The Camrons (1876-1877)

Dr. John MarshAlice Marsh was the daughter of Dr. John and Abigail Marsh, a pioneer family in Contra Costa County.  Dr. John Marsh was a Harvard graduate who began his medical career in the Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1836.  He came north in 1837 and purchased the 17,000 acre Rancho Los Meganos (sand dunes in Spanish) near what is now Brentwood, California.  Marsh married Abigail Tuck in 1851 and their daughter was born in 1852.  Alice’s mother died when she was still a toddler and her father was murdered shortly thereafter.  Alice and her half brother Charles inherited the vast Marsh estate and she grew into an attractive, wealthy, and well-educated young woman.

John & Abigail Marsh with Baby AliceWhen she was just 19 years old, Alice married Deputy Sheriff, William Walker Camron in 1871.  Camron’s family had moved to California in 1849 and he, like Alice, had been orphaned as a young boy.  After their marriage the couple built a house in Martinez where their daughter Amy was born and Camron became one of five investors in the first bank in Contra Costa County.1   After the birth of their second daughter, he and Alice moved to Oakland towards the close of 1875.  Alice purchased the large Italianate Victorian house built by Samuel Merritt in  and an early photograph shows the entire family in the circular drive overlooking Lake Merritt.  In that same year, William invested in land on the eastern slope of the Berkeley hills.  The tract was named Orinda Park in honor of Alice’s favorite 17th century poet Katherine Fowler Philips, whose pen name was Orinda.  Camron became the vice-president of the Oakland Bank of Savings that year but continued the business of buying and selling real estate with Alice’s money.

William Camron FamilyActive in the local Republican Party, Camron was appointed to a vacancy on the Oakland City Council on September 3, 1877.   Personal tragedy struck just six weeks later when Gracie Camron, the youngest daughter, died four days after her second birthday.  Devastated, Alice and William rented their home and the entire family embarked on a five-month tour to Europe.2

In 1880 William Camron was elected to the California State Assembly and two years later was defeated in a race for State Senator.  While in the state legislature, Camron had a reputation as a fiscal conservative.  “It requires a man of much nerve and resolution, to brave the onslaughts of friends and foes in legislative bodies, when they stand almost alone against the claims of hundreds of political vampires, cormorants, and leeches, who would willingly suck the life blood out of the commonwealth. Mr. Camron cared not. He fought all opponents on the floor and in the committees, and the Republican party owes much of the reputation it has gained in the present session, to the manly and steadfast opposition of this single individual, in his well fought battle for economy.”3 On the home front the situation was somewhat different.  Camron’s political career was the last financial straw, forcing the family to sell their lakeside property in 1882.

The couple divorced in 1891. With her fortune gone, Alice and her daughter Amy were reduced to running a boarding house in San Francisco and later moved to Santa Barbara.  She never remarried and her daughter remained a spinster until her death in 1963.

1 ”The Bay of San Francisco,” Vol. 2, Page 219-222, Lewis Publishing Co, 1892.

2 Diaries of Mrs. W. W. Camron, vol. 1, entries for September 11, 1978 – Februrary 10, 1879 (Marsh family papers, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley).

3 “Pen Pictures of Our Representative Men”, Hugh J. Mohan, E. H. Clough, John Paul Cosgrave, Page 103, H. W. Weaver’s Valley Press Printing House, 1890