Are these celebrating folks looking at the lone house in the background? Is the second photo the same house? And is it the “Wheeler House?”
In 1992 I received snail mail from Marjorie Borda. “Is the ‘Wheeler House’ still standing in Montara,” she asked me. “And, if so, who lives there?”
The area was called Farallone when Marjorie Borda was born in the Wheeler House in 1912. Marjorie’s dad, Williard Scott, was the Ocean Shore Railroad’s Farallone station agent and Scott wanted to buy the home.
As a little girl, Marjorie played with the Abbott children who lived in the “Abbott House.” She wondered, “Are any of the Abbotts still living in Montara?”
(Written in 1977, using the resources at the San Mateo County History Museum)
By the age of 16, Henry Dobbel launched his ambitious climb to the top. That year, about 1845, he ran away from his home in Germany, to seek an adventurous life at sea.
The self-confident youth worked at odd jobs, willing to do anything, earning the respect of everyone around him. All the while, in the back of his mind, Henry knew a rich, full life lay ahead. Sailing around the Cape Horn, he landed in California months before the Gold Rush.
Again, in the Golden State, he performed all kinds of work, including hauling freight between the Amador minds and Sacramento. But soon Dobbel’s enterprising mind inspired him to switch occupations as he used an imported waffle iron to run a successful San Francisco restaurant.
He met and married fellow German Margaret Roverkampf-Schroeder. She arrived in California via the mosquito-infested trip across the Isthmus of Panama on muleback. The couple settled on a large farm in the East Bay.
In the 1860s Henry learned of the opportunities at the bustling new village of Purissima, sold his farm, and bought a thousand acres from John Purcell. The Dobbels became one of, or the largest landowners with dreams, perhaps, of being the biggest fish in a tiny pond.
Henry and Margaret built a big house on the south bank of the creek. Carpenters came from San Francisco and stayed for six months to construct the two-story, 17-room imposing building. There were all sorts of civilized conveniences, including running water in the rooms [established via a hydraulic “ram” placed in the creek to pump up the water.] Ever the inventor, Dobbel figured out how to install gas lighting in his new home.
The Dobbel’s created a true “Coastside mansion” with a ballroom covered with carpets imported from New York and Europe. Their dreams of grandeur extended to the gardens where colorful flowers and shrubs surrounded an elegant water fountain.
At all times two vicious mastiffs guarded the house and the valuables inside–as an additional precaution, the Dobbel’s personal police force patrolled the extensive grounds dotted with a smokehouse, gas house, barns and other outbuildings.
The Dobbel’s working ranch employed 50 men who planted and harvested wheat and barley, and potatoes, the mainstay of the area.
My impression is that the Dobbel’s wanted Purissima to be their personal fiefdom, which may not have been that unusual at the time. Consider the many grandiose mansions on the other side of the mountain. Without taxes to pay, it was possible to pursue a lifestyle that was diminished after 1913 when the Income Tax law went into effect.
The Dobbel’s employed schoolteacher Mary Bradley who lived with them. But the local children who attended school only in spring, summer and fall, failed to learn their lessons in winter, when the muddy roads prevented them from reaching the little schoolhouse.
A journalist passing through Purissima in 1871, noted impressive improvements, some financed by Henry Dobbel. The growing town consisted of a wagon, harness and shoemaker shop and Richard Dougherty’s well known Purissima House. Dougherty was the hotel’s host as well as the town’s postmaster where the stage stopped every day.
Half a dozen carpenters worked feverishly to finish the new general store, owned by the Husing brothers of San Mateo. Inside groceries, boots, liquor and cigars were sold. The sign outside read: “Come and see us. We mean business.”
A year later, Purissima was known as an up and coming town, prosperous and promising.
During a stage ride–apparently arranged for the purpose of snooping around Purissima–the visitors described the good-looking farms belonging to George Shoults, J. Campbell, and Silas H. Bowman, whose luscious fruit orchard receiving a special taste-test.
Near the mouth of Purissima Canyon, the snoopers took a tour of the locally famous Borden & Hatch mill, the exclusive suppliers of lumber to Half Moon Bay. There was no time to walk or ride horseback up to S.P. Pharis’ shingle mill, located in the same gulch.
Everybody called Henry Dobbel “the big farmer who paid taxes on $69,400.”
Spurred on by his many successes, Dobbel bought up more Coastside property, all of it near his mansion.One year he rented an 500 acres near the James Johnston house, now a landmark. All of the land was planted in one crop: potatoes.
As Purissima kept proving it could be a real town, businessmen in Half Moon Bay looked to invest in a good thing. A place called “Fairmont Park” was developed for “pleasure parties” in the canyon, not far from the Purissima House and five miles from Half Moon Bay via Higgin’s Road. All pleasure Parties required was dance floor, and swings and tables artfully placed beneath the redwoods.
To top it off, oil was discovered by the Purissima Petroleum Co. on George Shoults’ land in the 1880s–20 barrels a day. And then when, the same company drilled for coal oil at Dobbel’s place, “where a fine flow of oil was struck at 70 feet,” well, the excitement could hardly be contained. Everybody thought there would be an oil boom, along with the arrival of new residents, and construction began on a bigger schoolhouse.
But it was all a chimera, a fanciful dream.
In the middle of all the oil boom talk, Henry Husing, the San Mateo merchant who owned Purissima’s general store, sold out to Henry Dobbel. Dobbel, who knew a lot about many things, didn’t know how to run a business extended credit to anybody. Too much credit. Everything was going out and nothing was coming in. Then began the crop failures. The first year he could put it out of his mind, but the potatoes disappointed every year.
According to legend, Henry Dobbel acted against his nature when he mortgaged his property to the rival wealthy landowner Henry Cowell. At the foreclosure proceedings in 1890, the only bidder on the Dobbel estate was Henry Cowell–a man Coastsiders, when given the chance, loved to outsmart.
A year later Henry Dobbel was dead. Isn’t that the way this kind of a story often ends?
With Henry Dobbel gone, the fire and passion that was Purissima cooled off–meanwhile all the business headed for Spanishtown, now known as Half Moon Bay, and all talk of a town called Purissima faded away.
Elaine M. Teixeira: I received an email from Sharon Bertolucci; not sure if you know her; her dad was my cousin, Albert Bertolucci, Mom was Patricia Ball; Albert’s mother was named Rose (Little Rosie), from Giovannibattista Torre family, further up Sunshine Valley,
Sharon’s family lived on Vermont Street across from the [Social] Club.
Sharon mentioned the Jehovah Witness church people being in the [Social] Club. She may be right, my sister, and, I have since discussed it, and recall they may have rented it. Sharon says they conducted services there and had pews installed, guess in the dance hall area. She also mentioned another family that lived there.
My Dad did rent the Club out to a few people, I think, after or during WWII, as he had moved the bar, and business, by that time, up to the grocery store bldg. I can remember all the sailors from the naval station
coming into the place for drinks, in the section next to the grocery store. Several of the sailors and officers became special family friends, and my Mom would have them for dinner with the family. I will forward her email to you, for more on the Club. I know that two Filipino brothers, married to two American women, lived there with their families. Sharon mentioned the Bebee’s ,and that sounded familiar. My sister, Loretta, thought the Bebee’s lived up on Sunshine Valley, I really do not remember.
June, This is the email from Sharon Bertolucci whom I mention in the first paragraph. It has a bit of information that might fill in the blank spaces in our emails.
Sharon Bertolucci: I now know where Loretta is talking about: I went to school up at the old naval base across the highway from the Montara lighthouse
up on the hill. That’s where Daddy worked and Mom worked. Just the foundations are still left and lots of weeds.
The other school across from the Catholic Church in Half Moon Bay is Cunha Intermediate School now, and, they are fixing it up, and adding more buildings, so it will continue to be a school. [It used to be the high school until the new one was built up on the hill.]
I have an old brochure that I got from Guy Smith, the Moss Beach postmaster.
(Photos: At right, Moss Beach Post Office where Guy Smith, below, was the Postmaster, and everything else in town.)
I wish I had picked up more. I went and got this when I was a little girl. I loved going into the mail and collecting all the stuff he had lying around.
The nun’s houses you [Elaine] spoke of down by the Moss Beach Distillery; they had three, and now they own, I think, two. The Catholic Church sold one about 8 years ago, it had beautiful mahogany railing on the staircase, and, of course, very dark walls, with the high wainscoting, and a shelf. They sold it to a private party which kept the outside looking similar to it natural state but they did work on the inside because there were several little rooms for all nuns/priests to have their own rooms. It was quite chopped up. I love those houses. Talk to you later.
Sharon Bertolucci, Cypress Ridge Appraisal Services, Inc.
Elaine M. Teixeira says: I worked when we first married, for about five years or more, until I started a family, lost first child, so returned to work, then was off for about 15 yrs raising the two children. In the early part of marriage, I worked in HMB for a couple of different government, farm organizations, PMA, Soil Conservation and Farm Advisors. I also worked for the County of San Mateo in Recorder’s office and School Dept. When I returned to work after raising family, worked for a laundry rental company and then the County of SM for 22 yrs.
Elaine asks her longtime friend Rosina Banks:
Do you remember the deliveries from HMB when we were young? I know (maybe cause of the store) we received milk from Alves and Salamone’s Bakery, also the butcher shops. Since my mother did not sell meat, I wondered if they stopped at your place or other houses. One was from Nunes, at a later date, at first, from Fred Marsh, Centoni was the delivery man, Yola’ Dad.
Rosina Banks says:
Alves delivered the milk, remember the cream would always be @ the top of the neck in the bottle, Centoni delivered the meat wagon & Beans would deliver the bread, Beans would always take his break @ our house even if no one was home, my mother always left the coffee pot on the stove & he would always come in & heat the coffee & take his break, the doors were never locked @ that time, oh for the good old days.
Doris Wallace says:
This sure brings back a lot of memories. One of the Beebee boys was in your sister Loretta’s and my class. My aunt taught at the Purissima school before she taught in Moss Beach. I know she had Delores and Leo Mudrich and Herbie Canadas I mainly remembered them because I knew them. I think all of the kids liked to go to see Guy Smith at the post office; he was a nice man.
(Photo: Is this the Ocean Shore Railroad smokin’ through Pacifica?)
Mr. Vonderlin, I’ve enjoyed reading Half Moon Bay Memories and El Granada Observer as well as your Pescadero Memories, particularly references to the OSRR, which I became acquainted with in the late 1920s.
My uncle took my brother and me on a hike along the right-of-way from Thornton to Mussel Rock. Though the rails had been torn up, still it was obvious a railroad had been there.
In 1939 I made several bike trips down the coast from San Francisco, once climbing to the top of the collapsed tunnel at Pedro Point to view the grade south to Devil’s Slide. And I also drove to Santa Cruz in a friend’s Model A Ford, borrowed from his brother, always looking for OSRR remnants.
At Pescadero beach it looked like grading of the dunes had been done south of the “mysterious tunnel” bluff you described. On a much later visit I found the tunnel portal, and since the grading I’d seen earlier would have led to the tunnel site, I surmised that the OSRR had built the tunnel either as a pilot bore, or to use it to blow down the hillside for easier grading.
Your north portal pictures puzzle me as they don’t appear to coincide with this surmise. I’ve never seen anything about this in the OSRR literature.
Re the Palmer Gulch Trestle: I have a photo of it given to me in 1939 that shows the trestle had already started to sag in the middle. About 1960 a friend and I hiked down to it; by then it was sagging noticeably. On the north side was a large, weathered (tool?) box, about 12’x4’x4′ roughly. It had an old padlock on it which we left as is.
We walked across the trestle, and my friend took pictures, of which I have a couple. Unfortunately, they are now badly faded (Polaroid camera?). but the rotted ties are still evident. I don’t believe it burned down because I saw an internet picture of it taken a few years after our crossing, and it was in nearly collapsed condition, and the text said it totally collapsed shortly after. Regrettably I didn’t add it to my OSRR “favorites,” and have never found it on the Web again.
Thanks again for your interesting memories of the San Mateo coastside.
Angelo Misthos, Sebastopol CA.
John Vonderlin replies
(email John: email@example.com)
I received this interesting email today. It reminded me the tunnel (s) story is not a mystery solved. I’ll get back to it. The gentleman from the cemetery has said he’ll show us it, so maybe it exists. I sent Angelo a picture of a burnt timber, though that might have happened after collapse. I loved that he lives in Sebastopol. I used to have a wonderful ranch/family orchard in the hills west of town during the Seventies. George Lichty, the cartoonist of “Grin and Bear It,” fame lived across the street. The Thomases who owned the American Opinion Bookstore (John Birch Society–remember them?) were at one corner, two gay interior designers from S.F. on another and a schoolteacher couple who were Sufis on another. A great time in my life to recall. Where has my youth gone?
Larry Fitterer and I are going to be lowering ourselves down the cliffs into “The Notch” and Acid Beach on April 9th or 10th. Yee-Haw. Hopefully, I won’t break my typing fingers or anything else. Enjoy. John