Editor’s observe: That is the primary of a two-part collection about John Barry Curtin, a former California state senator, gubernatorial candidate and distinguished determine in Tuolumne County’s historical past. See Saturday’s Union Democrat print or e-edition for the second half about his household, political profession and what occurred to his ornate Sonora house after his dying.
When John Barry “J.B.” Curtin constructed his mansion on Sonora’s Columbia Manner on the finish of the nineteenth century, he constructed it to final. Nonetheless standing majestically within the first quarter of the twenty first century, it stays a surprising gem within the crown of the Queen of the Southern Mines.
The mansion Curtin offered his household was an immediate landmark. Distinctive and exuberant in design, set properly again from the road amid intensive landscaping and situated at Sonora’s northern gateway, it endures at present as an essential a part of Tuolumne County’s architectural, social and political historical past.
This spectacular heritage house can also be reflective of the second Gold Rush’s growth occasions starting within the Eighteen Nineties, the expertise of a Sonora architect, and the will of a husband-to-be to supply his bride with a house a reduce above nearly anyplace else.
Curtin was equally as spectacular as his house. At 5 ft, 10 inches tall and stocky, he was a powerhouse of a person. A son of Erin, self-made, hard-working, well-liked, clever, politically savvy and with the DNA of John Barry, a Revolutionary Conflict naval hero, he is a big within the county’s historical past. And, he’s an individual of greater than passing curiosity within the annals of California authorities. His rise from freight wagon driver to the Democratic Occasion’s 1914 gubernatorial customary bearer is only a snapshot of his life and profession.
When Curtin engaged Sonora architect Clarence W. Ayers in 1897, he selected knowledgeable who had firmly secured a spot in Tuolumne County’s architectural pantheon and will meet the problem of designing a ceaselessly house for Curtin, then solely months away from declaring his candidacy for state Senate.
Ayers’ most distinguished buildings bloomed in Sonora: the fiery pink Road-Morgan mansion (1896) reverse St. James Episcopal Church, the Bradford-Rosasco confection (1895) on North Norlin Road at Dodge Road, and the gorgeously sprawling county hospital (1896) now demolished on the south finish of city.
One other fee of Ayers’ was the Jamestown department jail (1897). The following yr, his rendering of the proposed new Tuolumne County Courthouse was within the working, however after extended debate by the county Board of Supervisors, a contract was awarded to Wm. Mooser and Son, Architects of San Francisco, in a 3-2 vote. Their Spanish Revival proposal bested Ayers’ romantic imaginative and prescient, a Chateauesque pile extra at house within the Loire Valley of France than on the flanks of Piety Hill.
Earlier than he was employed by Curtin, Ayers labored with him earlier in 1897 on preparations for a statewide assembly of the Native Daughters of the Golden West in June. His future consumer helped assemble a street-width archway in a mode well-liked throughout England’s feudal interval. A parade down Washington Road through the Grand Parlor conclave handed beneath Ayers’ castle-like battlement positioned between Jackson Road and Bradford Avenue.
Curtin, a lifelong member of the Native Sons of the Golden West, gave the welcoming deal with, which was printed in its entirety within the Tuolumne Unbiased newspaper.
The stately residence Ayers designed is on what we name Columbia Manner at present, however in 1897, it was named Major Road and was Sonora’s northern entrance. Curtin purchased his roughly 1-acre homesite from Thomas W. Wells for $1,000.
His timing was fortuitous, as Wells was supervisor of the Residents Financial institution of Sonora, which collapsed from poor administration and questionable loans to mining speculators 4 years later.
That finish of Major Road was in a rural a part of Sonora that in 1905 was being thought of by the Board of Supervisors for the county’s first highschool. Lawyer Curtin, representing a consumer, provided a 5-acre web site on Major Road, however the county leaders selected land on Shaws Flat Street.
When Ayers signed on with Curtin, he started a collaboration with a person uniquely positioned to construct and luxuriate in a splendid property. Born in 1867 at Gold Springs to Irish immigrant mother and father who settled in Columbia through the 1850s, he joined his father within the household’s freighting enterprise within the days when stagecoaches, wagons and long-line groups of horses and mules dominated the highway. Not afraid of arduous work, however wanting one thing higher, he studied legislation below Edwin A. “Ned” Rodgers, then dean of the native bar.
Sufficiently educated after 18 months studying legislation books and learning court docket circumstances, Curtin, then 25, petitioned the Tuolumne County Superior Court docket to be admitted to the bar. Following an interview carried out by Decide George Woodburn Nicol within the county’s authentic Gold Rush courthouse, Curtin was licensed as an legal professional on June 24, 1892.
Later within the yr, the newly minted barrister declared his candidacy for district legal professional and was elected in November, defeating Frank Otis, the incumbent. Throughout his two-year time period, he continued to nurture his rising non-public follow, remained lively in public affairs and was elected a director of the First Nationwide Financial institution of Sonora.
By 1898, Curtin was prepared for larger elected workplace, state senator from the twelfth District. He captured the Democratic Occasion’s nomination in August at a conference in Merced within the days earlier than the first election. Victory on the polls adopted three months later.
Representing Tuolumne, Mariposa, Stanislaus and Merced counties and, after reappointment in 1900, Madera County, too, he distinguished himself within the Legislature throughout 4 consecutive phrases, though, as a Democrat, he and his fellow partisans have been outnumbered by Republicans.
It was a difficult time to be in public workplace with many essential points going through Californians, such because the proposed give up of the state’s 38,000-acre Yosemite Valley grant to the federal park service, planning and financing the 1915 Panama-Pacific Worldwide Exposition in San Francisco, and much-needed tax reform throughout a time when railroads and different company curiosity have been main statewide energy brokers.
Curtin, nevertheless, was as much as these challenges and extra. He was rewarded alongside the best way with election as senate minority chief and appointment by Republican Gov. James Gillette to the state Fee on Income and Taxation, a spot the place he thrived.
He earned the sobriquet “Constitutional John” for his grasp of state legislation and the income facet of a spreadsheet. He was a driving pressure behind Constitutional Modification One, which had wide-spread well-liked help and was accredited by California voters in November 1910. This then-visionary laws let native governments maintain their share of property tax that they had been passing on to the state treasury, whereas the state was approved to backfill the distinction by taxing the earnings of firms.
Frequent journeys to Sacramento and different components of the state, the place he was in appreciable demand as a speaker, stored him away from Tuolumne County. When he was house, he tended to his legislation follow and cattle ranch, which finally grew into a large enterprise. Lucy Shaw Curtin, his spouse, did a lot to make the couple’s posh house fairly the oasis from public life and a snug place for household and mates.
John Curtin and Lucy Shaw have been wed on Nov. 22, 1897, in San Francisco and took up residence of their new house after a honeymoon. Nonetheless, Curtin’s ledger of building prices, which in the end reached over $7,000 ($249,000 in 2022) notes that work continued into 1898.
Within the Metropolis of Sonora’s landmarks survey, the fashion of their sleek residence is described as “half-timbered Queen Anne,” which one native paper praised for its “commendable absence of that tawdry and questionable tasteful trimming which mars so lots of the residential structure of the day.” A lot for at present’s fondness for Victorian structure.
Nonetheless, Ayers unleashed a delightful number of Victorian-era architectural finery equivalent to horizontal wooden siding with daring accents and trim, stained-glass home windows and doorways, ornamental rounded shingles then so well-liked for exterior finishes, gabled rooflines, a veranda or piazza with spindled posts which distinction of their simplicity with eye-catching, eave-level brackets and a patterned chimney rising above the second retailer.
It’s on the entrance of the constructing that Ayers’ grasp of design, proportion and utility got here collectively within the type of an beautiful dormer that juts out from the shingled roof. There’s a small balcony accessed from the master suite, however it’s the exterior end that dazzles. By mixing small stones and damaged bits of coloured glass, the architect gave Sonora and, maybe, Tuolumne County its finest instance of pebbledash artistry in stucco.
Rusticated chunks of Columbia limestone seem on the basis and as a retaining wall alongside the Columbia Manner sidewalk, which is edged on the curb with a size of rail from a practice yard.
Inside, the unique ground plan could be very a lot within the Queen Anne method. Except the kitchen, the downstairs areas radiate from a big entry or dwelling corridor, the backdrop of which is a powerful picket staircase that climbs as much as some bedrooms. A subsequent addition circa 1904 elevated the variety of bedrooms, in addition to including different dwelling areas.
Lots of the building supplies have been made in Tuolumne County as indicated by Curtin’s ledger: S.S. Bradford’s planing mill on at present’s West Bradford Avenue equipped many of the lumber; bricks got here from Engler’s kiln at Springfield, and J.S. Cady’s retailer within the Odd Fellows constructing was the supply of paint and wallpaper. Curtin additionally tapped native distributors for furnishings and native craftsmen, equivalent to William Rother, L.L. Shell and Robert Scudamore.
Though the unique entrance door has been changed, the brand new old school one options two carbed followers under a transparent glass pane topped with smaller tile-like squares in blue, yellow and inexperienced. This door is however a touch of the sweetness and luxurious past the brink.
As soon as contained in the entry corridor with its spectacular staircase, Homosexual ’90s interiors abound. Wealthy, darkish reddish-brown embossed Lincrusta-Walton wainscoting rests atop foot-wide baseboards and on the wall under the staircase on its rise upward.
Its turned balusters are formed as squares with crossmembers, a sample that repeats 5 occasions earlier than reaching a touchdown and the ultimate ascent to the second ground. Complementing such a dramatic backdrop, the Curtins positioned a custom-made sofa with upholstered cushion alongside the bottom of the staircase, a mirror, two walnut facet chairs, a desk, Victrola, work (a still-life with roses and an ocean scene), a wall tapestry and ground lamps. A 1945 furnishings stock exhibits these items and Asian touches, equivalent to an urn and space rugs scattered over Bigelow carpeting laid in strips.
The partitions are painted plaster, a easy however efficient therapy. Coving abutting the ceiling is embellished with plaster aid in patterns equivalent to grape clusters and garlands, relying on the room.
The primary room off the corridor is the music room. After passing by a large opening that might be closed off with placket doorways, Ayers strikes a grace observe with the fragile fantastic thing about a leaded- and stained-glass panel above an image window going through Columbia Manner. Extra vast baseboards and window and door trim with bull’s eye nook roundels go properly with a painted wooden chimneypiece. The mantel is supported by 4 slim columns accented with two fan-shaped nook particulars and a mirror with sculptured woodwork. Constructed-in mirrors high all downstairs mantels.
The Curtins embellished the music room for consolation and pleasure. The stock lists a piano with bench, music cupboard, mandolin, love seat, china cupboard for cups and saucers, a sofa with two chairs, a half-dozen work, brass andirons, a group of vases, a bronze fan, Cupid determine and a ground lamp augmenting the sunshine of a crystal chandelier.
One other massive room off the corridor is described as a front room within the 1945 stock. Right here the coving of the 10-foot ceiling is embossed in a grape motif, which additionally surrounds the realm the place a crystal chandelier is moored. This room’s appointments, within the 1945 tally, confirmed proof of as soon as being a library: massive desk, 700 books, work (two mountain scenes and a rose floral), 5 Native American baskets, a smoking stand, couch with two matching chairs, an occasional chair upholstered with tapestry, extra vases and andirons, a number of units of candlesticks and an incense burner.
A downstairs bed room had all of the furnishings one would look forward to finding: a five-piece bed room set, household photos, space rugs, two chairs and a radio. A toilet was added, maybe within the circa 1904 reworking.
A hearth encompass much like one within the music room heated this primary ground mattress chamber. Mottled blue-and-white glazed tile add coloration to the center.
The final room to open off the corridor is the eating room. Delicate gilded laurel wreaths with festoons in plaster spotlight the coving. Related daintiness is discovered the place a crystal chandelier as soon as hung, in an oval border on the ceiling and in every nook of the ceiling.
This room can solely be described as a grand setting created by a gracious host and hostess with a aptitude or entertaining, and the stock is proof optimistic. Itemized are a desk, chairs, buffet, gold candlesticks, reduce glass, wonderful china, a chocolate set, silver platters and flatware, linens, wine glasses and three massive cupboards to show all of it.
Two work with floral themes (white roses and carnations) are straightforward on the eyes and a cigarette field and cigar jar are for enjoyable after espresso and dessert.
The pantry as soon as flowed from the eating room into the kitchen the place built-in cupboards can maintain extra dinnerware, glasses, and linens. The kitchen itself has been up to date over time and is the placement of the house’s door to a rear yard as soon as half of a big tract owned by William L. Turner. He has been considered one of Curtin’s purchasers and a pal of Lucy who was a beneficiary on his will.
A small constructing, maybe a carriage home, nonetheless stands reverse the again door. A former proprietor, David Bradley, mentioned he thought it had been used for winemaking in later years.
Past this constructing, was a fence with a gate which led to a corral and barn the place, earlier than the car age, the Curtins stored a horse together with a cow for milk. This a part of the unique one-acre parcel was cut up off and at present is the positioning of a house going through N. Stewart St.
There was initially an out of doors staircase that went as much as the second story, however it was eliminated within the c.1904 growth which bumped up the property’s assessed valuation from $4,200 to $5,000. This will appear a minor enhance, however it might simply have mirrored the prices of added rooms on each flooring.
The upstairs corridor was as inviting as its counterpart under. Wallpaper with muted grey swirls on a tawny background was pasted to skinny fabric which offered a clean floor on the 1” by 12” wall boards. The corridor was a comfy nook with a sofa, a leather-covered chair, desk with lamp, an space rug, and three work.
The ornate main bedroom is on the high of the steps and a door on its far wall pierces the pebbledash dormer to miss the entrance backyard and Columbia Manner. This view in years previous included 4 tall palm bushes round a wrought iron fountain and two magnolia bushes on either side of a concrete pathway to the entrance gate. Sadly, the palm bushes and one magnolia are simply recollections.
The massive bed room’s partitions and different bedrooms have been papered in refined floral or striped patterns topped with a complementary border at ceiling stage. The Curtins had a dressing alcove with two built-in closets and marble nook sink. An adjoining bed room shared a shower with one other, and it might have been there that the Unbiased’s correspondent spied a “roll-rim, porcelain, nickel-plated tub.”
He additionally wrote that there have been three sleeping chambers upstairs, however a fourth room, which might have been one other bed room or nursery, seems authentic to the date of building. It’s small, however just like the bed room throughout from it, the east wall bears the form of what was as soon as a sloping roofline.
The whole upstairs was outfitted utterly because the first-floor rooms. When it was expanded about 1904, there have been at the least two massive, wood-paneled rooms augmenting the floorplan, and a brand new stairway main right down to the kitchen. The outdated and the brand new mix seamlessly.
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