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Today’s Alameda Treasure – 1125 Morton Street, The Baldwin-Pell House, Part 2

In Part 1 of the story of 1125 Morton Street, we learned about its first owner, Dr. Sherman Charles Baldwin (1832-1911) and how, at 67 years old, the bachelor doctor married for the first time. His bride was Mary Elizabeth Pell (1849-1937), a woman 17 years his junior. Mary had been married before, and had three children with her first husband, Alonzo Walton (1844-1902), in New York City. When Alonzo and Mary separated in 1885, she made her way west with her youngest daughter, Mary Pell Walton (1875-1960). They lived first with Mary Elizabeth’s sister Selina in Oakland, then in various homes in Alameda until 1899 when she married Dr. Baldwin, a doctor and surgeon who had offices on Market Street in San Francisco.

Alameda Post - a black and white photo of 1124 Morton Street
A vintage view of 1125 Morton Street taken in 1900, when the house was just 11 years old. It was built in 1889 in the Queen Anne style, and was first owned by Dr. Sherman Charles Baldwin. By 1900, Dr. Baldwin was living at his Oakland home with his new wife Mary Elizabeth, whom he married in 1899. He may have kept this Alameda house as his second home, or rented it out while he was living elsewhere. Compared to the 1889 photo in last week’s installment, one can observe how much the foliage has grown in just 11 years. At center bottom is a carriage step, a feature of Victorian-era homes that allowed passengers to step down from their horse-drawn carriages. The step is still in place today, thanks to Ken Carvalho’s insistence that the City not remove this historic artifact. Photo originally from Baldwin-Pell collection, now held in the Carvalho collection.

Unraveling mysteries

As one starts to delve into a story, little inconsistencies usually start to appear. For example, a newspaper announcement in the Alameda Daily Argus, dated August 30, 1899, reports that “Dr. Sherman Charles Baldwin and Mrs. Mary E. Walton, both of Alameda, were married yesterday by Justice of the Peace Stetson of Oakland. Dr. Baldwin is sixty-five years of age and his bride is fifty.” Jumping ahead to July 29, 1902, an announcement in the Oakland Tribune states, “Sherman Charles Baldwin, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, 70 years of age, died Sunday at his late residence at 1217 Twenty-fifth avenue.”

I’ve never been all that good at math, but if Dr. Baldwin was 65 when he was married in 1899, how did he end up 70 years old when he died just under 3 years later in 1902? I’m not going to speculate on how married life agreed with the doctor or how it aged him, but I will say that an error had probably crept into the reporting in the Daily Argus in 1899. Whether that was because the reporter got it wrong, or because Dr. Baldwin stated his age as younger than it really was, we’ll never know, but genealogy records show Baldwin as having been born in March 1832, meaning he was actually 67 on his wedding day. 124-year-old error, corrected.



Alameda Post - two newspaper clippings. One has the headline "Twain are now one" and the second's headline is "Died of paralysis."
Left: An announcement in the Alameda Daily Argus, on August 30, 1899, informs readers of the wedding of Mrs. Mary Walton and Dr. S. C. Baldwin. The catchy headline, “Twain Are Now One,” makes use of an archaic term for the number two (twain). Readers may know that the writer Samuel Clemens used the pen name Mark Twain as a nod to his steam boating days, with the term referring to marking the depth of water, meaning two fathoms, or 12 feet. Also of interest in this article is the groom’s age, 65. As is described in this article, he must have actually been 67 years old on his wedding day, since when he died in 1902 he was reported to be 70. Alameda Daily Argus article via Newspapers.com. Right: A death announcement in the Oakland Tribune, on July 29, 1902, reports that just three years after his wedding day, Dr. Sherman Charles Baldwin died at his Oakland home from paralysis. Paralysis can be caused by a stroke, or possibly Parkinson’s disease. After his death, his wife Mary Elizabeth inherited his Alameda home, but possibly not the Oakland house. Oakland Tribune article via Newspapers.com.

Further mysteries

In the first installment of this story, we also learned that current 1125 Morton Street owners Ken and Connie Carvalho had been under the impression that Dr. Baldwin and his bride Mary Elizabeth had moved into their Alameda home after their wedding day in 1899. Further digging revealed that the newlyweds actually moved into Dr. Baldwin’s other home, at 1217 25th Avenue in Oakland (see Part 1, under the subheading, “A home in Oakland”). All of this is to say that history is, in the end, a story told by different people at different times, and remembered in different ways. Like the old game of telephone, a message relayed down the line from person to person, even when written down, often looks quite different after it’s traveled through a few people or generations

Alameda Post - the front of 1125 Morton Street with a carriage step
A current day view of 1125 Morton St., showing the carriage step still in place after 125 years. The City has wanted to remove this step as part of sidewalk and curb maintenance, but homeowner Ken Carvalho insists that it remain in place, as part of the historic integrity of the house and neighborhood. In some cases, the homeowner’s last name would be carved in the stone at the front of the step, but in this case that feature appears not to have been done, perhaps as a money-saving measure. Photo Steve Gorman.

Keepers of history

This story wouldn’t be possible without the dedication and assistance of Ken Carvalho and his wife Connie Carvalho. They are the first non-Baldwin/Pell owners of the home, after 109 years of continuous ownership and residency by the original family (1889-1998). Since 1998 they have dedicated themselves to restoring and preserving the history of this significant Victorian-era home. They are uniquely qualified for this job, not only because of their keen interest in history, but also because of their professions: Ken, an Alameda native, is a senior estimator with Buestad Construction, and Connie, who hails from Las Vegas, is a facility assistant at Perforce Software.

When they purchased the home in 1998, they also inherited a treasure trove of Baldwin-Pell family history, which had been stored in boxes in the basement for decades. Since there were no known heirs after the death of George Walton Pell III in 1997, the Carvalhos became keepers of this rich history. This trove of old photos, marriage licenses, doctoral diplomas, stationery and other ephemera, is a historian’s dream, and we’ll be going over it in future installments as we delve deeper into the history of this Alameda Treasure. The Carvalhos have been very generous with their time and with sharing their collection of Baldwin-Pell history. Alameda Post readers are getting a glimpse into this history thanks to Ken and Connie.

Alameda Post - a parking lot at 25th Ave and East 12th Street
I visited the site of Dr. Sherman Baldwin’s former home in the 1200 block of 25th Avenue in Oakland. This once-green pastoral landscape of fine homes and fruit orchards has changed dramatically over the decades. Today it is largely an industrial/retail neighborhood, with no sign of Dr. Baldwin’s old home, or even any homes at all. Photo Steve Gorman.

A death leads to belt-tightening

After the death of her husband in 1902, just under three years after their wedding, the widow Mary Elizabeth moved from their Oakland home to their other house at 1125 Morton Street, with her 27-year-old daughter Mary Walton Pell. What happened to the home at 1217 25th Ave. in Oakland is not known, but it may have been inherited by other heirs of Dr. Baldwin. Although Dr. Baldwin had been described as “quite wealthy” in the 1899 wedding announcement in the Daily Argus, it appears that his widow had to do some belt-tightening after his death. While Mary Elizabeth now owned a nice house in a good part of Alameda, just steps from Franklin Park, she and her daughter apparently ended up short on income and needed to find a way to generate some. The way they found to do that was by moving into the attic of the house and renting out the main floor.

Once they moved into that attic, both Mary and her daughter would spend the rest of their lives up there, until Mary Elizabeth’s death in 1937 and Mary Walton Pell’s passing in 1960. The mother had never married again and the daughter never married at all. But they weren’t alone up there. Sometime after 1924, they were joined by yet another family member, George Walton Pell III, the grandnephew of Mary Elizabeth and second cousin of Mary Walton Pell.

Coincidence or error

Here yet another mystery emerges, or perhaps just a coincidence. The Walton names here are not all connected by bloodline. Walton is the last name of Mary Elizabeth’s first husband, Alonzo. Walton also happens to be the middle name of Mary Elizabeth’s brother, George Walton Pell Sr., and from there gets passed down as the middle name of both his son George Walton Pell Jr., and his grandson George Walton Pell III—the one who ends up moving into the attic of 1125 Morton Street after 1924. The coincidence here is that Mary Elizabeth Pell just happened to marry a man with the same last name as her brother’s middle name—Walton. And yet I found places in the records where the middle name is actually listed as Washington, not Walton. For example, George Walton Pell III’s U. S. Coast Guard Honorable Discharge certificate lists his name as George Washington Pell. And George Walton Pell Jr. is listed as George Washington Pell on the Family Search genealogy site. Then again, the Certificate of Scattering, dated March 17, 1998, certifies that “…the cremated remains of George Walton Pell (III) have been respectfully scattered by air in accordance with the laws of the State of California, over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, East of Lake Tahoe.” So perhaps that is the last word, though I am still perplexed by this Walton/Washington mystery. Sometimes when you dig into history, you end up finding more questions than answers.

Alameda Post - a black and white photo of a family next to an old car in a field with mountains in the background
An extraordinary piece of Americana, this photo is of a family camping trip near Denver, Colorado in 1914. Thanks to the Carvalho’s careful curation of Baldwin-Pell family history, they have preserved this image of George Walton (Washington) Pell III, with his parents Clara Dora Pell (1886-1924) and George Washington Pell, Jr. (1888-1923). This happy family would be broken up within 10 years of this photo, when both parents lose their lives, leaving young George an orphan. That tragedy would lead to the Pell family retaining ownership of 1125 Morton Street all the way up to the year 1997, when Ken and Connie Carvalho would step forward as the next stewards of this historic home. Photo originally from Baldwin-Pell collection, now held in the Carvalho collection.

Up next

When our story continues, we’ll look into the tragedies that caused young George Walton (or Washington) Pell III to leave his home in Denver, Colorado, at just 14 years old to come and live with his great aunt Mary Elizabeth and second cousin Mary Walton Pell up in the attic at 1125 Morton Street. There’s yet another mystery here, with conflicting stories on what exactly happened to young George’s parents, which we’ll also explore. Then, using archival photos, we’ll notice changes to the exterior of the house that indicated people were living up in the attic, and learn what happened to the tankhouse (water tower) that once stood behind the house, and what came of efforts to rebuild it. All of that, and more, as we explore the rich history of this Alameda Treasure, 1125 Morton Street.

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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