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Today’s Alameda Treasure – 1125 Morton Street, The Baldwin-Pell House, Part 1

It’s rare today to come across a 134-year-old house where the current owners are only the second family to own it. Rarer still is when such a home still contains some of its original furniture, and even original family heirlooms such as old documents, diplomas, photos, and artwork.

Alameda Post - a sepia photo of 1125 Morton Street
A rare view of 1125 Morton Street when it was new in 1889. Of special interest is the clear view of the tankhouse at the left rear of the property, complete with redwood water tank and windmill. Before the advent of municipal water supplies, these tankhouses were ubiquitous, and provided water via a well, pump, and storage system. The tank and windmill were removed sometime prior to 1949 and a gable roof added to a shorter structure. Current owners Ken and Connie Carvalho had detailed plans to rebuild the tankhouse to its former design, but city permitting problems and objections from a neighbor scuttled those plans. Photo originally from Baldwin/Pell family, now Carvalho family collection

Origins

1125 Morton Street, located between Encinal and San Antonio avenues, was built in 1889 by J. A. Mitchell. It is a Queen Anne, High Basement cottage that originally cost $3,000. Its first owner was Dr. Sherman Charles Baldwin (1832-1902), a physician and surgeon who moved over to Alameda from San Francisco, where he maintained offices at 850 Market Street.

Dr. Baldwin’s new home on Morton Street would have been very conveniently located for commuting to San Francisco, with the Southern Pacific Railroad (SP) line running along Encinal Avenue, just steps from his front door. Morton Station had been established in 1878, when the railroad had just been reorganized as the South Pacific Coast Railroad (SPC). Now, with the railroad owned by the large SP corporation, a handsome new Queen Anne-style shelter had just been built at Morton Station (1889), designed by the renowned local architect A. W. Pattiani. Dr. Baldwin surely would have been a frequent visitor to this station, as he made his way by train to and from the ferry terminal on the West End, for service to San Francisco. In those days, there was no bridge to the city, so all travel across the bay was by ferry boat.



Alameda Post - a black and white photo of a railroad station, Morton Station
Morton Station, on the Southern Pacific railroad line that once ran along Encinal Avenue. The Queen Anne-style station shelter was designed by A. W. Pattiani and built in 1889. The railroad was here long before 1889, but had previously used a simpler waiting room structure. This ornate station was just steps from Dr. Sherman Baldwin’s home at 1125 Morton Street, and the good doctor would have used this station frequently to commute to his medical office on Market Street in San Francisco. Photo by Vernon J. Sappers, from Woody Minor’s book, Taking Care of Business – Historic Commercial Buildings of the Island City.

The old bachelor marries

Dr. Baldwin originally hailed from Cleveland, Ohio, and was a descendant of a pioneer family that arrived in Connecticut Colony, British Colonial America, in the 1600s. He lived alone at 1125 Morton Street for ten years, until he met Mary Elizabeth Pell, a woman 15 years his junior. Mary, a nurse, also was descended from a pioneer family, whose relatives in America date back to her fourth great-grandparents, John Pell and Rachel Pinckney, who were married in Westchester, New York, in 1674. Mary had previously lived in New York and been married to Alonzo Walton (1844-1902), a jewelry and fruit dealer with whom she had four children—all born in Brooklyn. In 1886, after she and her husband separated, Mary made her way to the Bay Area with at least one of her children, Mary Pell Walton (1875-1960). She had a sister, Sophia Pell, living in Oakland at the time, so she and her daughter moved in with her at 760 Fourth Street. They then moved to Alameda in 1891, living in various houses around town including 1724 Alameda Avenue, 2305 Alameda Avenue,1348 Park Street, and 1219 Park Street. By 1899, Mary Elizabeth Pell (Walton) had met Dr. Sherman Baldwin, and they married on August 28, 1899.

Alameda Post - a drawing of Bray Estate in Oakland
While we don’t have an image of Dr. Sherman Baldwin’s property at 1217 25th Avenue in Oakland, this colorized drawing of the Watson and Julia Bray Estate, which was nearby on 29th Avenue (then called Howard Street, named after the Bray’s son Howard), gives a sense of the wealth and beauty of that area at the time. It was a region of large estates and fruit tree groves, and such were its charms that Dr. Baldwin chose to move to the area with his wife Mary Elizabeth instead of his home in Alameda. Image from the website of the Cohen-Bray house.

A home in Oakland

Although the current owners of 1125 Morton Street, Ken and Connie Carvalho, had thought Dr. Baldwin and his new wife Mary Elizabeth, lived in the Morton Street house after their marriage, further research indicates that the Baldwins actually moved into another one of the doctor’s properties, at 1217 25th Avenue in Oakland. The first evidence of this is a wedding announcement in the Alameda Daily Argus, dated August 30, 1899, which states, “Dr. and Mrs. Baldwin are moving today into a house of his on Twenty fifth avenue, East Oakland.” A second piece of evidence is contained in the Alameda County Voter Registration rolls, which show that Dr. Baldwin registered in Alameda in 1890 and 1894, but in 1898 he was registered at 1217 25th Avenue in Oakland. Finally, his obituary, published on July 29, 1902, reported that he, “…died Sunday at his late residence, 1217 Twenty-fifth Avenue. Deceased had lived in Alameda for a number of years and for the last three years had made Oakland his home.”

Alameda Post - a modern photo of 1125 Morton Street
A current day photo of 1125 Morton Street shows how the current owners have preserved and restored this historic home to an extraordinary degree. No detail has been omitted, down to the ornate metalwork above the front porch and on the widow’s walk, along with wooden roof cresting and finials. These are historic Victorian-era details that often deteriorate over time and end up missing on vintage homes, but not here. The Carvalhos have dedicated the past 25 years to bringing this 134-year-old home to the condition it’s in today. Photo Steve Gorman.

Why leave Alameda?

When Dr. Baldwin married Mary Elizabeth, he was about 67 years old and she was 50. For her, it was her second marriage, but for the doctor, it was the end of a long period of bachelorhood. Why he would decide to leave his home in Alameda and move to Oakland is not known, but since their former home at 1217 25th Avenue no longer exists and is today occupied by warehouses, we can’t compare the two homes.

In 1899, the area around 25th Avenue was rural, and not far from Oak Tree Farms and the home of Alfred H. Cohen (son of Alameda railroad baron Alfred A. Cohen) and his wife Emma Bray Cohen, on 29th Avenue. In other words, this currently industrial area of Oakland was a lovely and bucolic place to live at the time and perhaps Dr. Baldwin’s Oakland home was even larger and more comfortable than his home in Alameda. The Oak Tree Farms area was known for its large estates featuring extensive gardens and orchards, and a fruit-growing economy that had inspired the name Fruitvale.

Sadly, Dr. Sherman Baldwin only got to enjoy a few years of married life with Mary Elizabeth before he passed away at their Oakland home on Sunday, July 27, 1902, at the age of 70. The cause of death was listed as “paralysis.” At that point, Mary Elizabeth inherited the Alameda house and moved there with her daughter Mary Pell Walton. It is not known what happened to the Oakland property, but Dr. Baldwin did have two siblings still living in 1902—Almon R. Baldwin and Martha Elizabeth Baldwin—so it could have been deeded to them in his will.

Alameda Post - a map and a plaque that says "City of Alameda The Baldwin & Pell House 1125 Morton Street (James A. Mitchell - Builder) c. 1889 Alameda Historic Monument.
Left: A snippet from the 1897 Sanborn Fire Map shows 1125 Morton Street with its tankhouse and stable located in the backyard. Tankhouses were very common in the late 19th century and early 20th century as a way of obtaining a reliable fresh water supply for a home or group of homes. It is thought that the rear section of this tankhouse was once used as a stable for horses, since Ken and Connie Carvalho found horseshoe prints stamped into the wall and floor of the old structure when they moved in. Library of Congress image, Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1897. Right: A plaque on the outside of 1125 Morton Street recognizes the work done to bring this historic home to the fine condition it’s in today. Photo Steve Gorman.

Belt tightening

Although Dr. Sherman Baldwin was reported to be “quite wealthy” at the time of his wedding in 1899, there is evidence that his widow Mary Elizabeth had to do some serious belt-tightening after his death. Although she had inherited the house at 1125 Morton Street, economic realities dictated some changes in lifestyle. [Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly listed the year of the wedding as 1902.]

Up next

In the next installment of this series, we’ll learn about the changes that were made to the house, and why Mary Elizabeth Baldwin and her daughter Mary Pell Walton ended up having to move into the attic, where they would spend the coming decades of the new century, and where they would later be joined by yet another family member, George Walton Pell III, after both of his parents were killed in car crashes. All that, plus a proper introduction to the current owners, caretakers, and historians of this Alameda Treasure—Ken and Connie Carvalho—when our story continues.

Contributing writer Steve Gorman has been a resident of Alameda since 2000, when he fell in love with the history and architecture of this unique town. Contact him via [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Steve-Gorman.

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