In 1941 the Berkeley Daily Gazette ran a series of articles for the city’s 75-year jubilee by Charles Colin Emslie reminiscing about life in the young town and the greater area in the late 19th century.
“As a special feature, tying the 75th birthday of the city in with the Diamond Jubilee events extending through May and into June, the Gazette tonight published on page two the first of a series of articles on the early history of Berkeley. They have been compiled and written by C.C. Emslie, whose family have lived here since the middle “seventies.” Emslie, now a veteran among local realtors, was a local newspaperman in his early days,” the Gazette noted in introducing the series.
“Today’s special edition of the Gazette is intended to give impetus to the Berkeley celebration which already has attracted national attention. The idea of an annual observance of Berkeley’s birthday was started by the Gazette. Overnight the suggestion was taken to heart by civic leaders.”
This installment is about the original California School for the Deaf, which was destroyed by a fire in 1875. (The building had earlier been damaged while still under construction by the last major earthquake on the Hayward fault in 1868. Mr. Emslie also relates tales about an early “haunted house” in the area.
Local Pioneer Tells of Fire
That Razed Deaf, Blind Home
By C.C. EMSLIE
During the explorations mentioned yesterday we found places of never-ending interest. One favorite trip was to the ruins of the Deaf and Blind Institute, which had been destroyed by fire in 1875. The stone walls which survived the blaze were blown down by explosives, as they had been damaged by the flames. Nothing remained but a mass of ruins.
The story of the fire, for which I am indebted to Mrs. Leon J. Richardson, whose father, Warring Wilkinson, was superintendent of the institute at the time of the fire, shows how fallible is human judgment. The original
specifications for the building called for a slate roof. The exterior walls and inside partitions were to be of stone.
In 1868 while the building was underway came the great earthquake of that year. Masonry and brick buildings bore, as usual, the brunt of the damage . Frame buildings stood up fairly well. The directors decided to complete the stone walls but to avoid danger from future temblors by the substitution of studding, lath and plaster for the partitions, and wood shingles instead of slate, and thus the building was completed.
One fine Sunday afternoon a spark from a kitchen chimney lodged on the roof and in a few hours the interior was completely gutted and the outside walls so damaged that they were taken down by the use of explosives. I am sure the comments of the directors as they surveyed the result of their efforts to construct an enduring edifice must have been interesting.
Losing interest for the time being in the ruins, we would wander south by the old Kelsey orchard to Russell St. and up to the Dunn Ranch, passing on our way a vacant building known as the “Haunted House, ” which stood on the north side of the street, near the head of Pine Ave. There was a number of hair-raising stories about the place and we believed them although they were somewhat contradictory. Among the pleasures of youth in my day was the faculty of believing everything you were told. Mr. Kelsey was seriously annoyed by juvenile raiders of his orchard, then one of the finest in Alameda County.
He had some success in keeping them away with the threat of a salt-loaded gun.
Of course he could not patrol the entire orchard at night and I have been told that he invented the haunted house legend to keep the more youthful of the night time raiders out of the east end of the orchard, where the building stood.
Arriving at the Dunn home on the southeast corner of the Tunnel Road and Domingo Ave., we would stop long enough to sample the juicy pears which Mr. Dunn delighted in growing. A few of the trees still stand opposite the entrance to the Claremont Hotel.
Miss Mary Dunn tells me the trees were planted in 1860.
Following the road a couple of hundred yards, we turned south a short distance to the north fork of Temescal Creek where was the most famous blackberry patch in the Berkeley hills. It is probably that a combination of soil and climate peculiar to the location that added size and flavor to the berries beyond those of any other section.
If our berrying was finished before sunset, our homeward route was straight down Russell St.
After sunset ‘it wasn’t, as there was the little matter of the haunted house to be considered, so before we came to the abode of fear we would make a wide detour through what is now Elmwood Park until we were sure no ghost would bother us.