The Journal of San Diego History
January 1965, Volume 11, Number 1
Ray Brandes, Editor

Daniel Cleveland

Daniel Cleveland

As recently as 1941, a group of San Diegans gathered together every March 21 to honor one of the city’s outstanding civic and cultural developers — Daniel Cleveland. “Just a nod in memory . . . in these days of hurry and tension . . . ” wrote a friend, “of one whose quiet dignity, honesty and fearlessness brought him, not money but the joy of being identified with the most prominent civic improvements since 1869.”

Cleveland was justly proud of his family heritage. His father, Stephen Cleveland was a prominent New York lawyer, and his great-grandfather James Huntington had been a volunteer in the Lexington alarm in 1775, and a soldier in General Putnam’s regiment at Bunker Hill in that same year. Daniel Cleveland could show that every family represented in his lineage had come to America before 1640.

Daniel was born at Poughkeepsie, New York, on March 21, 1838, where he lived until he was twelve years of age. He then went to Biloxi, Mississippi to attend school. At the age of seventeen he moved to New Orleans where for two years he was head bookkeeper in a commercial establishment. In 1857 he returned to Poughkeepsie where he worked for the firm of Tallman and Paine and began to study law. He was admitted to the bar by the Supreme Court of New York in 1859.

An older brother, William H. Cleveland, also a lawyer, had moved to San Antonio, Texas, sometime earlier. In May of 1859, Daniel joined him in his practice there. Here the two men remained throughout the American Civil War. The Cleveland brothers had sworn allegiance to the Union but neither was physically fit to perform military duty. Daniel had been examined by a Board of Examining surgeons in August 1862, but was ruled physically unfit due to a deformity of the foot. On October 4, 1865, Daniel was recognized as a leading force in the community and was commissioned mayor of the city by A. J. Hamilton, Provisional Governor of Texas.1

San Antonio, then under martial law, found itself with a bankrupt treasury. In a brief ten months, Daniel Cleveland installed civil authority and took steps for a number of municipal improvements, when he left office, he had freed the city from debt. In October 1865, he and several others established and began publication of the San Antonio Express, a Republican newspaper, and Cleveland served as editor for six months. His brother William moved to San Diego to practice law. Daniel left San Antonio in October of 1866 for New York, to recuperate from an illness.

Daniel moved to San Francisco in November 1867, but in May of 1869 came to San Diego when he heard that his brother was seriously ill. The younger Cleveland wrote, “There is a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will.” And so he left the Golden Gate on the steamshipOrizaba captained by H. J. Johnson. On board he met again Alonzo E. Horton whom he had known in San Francisco, Joseph Nash, and the Reverend Charles Russell Clark, a teacher, and his family. All were bound for San Diego,

Cleveland wrote that Horton had been on a land-selling campaign in northern California, but that he had also purchased some 2,000 books from A. L. Bancroft-books intended to form the nucleus of a library for Horton’s Addition. Nash had been at the bay city purchasing stock for his general merchandise store. Clark, pale and emaciated, had been a tubercular victim and had come to San Diego to regain his health-all in vain. On May 25, 1869, the Orizaba entered the harbor and cast anchor at the foot of F (Federal) Street, and Daniel hurried to Old San Diego three miles away to search for his brother.

Once in San Diego, Cleveland plunged into his profession with vigor, and likewise involved himself in local cultural and civic affairs. He heartily enjoyed being in the public eye, as is evidenced by the enjoyment he felt when he recalled being the orator of the day at the first public celebration of Independence Day in Old San Diego in 1869. In December he, Alonzo Horton, and others, formed the Horton Library Association, later reorganized with Cleveland as director and treasurer; but the New Town was still too young to be ready for such an association, and it accomplished little. The group, however, did keep the idea alive until May 1882, when the first board of trustees of the San Diego Free Public Library was organized.

In June of 1870, Daniel, his brother William, Joseph Nash, Horton, and several others, organized and opened the doors of the Bank of San Diego, which continued until 1878 when the Bank merged with the Commercial Bank of San Diego to be called the Consolidated Bank of San Diego.

Despite these activities, Cleveland kept busy with his law practice. For a number of years the Arguello family had laid claim to certain lands in the Otay and Tijuana valleys—on unoccupied and unclaimed lands. A number of families moved into the area providing the basis for a controversy in the United States Land Office in 1870. Cleveland represented the settlers and claimants and helped to win the suit for them over the Arguello claim. In the next year certain individuals attempted to acquire lands including acreage within the Pueblo Lands of San Diego. These men had even included in their plan acreage set aside for a city park. Allegedly, a number of councilmen would be benefitted by the scheme to put up for public auction the lands quickly and secretly.

Rapidly a citizens committee on which Daniel Cleveland served was organized and petitions sent out to practically every person in the city. Pressures thus placed on the Legislature defeated the measure, and preserved Balboa Park and other public lands to the city.

Among those papers turned over to the San Diego History Center in 1930 by the Daniel Cleveland estate are those related to the San Diego and Gila Southern Pacific and Atlantic Railroad Company, and of the Los Angeles and San Diego Railroad Company. Cleveland was a director of both lines during the years 1871-1873. In 1872 the San Diego and Gila Company sold its franchise and property to the Texas and Pacific Railroad Company, and the Los Angeles and San Diego Company ceased to operate—which permitted the charter to lapse when the promised grant of Pueblo lands from the City of San Diego failed to materialize. Cleveland bad also served as attorney for the Texas and Pacific Railroad when it was involved in litigation with the City during the period 1876-1880.

In late 1872, William Cleveland resigned his Secretaryship of the San Diego and Gila Southern Pacific and Atlantic Railroad Company, and went to New Hampshire where he died in 1873. By January of 1874, Daniel had been appointed Executor of the Will of his brother and advertised the sale of lands in “Cleveland’s Addition” in San Diego. His brother had been his reason for moving to San Diego, but Daniel had come to think of San Diego as his home. With William now gone, he determined to stay and work for a city in which he had great faith. The brothers had invested heavily in real estate in the Cleveland Addition, a considerable tract of water-front property, a large tract on the mesa, and in property in different parts of the city. There was too much for him to leave.

Front page of Official Organ of the San Diego Society of Natural History

Front page of Official Organ of the San Diego Society of Natural History. Copy in Serra Museum — from the Ephraim Morse Collection


In August 1874, he and a group of men moved to incorporate the San Diego Society of Natural History. The organization owned a valuable piece of property and rapidly began to gather materials of a scientific nature for display. Cleveland served as President for some years, making large donations for its betterment. In a move to build the community, in January 1889 he, the Reverend Henry B. Restarick, and others incorporated the Hospital of the Good Samaritan. Cleveland served as the second president, holding that position until 1890. The institution cared for many patients, most of them charitable cases, at a time when San Diego had no other hospital.

At the same time, in January 1889, George White Marston, Marcus Schiller, Mary C. Morse, Cleveland, and others, incorporated the Associated Charities of San Diego, anticipating a need for such a charitable organization but a few scant years before it was sorely needed. And so Daniel Cleveland became more in demand because of his vision and professional training to help organize and serve the community. In 1892 he drew up articles of incorporation for a women’s club in San Diego, and was an advisor for the San Diego Club. He helped to establish the chapter of the Southern California Society of the Sons of the American Revolution in 1894.

In May 1895 with Dr. George E. Abbott, house surgeon at the Hotel Del Coronado, they formed the Coronado Beach Summer School on the peninsula—perhaps the first summer school established in Southern California. And late in that same year he helped to reorganize the University Extension Society of San Diego, serving as president.

Like George White Marston, Cleveland wanted the City of San Diego to be a community for the people, and insisted on a close watch over those in political control. These two men, and others, formed a Civic Federation in 1894, which operated through 1895, but with little success since the City Council had rejected most of their recommendations. Daniel Cleveland associated himself with or helped to organize a society meant to encourage art in all its branches, an organization called “friends of the children” to help secure public playgrounds, a “Society for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis”, the local Y. M. C. A., and the San Diego Pioneer Society. In addition he served some eight years on the City Board of Education.

A deeply religious person, Cleveland had wasted no time after his arrival in 1869 by serving with the Episcopal Church in many capacities. It is noted that he helped aid in the establishment of most every parish and mission of the Episcopal Church in the County. Particularly had he been close to the Christ Church Parish in Coronado, and had drawn up almost all the papers involving lands, including those he had conveyed to the Church. He held a license to officiate as a lay reader and held some services in Coronado, San Diego, and La Jolla. His Offices within the church are too numerous to mention, and it need only be noted that few have served in so dedicated a manner.

For some five years before the Society of Natural History was formed in 1874, Cleveland had moved towards establishing some rapport among the townspeople who held an interest in scientific matters. He had quickly realized that the region was rich in flora and fauna. To stimulate local interest he began corresponding with Dr. Asa Gray of Harvard University, after having collected plants to send to the Professor. For some 20 years they maintained a close relationship. Cleveland provided some new species, one of which was given his name; in addition he forwarded to Stanford University a new genus of fishes given the name Clevelandia. During his lifetime he corresponded with many American and European scientists and made large donations of botanical material. Many of the original specimens obtained by the San Diego Society of Natural History were his gifts.

Dedicated to community service, Daniel Cleveland had found little time for marriage; but on July 22, 1921, at Christ Church, Coronado, he married the widow Mrs. Marion South Webb. They moved into a home at 1718 Logan Avenue. Shortly he was prevailed upon to draw upon his remarkable memory and his meticulous records and write for the San Diego Union a series of articles based upon his early years in the area. In his reminiscences he vividly recalled life in Old San Diego with a feeling of nostalgia.

On January 3, 1929, Daniel Cleveland passed away at his home on Logan Avenue, just short of his 91st birthday. He had come to help his brother, and closed a long career of great benefit to a community. He had thrown himself into every movement which he felt would better his city: moral, social, financial, religious, humanitarian, educational, political, and scientific. He had helped to found banks, railroads, hospitals, schools, libraries, playgrounds, and clubs, None could have asked for a fuller lifetime. Yet he applied himself to the words of Rabbi Ben Ezra: (Robert Browning)

“What I aspired to be and was not comforts me.”


1. In the Daniel Cleveland collection in the Serra Museum library of the San Diego History Center is the original commission, an Oath of Allegiance to the United States, and an Oath of Amnesty.


Anonymous. “Daniel Cleveland: Some of His Activities at San Diego,” Unpublished manuscript, March 1918, 11pp.

Cleveland, Daniel. Collection in the Serra Museum Library of the San Diego History Center.

Cleveland, William H. Collection in the Serra Museum Library of the San Diego History Center.

Fish, Beatrice L. Letter to Mrs. Winifred Davidson, June 11, 1935, in the Serra Museum Library of the San Diego History Center. Mrs. Fish was the god-daughter of Daniel Cleveland, Morse, Ephriam W. Letterbooks 2-12, 1871-1884, in the Serra Museum of the San Diego

Historical Society, McGrew, Clarence Alan. City of San Diego and San Diego County: The Birthplace of California, vol. Il, pp. 172-179. The American Historical Society: Chicago and New York, 1922.

San Diego Gila and Southern Pacific and Atlantic Railway Collection in the Serra Museum Library of the San Diego History Center (1854-1890).

San Diego Daily World, Feb. 15,1874.

San Diego Union, Nov. 29, 30, 1925, May 25, 1930, May 21, 1941.

Smythe, William E. History of San Diego 1542-1908 2 vols., pp. 18, 542, 544, 611. San Diego: The History Company, 1908.

Texas and Pacific Railway Collection in the Serra Museum Library of the San Diego History Center (1879-1890).

Van Dyke, Theodore Strong. The City and County of San Diego Illustrated and Containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Pioneers San Diego: Leberthan & Taylor, 1888, pp. 139-142.

Withington, Constance Restarick. Letter to Mrs. Violet Beck, May 7, 1964 indicating she was also a god-daughter of Daniel Cleveland.