Lot 99

Garfield Park, Santa Cruz, California

June 15, 1893 

Celia Clarke, taken in Santa Cruz in the 1890s.
Celia Clarke, taken in Santa Cruz in the 1890s.

A young woman—a girl, really—with wavy chestnut brown brown hair sat next to a window at a writing table in the front room of a cottage. She appeared faded and wan in comparison to the brightness of the late afternoon light playing on the leaves of the trees across the road. Closing her eyes and and turning her face to the west she imagined the diamond sparkle of the ocean waves, which were actually just out of her sight.

Close-up of embossed border of a photo taken in Santa Cruz in the 1890s.
Close-up of embossed border of Celia’s photo taken in Santa Cruz in the 1890s.

Her attention returned to the room, and to the pen and paper before her. She rested her forehead in one hand while she wrote with the other, her note paper lit up by the sun streaming through the window.

My Dearest Brother, 

I don’t suppose you will have time to answer this, but then I’ll write anyway and you must write if you can possibly spare the time. 

 

She sighed and gazed out the window for several long moments, then returned to her writing.

We haven’t been any place today, we intended going to Capitola, but my head has ached all day so we stayed at home, maybe we will go tomorrow. 

Her awareness of her headache faded a bit as she thought of her brother, Foster, nicknamed Posy in his younger years although he disdained the sweet moniker now. He was two years her elder, her only remaining brother. Little Georgie, three years younger than herself, had been taken by typhoid six years ago when he was only 7. Her eldest brother, Willie, had bled to death after a hunting accident three years ago, leaving behind a young grieving widow, Anny (Stover) Clarke.

The letter Celia was writing would find Foster back home on the family ranch in the northern Sacramento Valley. She smiled fondly as her words took on a teasing tone.

It has been quite warm today. You must have had a scorcher up home. How do you like ploughing? Quite nice and pleasant on warm days!

A breeze wafted in off the ocean, through the open window. Celia lifted her head to feel the cool breeze on her face, tasted the salty tang on her lips.

Celia Clarke, undated photo
Celia Clarke, undated photo

She was now several weeks into her stay at the cottage, having come with her elder sister Katie. They took a train from Colusa to Sacramento to Oakland, and then on to the most scenic part of the trip on the South Pacific Coast line through the mountains to Santa Cruz. The cottage, part of a retreat center developed by the Christian Church, sat on one of about 100 small lots—just large enough for tents or small dwellings—laid out on streets that wrapped around the church tabernacle in concentric circles.

1931 map of Santa Cruz with the original numbering of the lots. Can you find 99? Its on Wilkes.
1931 map of Santa Cruz with the original numbering of the lots. Can you find 99? Its on Wilkes.

Previously the Christian Church had had no retreat center of its own. They had held their state conference in Woodland, California, but this location was voted down in 1887 (no doubt due to the Valley heat). Meanwhile, in the mid-1880s, the Methodists had built a retreat center in nearby Pacific Grove that was considered the finest in the West. The city of Santa Cruz, having decided to stake their economic future on tourism, was actively recruiting other denominations to build similar retreats. By 1889 ten acres of land in Santa Cruz had been donated to the Christian Church for the purpose of creating a retreat center.  The tabernacle, an imposing wood-frame building with a 100-foot bell tower, was dedicated in 1890. It could seat 2,000 people, the largest auditorium in Santa Cruz. There were doors on all sides that could be opened for overflow crowds, or to turn it into an open-air pavilion. That same year the church sold the surrounding lots. Celia’s father, Will Clarke, had purchased lot 99 and had the small cottage constructed.

The family used the location as an escape from the valley heat during the summer. It was an especially helpful locale for young Celia, who suffered from tuberculosis. It met many of the criteria for the ideal living situation for consumptives: Not too hot nor too cold, the ability to spend much time outdoors, as well as providing the recommended opportunities for rest, recreation, amusement and peace of mind. The little community surrounding the tabernacle was known as Garfield Park, named after the recently assassinated president, James Garfield who had been a preacher in the Christian Church at one time.

Celia found the town of Santa Cruz to be much to her liking. Just the previous year a book detailing the history of Santa Cruz county had been published and had this to say about the area:

Because of the combination of mountain and marine scenery and climatic and other advantages…Santa Cruz has become the Mecca of thousands, who spend the heated term here during every summer season. The beach is very fine, and surf bathing can be indulged in with comparative freedom from danger. Life at Santa Cruz during the summer is one round of pleasure. The city is thronged with visitors, and every day possesses a gala appearance. In the afternoon many of the visiting multitude, and such of the resident population as are not otherwise engaged, congregate at the beach. It is no unusual sight to see several thousand people seated upon the sand of the bay shore, walking or riding, or indulging in the afternoon popular entertainments of bathing in the surf. The evenings are devoted to hops at the halls and some of the leading hotels, to lawn parties, to boating on the San Lorenzo, and other forms of innocent pastime, which make the days pass all too quickly for the tired and overworked portions of humanity who here seek recreation during their vacation.

As much as she enjoyed herself, her health permitting, Celia did at times get a bit lonely this early in the season and looked forward to later in the summer when thousands would attend the two week annual church conference. Families who did not own cottages would erect tents or sleep in their wagons. A large kitchen tent was set up with big kettles, ovens for baking, and pits for roasting. Over 1,000 meals a day were served. Temporary restaurants and stores were set up. Essentially, a small city was built, inhabited and torn down each summer. That was the high point of the season. Foster and other members of the family would all come down for the retreat.

She complained in her letter to Foster that

there are more old folks at the park than you can shake a stick at. I haven’t seen a young person yet. 

She went on to tell him changes she had observed in the town since last season.

The casino is not in running order yet, there are several men working on the grounds and kind of cleaning up around, so I suppose it will be in full trim by the time you get ready to come down. You know the Museum that used to be down on the bathing beach? They have moved it up right across the road from the casino. You remember that house that was being built there last year, well, that is the “Free Cliff Museum.” They have things fixed up pretty nobby there and have a large ice cream parlor. You can get soda and I suppose any other kind of a drink you wish to have. 

The Sea Beach Hotel, Santa Cruz, CA
The Sea Beach Hotel, Santa Cruz, CA

Again she directed her gaze out the window and saw Mrs. Langford and Mrs. Williams—friends of her mother’s—strolling arm-in-arm towards the Sea Beach Hotel, no doubt for afternoon tea. They waved to Celia and she waved back before returning to her letter, now twitting her brother about his female admirers.

Oh yes, I saw your girl in at Grants the other day She has improved a great deal in looks the last year. If you remember rightly, there was a great deal of room for improvement. She said she met a couple of fellows last summer but had forgotten their names. I have not seen any of your other “biddies” yet, but hope to before I go home. 

Celia smiled at this last bit, but she was tired and had at least one other letter she wished to write, to her cousin Jennie. She signed off.

Goodbye,

Hoping to hear from you soon,

I remain,

Lovingly,

Celia

 

College City, California

August 23, 1893

College City residence of William John and Catherine (Foster) Clarke, built in 1879.
College City residence of William John and Catherine (Foster) Clarke, built in 1879.

The Santa Cruz cottage was shut up, and the family had returned home to the Valley, after a wonderful and relaxing time catching up with old friends, showing first-timers the ropes at the camp, and enjoying the many speakers at the two-week retreat in Santa Cruz. It was now a very busy time at the ranch near College City, Colusa County, with harvest coming on. Foster had gone up to work on the Clarkes’ cattle ranch in the Sierra (Plumas County) while his father worked with his hired men to harvest the wheat and the orchard fruits.

Catherine Clarke fretted over her daughter, Celia, who had not been feeling well the past few days. “I had hoped to see a change for the better in her after her time by the sea,” Catherine confided to Will. “I did think she was better in Santa Cruz but now I wonder if I imagined it. She’s restless and fretful.”

“I’ve been working every hour of daylight and have hardly seen the mite.” Will sounded remorseful. “Should we call the doctor out?”

“No, I don’t think that’s necessary,” said Catherine. “But do write to Foster, won’t you? She’s been asking after him an awful lot.”

“I’ll do it tonight,” promised Will.

My Dear boy,

We are about as we were when you left, but dear little Celia is not feeling as well as when you left. She had a bad chill yesterday. 

She feels very anxious to see you. She inquired about you several times, when her chill was on yesterday.

I think when you rest a few days, you had better come home. She seems so anxious to see you, don’t think there is any immediate danger or at least I hope so.

My regards to Anny Clarke.

Weather nice and cool. Will go to Buckeye today to make trays. 

This is for your Mother, she asked me to write you.

Goodbye, God help you my son.

Yours Ever Lovingly,

W.J.Clarke

I can only assume that Foster did come home to visit his sister, given the affectionate relationship they seemed to share. Celia died five months after this letter was written, just a few months shy of her 18th birthday.

Epilogue

This piece was inspired by a recent visit to Santa Cruz where I spent some time searching for information about a property owned by the Clarke family in Santa Cruz in the 1800s. The property was mentioned in at least two wills but always as “Lot 99 in Garfield Park, Santa Cruz.” I went around in circles between the Santa Cruz Public Library, the Santa Cruz County Recorders Office and Assessors Office trying to figure out exactly where this property might have been located. The neighborhood is still there, same circular streets, and there is still a church in the center although the original tabernacle burned down in 1935. It was the old Sanborn insurance map available online through the UC Santa Cruz Library that eventually showed me where Lot 99 was located. The lot has a different physical address now, and the original cottage is sadly gone, replaced by a newer house, although a few of the original cottages do survive.

The letters are actual letters written by Celia Clarke to her brother Foster, and by her father Will Clarke.

My great-great-grandfather, Will Clarke and his family were members of the Christian Church. They very likely had attended retreats in Woodland as they lived very near there. Celia was diagnosed with TB right around the time the Santa Cruz retreat center was being developed so I speculate that they purchased the lot with Celia’s health in mind. I know the lot was passed from Will to his wife Catherine upon his death in 1894, and from Catherine to daughter Maggie upon her death in 1897. I don’t know what happened to it after that. Another project for another day…

I have always felt that I didn’t know much about Celia, who would have been my grandmother’s aunt (had she not died 10 years before my grandmother was born to Celia’s oldest sister, Elizabeth). But in my attempt to put what I knew into a story instead of a dry retelling of facts, she began to come alive for me. I wish she had lived and enriched us by contributing more stories to our family history as well as progeny to our family tree.

Sources:

The Circles at 100: The Story of a Church and a Neighborhood by Pastor Steven DeFields-Gambrel, 2007 (available at the Santa Cruz Public Library, local history collection).

History of Santa Cruz County by Edward Sanford Harrison, 1892.

Climate and Tuberculosis: The Relation of Climate to Recovery by John W. Trask in Public Health Reports, 1917.

UC Santa Cruz Library website

Santa Cruz County Public Library website

Letters and other information about Celia Clarke and the Santa Cruz house are from information compiled by Joyce Dawley, a descendant of Foster Noble Clarke.

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