City Founders Led Tragic Lives
City Founders Led Tragic Lives
Part two of two
Alamedans today have little connection to the city’s founders. No standing monument to their achievement, no statue or plaque commemorates what the two founding families, the Aughinbaughs and the Chipmans, achieved when Alameda was still a wilderness.
Streets were named for the families in the 1990s or later. Prior to that, a school bore the name Chipman, but not even a gravestone commemorated the life of family patriarch Gideon Aughinbaugh.
Truth be told, both men were broken by Alameda and had little with which to mark their legacies.
William Worthington Chipman
As seen in last week’s article, William and Gideon entered an agreement with Antonio Maria Peralta to purchase the entire Alameda peninsula with the idea of setting up a town and orchard there.
Gideon focused on planting while William’s set his attention to founding a city of great notoriety. In fact, his sights were set on his new city becoming the Alameda County seat.
William’s vision took specific form reflected in the street names on today’s East End. For example, streets named Fountain and Court hint at how Chipman intended they be used.
A Vermont native, William grew up in Dayton, Ohio, where he trained to be a lawyer and served as a school principal.
More educated than his partner, William offered to do the heavy lifting of representing the duo politically and legally. He and Gideon legally agreed to pay Peralta with the help of several men William had already met through his intelligencer’s office.
Information moved at a slower pace in the 1850s. As hundreds of thousands relocated to San Francisco, a town barely capable of serving its few hundred residents, the need for sharing information took on its own role. William’s business assembled newspapers from around the world, kept a message board and a missing person’s register — critical needs for a city rising up from nothing.
William met many influencers — powerful people with money — who could help the partners reach their goals. He pulled in Colonel Fitch, Senator Sharon, Sheriff Hays, and Doctor Hibbard, among others, hoping their funds would keep Peralta satisfied. He also swayed several men of the cloth to bring their flocks to the east bay away from the mean streets of San Francisco.
These investors helped defray the $14,000 owed to the Peralta family, but one in particular — Dr. James Hibbard — took a hint from squatters and never paid.
Squatters now practiced their form of land theft legally with help from squatter judges, juries and lawyers. Several targeted rightful American landowners including the Aughinbaugh and Chipman families.
William swiftly garnered a full caseload against his fellow Americans who had taken use of his land without any payment or other agreement. Living side by side with the Aughinbaughs in a house they had shipped around Cape Horn and set up near today’s Peach Street, William toiled deep City Founders Led Tragic Lives into the night composing his journal and writing his legal briefs.
Struck with cholera in 1853, it was Elizabeth Aughinbaugh who nursed William back to health. In gratitude William considered Elizabethtown among the names for his new city.
Oakland had overshadowed Alameda in terms of population growth, and despite deciding to share the name of the new county, William’s dream of his town becoming the county seat was crushed that same year.
Elizabeth Aughinbaugh’s death in 1855 discouraged the partners greatly. But a couple of years later William’s life lit up once again as he met Caroline Elizabeth Maclean. In 1852, the New Jersey native had sailed around Cape Horn with her four sisters to join her parents in San Francisco. In 1857 she married William and the couple had five children.
For 16 years, the couple continued wrestling with William’s contested claims on Alameda property. Exhausted and frustrated, William moved his family to San Francisco and died shortly after in 1873. His possessions had been reduced to “a few paltry acres.”
Caroline and her descendants would make the best they could of those acres, developing a number of Alameda subdivisions. Caroline remarried in 1877 to Judge John Dwinelle. She perhaps expected to need Dwinelle’s help in court to maintain her Alameda holdings.
Dwinelle, a key figure in the creation of the University of California, was known to be absent minded. In 1881, he met his own tragedy while trying to board the Port Costa Ferry. The ferry had already left but Dwinelle ran off the pier anyway and drowned.
The tragedy of the founders apparently carried on to the next generation, as seen with Ella Aughinbaugh last week. In the Chipman family, it was Sheridan Chipman, William’s youngest son, who received a taste of the tragic, albeit self-inflicted.
By 1903, Caroline Chipman had already buried two husbands, her husband’s partner and stood by as one of her daughter’s husbands was buried. Now she had to face the fact her son had been murdered.
Sheridan, a railroad worker, failed to take the commonsense advice about avoiding romance in the workplace. He met and befriended Rosetta Grundmann while working his job in the Southern Pacific Railroad’s freight department. Clearly neither minded the fact that in other contexts her name would be Mrs. Frank Grundmann as they embraced their feelings for each other.
Frank followed Rosetta one day and witnessed a rendezvous with Sheridan. He tossed around plans to run Sheridan out of town, move himself and his wife elsewhere, but instead settled on purchasing a revolver.
After a verbal confrontation, Frank drew his .22 and shot Sheridan point blank in the heart. Frank then surrendered to authorities promising, “I won’t do any more shooting.”
Two Southern Pacific employees went to Alameda to break the news to Caroline. “The news seemed too terrible to believe,” she told them. “I am simply crushed. I have had a great deal of trouble in my life; this seems too much to bear.”
Caroline Dwinnelle passed away on April 11, 1912. Two daughters survived her.
Eric J. Kos is a historian who has contributed to several titles including: Lost San Francisco and Bay Farm Island: A Hidden History of Alameda.