The Memories of Ralph Feusier, Part V: Conclusion

LockeHouse1.jpgLocke/Nelson property, Higgins-Purissima Rd

…Meanwhile at the Josiah Locke’s Purissima Canyon ranch, love was in the air. Flo’s brother, also called Horace, met and married Della Mae Johnson–the Coastside’s first woman dentist with offices in Pescadero and Half Moon Bay.

One day Ralph Feusier’s great grandfather, Henry Feusier, a United States Geological Surveyor (USGS), came to Half Moon Bay and met and married Flo’s sister, Emily. And it was through that union that Ralph, the retired insurance executive, has a connection to the house on Main Street.

Even before Ralph’s visit in 1930, Uncle Horace had demonstrated that he was much more than a farmer. During Prohibition Horace helped found the Bank of Half Moon Bay which had a branch office in Pescadero. In 1927 the two small town banks were taken over by A.P. Giannini’s famous Bank of America.

Always seeking a business challenge, Horace Nelson looked at Half Moon Bay’s water company, bought it and later sold it.

In 1938 Horace Nelson died at age 81 in Half Moon Bay. Ralph, then an adolescent, returned to the Coastside to attend his Uncle Horace’s funeral.

Ralph Feusier didn’t locate the house on Main Street on his visit more than 50 years later in 1993–but he didn’t return to New England empty-handed. I had provided him with a possible trail. Katherine Pitcher Valentine was a retired teacher and the daughter of John Pitcher, the pioneer Coastside judge. She had a wealth of knowledge about lcoal history. Ralph and Katherine talked on the phone.

“I spoke at length with Katherine Valentin,” Ralph wrote me. “She was a great friend of Carrie Reynolds, the housekeeper. David (brother of Josiah) Locke is buried in the Half Moon Bay Cemetery. When she visits her father’s grave, she always places flowers at David’s gravesite. I think she had fond affection for him.”

Most importantly, Mrs. Valentine had provided the essential clue–the location of the Nelson’s Victorian house. She placed it kitty-corner to what is now the lovely new Cetrella Restaurant on Main Street.

Finding the location of the Nelson house validated Ralph Feusier’s precious boyhood recollections. His search was complete–and he has since passed away.

The Memories of Ralph Feusier, Part IV

NY.jpg Photo: Shipwreck of the New York, March 1898.

The Coastside of the 1880s was a place defined by legend and lore, of wild bears, colorful rancheros and mountains that reminded some of the recent Italian immigrants from the old country.

But the most popular legends were those surrounding the shipwrecks, unfortunate vessels–that due to fog and poor technology lost their way, often crashing on the jagged rocks. These disasters brought the community together. There was a system in place for alerting the locals, providing medical help and unbounded hospitality to survivors….as well as the always profitably salvage operations that redistributed the ship’s assests to the locals.

Horace Nelson had romanticized about being part of an exciting rescue and salvage shipwreck operation. He had married well–and was respected as a successful cattle rancher when, March 1898, his wish came true and the famous iron vessel “New York” was stranded on the beach at Half Moon Bay. This ill-fated ship carried a full cargo from China, including silks, cloisonne, firecrackers, rice and tea–perhaps providing locals with the biggest salvage operation ever.

It seemed fitting that Horace Nelson salvage the “New York’s” bell, placing the magnificent symbol among his beloved dahlias and artichokes in the front yard of the his Victorian house on Main Street for all to see.

…To Be Continued…

The Memories of Ralph Feusier, Part III

LockeBro.jpg Photos: When they were young L-R: Josiah, David and Silas Locke. The Josiah Locke family lived in a home on Purissima Canyon Road–known as the Locke/Nelson Ranch. And [below] when they were old.Lockesjepg.jpg

Originally from New Hampshire, [Ralph Feusier’s Uncle] Horace Nelson was in his 20s when he traveled to San Francisco in the 1870s. He worked at the John Ray Dairy for five years and somewhere along the way met flour mill Superintendent Josiah Locke.

This encounter changed Horace’s life. He met and fell in love with [Ralph Feusier’s Great Aunt] Flo, Josiah’s daughter and the couple were married at the Locke’s Grove Street, San Francisco home in 1883.

The newspaper listed the many guests–including Flo’s sister, Emily, and brother, also called Horace–as well as the Farnsworths, their Purissima canyon neighbors. Also present were Uncles Silas and David.

….To Be Continued…

The Memories of Ralph Feusier, Part II

boa.jpg Photo: Ralph Feusier’s Uncle Horace Nelson headed up the Bank of Half Moon Bay, the building at right.
When Ralph Feusier visited the Coastside in 1993, he was a retired insurance executive emeritus residing in Massachusetts.

“I came to Half Moon Bay to find the Nelson house,â€? he told me. “I was terribly disappointed when I didn’t see it.â€? He never dreamed that the Victorian would be hard to find but he couldn’t recognize the house where he had spent happy summers as a child.

“The Nelson’s Victorian stood on two acres and there was a chicken house,â€? Ralph said. “We used to throw rotten eggs at the barn. Aunt Flo was wonderful, very intelligent. She wore long dresses and black pince-nez glasses.â€?

As a little boy, Ralph looked up with wonder as Uncle Horace trimmed his magnificent walrus mustache. By then Horace was retired and enjoyed growing artichokes and tending to his prize-winning dahlias. “People came from all over to photograph the flowers,â€? Ralph remembered.

{Note: I sent him to Katherine Valentine, daughter of Judge John Pitcher, and she not only helped Ralph find the house—she knew his relatives].

First time around Ralph didn’t find the house but his memories of Half Moon Bay remained fresh– like the walk from the Victorian house to the beach, the street lined with eucalyptus trees on both sides.

“I could walk from the Nelson house to the grammar school, a two-story wooden building with a tower,â€? Ralph said. He still visualized Carrie, the Nelson’s housekeeper and the beautiful handmade dish- towels that were sold at the town’s historic Methodist Church a few steps away.

Ralph Feusier’s link to the Nelson family was through his descendents, the Josiah Lockes. Josiah Locke was the superintendent of the big Golden Gate Four Mill in San Francisco and the father of three children, Flo, Emily and Horace.

During the Gold Rush, Josiah’s famous brother, David, devised a novel way of carrying water in carts to thirsty San Francisco—later he built a pipeline that delivered water to the ships tied up in the harbor.

The Josiah Lockes were early Coastside commuters, maintaining two homes, one on Grove Street in San Francisco and the other in the remote Purissima Canyon, south of Half Moon Bay. Great Aunt Flo was born there in 1860.

…To Be Continued….

The Memories of Ralph Feusier, Part I

Twice I met and talked with Ralph Feusier, a wickedly funny East Coast Insurance executive who flew west to Half Moon Bay to re-visit his past.

One of my self-defined jobs is to find someone in town who could provide Ralph (or anyone else) with connections, who might know or remember his relatives.

Over the years I have learned that while the “local historianâ€? may benefit from these visits, gaining new information & the always- coveted photographs—there is also a deeply sad side to these visits. Frequently, people go back in time to recapture a magic time from their childhood– when they are old and feel death stalking them.

Ralph Feusier was six-years-old in 1930– and his magical year was spent in a two-story Victorian house on Main Street in Half Moon Bay. The house was filled with wonderful characters, his relatives, the Nelsons, “Great Auntâ€? Flo, Uncle Horace—and Carrie, the “talentedâ€? housekeeper and seamstress.

The Nelsons were not ordinary folks. They had long been recognized as leaders in the close-knit Coastside community.

“Uncle Horace was president of the Half Moon Bank and the water works,â€? Ralph proudly told me. Horace was also known for his civic contributions as a school trustee, a responsibility he held for nearly two decades.

More importantly, Horace Nelson owned a successful cattle ranch in the Purissima canyon, south of Half Moon Bay.

Some of Ralph’s memories were blurred but he remembered visiting the historic ranch in 1930. There was a little covered bridge that impressed him greatly. He was convinced that his Uncle Horace, an accomplished craftsman, had helped build the bridge.
R-Feusier.jpgPhoto: “A Happy Day Beach Picnic at Half Moon Bay, 1928”: L-R: Unknown woman, Aunt Flo, Carrie, Ralph’s mom, Emma, Ralph and his brother Edward.

….To Be Continued…