The Hewes (1877-1881)
David Hewes arrived in San Francisco in 1849 but finding few business prospects moved on to Sacramento. Within two or three months his mercantile venture proved so profitable that he entered into a partnership and rented space for a larger store. In the next year he would create several “iron buildings” which he rented at substantial profit and would also construct a six-story structure at 7th and J Streets to house his enlarged mercantile and his new Queen City Hotel. The year 1852 proved a disaster for Hewes business ventures. No sooner had he rebuilt from the Great Fire than a December flood inundated the entire Sacramento Valley. Hewes lost all and moved to San Francisco.
Arriving in San Francisco, Hewes soon began a new business leveling and grading the sand dunes on which the city sprawled. Hiring Chinese laborers at $2 per day instead of the Irish who cost $4, he was able to make a significant profit on his first venture. He soon traded in his two dozen wheelbarrows and shovels for teams of horses and by 1858 had moved on to steam powered shovels. By the 1870’s he had leveled Market Street, Union Square and the area planned for San Francisco’s city hall and had earned the title “the maker of San Francisco”.
David Hewes is probably best known for donating the golden spike that linked the Central Pacific and Union Pacific transcontinental railroad. A long-time friend and associate of Crocker, Hopkins Huntington and Stanford, he had been invited to invest in the formation of the Central Pacific Railroad but had declined because of his investment in San Francisco ventures. He was, however, an ardent supporter of the project is credited with the idea for the celebration to honor the completion of the work in May of 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah.
In 1875, David married Matilda C. Gray and after visiting family in New York the couple took Matilda’s daughter, Franklina, and her sister, Rosa, with them on a two and a half year honeymoon. The group visited 22 different countries including England, France, Italy and Greece. In addition to the usual Victorian grand tour, the couple were intent on collecting art works and furthering David’s religious interests. Leaving Matida, Franklina and Rosa in Mentone, Italy where the weather was beneficial, David Hewes traveled further into the Middle East where he was joined by his friend the Rev. G. S. Abbott and the biblical scholar Dr. Phillip Schaaf and his wife. Sailing up the Nile, they visited “Jerusalem and its environment, the Dead Sea, Jordan, and all the celebrated and sacred places including a journey to Galilee and Damascus.” Before returning home, the Hewes traveled to the famed marble quarries of Carrara where they selected some choice statuary to take home. Some of that collection remains in the house today with other artifacts were bequeathed to Stanford University.
The Hewes lived an active social and political life in Oakland. At Matilda’s urging, David ran for the Oakland City Council and was elected. Both Matilda and Franklina became members of the two French sections of the Ebell Society devoted to the study of art and literature. Franklina was married to William Springer Bartlett in at Camron-Stanford House in 1878. Newspaper accounts and Franklina’s letters to Bartlett provide extensive descriptions of the interior of the house and its furnishings at the time and these descriptions were used in the eventual restoration of the house in the 1970’s.
In September of 1880, the Hewes opened their home to members of the Ebell Society for a reception in honor of First Lady Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes. The Oakland Tribune reported, “The Ebell society, a literary association formed of some of the most intelligent and cultured ladies of Oakland, had the honor of receiving Mrs. Hayes and the ladies of her party as their guests. The reception took place at the house of David Hewes, corner of Fourteenth and Oak streets. The house, adorned with gems of art and vertu collected in foreign travels was lavishly and tastefully decorated by the ladies of the society, with the choice flowers and foliage for which our state is celebrated. An elegant lunch and a fine display of California fruits were spread upon the veranda overlooking Lake Merritt, forming a picture as rich in coloring and beauty as any adorning the gallery of the host.”
By 1881, Matilda’s health was failing and the couple moved to a ranch near Tustin, California in hopes the climate would affect a cure. Called Anapauma, “a place of rest”, the property was an 800 acre sheep ranch and vineyards which were eventually replanted as a citrus grove. Matilda’s daughter and son-in-law bought a neighboring property and build their home as well. Matilda’s health continued to decline and she died in 1887. Two years later, David married again to Anna Lathrop, the sister-in-law of his long-time friend Leland Stanford. David Hewes died in 1915 and is buried at Mountain View Cemetery.