Saturday, January 26, 2013

John Brooks Felton (1827-1877) - 14th Oakland Mayor; UC Regent; Railroad Pioneer; California City Named in His Honor

The only marking of John Felton's grave
Lot 2, Plot 410c

John Brooks Felton was born in circa 1827 in Saugus, Massachusetts and died May 2, 1877 in Oakland, California. He was an American jurist and politician who served as the 14th Mayor of Oakland, California. 

Felton was the son of an almshouse superintendent in Cambridge, Massachusetts and brother of Cornelius Conway Felton, a classics scholar at Harvard University and Samuel Morse Felton, Sr., a railroad executive. He graduated from Harvard in 1847 and briefly served as a Greek tutor before pursuing the law. He studied the Napoleonic code in Paris for one year and became fluent in both French and Spanish.

In 1854, Felton moved to San Francisco to open a law practice with Harvard classmate, E.J. Pringle. The firm, which was later joined by A. C. Whitcomb, was successful in litigating land claims and their clients included real estate baron Kelsey Hazen, Mexico's Secretary of Finance José Yves Limantour, and millionaire businessman James Lick. 

John Brooks Felton
Felton was a legal advisor to Levi Parsons of the San Francisco Dock and Wharf Company during Parsons' attempt to have the "Bulkhead Bill" passed.  The legislation was a highly controversial bill heavily supported by San Francisco capitalists. It would have placed the city's waterfront in the hands of private companies within monopolies. Despite support for the bill among San Francisco's wealthy, local merchants and the public alike were in staunch opposition. In a move that stunned many former wealthy supporters, Governor John Downey vetoed the Bulkhead Bill.

Becoming disenchanted with the political climate of San Francisco, he moved himself across the Bay and settled in Oakland, and very soon to be affiliated with city pioneer Horace Carpentier. Here Felton played an important part in the famed "compromise of 1868," where Alameda County deeded 500 acres to the Western Pacific Railroad Company through the Oakland Waterfront Company to be used as a terminal for the transcontinental railroad, along with two strips of land as right-of-way.

In 1867 he was hired by the city of Oakland, with a promise of land in payment for his assistance in helping the city to recover the waterfront which had been conveyed to Carpentier fifteen years earlier. Having accepted this legal responsibility, he almost immediately went into clandestine association with Carpentier. By March of 1868 Felton was on the Board of Trustees for the Oakland Waterfront Company. At this time he was also the Grand Orator of the Grand Lodge of California Masonry. He served as Mayor of Oakland from 1869-1870, succeeding his friend Samuel Merritt.

He is perhaps best remembered for his business, political, and social relationship with bachelors Horace Carpentier, Michael Reese, James Lick, and Samuel Merritt, men all known for "eschewing the company of women."

He was for a time remembered by at least three streets which bore his name; one of which is now 63rd Street, and two in Berkeley, one of which was renamed Derby Street, the other was absorbed by the University campus, and no longer exists.  He is now remembered for having the Santa Cruz County town of Felton, California named in his honor.

Felton, California Railroad Station
Felton twice campaigned unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1867 and 1874 and was a Presidential Elector for California during the 1868, 1872, and 1876 Presidential Elections.  Felton was the first President of the Board of Trustees of Toland Medical College (now the University of California, San Francisco) and was responsible for obtaining the school's charter, which he failed to do. He was a regent of the University of California from its inception in 1868 until his death. Felton also served as the President of the San Francisco and Oakland Railroad.

According to the May 4, 1877 issue of the Oakland Tribune, Felton's funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Oakland. It was attended by leading members of the District Courts and California Supreme Court, Masonic leaders, Regents from the University of California and dignitaries and elected officials from throughout California. The overflow service was held at St. John's Episcopal Church and the funeral procession streamed down Broadway Street to Mountain View Cemetery led by Oakland police officers twelve abreast.

[Sources include the Oakland Tribune,, Wikipedia and the History of Berkeley]

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sumner "Mack" Webber - Oakland's 17th Mayor

Lot 5, Plot 20/1

Webber was born in Bucyrus, Ohio in 1834 and came to California in 1860. In 1868, he opened a drugstore and apothecary at Eleventh and Broadway. He carried a best selling women’s fragrance call “Orange Flower Cologne,” which the Oakland Tribune called “all the rage.”

He was elected to the Oakland City Council in 1872 and served as president for two terms (1873–1874). He was named to succeed Henry Durant as Mayor on February 1, 1875, and was elected to a full term on March 1, 1875. In 1876, he became one of the first people to warn the East Bay that it would have to find its own water supply. At the time, Anthony Chabot’s San Leandro Reservoir was providing adequate water to Oakland, but Webber and others suggested that an aqueduct be built connecting the Sierra to Oakland.

He could have been easily reelected, but opted to head to Nevada to pursue mining interests. He returned to become the assistant appraiser and deputy collector at the Custom House in San Francisco. 

On January 5, 1901 he suffered a stroke while on business in San Francisco and taken to St. Luke’s Hospital. He died there on January 8, 1901 and is buried at Mountain View.

Benjamin Franklin ("B.F.") Ferris (1806-1876) - Oakland Mayor Committed Suicide

LOT 1, PLOT 258

Ferris is buried in an unmarked grave in Plot 1
Benjamin Franklin (B.F.) Ferris was born in Seneca, New York and came to San Francisco in 1850 to strike it rich in the gold mines. However, he quickly returned from the hills and his political and professional career took off in the East Bay.  He served as a judge, Contra Costa County Justice of the Peace, Oakland Justice of the Peace and one-term mayor of Oakland in 1864-66. Before becoming mayor, he served for two terms on the city council. At the time of his election, mayor’s were elected annually. He was also the candidate who ran against the corrupt Horace Carpentier in 1854 and it was assumed that he as the "chosen candidate" in a fraudulent election.

He is best known to history as the only Oakland mayor to have committed suicide, although it occurred a decade after he left office. After accumulating debts of $15,534.04 against assets of $1,825.00, Ferris couldn’t bear life anymore, telling intimates that he was embarrassed about his debts. In May 1876, he boarded the Amador under the name of H.A. Johnson. 

According to the Oakland Tribune of May 22, 1876:
About 5 o’clock Saturday morning, when the steamer Amador was within a few miles of Sacramento, one of the passengers, who had registered his name as H.A. JOHNSON when he procured a stateroom on the previous evening, jumped overboard. It is stated by a hotel runner, who saw him sitting on the guard rail and solicited his patronage for a Sacramento hotel, that at that time he had his ankles tied with a handkerchief. He did not show any uneasiness or singularities of conduct, and the two men had a conversation of a few minutes. When the runner came back, after having been away a very short time, Johnson had disappeared, but his hat and cane were lying where he had been last seen. The alarm was immediately given, and a number of persons looked anxiously in the wake of the boat to see if the unfortunate man was visible, but nothing could be seen of him.

An examination of his room was made, and there was found on his bed three vials, each of which had contained laudanum, a purse containing $8.80 in coin, a pair of spectacles and a pencil case. The hat had pasted inside a piece of paper bearing the name “H.A. JOHNSON, Oakland.” There were also found two unsealed notes, one of which, directed “My Dear Wife and Daughter in Oakland.”

The note, which was dated May 19, 1876 and marked “Sacramento River” read:
To my Dear Wife and Daughter, in Oakland: The time is now arrived for me to take my awful plunge into the river. My brain is on fire. I am now losing my senses fast. I shall commence in a few moments to take the poison, after which I shall jump overboard and hope and trust that my body may never be found. Adieu! adieu! for you have been a good wife to me, and may God bless and protect you both.

P.S. - I wrote to you and some others just before I left San Francisco. Very fortunately for me there is not a single person on board that I have ever seen before. 

Newspaper accounts followed the missing case of Judge Ferris almost daily until a man found his body floating in the river. Friends and relatives were dispatched to Sacramento to identify the body. The family had become concerned when the day after he left for Sacramento they found his watch, diamond ring and safe key in his room, which he always kept on his person for safe keeping. 

The Ferris home
Ironically, Ferris had been a successful man in business, as well as politics. In San Francisco he co-owned the wholesale grocery firm of Ferris, Crowell and McCullom and was the keeper of the U. S. Temperance House on Kearney Street. He set up the first private bank in Oakland, the First National Gold Bank, which became the First National Bank in 1800 and served as president of the Savings & Loan Society. According to the book “The History of Berkeley,” he was a close business associate and financial backer of two other Oakland mayors who all happened to be early founders of Berkeley, George Blake and Francis Shattuck. The men were all part of the efforts to bring rail lines to Berkeley.

He is buried in Plot 1 of Mountain View Cemetery in an unmarked grave near three other Oakland mayors, Enoch Pardee, George Pardee and Andrew Williams.