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Today’s Alameda Treasure – 1125 Morton Street, The Baldwin-Pell House, Part 4

Over the past few installments, we’ve been unraveling the mysteries of the historic house at 1125 Morton Street, built by local carpenter and builder J. A. Mitchell in 1889. In Part 1, we introduced the Queen Anne, high basement cottage and its first owner, Dr. Sherman Charles Baldwin. It had been believed that when Dr. Baldwin married Mary Elizabeth Pell in 1899, they lived in this house. Further digging, however, revealed that the Baldwins actually lived at the doctor’s other home in Oakland after their marriage.

Alameda Post - 1125 Morton Street decorated with Christmas lights
1125 Morton Street is seen here decorated for the holidays. One hundred and thirty-five Christmases have come and gone since this Queen Anne, High Basement style home was built in 1889 by J. A. Mitchell. The memories and family history of this historic home are what we have been exploring over the past few installments of this series. Photo Steve Gorman.

In Part 2, further research into the past found that Dr. Baldwin was actually 67 on his wedding day in August of 1899, not 65 as the Alameda Daily Argus had reported. Further, we explored a coincidence where the last name of Mary Elizabeth’s first husband Alonzo Walton just happened to also be the middle name of her brother, George Walton Pell Sr., along with two more generations of George W. Pells. Or was it? Documentation shows their middle names listed as Washington, not Walton, including on official government documents, though in other places it is listed as Walton. That mystery is not fully resolved.

Then in Part 3, we looked into why small windows suddenly appeared in the attic level of 1125 Morton Street—along with a side stairway landing—after Dr. Baldwin died in 1902, and why a young man from Denver made his way to Alameda in the early 1930s, to join the two residents living up in that attic.



Alameda Post - an old newspaper clipping detailing a real estate transfer from Sherman C. Baldwin to Caroline Baldwin
This March 11, 1893 Alameda Daily Argus real estate transfer notice is a clue that Dr. Sherman Charles Baldwin had been married before, to a woman named Caroline. It had previously been thought that Dr. Baldwin was married for the first time when he and Mary Elizabeth Pell were wed in 1899. Alameda Daily Argus Image via Newspapers.com.

More surprises from the past

As one digs into the past, little surprises keep popping up. Recently, while searching the archives of local newspapers of the late 19th century, I came across a real estate transaction notice in the Alameda Daily Argus, dated March 11, 1893, stating, “Sherman C. Baldwin to Caroline Baldwin, his wife, lot 50 x 150, on the west side of Morton street, 225 feet north from Kings avenue, being a portion of lots 4 to 7, block 2 of the Fitch tract; $5,000.” This description lines up perfectly with 1125 Morton Street, since the former Kings Avenue is now San Antonio Avenue.

The surprise here was learning that Dr. Baldwin had been married before. The passed-down history had suggested that his marriage to Mary Elizabeth Pell Walton in 1899 was his first marriage and her second. This new information suggests that the doctor had previously been married to a woman named Caroline, and that he transferred the house into her name in 1893, at a value of $5,000 (the original cost of the house in 1889 was $3,000). The reason for this property transfer is not known, but just to add to the mystery, another real estate transaction announcement in the Alameda Daily Evening Encinal, dated February 7, 1896, shows Caroline Baldwin transferring title of the property back to Sherman Charles Baldwin, at a value of $5,060, just a few years after it had been transferred into her name. Why transfer the property back to the doctor in 1896?

Alameda Post - a marriage license
Among the documents, photos, and ephemera contained in the Baldwin-Pell family archives, now curated by current homeowner Ken Carvalho, are rare original items like this ornate Alameda County marriage license for Sherman Charles Baldwin and Mary Elizabeth Walton, who were married on August 25, 1899. Mythical cupids grace the corners of the document, which is in remarkably good condition after 125 years. Document from the Baldwin-Pell collection, now in the Carvalho collection.
Alameda Post - old handwritten census data
The 1950 census shows George W. Pell and his second cousin Mary P. Walton living together at 1125 ½ Morton Street. George is listed as head of household, probably because he was the one working. In the 1940 census, Mary was listed as head of household. This form also indicates that George was working 40 hours a week as school custodian for the city school district, which we have learned was the Oakland School District. There is also reason to believe that George was later promoted to a position in the facilities department. The places of birth are, as expected, Colorado and New York. Source: census data via FamilySearch.org

Further digging into the genealogy records finds Caroline Rehn (1831-1896), a native of Prussia, who also lived in Sherman Baldwin’s native Ohio as a young woman. She is connected to Dr. Baldwin in the records, though no specific marriage event or date is listed. Caroline died in Alameda on August 25, 1896 at just 65 years of age. The obvious inference here is that Caroline Rehn was Dr. Sherman Baldwin’s first wife, and, becoming terminally ill in 1896, had the Morton Street property transferred back to the doctor’s name. Three years later, Dr. Baldwin would marry Mary Elizabeth Pell Walton, a woman 17 years his junior.  Adding more detail to the story, Dr. Baldwin’s first wife Caroline seems to have been previously married to Jacob Litzen (1817-1873), also a native of Prussia, with whom she had 9 children.  Jacob died in 1873, so perhaps that is when she married Dr. Baldwin? The fascinating thing about digging into the past is that the more you dig, the more surprises and questions you find.

Alameda Post - a black and white photo of the Pell family on a trip. They are all standing or sitting on a car
A vintage photo from a Pell family road trip from Denver, Colorado to Southern California in 1920. Young George Pell III is seated on the door of the car and was 9 years old at this time. The photo is not annotated, but I’m guessing that’s an uncle of George’s at far left (his Grandfather George W. Pell Sr. had died in 1911), then (left to right) his grandmother Mary S. Pell, his mother Clara Dora Pell, and finally his father George W. Pell Jr. The tragedy is that his grandmother, mother, and father would all be dead within just a few years, leaving George an orphan. Photo from the Baldwin-Pell collection, now in the Carvalho collection.

It’s all connected

Events in one part of the world often have unforeseen effects in other parts of the world. When Mary Elizabeth Pell Baldwin’s grandnephew George Walton (Washington) Pell III lost both of his parents within a year in Denver, Colorado, in 1923-1924 (see Part 3), that tragedy led to the house at 1125 Morton Street remaining in Baldwin-Pell family ownership all the way into the late 1990s, when Ken and Connie Carvalho would become only the second family to own it, after 109 years of Baldwin-Pell ownership. Had young George not lost both of his parents, he might never have moved to Alameda to live with his Aunt and cousin, and the house may have long since been sold to a variety of new owners. That would have meant that the treasure trove of Baldwin-Pell family history we’ve been exploring in these articles would have been lost to history.

As it is, George W. Pell III’s long residency in the house safeguarded this fascinating history for us to explore today, 27 years after his death, and 135 years after Dr. Sherman Charles Baldwin first purchased the house in 1889. When I look at the face of young George, I feel a genuine sadness for the boy who lost his parents at such an early age. To lose a parent at any age is hard, but to lose both at just 12 years old is tragic. The silver lining is that George went on to live a long life (he lived to 86), serving in the U. S. Coast Guard during WWII, and then left us a precious legacy of his family’s history.

Alameda Post - a black and white photo of Pell's Oyster and Fish House
The Pells were well known and prosperous in Denver, starting from the year 1881, when George W. Pell Sr. moved there from Brooklyn, New York. His Pell’s Oyster House was a fixture of the Denver dining scene for 56 years, and we will explore that history more in depth in a coming installment of this series. Photo Denver Public Library Western History Resources.

Go West, young man

The phrase, “Go West, young man” has been credited to American author and newspaper man Horace Greeley (1811-1872), referring to the increased opportunities for men (and women) in the western U.S., and the related concept of manifest destiny. There is some controversy about who first used the phrase in print, but its idea plainly struck a chord.

Around 1931, after completing high school and two years of college, George W. Pell III headed to California. In those days, the journey would have likely been by train, with George possibly boarding a Southern Pacific train at Denver’s Union Station, destination Oakland, California. The exact reason for George’s move is not known, but a young man who had lost both of his parents may have been craving a new start for himself. He had a great aunt and second cousin in Alameda, and soon joined them at 1125 ½ Morton Street, the attic living space above the main house that had been rented out for income.

When George arrived in Alameda, he was around 20 years old. If indeed the year was 1931, the United States, and the world, was experiencing what came to be known as the Great Depression. By the early to mid-1930s, unemployment in the U. S. reached 25%, and everyone was tightening their belts. Census records indicate that George found work as a janitor with the Oakland School District. By this time his great aunt Mary Elizabeth was 82 years old and was likely not working (previous reporting indicates she was a trained nurse). His second cousin Mary Walton Pell was 56, and may have been working outside of the home. Between what money they brought in from their jobs, and rental income from the main house, the Baldwin-Pell family living in the attic of 1125 Morton Street rode out the depression as best they could.

Alameda Post - George Pell in uniform in a black and white photo
George W. Pell III is seen here outside a naval supply shop in Hawaii during his time serving in the U. S. Coast Guard Reserve during World War II. George received an honorable discharge in October of 1945, when the war was finally over. Photo from the Baldwin-Pell collection, now in the Carvalho collection.

George goes to war

About 10 years after George W. Pell III arrived in Alameda, the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor precipitated the entry of the United States into World War II. A national draft required all able-bodied men ages 18-64 to register with their local draft board for military service. In practice though, only men 18-45 were drafted. Many women volunteered for service as well, both in the military and in war-related industries. George joined the U. S. Coast Guard Reserves, and while it is not known whether he saw active combat, he surely played a vital role in the war effort just by being deployed during wartime. On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered to the Allied powers, and Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945, bringing WWII to an end.

George W. Pell III received his honorable discharge from the U. S. Coast Guard Reserve on October 25, 1945. At this time, George was able to return to his job with the Oakland School District, moving up to the facilities department. He was 34 years old at the time, and may have stayed with this job until retirement. By this point, his great aunt Mary Elizabeth was gone, having died in 1937 at 88 years old. From then on it was just him and his second cousin Mary Walton Pell living in the attic at 1125 ½ Morton Street. Neither would ever marry, and his cousin Mary died in 1960. George then lived alone in the large, rambling attic for the next 35 years, until poor health required him to move in with a good friend on St. Charles Street, for help with daily living, while the Morton Street house remained in his name.

Up next

Thanks to the treasure trove of family history and photos preserved for decades by George W. Pell III in the basement of 1125 Morton Street, and the careful curation of those archives by current owners Ken and Connie Carvalho, there is still much of the story to tell. It would be a shame not to share these priceless photos and memories of the past with Alameda Post readers, and we will be continuing that in upcoming installments of this series on our Alameda Treasure at 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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