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Today’s Alameda Treasure – 1125 Morton Street, The Baldwin-Pell House, Part 3

The great thing about old houses is that they have a lot of stories to tell. Some stories are easily found, due to the tales that get passed down to the current owners. Others take a little more digging to ferret out, and we’ve been exploring those in the past two installments of this series. In Part 1 and Part 2 of the story of 1125 Morton Street, we learned about some discrepancies in the known story, including an inaccuracy of the age of one of our main characters on their wedding day as well as where the couple actually lived afterwards, and even some confusion about middle names.

Alameda Post - a sepia photo of 1125 Morton Street
A view of 1125 Morton Street in 1911. On the right side of the house, toward the rear, you can see the landing and stairway that were built after 1902 when Dr. Baldwin passed away. This new stairway and landing allowed access to an interior staircase to the attic, where Mary Elizabeth Baldwin and her daughter Mary Pell Walton would spend the rest of their days, while renting out the main level for income. They were later joined up there by grandnephew and cousin George W. Pell III. Also visible on the side of the house near the top right is one of the square windows installed to allow more light and air in the attic living quarters. Photo from the Baldwin-Pell collection, now held in the Carvalho collection.

This Queen Anne-High Basement style home dates back to 1889, and so has had plenty of time to build up an interesting history, including the inaccuracies that inevitably creep into the record. Untangling those mysteries is part of the journey of discovery when looking into a historic house.

Setting the record straight

Alameda Post - old framed signs that say "Dr. S. C. Baldwin Homeopathist" and "Physician and Surgeon."
Placards on the outside of 1125 Morton Street harken back to the days when Dr. Sherman Charles Baldwin lived here and maintained a small office. The plaque on top reads, “Dr. S. C. Baldwin, Homeopathist.” Homeopathy is a field of medicine based on the concept that the body can heal itself with the help of tiny amounts of natural substances. The bottom plaque reads, “Physician and Surgeon.” These vintage metal plaques were found among the family archives in the basement of the house when the Carvalhos took possession of it in 1998, and may have once graced the doctor’s medical offices in San Francisco in the 19th century. Photo Steve Gorman.

So far our research has established that original homeowner Dr. Sherman Charles Baldwin (1832-1902) was actually 67 years old on his wedding day in 1899, not 65 as an Alameda Daily Argus article reported. Additionally, the doctor and his new wife, Mary Elizabeth Pell (1849-1937), did not live in the Morton Street house after their wedding, but rather in Dr. Baldwin’s other home at 1217 25th Avenue in Oakland. We visited that site at the corner of East 12th Street and 25th Avenue and found only parking lots and businesses, with not a house in sight. While the house is gone, the record does show that this was the Baldwin’s home site during the period 1899-1902.

Finally, a coincidence arose when it was noticed that Mary Elizabeth had a first husband with the last name Walton, the same name her brother George had as a middle name. That could be chalked up to just a coincidence, except that documentation on the Pell family shows the middle name Washington appearing instead as Walton in a number of cases. Could Mary Elizabeth’s first married name Walton accidentally have been transposed onto her brother’s and nephew’s middle names in the records? There is evidence both for and against this theory, which is an example of how digging into history often leads to the discovery of more questions than answers.



Back to Alameda

After just three years of marriage, Dr. Sherman Baldwin passed away on July 27, 1902 at 70 years old. His widow Mary Elizabeth was 53 years old at that time, and although still a young woman, would never marry again. She and her 27-year-old daughter Mary Pell Walton (1875-1960) moved back to the Alameda house on Morton Street. She’d been through two husbands at this point, and apparently two was enough. Although Mary Elizabeth had inherited the Alameda house, she and her daughter ended up short on income, and so came up with a plan to generate some. Sometime after Dr. Baldwin’s death, Mary Elizabeth made alterations to 1125 Morton Street to allow her and her daughter to move up into the large attic, while renting out the main house to generate income. This likely happened around 1903-1904.

Alameda Post - a black and white photo of 1125 Morton Street, with small windows visible in the attic
South side view of 1125 Morton Street taken in 1979. The three additional attic windows added around 1903 can be seen clearly here. Those windows helped provide more light and air to the attic living space when the widow Mary Elizabeth moved up there with her daughter Mary Pell Walton after the death of Dr. Baldwin. Photo from the Baldwin-Pell collection, now held in the Carvalho collection.

Alterations

Although Mary and her daughter may have been a little short on cash after the good doctor passed away, they were at least able to invest some money in altering the house for attic living. One of the first jobs was getting more windows installed up there. As originally designed, the large, rambling attic had windows in the front and north side gables, along with a couple above the front porch. There was also a small skylight near the center of the roof. Since that wasn’t enough for adequate light and ventilation, they had more windows installed along the north, south, and west sides. These small windows sat just a couple of feet off the floor, due to the short side walls in the attic.

The next vital task was creating a separate entry to the attic, so they wouldn’t have to walk through the tenant’s space below. In order to accomplish this, they made use of an existing staircase that led from the dining room to the attic, and created a separate covered outside landing on the north side of the house to access that stairway. Finally, a small kitchen and half-bath were installed up there, along with walls to create some different rooms. The shower stall was in the basement, reached by descending two sets of stairs (one outdoors) and passing under the back porch to reach it. This renovation must have been a substantial project that took some time and money, but ultimately it proved a good investment.

The main level of the house was then able to generate income for Mary Elizabeth and her daughter for the rest of their lives, as they lived in their cozy attic. From that time until decades later, when Ken and Connie Carvalho converted the house back to single-family use in 1998, the attic space took on the separate address of 1125 ½ Morton Street.

Alameda Post - a black and white photo of a father and son sitting together on a camping trip
A sweet photo of George W. Pell III with his father George W. Pell Jr., on a camping trip near Denver, Colorado, summer 1914. Young George was just 3 years old at this time, and his father 26. I love Dad’s debonair camping outfit, the classic wicker picnic basket, old-time canvas tent, and what looks like some kind of trunk with a flip-down step that the boy George is sitting on. Or is that the back of a car? These memories must have been precious for George III, since his father would be dead of a stroke within nine years, and his mother killed in a car accident just a year after that. Those events set in motion George W. Pell’s journey west to Alameda around 1931, where he would eventually inherit the house at 1125 Morton Street. Photo from the Baldwin-Pell collection, now held in the Carvalho collection.

A Denver connection and a tragedy

Mary Elizabeth Pell’s nephew, George Walton Pell, Jr. (1888-1923) lived in Denver, Colorado, with his wife Clara Dora Wittman Pell (1886-1924). George was the son of Mary Elizabeth Pell’s brother George Walton Pell, Sr. (1851-1911). These are the Pells for whom we are unsure as to whether their middle names are actually Walton or Washington, as it appears both ways in the historical record. They had a son, who they named, predictably, George Walton (Washington) Pell III (1911-1997). Young George was living an apparently happy life with his family in Denver, including camping trips in the Rocky Mountains. See Part 2 of this series for a historic photo of George camping with his parents in 1914.

Tragedy would enter young George’s life in November 1923, when he was just 12 years old. His father, George W. Pell Jr., died suddenly of a stroke, at just 36 years old. He had been a veterinarian and also a manager of the family restaurant. To make matters worse, his mother Clara Dora Pell died less than a year later, in August of 1924, in a car crash. The passed-down oral history had indicated that both parents died in car crashes, but a 2013 article on the Denver Public Library’s Genealogy and Western History page tells the story of the Pell Oyster and Fish House, which operated for 56 years in Denver. The legendary establishment was founded by George W. Pell Jr.’s father George W. Pell Sr., and in telling the story of the oyster house, the article reports, “In 1923, George Jr. died of a stroke at the age of 36. Mary S. Pell died in an automobile accident in 1926.” Mary S. Pell was the mother of George W. Pell Jr. and the wife of George W. Pell Sr. This is where the confusion about the cause of death of George W. Pell Jr. may have entered the historical record. While his mother and wife did apparently die in automobile accidents, he actually died of a stroke—at least if the reporting of the Denver Public Library is correct. When it comes to history, you sometimes have to consider multiple sources and decide which one is more likely to be correct.

Alameda Post - a certificate of honorable discharge
The U. S. Coast Guard honorable discharge certificate for George Washington Pell III, dated May 25, 1945. George served in the Coast Guard Reserve, and would have been 34 years old at that time. 1945 marked the end of World War II, so George likely played a vital role in the reserves during wartime. Another interesting detail is that the man commonly known as George Walton Pell is listed on this official government document as George Washington Pell. So, was his middle name actually Washington or Walton? As far as the U. S. government is concerned, it looks like it’s Washington. Document from the Baldwin-Pell collection, now held in the Carvalho collection.
Alameda Post - a photo of an old census written in cursive
The 1910 census shows Mary Baldwin, head of household, 61 years old, along with her daughter Mary P. Walton, 34 years old, living at 1125 ½ Morton Street. The other names below are their neighbors on the same side of the street, in the direction of Encinal Avenue. By this time her husband, Dr. Sherman Baldwin, had been deceased for about eight years. Image from FamilySearch.org census records search.

A new resident arrives in the attic

With both of his parents deceased by 1924, young George must have relied on the love and care of his other family members in Denver. While his grandfather, George W. Pell Sr., had died in 1911, he at least still had his grandmother, Mary Skidwon Pell, although she too died just two years later in 1926. Somehow he survived those early years of orphanhood, and after finishing high school and two years of college, headed out on his own to California. Why exactly he made this move is not known, but it could have been a moment in his life when he was restless, wanted to leave the sorrows of the losses of his parent’s behind, and seek his fortune on the West Coast, as so many have over the years. Having an aunt and cousin in Alameda was an additional draw, and George W. Pell III arrived in the Island City around 1931. He would have been 20 years old at that time, while his Aunt Mary Elizabeth was 82 and his cousin Mary Pell Walton was 56. Room was made for George in the attic, and by the 1940 census he was listed as a “cousin” living at 1125 ½ Morton Street, while Mary P. Walton was listed as “head of household.” By this time, Mary Elizabeth Pell Baldwin had passed away in 1937, and so it was just the cousins, Mary P. Walton and George W. Pell III, sharing the large attic space from then on.

Alameda Post - a current view of the side of 1125 Morton Street
In this current day view of the north side of 1125 Morton Street, you can see how the exterior steps and landing have been removed, as current owners Ken and Connie Carvalho have restored the home back to its original single-family configuration. Although the exterior landing was removed, the interior staircase to the attic remains, though re-routed to the kitchen instead of the dining room where it previously originated. Increased foliage makes it harder to fully view the house from this vantage point. Photo Steve Gorman.

Up next

Once again we’ve reached the end of a chapter and haven’t gotten to all the things I wanted to talk about, such as what young George did once he arrived in Alameda, and what happened to the old tankhouse that once stood behind the main house. I’ve also come across photos of the famous Pell Oyster and Fish House in Denver, a big part of the Pell family legacy in that town, and even a unique granite headstone for George W. Pell Sr.’s grave that perfectly reflects his life as a fish house man. All that, plus the story of the changes and renovations current owners Ken and Connie Carvalho have made to the house since they purchased it in 1998, 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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