On December 20, 1968, an article by Joe Stone in the San Diego Union alerted San Diegans to the fact that the oldest building in New Town, still on its original site, was about to be demolished to make room for a parking lot. This was the so-called New San Diego Hotel, at the northeast corner of State and F, one of the pre-cut houses brought around the Horn from Maine in 1850 on the brig Cybell. William Heath Davis, founder of the ill-fated New Town, had purchased the entire shipment to be used in building an “instant” city on the bay at San Diego. By 1853 Davis’ New Town venture had collapsed, and most of the buildings were moved to Old Town or torn down for firewood.
In 1867 Alonzo E. Horton purchased 960 acres adjoining Davis’ New Town Addition, and laid out Horton’s Addition, thus re-establishing New San Diego. Horton is quoted, in a Union interview, April 28, 1907, as saying:
“I found here nothing but a barren waste, with but four straggling buildings, owned by W. Davis, who was the first man to realize the stupendous possibilities of the harbor . . . I bought the few buildings from Mr. Davis and turned one of them. into a hotel, the first hotel in San Diego, and placed Captain Dunnells in charge.”
This was the building at State and F, known as the New San Diego Hotel. Upon learning of the historical significance of this 118 year old house, the owner offered to give it to the city, to be moved to another location. Although a valiant effort to save the historic old building was made by a few interested persons, their efforts proved too little and too late. The city did not want to spend the money to move it?to where?
The loss of the New San Diego Hotel called attention to the only other remaining Davis house, the one that was moved to 227 Eleventh Street, between K and L, on Lot D, Block 133, Horton’s Addition. The so-called New San Diego Hotel had been remodeled greatly, inside and out, but this other Davis house is in almost “mint” condition, the only changes from its original appearance being the addition at the back of a kitchen and bathroom, and the removal of a porch, shown in early photographs as extending across the front of the house. An amazing fact about this house is that to this day it has no electricity, only gas for lighting and cooking. Furthermore, this house is as significant historically as was the New San Diego Hotel.
William E. Smythe, whose history of San Diego, published in 1908, became the “bible” for all future local historians, tells of this house (page 318):
“The first house was built by Mr. Davis, one of the frame houses sent on the Cybell. It was on State Street, between G and H. About 1855 this house was purchased by Capt. Knowles and removed to its present location on 11th Street, between K and L.”
Smythe’s statement has frequently been quoted by subsequent historians. However, more recent research indicates that Smythe was wrong in his facts, probably acquired from information furnished by old timers who repeated to him stories they had heard about the house.
In the first place, it is not reasonable to believe the house was moved in 1855. By that year, Davis’ New Town had become a ghost town. True, houses were being moved, but to Old Town, not further east into the sagebrush. Furthermore, in 1855 the land to which it was moved was Pueblo land belonging to the city. No streets or blocks had been laid out. It is inconceivable that someone, a “squatter” because he did not own the land, could have moved the building in 1855 so that it would end up properly situated on a lot that was not laid out until 1867.
Recently, Title Insurance and Trust Company has acquired some early panoramic views of San Diego. One is believed to have been taken around 1870 and another in 1873. Larry Booth, in charge of the title company’s Historical Photographic Collection and an authority on identification of old photographs, has long been convinced of the importance of photographic evidence in establishing the site of buildings. He, together with Wayne Fabert and Rurik Kallis, both local historians and knowledgeable about photography, have carefully examined these photographs, and each is convinced that the Davis house was not on Eleventh Street in 1870, but that it shows clearly in the 1873 photo.
It was first thought that Horton must have moved the house to its present location. He was the first individual owner of the land, having acquired it from the city in 1867 as a part of the tract which became Horton’s Addition. It was Horton who had it subdivided into blocks, lots and streets. Furthermore, in the same interview with the San Diego Union reporter, on April 28, 1907, Horton was quoted as saying:
“The location of my own homes has always been an indication of the steady progress of the city. I first lived in the house which I bought from Davis, and it stood near the present site of the Cuyamaca Depot at the foot of 10th Street.”
The Cuyamaca Depot, at the foot of 10th, would have been about three blocks from the house at 227 Eleventh Street. Since Norton had stated he bought the few remaining buildings from Davis, he could have moved one of them onto his own land to occupy as his home. However, Horton sold Lot D, Block 133, Horton’s Addition, on April 5, 1869, to Samuel F. McKean, Jr., for $100.00. This price would not seem to include a building. With the photographic evidence that there was no building on the site until after 1870, this would eliminate Norton as the one who moved the house.
Samuel F. McKean, Jr., kept the lot for almost three years, selling it on December 9, 1872, to Margaret Mountain, for $350.00. Prices had gone up by that time, the Tom Scott railroad boom was in progress, and so this seems a fair price for the lot, but still does not indicate a building was on the land. Margaret Mountain, and her husband, John, sold the property a few months later, on June 27, 1873, to Mrs. Anna Scheper, for $1500.00. Now, it would seem, there was a building on the land. This would also support the photographic evidence that the house was there in 1873.
Samuel F. Black, in his San Diego County, California, Vol. 1, page 219, (1913) wrote
“After the county offices were removed to New San Diego, one of the old houses built by William Heath Davis was purchased by Capt. Knowles and removed to 11th Street in Horton’s Addition, and was later used as a hospital. It is still standing, and is now occupied as a residence.”
According to Black, the building was not moved until after the county offices were removed to New San Diego, which was in 1871, thus contradicting Smythe’s statement that it was moved in 1855, and further confirming the photographic evidence. He did repeat Smythe’s statement that it was Capt. Knowles who moved the building, and further stated that it had later been used as a hospital. The rumor, repeated by others, that the Davis house on Eleventh Street had once been a hospital, has now been confirmed as a fact.
Leland Stanford, in his excellent article, “San Diego’s Medico-Legal History 18501900,” in the Spring, 1970, issue of the Journal of San Diego History, disclosed the Minutes of the Board of Supervisors on July 8, 1873, which read as follows:
“Tuesday, July 8th, 1873, 10 o’clock A.M.
Board met pursuant to adjournment Present Supervisors J. R. Divilbiss, L. L. Howland, J. Tasker and A. Cassidy
In the Matter of the County Hospital On motion it is ordered that the County Hospital be removed from the Emmet Home to the home of Mrs. Anna Scheper on 11th Street and that Mrs. Anna Scheper be employed to take charge of and board the sick in hospital at the rate of one dollar per day each; And that Dr. T. C. Stockton, County Physician, is hereby authorized to receive from Mrs. A. Dentler the property of the County Hospital and attend to the immediate removal of the same.”
Mrs. Anna Scheper had acquired the property at 227 Eleventh Street on June 27, only a few days before she was directed by the Board of Supervisors to take charge and board the sick in hospital at the rate of $1.00 per day each.
The original Abstract of Title of Lot D, Block 133, Horton’s Addition, now in the Library of the San Diego History Center, a gift from the present owner, George Deyo, discloses that on November 17, 1875, Mrs. Anna Scheper, the then owner of the property, married Amos P. Knowles. Thus, the name Knowles does enter into the history of the house, but in 1875, not 1855 as stated by Smythe. Capt. Amos Pendleton Knowles, before his marriage to Mrs. Scheper, was a rancher in the Sweetwater Valley, and a widower. In 1879 he was listed as a Director of the Bank of San Diego. He must have been a well known person in the community. But Knowles never owned the property, it belonged to his wife, and he could not have moved the house in 1875 to its present location because it was already there.
From the Stanford article, it appears that during the years 1872 to 1882 the “County Hospital” was in houses of various private persons possessing contracts to board and care for the indigent sick. At this time it is not known for how long Mrs. Scheper (later Mrs. Amos P. Knowles) continued to board the sick under contract with the Board of Supervisors. But in 1881, according to Dr. Fenn’s report, the Franklin house on K Street was being temporarily devoted to hospital use. (This should not be confused with the Franklin house, a hotel, at Eighth and K. Mr. Deyo says the Franklin home was at Seventh and K.)
Mrs. Anna Scheper Knowles sold the property to Mary T. Jones and James P. Jones on February 1, 1881. It is therefore possible that the house was used as a hospital from July, 1873 until early in 1881. That would have been a long enough time for it to become known as a hospital to residents of San Diego, and for the name Knowles to become associated with the house.
This can also explain why Dr. P. C. Remondino, later County Physician, acted as a witness at the marriage of Mrs. Scheper to Knowles, and why Samuel Slade (fatherin-law of Dr. T. C. Stockton), and J. A. P. Vauclain later owned or had a financial interest in the house, as disclosed by the Abstract of Title. Vauclain was a victim of tuberculosis, and may have been a patient there. When he died, he left his small estate to the City of San Diego, and the money was used to start the Vauclain Home for treatment of tuberculosis patients.
From the evidence so far, it can be concluded that the house was moved in 1873 by John and Margaret Mountain, but it still must be determined where it stood originally. Smythe said it was on State Street, between G and H (Market).
Important new information about this has now come to light. Ed Scott, local artist and historian, who has been doing extensive research on Davis’ New Town, a subject that has been sadly neglected in the past, came across a deed, dated January 27, 1868, in which Charles H. DeWolf and Eliza A. H. DeWolf sold to Sarah W. Horton (wife of Alonzo E. Horton) “an undivided half” of Lot “F” in block “supposed to be numbered seven hundred and eighty” in New San Diego. 1 This would be the lot at the northeast corner of State and H (Market). The deed goes on to read:
“being the same lot upon which a two story frame building erected by William H. Davis of Alameda County, State of California, is situated, and which building and premises were formerly occupied by the Officers of the U.S. Army stationed at San Diego.”
It is unusual for a deed to describe the improvement on a lot, especially in such detail as was done here. The explanation may be that there was some uncertainty as to the correct legal description of the lot. 2 The DeWolfs had acquired this property from William Heath Davis on July 6, 1867, the consideration in the deed being $625.00. 3 They sold the one-half interest to Sarah W. Horton for $312.50, exactly one-half of their cost. Since title was taken in his wife’s name, it seems likely that Norton bought the house intending it for their home.
Horton, in 1867, had spent much of his time in San Francisco promoting the sale of his New San Diego property, but by early 1868 he was ready to move down and make his home in San Diego. In recently discovered correspondence between Horton, in San Francisco, and E. W. Morse, in San Diego, Horton wrote to Morse on August 26, 1867, saying: “DeWolf has not sold yet, think he will this week.” And on December 5, Norton wrote: “I shall move down the first of January. If DeWolf had not been disappointed he would have gone down on this trip. My wife would have gone down with his family. We shall go next month whether DeWolf goes or not.” 4
It can be assumed from this that DeWolf had reached Davis first and bought the house before Horton had the chance, so then Horton had to deal with DeWolf who was not anxious to sell, and it was not until January that DeWolf agreed to sell the Hortons a one-half interest. It is possible that the Hortons and DeWolfs intended to occupy the house together. It should be remembered there were only four buildings in New Town, according to Horton. There would have to be some doubling up until new houses could be built, and this was a large house capable of accommodating more than one family.
Less than a month after the purchase from DeWolf, Horton bought from Davis, for $350.00, the house at State and F, later sold to Capt. Dunnells and which became the New San Diego Hotel. 5 The two houses were similar in appearance, two blocks apart, and both on a northeast corner. The block between, now the site of the Federal Courthouse, had been used by the soldiers at the Barracks as a corral for their horses.
In the latter part of 1868, Horton began construction of an impressive new home for himself, on the block bounded by G, H, 9th and 10th, in Horton’s Addition. The Hortons sold their interest in the DeWolf house back to Eliza A. H. DeWolf on February 6, 1869, for “six hundred gold coin dollars,” almost twice as much as they had paid for it only a year before. The deed carried the same description of the house as in the DeWolf deed to Mrs. Horton, so the house was still there then. The date of this deed was about the time the Hortons would have moved into their new home.
As a result of this new information, the photographs were again examined, and the DeWolf house at State and H was seen in the 1870 photo. Then it was discovered that the house at State and H in 1870, and the house on Eleventh Street in 1873 appear to be identical!
If the house at State and H was the one moved to Eleventh Street, then Smythe was right in at least one respect, it was on State, between G and H. George Deyo was told by his step-parents who acquired the house in 1902 that the house had once been down near the barracks, and had been used by the soldiers. This coincides with the description of the house in the DeWolf deeds.
It was found that Eliza Hurd DeWolf sold the property at State and H on October 23, 1880, to A. Overbaugh, for $250.00, and the deed at that time described the lot as “being the same lot as that upon which Wm. H. Davis of the County of Alameda erected a two story frame house that was for a time occupied by the officers of the U.S. Army stationed in San Diego.”6 Now, the past tense was used?the house was not on the lot in 1880. Charles H. DeWolf died in December, 1869. Mrs. DeWolf, by 1873, was giving her address as San Francisco in other transfers of title. This would indicate that she may have sold the house (but not the lot) when she left San Diego in about 1873.
To pin-point even closer when the house was moved, Wayne Fabert, while indexing items from the San Diego Union, found this item in the Union for December 31, 1872:
“House moving?The DeWolf house, the pioneer building of New San Diego, is being removed from its old location to the corner of Ninth and K Streets.”
At first glance, this may appear to confuse the issue, but actually it only ties the house in closer with John and Margaret Mountain. John Mountain was proprietor of the Union House, a hotel at Eighth and K. He may have intended to move the DeWolf house next to his place of business, and then changed his mind, bought the lot on Eleventh Street, only three blocks away, and moved it there. There is no photographic evidence that a house of that description was ever at Ninth and K.
From the facts now known, we can reasonably conclude that the house was built by William Heath Davis, on the northeast corner of State and H (Market), and that it was moved from its original location to its present site in early 1873 by John and Margaret Mountain.
Returning to Horton’s statement that he first lived in a house he had bought from Davis and it stood down near the Cuyamaca Depot, it must be remembered that this interview took place in 1907 when Horton was 95 years old. He was speaking of the Davis houses as though he had bought them directly from Davis, whereas, in this case, he had bought a Davis house from DeWolf, a name he could well have wanted to forget. This was the same Charles H. DeWolf who, in 1869, brought suit against Horton and the City Trustees to set aside the sale from the city to Horton of the land which became Horton’s Addition. Horton’s title eventually was cleared, but the name DeWolf must have raised a sore point with him. Also, the reporter could have misquoted him, in that Horton may have said that the house then (in 1907) stood near the Cuyamaca Depot. Our first belief that the Davis house on Eleventh Street was once the home of Alonzo E. Horton seems to be correct, but now it is known he lived in it when it was on its original site.
The search for the facts about this house has been a slow process of putting together bits and pieces of information like a jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces are still missing. However, as more old-time San Diego families turn over their records, letters and photographs to the San Diego History Center, for researchers to delve into, who knows what other exciting information will be discovered, not only about this house, but about many other facets of New Town history!
San Diegans have only recently begun to realize that Old Town is not the only part of San Diego that is “historic.” New Town, American San Diego, also has a fascinating history.
The Davis house is now the oldest and most historic building still standing in New Town, dating from 1850. It is the only relic of San Diego’s ghost town of the 1850’s. It is a remarkably well preserved example of New England architecture, and of the pre-cut buildings made in New England and shipped around the Horn to California during the Gold Rush. It was the first home of Alonzo E. Horton, founder of San Diego as we know it today, and the only house in which he lived that still stands. It is one of the first “County Hospitals” in San Diego.
The Historical Site Board of the City of San Diego has declared the Davis house to be an Historic Building. The present owner, George Deyo, would like his home eventually to become a museum, a priceless heritage for future generations. Let us hope that plans can be made soon for the preservation of this historic building before it, too, is lost to us.
1. DeWolf to Horton, 27 Jan. 1868, recorded in Book 3, page 8, of Deeds.
2. Block 780 was according to Poole’s Map of 1856. It is also Block 27 of A. B. Gray’s 1850 Map of Davis’ New San Diego Addition.
3. Davis to DcWolf, 6 July, 1867, recorded in Book 3, page 5, of Deeds.
4. Horton-Morse letters, from the Allen H. Wright collection, recently acquired by San Diego History Center, a gift from Mrs. Helen Wright Mitchell of San Diego, and Allyn H. Wright and Allen Wright, both of New York City.
5. Davis to Horton, 19 Feb. 1868, recorded in Book 3, page 86, of Deeds.
6. DeWolf to Overbaugh, 23 Oct. 1880, recorded in Book 18, page 415, of Deeds.
Mrs. Elizabeth C. MacPhail, a native San Diegan, is an attorney and a graduate of Balboa Law College, now United States International University. She is the author of a book, The Story of New San Diego and of Its Founder Alonzo E. Horton, published in 1969, and is a member of the Research Committee of the San Diego Historical Site Board.