The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1997, Volume 43, Number 3
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Marston Family Letters from 1870s San Diego by George P. Marston and Harriett Marston

Edited by Gregg R. Hennessey

Images from the Article


Lilla Gilman Marston, the youngest child of George Phillips and Harriett Marston, was born in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, on May 5, 1855. For the next fifteen years she grew up in the secure surroundings of her increasingly prosperous family. Her parents became leading citizens in the small, relatively homogeneous town, the father in business and the mother in church affairs. Her father’s health was not good, however, and in 1869 he and his wife took the newly opened transcontinental railroad to California seeking a healthier climate for his increasingly desperate respiratory afflictions. During the initial sojourn to California they left their three children behind. George White Marston, the eldest, was in his first year at the University of Michigan. Mary White Marston was attending Rockford Academy in Illinois. Lilla was left at the family home, with a trusted servant and her daughter, to finish her secondary education.

Lilla’s parents wrote her several letters during this trip that tell us a great deal about their search for a new home. From the Fall of 1869 to the spring of 1870 the letters describe the various towns the parents visited in northern California, which, in the end, proved unsuitable for her father’s health. Following an early spring visit to the new town site in San Diego, begun by his Wisconsin acquaintance Alonzo Horton, George Phillips declared it “delightful, &….prefer it to any place I have seen yet.”1 Lilla’s parents returned to Wisconsin in April 1870 and by October her father and her brother headed west to establish a home in San Diego. The following May, Lilla’s father returned to Wisconsin to close out his affairs and bring the rest of the family to California. Lilla and her parents (sister Mary stayed another year at Rockford Academy, following her graduation, to teach music) arrived in San Diego on October 1, 1871, and moved into a modest two-story house at Eighth and C streets. Her brother George also moved in with the family.

Lilla and her mother were both homesick in their new surroundings. According to the family chronicle, “They could hardly reconcile themselves to the brown hills and dusty streets after their green Wisconsin village.”2 Mary Marston came to San Diego in 1872, liked the town immediately and became quite popular. The girls’ father purchased a new rosewood square piano from Steinway in Chicago and Mary played it while Lilla sang, making the Marston house a popular gathering place. That same year the Philharmonic Society was created in San Diego and seventeen-year-old Lilla sang at the first concert in Horton Hall. She sang often in public in San Diego including regularly at her church, friends’ homes, a Thanksgiving Concert in 1872, and Philharmonic recitals. Lilla’s parents were proud of her ability and fully supported her musical interests but, as her granddaughter recalled, they “never allowed her to attempt a career in music.”3 In 1873 Lilla went to Chicago to take up singing lessons and stayed there for over a year before returning to San Diego. She continued to sing in San Diego and taught singing at the new San Diego Academy in 1876. In 1878, more than a year after her father’s death, Lilla and her mother went east. Lilla returned to Chicago to resume her musical training and her mother had long visits with friends in Fort Atkinson and with family in New Hampshire. By 1881 the two women were back in San Diego. Lilla appeared in several local productions, the most remembered being “Patience” produced by entertainment entrepreneur Jack Dodge. In 1884 she sang in an ambitious concert given by pianist Albert Friedenthal at Horton Hall. In the mid-1880s Lilla was in Boston for more singing lessons when she met Dr. Frederick Burnham in Orford, New Hampshire, while visiting her mother’s relatives. She married Dr. Burnham and after living in St. Paul for a year they moved to San Diego. Lilla Marston Burnham died on September 1, 1945.

In 1996 Theda O. Henle of Virginia, the granddaughter of Lilla Marston Burnham donated forty-one of her grandmother’s letters to the San Diego Historical Society. Thirty of these letters were to Lilla from her parents. The letters written to her from San Diego in 1870 to 1871 and in 1873 to 1874 are the most important in the collection. They provide a rich view of the beginning years of the town. Social and political events are described along with detailed accounts of the family’s activities. The surroundings, especially the weather, were remarked on repeatedly in early letters attesting to its novelty for new residents. It also reinforces the nineteenth century connection between illness and environment. There is much discussion about a hoped for railroad connection with the east and its economic impact on the town. The letters show how events are controlled by forces in the east, putting San Diego squarely within the context of national affairs. We see also how the railroad has an immediate impact on family economic affairs and whether or not there will be sufficient money to bring the rest of the family to San Diego. The anxieties about whether the family’s plans to relocate in California are viable and the pains and worries of separation are poignantly represented here as well.

Lilla’s brother George, who would become one of the most prominent figures in San Diego history, is mentioned throughout the letters. They document his work as a clerk in the Horton House, parts of his social life, and the beginnings of his business career. There are two glimpses of earlier attitudes regarding race and class relations in the letters. Both deal with servants, one African-American and the other Chinese. In 1873 when Lilla goes off to school in Illinois her presence is greatly missed. A typical middle class Christmas season with its social and celebratory rituals as well as its religious observances are captured nicely in two letters from Lilla’s mother.

Parts of some of these letters first appeared in Mary Marston’s George White Marston: A Family Chronicle in 1956. All of the letters are available to the public at the San Diego History Center’s Research Archives in Balboa Park.


The Letters

San Diego Oct 25 1870

My Dear Lilla
. . . .

Well we are now at the “Horton House” — and are enjoying all the good things usually found at such carravanseries. It is indeed a “first class Hotel” and “mine host” our old friend Churchill, proves a first class Landlord. The House is spacious & richly furnished, indeed too much so for the present requirements of this little town, ….The bedrooms are large. Mine is on the front & south side where it receives the whole days sun, has a nice Bureau with three large drawers, Marble top, and looking glass twice the size of the one on the bureau in Mothers room, also a center table, marble top, 3 chairs, & 1 Rocking chair, is as large as mother’s chamber, beautiful carpet, two Gas burners,5 One hanging from the ceiling, & one from the side of the room close by the bureau, Marble wash place etc, so you can see I am well fixed. It has rained here two nights — & more rain has fallen, than fell all last winter. Fort people6 here all well….

Yr aff father G.P.M.


South San Diego Nov 30 70

My Dear Lilla

….I am feeling nicely, & getting stronger every day. The weather is warm & lovely just like the pleasant days of June in Wis. I rode out yesterday to Sweetwater Valley six miles from here. [T]he grass is springing up every where, the farmers are plowing & sowing, multitudes of birds are skipping over the ground some of them very sweet singers, voices almost as sweet as a little bird I know at home.

Our house is filling up with parties from the East seeking health, or escape from the frost of a northern Winter….7


So. San Diego Dec. 12. 70

My Dear Lilla
. . . .
The weather here continues superb. There has been rain enough to start the grass, and set the few farmers in the country plowing & sowing. My health continues to improve and I performed a feat last Friday that tested my strength & endurance. Genl. Sedgwick8 of the Engineer Corps, ….invited Leach & Patrick & myself to ride out with him on the line of the Rail Road, ….We had the Steward put up a basket of Lunch for us, & when we were nicely packed away in the ambulance, the driver, a gentleman from Africa, cracked his whip, & and off went the mules….At eleven o’clock we arrived at a beautiful spot, by the banks of a gurgling creek, where we alighted, & stretched our legs a little, looking over the country. In a little while, Isaac9, the aforesaid African Gent had the mules unharnessed and….eating their oats, then taking our basket from the wagon….spread the table….on a large flat rock in the middle of the stream[.] [W] e squat down around & enjoy an ample repast, with an appetite whetted by our long morn ride, the cool clear water rushing past us furnishing our drink. We had a right jolly good time. On coming home, the Gen. Mr. P. & myself left the ambulance to pass through a gorge in the mountain, which the R. R. Must pass through if ever built. The gorge10 through the mountain is a mile in length, from 40 to 60 feet wide, while the sides rise up precipitously several hundred ft. The bottom is full of large Boulders which have tumbled down, so that for a large portion we had to climb over them, making the journey no easy task for any one, yet I performed it as well as any of them, tho’ not sorry when we got through & found the wagon waiting for us. We reached home at past 5 just in time for dinner. I was not much fatigued, & next day felt bright enough for another jaunt just like it. 40 miles ride & 1 mile walk through a rough Mountain Gorge, is not a bad days work for an invalid, eh!

Yr aff father Geo. P Marston


“Horton House” South San Diego Dec 24 1870

My Dear Lilla
Our House is now pretty well filled with Eastern families, & very pleasant people they are too. Very social & jolly, tho’ principally invalids, who are here seeking better health from this delightful climate and they all seem happy & in good spirits because they appear to improve every day. On Tuesday last a party of twenty four Ladies & Gents, about half & half, including Geo. & myself, all from our house, visited a Monument marking the boundary line between U.S. & Mexico, ….Geo. & Miss Ida were the youngest, & enjoyed themselves as well as any. Ida is a pleasant girl….

We had a real good time, & yesterday nearly the same party went to the old Mission some ten miles from here, & enjoyed the ride very much. Geo. did not accompany us this time — as his time is pretty well taken up in the office….

My health is improving every day, and I feel like a new man. Geo. is also growing fat & appears contented & happy.

Yr aff father Geo. P Marston


San Diego Feb 3 1871

My Dear Lilla
George went to the Beach yesterday with a party of young people, but was not there at the proper tide to gather Moss & Sea Shells. Parties generally time their visits, so as to be there at low tide when they can explore the numerous caves made by the action of the Ocean, & find the most beautiful Shells & specimens of Moss on the beach11….

One of these days (perhaps) you may find yourself rambling along the Beach & going into raptures over the beautiful things, strewed so liberally along the Shore….

George has not time to write much.

Yr aff father GPM


San Diego Feb 25 1871

My Dear Lilla

….I am very sorry for your & Mother’s sake that Mrs Powell & Minnie12 have left you. You will miss them so much — and then I am afraid keeping house will be harder for mother….But I do hope Mother will take things easy, & not allow herself to get used up, in providing & taking care of the house….
….I join you in the hope that we may all be here in the fall — but it may not be, that is why I have always used the word “perhaps.” I dont see how we can come, unless the house can be sold, & what the prospect is for that I dont know….am tired of living alone….

We have had several stormy days, with considerable rain, a blessed thing for our farmers. We are all waiting with great anxiety to learn of the action of the Senate on the Southern Pac. R.Rd. bill. It passed the House, & is now in the Senate. It will be telegraphed soon as the Vote is taken13….

Yr aff father Geo P Marston


San Diego Apr 4 1871
My Dear Lilla
You ask if “you cant come to Cal. unless the House is sold.” Well, my dear girl, I have been trying to study out an answer to that query myself for some time past. You may rest assured I will have you all here if possible, for I am not going to be banished from your society another winter if I can help it. It is very unfortunate that property in Fort Atkinson is so dull of sale just at this moment for most of my means is in Real Estate14 and that wont pay Rail Road fares to Cal….
….Geo. is busy. The House is full of Army Officers & wives, Judges, & Lawyers, this being the month Court is held. There are always more or less number of Army Officers here, Enroute to Arizona.15

Yr aff father Geo P Marston


San Diego Apr 19 1871
My Dear Lilla
Caswell writes blue enough in regards to Fort Atkinson &…. if fortunate enough to raise money to get back, I should judge from the tenor of his & other letters recd. it would be utterly impossible to raise enough to bring me back here again — to say nothing of the rest of you16….
Geo. has made an engagement with Mess. Pauley & Sons,17 the largest merchants here, as bookkeeper, & will commence on Monday. He will board with Mr. Pauley, a fine man, living in one of the nicest places in town, & in a very pleasant family. It is the best arrangement for Geo. The situation is perhaps the best in the city, and it is quite time he was learning some business, & I hope Mother will see it in that light & be reconciled to not seeing him home this summer. And if it is among the possible things we will all be here in the Early fall….

Yr Aff father Geo P Marston


San Diego May 13 1871
My Dear Lilla

I received a letter this morning from Mrs White in which she says Mother is still unwell and complaining of her head. This troubles me very much, and I hope you do everything in your power, as I have no doubt you do, to relieve her from the perplexities of keeping house. By the time you are reading this, I expect to be on Board the good Steamer Orizaba bound for San Francisco and home, so that your answer to this letter will be “inpropriae personae”.

….I had a dear letter from Mary yesterday, giving an account of studies & preparations for the anniversary. I hope we will be together, & able to go to Rockford & be a witness of her triumph upon that occasion….18

Geo. is busy as a bee in the store & likes much. I think he has the best place in town. They do a large & varied business….

San Diego Mch 25/73
My Dear Lilla

….We are all well as usual, but feeling as if we had lost something. Indeed the house seems lonesome enough since you left, I cant tell you how much we miss our darling. Mr Quok19 has taken it in his head to be sick, & has not been here since Sunday. This gives the housework to Mother & Mary little sooner than they wanted it. Hope he will get around soon, but he may not. Mary goes to ride tomorrow with Mr. Nash, & Mr. & Mrs. Wood, I believe they go to Cajon Ranch. Fenwick20 committed suicide by taking morphine Sunday night.

I believe there is no news that can interest you since you left.

…. I advise you to keep an exact account of your expenses …. You might keep the account in this way


Received Paid out
1873 1873
Mch 23 From Father 25 Mch 23 Passage to San Fran. 18
” 30 ” C. Hitchcock 230 50 Apr 10 Expenses from S.F. to
Lake Forest
” 15 Paid University 40

Now my sweet girl good bye. Keep up good courage & dont be homesick. Try & get all the good you can from your books & School….

Yr aff father Geo P Marston

Friday May 23 73
My darling Lillie

You have received the paper from George telling of Quock’s wedding in our church I presume…. About four weeks ago a Chinaman from Los Angeles brought her [Ling Yee] here, and as he was out of money he borrowed of some Chinamen and left the girl as security! That is just as people do with horses and cattle. Quock saw this girl and he took a great fancy to her, and told me over and over how pretty she was! ….It is evidently a real love affair. Ling Yee was very unhappy and cried all of the time and wanted to get away from the Chinamen. Quock said may I bring her up to the house. Yr father said no at first, but at last he brought her up and said he wanted to marry her. She said she would kill herself if I did not let her come. Well one morning very early she and Quock came bringing a trunk and some bedding and her clothes. Just after breakfast a strange bad looking Chinaman came to the back gate and called out loud to Quock and said he did not know who had taken the girl away. Quock said “I have taken her away and I am going to marry her.” Then some of them were angry and they said they had loaned the man that had brought her here money and they should lose their money and he would cut of their ques and perhaps kill them….Mr. Gassen the Marshall came to the house with a warrant to arrest the girl on a charge of stealing her trunk and a skirt made by a Chinaman who had been at the house in the course of the day. We said we did not believe she had stolen anything. But he said he was bound to have her. And if she could not get bail she would have to go to jail that night. You will see that the Chinamen were determined that Quock should not marry her….Then I ran up to Mr. McDonald’s where Mr. & Mrs Wood were invited to dine that day. they came down and your Father promised that she should not go away if he would let her remain at the house over night, and in the morning she must make appearance at Judge Skinner’s office for trial. Mr. Cleveland came in at evening and said they had better by all means be married early in the morning before they went to the court room….Quite a large number of citizens were at the church….Quock was very quiet and behaved himself very well, and so did Ling Yee. They stood facing the audience near the organ. After the ceremony Mr. Wood stepped forward and shook hands with them afterwards many others. Then your father and ever so many others went to the court room with them….Quock says he bought the skirt and L. Yee bought the trunk in San Francisco. Well the matter is now settled and the accusation of stealing is quite forgotten. Poor girl it was too bad. She seems to be a nice person bright and intelligent and we all like her. Quock will have to pay those Chinamen one hundred dollars who loaned money to the man who brought her here. He has a bedstead and four chairs and their room looks very pleasant and she keeps it perfectly clean….Quock made some cocoanut cake & white cake and bought a loaf of fruit cake for his entertainment!! Also oranges & candies. Ling Yee is learning to work and read. They seem as happy as two kittens….21



San Diego June 4 1873
My Dear Lilla

….I am glad you seem satisfied with yr school, & that you mean to enroll yourself among the girls, “who want to learn”….If you have a good vocal teacher there, I would like to have you go into his class. With your gifts in that line, if you can have the proper instruction & practice now, you could not fail to improve rapidly.
R.R. work is going on slowly. Mr. Wood has the contract to build the first ten miles. There is a good deal of building going on in town. All the empty houses have filled up.22

Geo. has bought another lot in town.23 Situated up on the Meza above Mr. Christians place. The view is superb. The Pac Ocean at your feet, & the Sandwich Islands in the distance, while just beyond are the Islands of Japan & continent of Asia. To the East & South East the mountains of Mexico loom up, & just beyond lies the great Gulf — but you can imagine the rest of the grand panorama which will greet the young mans Eyes when from his seat on the Piazza of his future home, with a charming Senora by his side, this grand vision is spread out before him….

Yr aff father GPM


San Diego Oct 7 1873
My Dear Lilla
….Mother thinks that from the tone of your letters since your return to School, that you are somewhat homesick, but I should think the company of so many of your old friends there, would prevent any such feeling….I think you will soon get so interested in your studies, & music & companions, that you will feel contented & happy….

You say, “Do please let Mother come east this winter”. I would like to have her go, darling, but I do not see how it is possible, for want of money. Fortune does not seem to favor us in respect to means. I have thought that the Railroad would be vigorously pushed this fall, & that there would be a ready sale for real estate at improving prices, & had determined upon converting some of my lots into cash, & having some more money to live on, but the outlook is not now promising. You have heard or read probably of the many bank failures in New York, lately, & that it has stopped the construction of many Railroads. I fear it will delay the building of the Tex & Pac.24 They are not doing much here now, business is dull, & people feeling quite blue. There are no sales of real estate, & in consequence I am hard up — as usual….25

Among other troubles, our bank has lost considerable money by the failure of Henry Clews & Co. our banker in New York — with whom our bank had a large sum of money on deposit at the time of their suspension….Hamilton & M26 are doing well, their business keeps them occupied constantly

Yr aff father Geo P Marston


San Diego Nov 5 ’73
My darling

Mrs. Wood has just left the house for her home in camp, having spent the day with us. They are now just a little distance beyond Old Town. As the mornings are now cool they have a stove in one corner and they are very comfortable….

Mary has quite a sore throat this week, and will be obliged to defer her music lessons for a short time.
Your father is still suffering from his cold. He is not confined to his bed, but is obliged to keep rather quiet. It is the first time he has been sick since you went away.

….Are you careful to prepare for cold weather?


San Diego Dec 23 73
My precious Lillie,
We are very busy as usual at this time. Our Sunday School has a Christmas tree tomorrow evening (Wednesday). The Episcopal church have one Thursday eve at the Hall. Miss Sanford was here today until two o’clock helping Mary dress some dolls. You remember what a hurried time we had last year. My class27 have presents this year[ — ] I obtained books. Most of them are old English poets. Mr. Richardson is assisting in the decorations which will doubtless be very good.

On Christmas day we expect all the gentlemen from “the store” to dine with us. As Quock is away we shall have much to do. He will however come and wait table. He has this evening brought us the largest and nicest turkey that I have seen in San Diego. He is a generous fellow. Mrs. Gates likes him very much. Our house is still his home, and he always comes and helps Ling Yee a little in the evening.

I sent you a book, Spenser’s Fairy Queen[.] I shall give Mary one like it….


Last evening your father & I called at Mr. Hinchman’s. We had a very pleasant call. Saw the young people and found them very social. Mary & I have just called on Mrs. Perry, who is now at Mrs. Brant’s house.


San Diego [December] 26
My precious Lillie
Yesterday was a warm lovely day. The gentlemen from the store dined with us. We had oyster soup a nice turkey (a present from Quock) roly poly mince & cranberry pies, white cake oranges and tea & coffee. This is the first time I have invited company to dine with us since Quock left us. However ling Yee was very helpful and Quock came home a short time to assist us. Today I feel very weary and have been in bed part of the time….New Years we are to receive calls at home. We shall invite Mrs. Patrick Mrs. McCellan the Hubbells Mrs. Wood and the Bashfords to receive with us. Mary said just now that she should be glad when New Years was over….
I wish I could hear you sing your lovely Italian song dear Lillie….Mary is making good progress in her vocal lessons, but she sometimes says she shall not sing when you are home again….

Mary spent last evening at Mrs. Patrick’s house. A small company were invited. All the Nesmith family the young people of the Bashfords Mrs. Evans two sisters, Mr. Fox[,] Crawford & Carr, Judge Hanna & Dr. Barnes….


….your Father is now quite well again. Love to all.


San Diego June 11th 74
My Dear Lilla

….Your School days are now to cease, & you enter upon a new sphere of Womanhood….I sent this morning a P. O. order for $25 — and will write Mr. Caswell to advance you whatever sums you may call for. I am now confined to the house with a severe attack of asthma, & am suffering good deal. When able to get out again will raise some money and send to Mr. Caswell.
This will probably be the last visit [to Fort Atkinson] for many yrs. — perhaps forever. Call on all our friends at the Fort….I expect you will find our old house looking beautifully. How I wish I could be there with you. Study every tree & shrub & spear of grass on the place so that you can tell exactly how everything looks. Now good bye darling

Yr aff father Geo. P Marston


1. George P. Marston (GPM) to Lilla Gilman Marston (LGM), 11 April 1870, Lilla Gilman Marston Collection, San Diego History Center, Research Archives (SDHC), San Diego, California. Unless otherwise noted, all letters will be from this collection. The author would like to thank Dr. Ronald J. Quinn, former San Diego Coast Historian for the California Department of Parks and Instructor in the History Department of San Diego State University, for a critical reading of this article.

2. Mary Gilman Marston, comp., George White Marston: A Family Chronicle, 2 v., (Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1956), 1:172.

3. Theda O. Henle to Gregg R. Hennessey, (Summer 1944), author’s collection.

4. S. M. Churchill was the hotel’s first manager. He was the manager of the Azureais Hotel in San Jose for three years prior to coming to San Diego. George and Harriett Marston, who knew Churchill’s brother in Fort Atkinson, briefly stayed at the Azureais when they arrived in San Jose. Afterwards, they stayed at the Churchill’s home for the remainder of their California trip, about four months. GPM to LGM, 29 November 1869, San Diego Union, 19 October 1870; Marston, Family Chronicle, 1:140.

5. Horton installed a pneumatic gas works at the rear of the hotel to provide lighting in the rooms. He also had a well under the hotel to supply water, both hot and cold. See, Elizabeth C. MacPhail, The Story of New San Diego and its Founder, Alonzo E. Horton, 2nd ed., (San Diego: San Diego Historical Society, 1979), 39.

6. Some people from Fort Atkinson followed Marston to San Diego. One of them was H. M. Ketchin who wrote to his home town newspaper, the Fort Atkinson Herald, reporting on half a dozen men from The Fort who were doing well at different occupations including both Marstons. See, San Diego Union, 2 February 1871 for a reprint of Ketchin’s report. See also a news item that reports “a party of Chicago capitalists” coming to San Diego with G. P. Marston, San Diego Union, 20 October

7. The elder Marston had contracted a lung disease (the family called it asthma but it may have been tuberculosis) as a pioneer farmer in 1840s Wisconsin Territory and eventually gave up farming for shop keeping in 1850. Increasingly severe attacks finally drove him west when the trans-continental railroad was completed to seek a milder and supposedly healthier climate. As such, he becomes a representative figure of the uncounted hundreds of thousands of people who were drawn west in the nineteenth century by its mild climate and promise of easier, if not always health restoring, living. See, Linda Miller, “San Diego’s Early Years as a Health Resort,” Journal of San Diego History 28 (Fall 1982): 232-48 and John E. Bauer, Health Seekers of Southern California (San Marino: Huntington Library, 1963).

8. Col. (not General) Thomas S. Sedgwick was a forty-two year old civil engineer from Ohio who was the chief engineer for the Memphis and El Paso railroad as well as its replacement the Texas and Pacific Railroad Company both of which tried unsuccessfully to bring the railroad to San Diego in the 1870s. See, Kicky D. Best, “San Diego and the Gilded Age: The Efforts to Bring the Texas and Pacific Railroad to San Diego.” Journal of San Diego History, 34 (Fall 1988): 253-280. Marston was involved in successful railroad promotion in Fort Atkinson and in San Diego even before he moved there. Stephen W. Marston to GPM, 5 December 1849 and 5 November 1850, Marston Family Collection, San Diego, show his involvement in Fort Atkinson. Several letters in the in the E. W. Morse Collection (SDHC) to Marston show his early and regular involvement. See for example: Morse to GPM, 16 May 1870, 22 July 1871, 3 September 1873.

9. Isaac Sewell was born in Tennessee in 1835 and was apparently in Sedgwick’s employ as a “body servant” according to the 1870 Census, which also listed him as literate but without monetary assets. For more on African-Americans in this period see, Robert L. Carlton, “Blacks in San Diego County: A Social Profile, 1850-1880,” Journal of San Diego History 21 (Fall 1875): 7-20.

10. This is probably Mission Gorge.

11. In the nineteenth century there it was popular to collect seaweed, shells, and mosses and dry them and make framed arrangements to decorate the home.

12. Mrs. Powell was the widow of the Marstons’ former minister and Minnie, her daughter, was Lilla’s friend. They were hired to stayed with Lilla during her parents initial trip to California and then stayed on for about four months after George and his son returned to San Diego. Marston,Family Chronicle, 1:38.

11. The railroad bill was approved on March 3, 1871. Following vigorous lobbying by a San Diego delegation, the bill required that construction be started simultaneously in Texas and San Diego. See; Best, “San Diego and the Gilded Age,” 255-56.

14. Marston was a major buyer and seller of property in Fort Atkinson from the early 1850s until the mid-1870s. He dealt mostly in town lots and developed two substantial additions in The Fort, one on his own and one with H. S. Pritchard. Over nearly four decades in Wisconsin, Marston, along with family members and business partners, purchased $39,821 worth of land and sold it for $75,824. Just as Marston was writing of these problems to Lilla local economy began an upswing in mid-1871, so that he was able to sell over four thousand dollars of Fort Atkinson property until the Fall of 1873, when the Great Panic of that year swept over the entire country. See, Deed Records, Jefferson County, Jefferson, Wisconsin.

15. San Diego was the entrepot for most of the U. S. Army troops headed for the Arizona Territory to fight in the Indian wars. The San Diego Unioncovered the troop movements as well as the news from Arizona as a regular feature. The Union covered as well the monthly sessions of the 17th District Court that met in San Diego. A local judge or one from another part of the state would preside over the sessions. See, Richard F. Pourade,The History of San Diego, v. 4: The Glory Years, (San Diego: Union-Tribune Publishing Co., 1964), 9, 47-8, 723, 77.

16. Lucien Bonaparte Caswell was a friend and sometimes business partner of Marston’s for well over thirty years in Fort Atkinson. A lawyer and legislator, Caswell attended to Marston’s local affairs while he was in California. In 1867 Wisconsin went into a four year recession that affected all of the northwest states as the inflation caused by the Civil War rapidly receded. Shortage of money and credit deflated land values and sales. By mid-1871 the recession had run its course and land sales in The Fort picked up again. See, Richard N. Current, The History of Wisconsin, vol. II, The Civil War Era, 1848-1873, (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976), 452-54.

17. Young Marston went to work for A.(aron) Pauley & Sons as a bookkeeper six months after he arrived in San Diego with his father. He recalled over six decades later that the store was “located on the tide land at the foot of Fifth Street, was a combination of a general merchandise store, warehouse, and wharf office for steamers from San Francisco and freight wagons to Arizona.” He stayed there for a year before moving on to Joseph Nash’s store. See, George W. Marston, “My Personal Business History,” reprinted from San Diego Union, 8 August 1938.

18. Lilla’s sister Mary graduated from Rockford Academy in Illinois in June 1871. Lilla and her father attended the ceremony but her mother, who was suffering from chronic “nervous depression,” did not. See, Marston, Family Chronicle, 1:172.

19. Ah Quock (not Quok) was a Chinese servant for the Marston family. Several weeks after this letter was written he and the Marstons would be involved in a much publicized affair involving a Chinese woman, marriage, and kidnaping. See the following letter for details.

20. Alexander J. Fenwick was condemned to death for killing Charles Wilson, New San Diego’s first murder, over an accusation of infidelity with Wilson’s Indian wife.

He committed suicide in his cell the day after receiving news that the Governor had rejected a petition from San Diegans seeking commutation of his sentence based on his youth. Death was by an overdose of morphine. See, San Diego Union, March 23, 25, 26, 27, 1873 and William E. Smythe,History of San Diego, 1542-1907 (San Diego: The History Company, 1907), 379.

21. The affair of Ah Quock and Ling Yee did not end with their wedding. In July, Ling Yee was arrested on a warrant issued in Los Angeles and hurriedly returned there by steamer. The same day young George Marston was dispatched to Los Angeles by stagecoach to intervene on her behalf. With the help of the Marshall who served the arrest warrant, Marston prevailed in the Los Angeles courts and brought Ling Yee back to San Diego. See, San Diego Union, July 13, 15, 17, 1873; Marston, Family Chronicle, 1:181-82; GPM to LGM, 23 July 1873, Marston Family Collection, San Diego, California.

22. San Diego was in the midst of its first real railroad boom. Real estate sales at the end of 1872 had reached $466,404, with downtown lots selling for $2,500. Building increased in 1873 and the population rose to 4,000. Slow work on the railroad itself did not deter the boom until September when the Wall Street crash ended any chance of the trains coming to San Diego for a decade. See, Smythe, History of San Diego, 345-75, and Robert M. Fogelson, The Fragmented Metropolis: Los Angeles, 1850-1930, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), 48-52.

23. The elder Marston maybe referring to a plot that young George purchased from Alonzo Horton on Fourth Street, a standard 50 x 100 foot lot that cost $150. See, County of San Diego, Deed Records, v.21, p. 142. This was his third land purchase since moving to San Diego. His father, on the other hand, was a very busy in real estate buying twenty six parcels during the period covered by these letters. See, San Diego County, Index to Deeds, Grantees. v. 1.

24. Marston was referring here to the stock market crash on September 3, 1873, otherwise known as “Black Friday.” The collapse occurred when Jay Cooke’s company failed to get financing for the Northern Pacific Railroad and then the rest of the overextended financial institutions failed as well causing the New York Stock Exchange to close. Financing for the Texas & Pacific never materialized and San Diego’s hopes for a rail connection to the east would not be realized for fifteen years. See, Smythe, History of San Diego, 352-60, Richard White, “It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own”: A New History of the American West (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991), 250.

25. Following “Black Friday” and the collapse of financing for railroads a long depression set in across the country. In San Diego the effects were almost immediate as the population rapidly declined and property sales came to a virtual halt. Marston’s plight mirrored the rest of San Diego and soon most of the country. See, Pourade, The Glory Years, 120-26.

26. In April 1873 Lilla’s brother George and his friend Charles Hamilton opened their own store. They had worked for Joseph Nash and then bought him out on borrowed money. The R. G. Dunn & Co. business report of them in July 1873 described the friends as steady, economical men of good character. The store was in business for five years after which the friends paid off their debts and opened separate stores. See, Marston, Family Chronicle, 1:269-71 and R. G. Dunn & Co. Collection, Historical Collections, Baker Library, Harvard Business School, Boston, MA.

27. Harriett Marston refers here to her Sunday School class. She was an extremely religious woman and taught Sunday School beginning in Fort Atkinson and continuing in San Diego.


Gregg R. Hennessey, the former Director of the San Diego Historical Society’s Research Archives,is an independent scholar who has written and lectured on issues about the region’s history including city planning, water development, the military, and parks and reform. He is currently working on a biography of George White Marston, an early San Diego entrepeneur, philanthropist, and reformer.