The letter reproduced as the above heading was recently received in the library of the San Diego History Center, the gift of Mrs. Richard M. Cantwell, daughter of Francis Mortimer Burnham, one-time San Diegan. The letter written from Germany, at a time when San Diego was in a boom-period, asks about business possibilities. The letter reflects the extent to which writers of the period had been able to advertise the potential of San Diego.
Francis Mortimer Burnham (commonly he was registered and known as Frank Burnham) was born in Australia in 1863. His father was from Rome, New York. Frank settled in Elk, Mendocino County four years later. Attracted by San Diego’s boom he came to the city to work for Levi and Wertheimer, and then for M. A. Wertheimer and Company.
He moved to San Francisco and become a bookkeeper for M. J. Murray and Company. Next he was a member of the firm of Porter Burnham and then the F. M. Burnham Company. His daughter Mrs. Cantwell was secretary and treasurer of these firms for about five years. Mr. Burnham had married Jessie Purent Brown in Oakland in 1892.
Frank Burnham passed away in Marin County, California at his daughter’s home in the fall of 1942.
While in San Diego Mr. Burnham was a member of the Volunteer Fire Department, and according to his daughter so loved San Diego that he never missed an opportunity to tell others of the area. In 1887, he received the letter from Adolph Wintzer. Was the contact a result of a business connection? Had Wintzer been to California, perhaps to Mendocino County at an early date? Nothing is known of Jacob Wintzer. Did he ever reach California — did Burnham ever answer his letter? These are questions to which we may never know the answer.
History is full of such enigmas — interesting, but sometimes unsolvable. We offer this as an example of some of the detective work in history. The data provided with this sketch came from city directories, or from bits of newspaper information gathered here and there. Do any of our readers know of Mr. Burnham, or have any information which might give some clues to this story created when his daughter sent the letter to the San Diego Chamber of Commerce in 1964?