … the Captain got into the Devil of a passion.”

May 1st “… We were pitching about all last night… the Ship rolled tremendously … I was obliged to get up and take one of the Slats from my Bearth … Meal consisted of coffee with brown sugar, cold Salt beef sliced, boiled rice, soft bread and molasses … as for junk beef — I am sick of it … The old Sutton is a finely moddled ship and has ridden through many a storm. But had I known the leaky condition she was in and the Character of her Captain I would never have set foot on board her especially after being forewarned by Anson that She would never round the Horn safely.”

May 14th “…The Valparaiso light was seen about 10 o’clock… Dale lying in the harbour with $250,000 aboard … Reports say a million … Shipping in the harbour at the present time consisting mostly of vessels bound for California … among them the Taralinta, the Croton, the Capital … the Cutter Ewing and the Store Ship Fredonia … regaled myself with grapes, peaches, apples, pairs.”

May 14 Valparaiso “… After dinner took a stroll. Midshipman’s alley terrible row, police … stabbing and cutting … Retired to Hotel, impossible to get room … Jones took us to a room. 5 of us, George Wardle, George D. Puffer, Chas. Palmer, W. R. Wardle and myself … only one bed. Ships are scarce, sailors in demand, and freight high. Inducements offered to the men of the Sutton as high as $80 per month but no one will leave. A great deal has been shipped from this port particularly flour of the best quality … the market is flooded with it.”

July 15th “We are still upon the bosom of the mighty deep … little prospect of reaching “Eldorado”…believe the “Old Sutton” is like the “Flying Dutchman” doomed eternally to wander the seas over …Within a thousand miles of San Francisco…”

Fri. July 20th “obtained a list of all the passengers on board and the names, places of birth, occupations &c.”

Sat. July 21 “The Sutton is pitching into it hot and heavy going at the rate of nine knots. All hands busily engaged packing up … Probably in the morning we shall see land … In the afternoon cut G.S.W.’s hair, who in turn cut mine. Engaged in the evening in copying off Lat & long. together with the distance.”


Sun. July 22 San Francisco “…Cloudy morning, saw Pilot $10 per foot … Took her … ‘Twas the Anonyma we spoke before coming into Rio … Arrived at 31/2 … Fine Harbour … Old Spanish Fort … Over 150 vessels at San Francisco, Sau Saulito (sic). Met O’Neal … Went to Rosses … Post Office not open … Wilburs & Muir … Rec’d letters … All accounts wonderful. Incredulous … As a general thing goods worth nothing … My wagon and Window Sashes worth a fortune….

July 29th (Letter to his Mother).

“Thank God we arrived here a week ago … Last Sunday after a long passage of 204 days from New York! The old Ship will be my home until George S. Wardle’s store is ready to occupy … which I presume will be two or three weeks.”

Whaley found his land-legs, in a raw settlement turned upside down and temporarily mad. Legitimate business had been made into a gamble by the speculators. Side walk deals, although there were no sidewalks, went on day and night. Auctions were held with much noise and shouting and were nearly as exciting as gambling games. No one wanted to pay a set price for anything — they liked the fun of bidding. One store catered to Indians, taking their gold weight for weight, on a scales made of sardine cans, in exchange for the raisins they loved. San Francisco was a conglomerate settlement made up of cloth houses, canvas tents, adobes, flimsy stores, and ramshackle saloons; the store into which Whaley moved was located on Montgomery Street between Jackson and Pacific.

The agreement with George Wardle stipulated that he dispose of the consignment, for which he would receive $600 per month. Whaley also had his own stock of hardware, and a consignment of miners’ equipment from Flintoff & Co., which he would dispose of at a 10 percent commission. The operation was successful; with the proceeds he purchased his own building on Montgomery Street and rented the Wardle store to Lewis Simons at $350. He improved his store property with the addition of a second story for offices and living quarters, and had plank sidewalks put in. By April 1851 he had purchased land at Rincon point, near the shipyard, and erected a spacious two-story house with a balcony which commanded a beautiful view of the bay. His partner, a William Warner, was expecting his wife to join him, and Whaley hoped that young Anna Lannay would come along. He wrote his lady many letters, giving her detailed descriptions of this first house he obviously had built for her.

During this interlude he managed the rental property for Wardle, engaged in grain business with Edwin Gomez, a classmate from Washington Institute, N. Y., and had a contract with Dillon & Co. to supply grain for cattle feed for three years. He also had invested in a side venture with a lawyer, Lewis Franklin, and his brother Maurice, to the amount of $3000. The Franklin brothers were partners in a business at San Diego. Then it happened. On May 3 and 4, 1851, San Francisco suffered a severe blow; an incendiary fire began in a store on the south side of the Plaza, running along the planked streets, and leaping from house to house as it pursued its terrible course. His letter of May 15 to Anna Lannay described the conflagration thus: “… This city was consumed by fire the night of the 3rd and 4th. The scene which presents itself is painful in the extreme to gaze upon … There are to be seen only smouldering embers with here and there tottering walls of warehouses that were thought to be proof against the flames. To give you an imperfect idea of the vast extent … it is more than a mile in one direction and about half a mile in the other … Twenty center blocks of the most dense and thickly settled quarter of the town is in ashes. At least a thousand houses have been burned, the largest number ever in the United States, not even excepting the great fire in New York is 1835 … The loss is variously estimated at from ten to fifteen millions of dollars … our business men are crippled but resolve to surmount the obstacles … many a noble and courageous heart has fallen victim in their glorious endeavor to rescue from the flames the effects of others … While the tottering walls of Delmonico’s were being removed they suddenly gave way and buried five poor firemen beneath the ruins … By this fire the buildings which I erected upon Montgomery St. were destroyed … I stood watching my buildings until they fell with a crash. In a short space of minutes all that I had toiled for and which I had looked upon with so much satisfaction was reduced to cinders, and ashes was all that remained to represent the $10,000 which they cost…”

This was only part of the sad news. He reveals another disappointment to his mother on May 15: “… My young lady’s mother refuses to let her come to California.” Anna had sent him her likeness which he often gazed upon, and he in return had sent her a bag of gold dust to buy some silks and beads. He continues: “The last Steamer brought me advices that Lewis A. Franklin had done well in the business [at San Diego] which is the largest in the place and bids fair to become very extensive. I shall go down there [San Diego] to attend business.”


By October 4 he had arrived at San Diego, found that Franklin had set up a neat two-story building answering as a store and residence; it was the best in the town. The dwelling part of the house was comfortable and he was content, with more personal comforts than ever before. He said: The climate of San Diego is like that of Italy, and healthier than San Francisco, more uniform …” By Nov. 1 he added: “…The only paper published here is very small, appearing once a week and does not contain one column of news, but I will send you one next Steamer as a sample. San Diego is a small old Spanish town containing about 250 or 300 inhabitants, situated from La Playa (the beach) where there is a small settlement of 50 or 100 persons. In an opposite direction, is what is called the New Town of San Diego, which may contain 100 inhabitants. This is distant 5 miles and situated farther up the bay. I reside in what is called the Old Town. There are some 6 or 8 stores, 2 hotels, an apothecary shop kept by an old friend of mine from New York, Dr. Painter, who is the only physician, and three lawyers. The only place of worship is the Catholic church, temporarily in the house of one of the citizens, until the new one, now in the course of erection, is completed. The old padre and his assistant officiate at La Misa. There is nothing in the way of amusements, except fandangoes which are frequent at night; scarcely a day passes by without something … transpires in the way of excitement to occupy the whole community … Not a night passes, Anna but what I look at your daguerrotype … I sleep with it under my pillow … It gives me great pleasure to gaze upon it. What if I should not know you? You may have grown tall, become very corpulent, and have adopted the “Bloomer Costume” … If that were the case I should not know you … I am ready to take you for better or worse, so it makes no difference in what shape you appear so long as you come.”


Both Whaley and Franklin lived at this first store they established. Back of the store was a small room with a fireplace in it. It served as a dining room. In the rear, adjoining the house, was a kitchen with a large cooking stove. They were going to have a well. The upper story of the combination store and house contained two rooms neatly furnished with cane seat chairs, bedsteads, and mahogany center and pier tables. They planned to buy wallpaper in San Francisco to decorate the rough board walls. Their predecessors had done well at the business, but squandered their money foolishly at the gaming tables. Franklin was busy collecting the debts of the old firm; Whaley, among other duties was studying Spanish so he could do business with the natives.

Now trouble was brewing. On Dec. 2, 1851 he wrote to his mother and sister: “I have only a moment to say a word. The Toscin of War sounds. We momentarily expect to be attacked by the Indians who under their great chief Antonio Garra are Swarming by the thousands in the South.. The town of San Diego is proclaimed under martial law. Every man is enrolled a soldier. We are but a handful of men … already several parties have gone out to fight … There are only thirty-five of us left to protect the town and as it is necessary to keep a good watch my. turn to Stand guard comes rather frequently. I have contributed fifty dollars in cash and a few things towards getting up the expedition. The indians may attack this town when they know how feeble we are … it destroys our business … I am well armed with a brace of six shooters and have a horse ready to saddle at any moment.”

The Volunteers were armed with condemned Army muskets loaned by Colonel John Bankhead Magruder, then the local commandant. Inspection of arms was not held until they arrived at Agua Caliente, where they discovered only one-fourth of the guns would fire. By Dec. 15, 1851 Whaley noted “the war is lulled but not at an end.” He wrote on Jan. 1, 1852 “… Antonio Garra their principal chief.was convicted and shot, the painful duty devolving upon me as one of the twelve men who were ordered to execute the sentence.”

Lewis Franklin and his brother Maurice took over the Exchange Hotel, re-built it and opened it as the Franklin House with a billiard saloon, gilt mirrors and a flourish. Lewis Franklin no longer practiced law; his health none too good, and he soon sold out to Whaley. The Tienda General also did well during this period. Sales averaging over $150 a day, and increasing activity demanded 18 hours a day out of 24, but resulted in a profit that year of $18,600; the stock in the store amounted to $10,000, which Whaley owned outright. He now was in a position to go back east and claim his bride, and his friends Ephraim Morse and Charles Poole made arrangements for him to bring back their wives. Both Morse and Poole were looking for houses in town which would accommodate the three families. Capt. George Johnson’s house was a possibility, but they found that Don Juan Bandini had rented it to Lt. George H. Derby (of “Phoenixiana” fame) before they knew what was going on. They found the only place available was Bandini’s Hotel (the Gila House) which they hoped would be comfortable. Morse had made arrangements with Howes & Co. for the purchase of parlor, bedroom, dining room and other furniture that the girls would know about. Some of the things that were needed could be brought from New York, the rest from San Francisco.

Thomas Whaley and Anna Eloise De Lannay were married at the Church of the Ascension in New York City on August 14, 1853. The Rev. Dr. Seabury officiated, and received for his services an octagonal fifty-dollar gold piece. Whaley brought the ladies safely through the trials of the California trip, the families settling temporarily at the Gila House. The day they arrived a ball was held for the guests — splendid dancing with cascarones and California music; the waltz was the favorite dance of the day. They were constantly amused by Derby’s antics, by the fiestas, and by the town’s other diversions — horse racing, bull fights, and picnics to “La Hoya” as it then was called. The custom of burials was noted by Anna Whaley as being rather unique; music and firecrackers accompanied the body to the cemetery. She found the employment of Indians as house servants a custom, although it was difficult to keep them decently clothed and they were difficult to discipline. During the 1850’s there was something like a reign of terror in Old Town, due to the lawless acts of the Indians; there also were stabbing affrays, nightly occurrences to the extent that Editor Ames of the Herald waxed indignant. Whaley bought an Indian girl from her parents, giving them $100 worth of goods from his store for their consent for the girl to live in his family. The girl stayed about a month and then disappeared and returned to her parents. When Whaley went after her again the parents were willing to let her go, but wanted to be paid over again, and this continued as long as the kind hearted merchant would allow himself to be worked.

Shortly before the birth of their first child, the family moved to the Burkhardt house on Juan Street, opposite the Tienda General. A boy, named after Whaley’s partner, Francis Hinton, was born Dec. 28, 1854. Whaley had already purchased from the Trustees of San Diego his La Playa lots, a total of six, fifty varas square, for $237. On Sept. 25, 1855 the Minutes of the Common Council recorded another purchase of land — nine lots, totalling about 8 1/2 acres, in Old Town, for $302.

On May 1, 1855 he and George Tebbetts purchased two Vervalen patent horsepower brick-making machines, each complete with moulds, extra moulds and one force pump, for $2500. One of the brick-making machines was to be put in immediate operation at some location near to Old Town, and the other at some point at the Playa convenient for shipping the brick. Working and manufacturing of the brick was to be carried on by one or more men thoroughly competent to take charge of the task, under the supervision of one or both of the partners, who would devote themselves to the operation. By October 13, Tebbets had disposed of his interest in the venture to Whaley. His brick yard was located on Conde Street, just one block over from the Pendleton House; the yard employed six Indians, five whites, and a cook.


In a letter to his mother on May 6, 1856, Whaley wrote: I have a fine lot 150 x 217 1/2 which I shall enclose with a wall sometime this year. I am now building a grainary of brick which will hold 3 or 400,000 pounds of grain. I shall put up sheds for hay, a house and a store of brick.” (The lot he refers to is Lot 1, Block 27, one of the lots which he had purchased for $302, as a parcel with lots in Block 97. In 1850 the Common Council had passed a resolution by Councilman C. Haraszthy that sale of homestead lots was to be $1.00 each.) He continued: “… I have over 150 thousand bricks left after putting up my grainary, and if I don’t dispose of them soon I shall convert them all into houses and rent them. I have plenty of my own land to build upon. I have a fine rockaway carriage and a span of sorrels, with harness of silver … The carriage holds four or six persons … My wife has every comfort and luxury I can afford to give her, and we enjoy ourselves to the envy of many. My parlor is furnished with Brussels carpet and mahogany and rosewood furniture, a mahogany crib for little Frank. We frequently have musical soirees and our house is the resort of most of the best people in the place. My wife is the best little woman in the world, loved by all, she is proficient in music, plays and sings.”

In September 1856 he reported considerable progress: “I have commenced erecting a two story building 32 x 44 to serve as a house and a store. It is to be completed by May 1858, as my lease expires by then. I feel I will have the nicest place in San Diego. It will cost several thousand dollars, but I have the bricks and will pay for the labor in store trade. I must wait patiently until it is known that this is to be the terminus of the railroad. I feel that San Diego with its climate and bay can become a teeming metropolis. It has the same possibilities as New York.” During 1855 some of the bricks from La Playa were delivered to Mr. Ladd, stone mason, who was repairing two courses of brick in the Point Loma Lighthouse tower. The brick was shipped from La Playa by boat.

“My new house and store will be soon completed,” he wrote on Feb. 9, 1857, “and when finished will be the handsomest and most convenient and comfortable place in this section of the country or within 150 miles of here. It will cost over $10,000, but I am determined to have a comfortable home for myself and my family … I shall realize a handsome profit from what I invested in the brick business.” The house Whaley erected faced San Diego Avenue. The front consisted of five pairs of doors set close together, each with a wooden base about three feet high. The upper part was made of window panes each about a foot high, and set in sashes in groups of two. These extended to the top of the doors which reached nearly to the twelve-foot ceiling. The plan was to combine living quarters with a store, but it proved to be too far away from the plaza, and by 1858 he had relocated his store in the Robinson House. Meanwhile a second child, Thomas Whaley, Jr., had been born in August of 1856, at the Burkhardt house. Several plans of the house drawn during the period of 1856-68 indicate it was changed considerably. Later on Frank Whaley made additional changes to the interior.

The downstairs portion of the house was divided into three large rooms, which extended to the back of the house. The granary was then a separate building, with a loading platform and no front windows. Two small windows on either side were the only means of ventilation at this early date. (One of these windows was discovered during reconstruction.) A drawing of 1862, made by Whaley’s business manager, Augustus S. Ensworth, shows the granary. A covered veranda extended the full length of the front of the house. Five pairs of French windows were built into the front upper story of the main building. All the hardware cam! from the Whaley & Pye establishment, much of it was marked with the initials of the firm. An adobe wall, about 7 feet high, surrounded the entire lot. A gate within a high wooden frame divided the front wall in the middle, and a similar gate formed the entrance to the back corral. An adobe wall separated the back corral from the front yard, and an outhouse built of brick stood in the front yard, close to the dividing wall. The back corral was used as a place for the rounding up of cattle for branding purposes. Cactus clumps stood here and there outside the wall, and a well occupied the center of the space at the foot of the hill on which stood a one-story building called the Washburn house. The adobe wall originally was whitewashed. The yard and flowers were Anna Whaley’s delight, and the kitchen garden contained all manner of vegetables and herbs. Fruit trees were orange, cherry, fig and pomegranate. There were two cedar trees in the back yard, and Anna had planted the pepper tree on the side of the building herself. There was also a fan palm.

Anna Amelia Whaley was born in the house June 27, 1858 — and Thomas Jr. died at seventeen months, on Jan. 29, 1858. About two or three o’clock in the morning of August 21, 1858, Whaley was aroused by a loud rapping at his window; the store on the Plaza was in flames. Whaley threw on his clothes and ran all the way from home to find the fire so advanced that the flames were bursting out the doors and windows, enveloping the building. No chance to save anything in the store, he ran around the back and found the liquor casks were rolled out in front of Mannassee & Co.’s store, also two sacks of buckwheat, empty barrels and a cot from the old Cash Store. Brown, the blacksmith, had prevented the people from trying to save the goods, telling them that there were 2 1/2 barrels of powder inside, ready to explode. Brown and Colonel Kendrick broke the door in, but the smoke and flames were so dense by that time that they could not go in. The fire had originated upstairs on the side of the building near Compton’s shop; it was occasioned by rats gnawing on the matches. Whaley wrote his friend George Ringgold, telling him the news of the disaster, and adding that he was discouraged and would probably leave San Diego and return to San Francisco. Both he and Anna felt the loss of the second child, and the idea of leaving town, even if only to visit old friends, appealed to them.


By March 31, 1859 Thomas Whaley had received an appointment as Commissary Storekeeper, U.S.A. under Captain M. D. L. Simpson; he remained in this position until 1865, and later served as issuing clerk under Captain Sawyer. On July 31, 1867 the office of Quartermaster, San Francisco, issued orders to him to proceed to Sitka, Alaska Territory, in charge of five carpenters, and with the employees of the Quartermaster Department to set up stores and establish a base. His instructions Sept. 2, 1867 were to proceed by the barque Buena Vista and take possession of the Territory for the United States. Whaley raised the American flag, and was elected to the Council at Sitka, Alaska, receiving 94 votes in the election. Meantime Anna and the children stayed in San Francisco with Mary Condy Ringgold, the widow of Lt. Col. George Ringgold, who had died in service in June, 1864. Her family consisted of three sons, Cadwalader, Walter and Fayette, and two girls, Mary and Sophie. Mrs. Ringgold was having a difficult time supporting her family on the meager pension supplied her by the government, and Anna took care of one of the children, Sophie. Also there were Molly Miles and her baby; Mr. Miles was stationed with the Army in Alaska, with Whaley. There were three more children in the Whaley household by this time, George Hay Ringgold, born Nov. 5, 1860; Violet Eloise, born Oct. 4, 1862, and Corinne Lillian, born Sept. 4, 1864.

During Whaley’s absence from San Diego, he engaged Augustus S. Ensworth to take care of his business affairs. The gentleman, possessor of a magnificent beard, once a member of the legislature but lately beaten by a single vote, was an excellent partner for Whaley. He was full of common sense, gentle feelings, just principles and wry humor. He kept the family informed in all aspects of life in San Diego. He described an earthquake of May 27, 1862: “I’ve not much of any news, with the exception that on the 27th, at a few minutes past 11 o’clock we had two shocks of an earthquake within two or three minutes of each other. The second most severe. Many houses in town become cracked. I enclose a picture of your house, showing the cracks, but it looks worse on paper than it is. In fact the cracks are only discovered on inspection. But in order to crack many solid brick, I think in many places where there are cracks, the walls must have opened up considerable. I was in the yard at the time & the noise of the vibration of the windows & doors could have been heard at the graveyard. It was Awful! For days afterward it could be seen where the earth had opened and closed, leaving the marks of long rents. It cracked the Tower of the Lighthouse so as to injure it considerable. It rained nearly all of the 12th & 13th inst. & the sun having cracked the roof, it leaked in 2, 3 or 4 places, but on yesterday I fixed it up., using the ball of tar, and you had better send me another small barrel to fix it before the rains set in … But speaking of earthquakes … from the 27th ultimo, the earth has not been at rest, nearly every 24 hours bring forth little earthquakes … on yesterday two. As for myself, for more than ten days I slept in the corral … Others imitated me in the Town … I need a Ivory or bone paper folder … and six of them small boxes of water closet paper. That paper is a great institution. It is not all imagination as you suppose … While I have been writing this letter, quite a smart shock took place, Frank Stone, writing at the other table, jumps up & says ‘My stars Alive! — There is another!’ … Don’t forget the Statutes, so soon as bound — With respects to your family I remain &c A. S. Ensworth.”



When the family returned from San Francisco, Whaley began to remodel the house completely. Repairs were needed to the front, and the interior required remodeling to accommodate the five children. Lillian Whaley’s earliest recollections were of the steamer trip on the Orizaba to San Diego, and the Captain lifting her over the side of the ship. The family were driven behind two horses in an open vehicle, over a dirt road bordered on both sides by high brush; there were no buildings between the landing place and Old Town.

“We were taken to that big room, afterwards used as the court room,” she said. “My father was altering the other part of the house at the time. My next recollection is of being awakened by Father Ubach’s ringing the Angelus at six o’clock in the morning. Father was putting in a lath and plaster partition making a hallway through the center of the house. The whole front was open. The arch which stands between the parlors was in place. It is said that Yankee Jim, who had been arrested for stealing a boat, was hanged over the spot. The rooms were furnished with damask drapes (rose) and ingrain Body Brussels carpet figured also in rose. Material for the drapes had belonged to Grandma Whaley. Looked warm and comfortable and inviting. The parlors were the reception rooms for all the balls we had here, the dancing being in the big room. To reach it we had to go to the door in the back parlor (study) which led into the hall (the front parlor had none) then through the hall to the front porch and so on into the ball room. All Old Town attended these balls. The stairs led up the back. The present kitchen was then the dining room. The kitchen was a lean-to built on the back porch and connected with the dining room through the window. A Pantry separated the dining room from a large front room which we called the office. just why I do not know. [The same room was used as the headquarters for General Thomas Sedgewick during the railroad development.] This room has been used for many purposes; sewing room, etc.

“The large room to the north, called the big room by the family, the annex by others, has been used for a number of purposes. It was the County court room in 1869-70, the county records being kept upstairs in the main building. The furniture consisted of a circular railing almost the width of the room, back of which was the chair of the judge on a raised platform. A canopy hung at the back of the chair on the wall. The furniture consisted of chairs and benches. Thomas H. Bush was one of the first judges. I remember seeing the jury locked up in the room after a trial. Political meetings were held here. Later it was used as a court room by Edward H. Burr and Francis Whaley. It also has been used as a billiard room, dairy, kindergarten, Sunday school, store, and residence.”

On Nov. 1, 1868, Thomas Whaley leased the second floor of his house and the use of the corral to Thomas W. Tanner for $20 gold coin, allowing him to take down in the second story twelve feet of studding, commencing at the east brick wall of the house, for the purpose of making an exhibition room, and a portion of the east end railing of the balcony for the purpose of erecting stairs thereto, for theatrical productions.

Following the Tanner troupe’s occupancy of the house, Whaley inserted an ad: “To Capitalists: My house for sale.” During this period the Board of Trustees met in the court room.

On August 12, 1869, the county leased the building for a court room for two years, at $65.00 per month. The lease permitted the county the use of the big room, and of the three upstairs rooms for the storage of the county records. The accommodations were the best possible solution to the problems of the evicted county officers. Whaley had put up a dias and railing at the north end of the room. Here the judge used to sit while he held court.

Population conditions at this time were pointing more and more toward definite political rivalry between Old and New Town. Throughout 1869, Old Towners expressed bitter antagonism toward their rivals to the south, the general feeling being that the settlement would soon come to grief, and be abandoned, as was the fate of the settlement in 1850. As New Town became more outspoken in demanding the removal of county offices and records to a central location, definite party politics developed, and the fight became one of Republicans vs. Democrats, as well as Old vs. New. Many of the residents came originally from the South, and were Democrats. However, Alonzo Horton, founder of New San Diego, was a staunch Republican, and an aggressive promoter. New Town residents, realizing the changes they wished could best be reached by a change in the local politics, decided to put some Republicans friendly to their interests into county offices, especially the Board of Supervisors. In the election of 1869 the Republican platform was based upon the removal of county offices, records, and business from Old Town to New Town. Old Town displayed much energy in the campaign. Surprising was the victory of the two Republican candidates, Dr. E. D. French and G. W. B. McDonald. The new Democratic supervisor, J. C. Riley, joined the Republicans, making a majority over Thomas P. Slade an John Forster. A young resident of Old Town wrote to the editor of the Union saying there were more important things to the county, than a costly, convenient and complete courthouse. He urged that plans be delayed until some improvement was made in roads, harbor and jail. He suggested fireproof safes for the records. The Bulletin, rival of the Union, answered by denying that the accommodations were ample. Horton then offered to donate Block 212 (in New Town) for court house purposes, and offered his brick hall at Sixth and F Streets, for the records. Thomas Whaley then offered to sell to the county the building then in use, and to let them build a jail on his adjacent land. The board took no action.

The struggle began in earnest when the “South” San Diegans presented a petition for removal of the records. The decision to accede caused excitement and disagreement. The second story of Horton Hall at Sixth and G was set aside, and the county also procured two rooms above Wells Fargo & Co. Express office at Sixth and G for the safe keeping of the records of county, the courts and the supervisors. Also it was declared that after Aug. 1, “All Courts must be held in said Court House.” The matter, however, was by no means settled.


One of the main leaders of the Old Town party was County Judge Thomas A. Bush, a colorful figure who is said to have adjourned court occasionally to partake of refreshment at the local saloons. Sheriff James McCoy, Supervisor Slade, and County Clerk George Pendleton made up the team. The feeling was intense, and the Union played up the events with a great flourish. judge Murray Morrison had issued another order “directing the seizure by Sheriff McCoy of Old Town of the Whaley building.” In August the Supervisors made arrangements to have the courtroom furniture moved out to Horton Hall, but judge Bush and Sheriff McCoy blocked the order.

“Judge Bush has issued another order,” the Union said, “the Sheriff has called out a posse and the deuce is generally to pay.” Supervisors tried to meet at Horton Hall, but as George Pendleton was conveniently absent, the Board could not act legally. The Old Towners followed this up by serving a summons on three Supervisors, the ones who had voted for removal, claiming they had failed in their duties to sit as a Board of Equalization. Judge Morrison’s immediate decree, ordering the removal of the three supervisors plus the cost of damages caused the Supervisors to appeal the judgment to the California Supreme Court. Accepting for the moment the humiliation of defeat, the Supervisors repaired to their old place of meeting, where they sat as a Board of Equalization and prepared the county for the collection of its taxes. Judge Morrison’s action was the to of a mass meeting at Horton’s Hall late in August. In a “loudly applauded” address Col. C. A. Jones discussed the unfair proceedings. ?he decision was that the removal action be ratified and approved; the Supervisors be supported in their court defense, and that S. S. Culverwell, G. D. Carleton, and L. N. English were endorsed for appointments to the vacancies.

The terms of the law provided for the fillings of the vacancies by a special election called by the County Clerk; the Union, on Sept. 22, 1870, suggested that the Clerk was afraid to call the election. Judge Bush, taking advantage of the confused situation, invoked a section of an old revenue act which would give him the right to appoint supervisors to fill the vacant posts. On Sept. 1 he appointed Charles Thomas, William Flynn and J. S. Mannassee, and they were sworn in that same day. Both newspapers immediately voiced disapproval. On Sept. 5 the Board of Supervisors was ordered by judge Morrison to pay the fees of the attorneys appointed by him to defend the county. These bills, $400, were allowed. The Union protested saying that if judge Morrison could order this bill to be paid, he could order the Board to pay the bills for any amount, and bankrupt the County at his pleasure.

The battle raged through the courts in late 1870 and early 1871. Carrying on its functions in the face of a general clamor for election of temporary supervisors, the Bush-appointed Board, dominated by partisans of the Old Town arty, continued to meet in the Whaley house until the settlement of the case by the Supreme Court, in January, 1871. Thomas Whaley then again offered to sell the buildings in use by the county, and also proposed that the land occupied by the buildings might be used for the site of the county jail. Both petitions were laid over for further consideration. At the January session of the “Bush Board,” one of its members, J. S. Manassee, gave notice that a certain structure known as “the jail” be removed from his land. A few days later he offered another lot for a court house and jail; the offer was first accepted but the land had an imperfect title, and acceptance was withdrawn. The board made a temporary arrangement for the County jail by taking a six months’ lease from E. W. Morse on the “Fitch House,” paying $12 a month. Meanwhile, plans were under way in New Town for the erection of a court house building.

The resolution of the “Bush Board” to fix the county seat and offices at Old Town was a bold one, but it was not reached soon enough. Within two weeks, the supreme court blocked the action by ousting the three appointees of judge Bush, and reinstating Supervisors French, Riley and McDonald. Early in March one of the most active and effective of the Old Town faction, County Clerk George Pendleton, died. Chalmers Scott’s appointment as his successor alarmed the Old Towners; he was an active advocate of the removal.

With threats and complaints the Old Town party publicly announced that any attempts to remove the records would be forcibly resisted by firearms. judge Bush summoned a posse to aid Sheriff McCoy, a cannon was planted and a guard mounted in front of the jail. The Union put it that Old Town had seceded, and “Lieut General Bush,” in command of the artillery, threw up earthworks in front of the jail and placed the field piece in position “… and now the immortal Bush seated astride the Plaza cannon, his soul glowing with heroic emotion, exclaims: ‘This rock shall fly from its firm base as soon as I!!!’ ” Notwithstanding this “last ditch stand,” County Clerk Scott lost no time. On March 31, in the evening, he and his friends took a couple of express wagons over to the Whaley House, loaded the records in, and carted them over to Sixth and G Streets, where they were stored on the second floor of the Wells Fargo building,. The die was cast; the records and archives of San Diego County had passed quietly but effectively from the oldest city in California to its lusty young neighbor.


One person who was not pleased with the outcome of the affair was Thomas Whaley. He had been notified by the Supervisors that they would no longer be responsible for the rent on his building after it was vacated. Indignant, he wrote a series of letters to the board demanding rent and repairs on the building, pointing out that the lease between them had not expired, and the county was responsible for the rent until that date. He asked them to review the action. The board paid scant attention to the pleas of Whaley; the matter dragged on with consultations and the tabling of the letters. His demands had little or no effect. The matter of the lease of the Old Court House was indefinitely postponed. The controversy signified the end of Old Town dominance over San Diego political affairs; it was no longer the county seat, and its glory had departed.

Thomas Whaley and his business partner, Philip Crosthwaite, moved to New Town, feeling it would be the city of the future. Their enterprise did not prosper. Whaley was called back to New York to settle his father’s estate, and did not return to San Diego until 1879. He went into the real estate business with E. W. Morse and C. P. Noell, and later with R. H. Dalton. The firm erected the Morse-Whaley-Dalton building, which stood on Fifth Street between D (Broadway) and E; the site is now occupied by Long’s Drug Store. Whaley continued with the firm until his retirement in 1888. He served as City Clerk, and as a Notary Public for the County for several years; he passed away Dec. 14, 1890.

The tired old house, many-hued in ruin, stood through the years, slowly rotting, farther from the changing river bed than in its youth. Now it was deserted, its records mostly forgotten, but it spoke of a distinctive people, uniquely classical architecture, and a way of life of a century ago. Even in ruin it was beautiful.

Admirers of the house borrowed money, and saved it from destruction by a hair’s breadth. Its devoted sponsors then went about the heartbreaking task of trying to raise funds to restore and preserve it as a living memento of San Diego’s lusty youth.

In 1956 the Board of Supervisors of the County of San Diego agreed to purchase and restore it to its original condition. just as Thomas Whaley had said a century ago, “My new house, when completed, will be the handsomest, most comfortable and convenient place in town or within 150 miles of here.” We think you will agree when you see it.