Lady in hat, with glass in hand

Alice Earl Wilder, 95, at the Ford Family reunion in 1984.

Alice Earl Wilder was the granddaughter of Jerome Bursley Ford, one of the founders of Mendocino. Her letters to Dorothy Bear and Beth Stebbins in 1973 contain reminiscences of her summers spent in Mendocino as a child and later as an adult. The letter below was found in the Kelley House archives by Mary B. Stinson while researching a question regarding the Mendocino Lumber Company. This article first appeared in the Beacon on March 21, 2013.

I have read grandfather’s diaries several times and heard lots of family and their friends talk. (I mean the diary of his trip from Bodega to Mendocino.) I have always been told that Kasten was wrecked at Mendocino in 1851 and had constructed for himself a log cabin in which he was living when grandfather went up the coast in 1851 searching for a shipwreck [The Frolic]. The shanty, as Uncle Chester called it, could not have been built before 1851. The cabin was behind the Company’s barn [located south of the end of Lansing Street] and we saw it when children. The barn [which was used for wintering work animals from the woods] was originally the town’s first skating rink.

Grandfather says he bought a cabin from the blacksmith [Kasten?] in 1852. It was in this shanty that grandfather stayed to wait for the Brig Ontario to arrive in the summer of 1852. Where the mill crew stayed I never heard, but assumed they camped out during 1852 summer and had time to rig up some kind of winter cover.

The Company had homes built. E. C. Williams may have built the ‘Freundt’ house [located 350 feet south of the Ford House, overlooking the ocean]. Evidently Williams had a lot to say about what building was done and how it was done. He was difficult to get along with and nobody wanted to cross him. He had his own lumber yard in San Francisco. He never wanted to spend a cent for needed improvements. He lived in Oakland all the time I was growing up and every Sunday I would see him and his family at the 1st Congregational Church.

From what I have heard, I thought the J. B. Fords lived at the ‘ranch’ house [a small cabin Ford had built, located southwest of today’s intersection of Little Lake Road and Clark Street] while the Main Street house was built. The Fords were married in Connecticut in May 1854 and sailed immediately via Panama for San Francisco. I always thought they were then in the Main Street house. Whether the Company had already built the Freundt house—down the incline from the Fords—or not, I can’t say. It may very likely have been built and used by E. C. Williams before the Meiggs collapse [see below]. After that, Freundt lived there and watched finances for his partners, Sillen and Goddefroy. He kept the Company books while there.

[Henry Meiggs was president of the California Lumber Manufacturing Company, which brought the first sawmill to Mendocino in the summer of 1852; Edwards C. Williams and Jerome B. Ford served as Directors. After Meiggs fled the country in 1854 to avoid prosecution for fraud in San Francisco, Williams and Ford, along with Arthur Godeffroy, William Sillem, and William Freundt, formed a new partnership, the Mendocino Mill Company, that assumed the former company’s large debt and continued to operate the Mendocino Mill.]


Alice Earl Wilder

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