If These Walls Could Talk: Part I

Ever get curious about the history of your house? Our story starts in 1846 when Benjamin Campbell breaks from the Donner Party and arrives in the Valley of the Hearts Delight.

After we bought our house a couple of blocks east of Downtown Campbell (one block north of Campbell Park) we became curious about the history of our property. After visiting the Campbell Historical Museum and reading Jeanette Watson's great book Campbell: The Orchard City we researched the history of our neighborhood and house all the way back to its original owner who was a prominent Campbellite who met with a dramatic and tragic end (cue Dragnet theme music... DUM-de-DUM-DUM).

Here in Part I we'll share a few tidbits about the history of our property and save the drama of our house and its first owner for Part II.

A Chronological History of Our Property

1846- On October 25th Benjamin Campbell, having just turned 20, arrives by wagon train with his father William Campbell and other family members, after joining then splitting off from the famed Donner Party. California had just become part of the U.S. after conquering it during the war with Mexico.

1851-  Benjamin Campell purchased 160 acres of Santa Clara Mission grazing lands (which included our property) from Juan C. Galindo in March 1851 with proceeds from working his father William Campbell's Saratoga Creek lumber mill.

1852- Benjamin Campbell went back east to retrieve his bride Mary Rucker and led a wagon train back home to find his land occupied by squatters. The U.S. had recently been at war with Mexico (which ended 1848) and California (admitted to the union September 9, 1850) was a new state and deeds and land rights were still being worked out. He paid off the squatters and finally received clear title to his land years later on May 2, 1870. Benjamin and Mary had a son, James Henry, the first child born in Campbell on December 12, 1852.

- The boundaries of the original 160-acre Campbell ranch are Winchester, Latimer, Sunnyside, and Los Gatos Creek (our property is along the eastern edge).

1866- Speaking of Los Gatos Creek, a huge flood in 1866 caused the creek to cut a new channel along its current banks from Camden to Meridian. The original channel was through McGlincy Avenue and Dry Creek Road. Afterwards, Benjamin Campbell swapped land with his neighbor to the east so their land wouldn't be divided by the new creek channel.

1886- On February 12 Benjamin Campbell deeded 1.12 acres to the South Pacific Coast Railroad to create a railroad and telegraph station, which literally put Campbell "on the map" and greatly facilitated growing and shipping fruit from The Orchard City.

1886- John Colpitts (J.C.) Ainsley came from England to Campbell and bought land from Benjamin Campbell's son-in-law, William H. Swope to grow and ship preserved fruit to England (first dried, then canned). Ainsley pioneered fruit canning and invented fruit cocktail. His orchard was in the NE area of Campbell and Winchester and he later bought land adjacent to the railroad tracks to save money on hauling (see photo of map). Some old cannery buildings still stand along the railroad tracks on Salmar Ave.

1890- Here's an interesting tidbit- Benjamin Campbell was a tee-totaler who prohibited alcohol sales as a condition of selling lots when he started to develop his new town in the early 1890's.

1912- Ainsley purchased the land east of the railroad tracks (in our neighborhood) to build cottages to ease the housing shortage for his workers, many of whom lived in tents during the height of the fruit season. Between the cottages and the creek where our property is located was a cherry orchard. Do you suppose that's where the cherries in the fruit cocktail were grown?

-The Ainsley Corporation's office from its canning days still stands in an old brick building at 43 N. Harrison, adjacent to Ainsley Park, and is still used to run the family business (mostly real estate).

1945- the Ainsley Corporation subdivided our neighborhood (between E. Campbell Avenue, Los Gatos Creek, El Patio, and Page) anticipating a post-war demand for housing. The lots were designated for war veterans.

1947- Our lot was purchased and our house built by a returning WWII vet, the scion of a prominent Campbell family who was on the first City Council when Campbell was incorporated in 1952.

1957- The prominent Campbellite and founding City Council member who built our house meets with a dramatic and tragic end.

What dramatic and tragic end? (...DUM-de-DUM-DUM)

Stay tuned for Part II coming soon.

Got a house with an interesting history?

 Please share in the Comments area below!

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Adelle Gabrielson February 21, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Loved this! Love our historical little city and all its wonderful stories. Can't wait for the dramatic conclusion of yours!
Sandy Richards February 21, 2012 at 09:00 PM
What a great idea to learn the history of your house! So fascinating!
David and Darlene Steele February 22, 2012 at 05:49 PM
You just gave us an idea Sandy- Part III will be "How to Research the History of Your House." Thanks!
Mayra Flores de Marcotte February 22, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Love this piece! I did research on my home a while ago and found out great little tid bits. :) Can't wait to read Part's II and III!
Sandy Richards February 23, 2012 at 04:30 AM
Great! I'd love to know how you did it!


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