Thursday, April 21, 2011

Archbishops, Chimneys, and the Secret Lives of Gophers

Figure one: The first American-era Archbishop of San Francisco, Joseph Sadoc Alemany (1814-1888). His successful petition to the California Land Commission in 1853 resulted in the Catholic Church assuming legal title to much former mission land. Archbishop Alemany's building programs and resuscitation of ecclesiastical agriculture business ventures helped shape the development and land use of Mission San Jose and the Dominican Sisters Convent during the late 19th century.

Last Saturday’s survey and transect surface collection has started to turn up evidence that will undoubtedly comprise an assemblage related to the DSQHR site. My team completed the south survey stake boundary running every ten meters east from the Juniper site datum. This line raises gently upslope from the juniper datum where there is a small bench-land at the 80 and 90 meter transects. It was at these transects that teams of students began to find quantifiable artifact scatters brought to the surface by bioterbation, gophers or ground squirrels appear to be the agents of our good fortune.

The artifacts, to my eye appear greatly disarticulated and broken into relatively small fragments. Various vitreous and ceramic shards came to light running the range of what appeared in some cases to be bits of picture frame glass, to possible fragments of Homer Laughlin china, to blue glass (certainly historic and suggestive of medicine containers). Several examples of faunal skeletal remains were also flagged along with what appear to be bits of charcoal.

Earlier in the morning I also carefully inspected the site of the pump house and well, sketching the building remains, and the foundation abutting the pump house that supported a possible water tank.

It is too early to draw any hard conclusions from this evidence; however, these artifacts, the majority of which appear to relate to human preparation and consumption of food, serve to inspire further historical explorations that may serve to provide further context for the DSQHR site, as well as to ponder the secret lives of burrowing ground mammals who provide such fortuitous windows into the past, these little accidental friends of the archaeologist working in lush vegetation.

Wine and Viticulture at the DSQHR Site: Post 1850

Figure two: the buidings of Beard and the house of Colombet - American era vitculturalists working former mission lands prior to the Catholic Church regaining title to portions of the former Mission San Jose lands.

Making reference one more time to a section of the 1853 Mission San Jose map, there are two details worth noting that have not, to my knowledge, received too much attention: there are two proper names associated with buildings on this map. Affixed to the easternmost building of the former Mission San Jose complex is the name Beard. Records indicate that E. L. Beard operated a vineyard and winery on the Mission San Jose lands after California was annexed to the United States in 1848. Affixed to the buildings abutting the orchard adobe wall to the southeast is the proper name Colombet and the structure is in fact identified as Colombet House on the map. In the 1850s a Frenchman named Clemente Colombet operated a hotel and winery from this location. It is clear that after secularization of Mission San Jose and subsequent annexation of the region to the United States, one of the most intensive post-1850 land uses surrounding the DSQHR site was hostelling and viticulture. The early non-ecclesiastical viticulture likely utilized mission varietal root stock and was heavily dependent upon it.

The Hayward Earthquake of 1868 and the DSQHR Site

The Beard and Colombet operations continued as principal concerns proximate to the DSQHR excavation site up to 1868 when the Hayward fault released a major earthquake event. This event heavily damaged both the Beard and Colombet establishments. Colombet subsequently departs from the historical records related to the site but Beard continues, eventually establishing a viticultural operation of substantial size and success.

California’s first American-era Archbishop, the Dominican Fr. Joseph Sadoc Alemany (1814-1888) began the process of regaining legal title to former California Mission lands lost during the period of secularization by filing formal petitions with the Public Land Commission in February of 1853. President Abraham Lincoln signed a patent granting a large amount of former mission lands back to the Catholic Church in 1865. Archbishop Alemany aggressively strengthened title to these land holdings by establishing ecclesiastical foundations like convents, seminaries, and churches on or near former mission sites. Archbishop Alemany’s building program, in fact, forms the basis of much of the Catholic architectural landmarks familiar in the Bay Area today, and this is especially true at Mission San Jose.

The re-acquisition of mission-era lands by the Catholic Church introduced a major dynamic element in the development of land use surrounding the DSQHR excavation site. The secular viticultural interests represented by Beard and Colombet were no longer operating in a vacuum. The church quickly entered into agreements with its own contracted parties to produce wine and fruit within the first decade of reacquiring the mission San Jose lands. These agreements appear to be on very favorable terms with the contracted parties, usually Italians. The church entered into agreements wherein the produce of the vineyards and orchards were allocated fifty/fifty to each party.

The earthquake of 1868 tipped the scale further in the favor of the archdiocese: the church, with its deeper financial resources, could raise redevelopment capital much more quickly than the private growers and put it to decisive effect.

Figure three: A water color of the damage sustained by Mission San Jose adobe structure sustained during the 1868 Hayward earthquake (6.8-7.0 magnitude). The Beard and Colombet operations were heavily damaged in this event. Will we find evidence of this geological event at the DSQHR site?

Figure four: an example of blue on white transferware recovered from the Mission Tierra project area by Thompson and Galvan during excavations in the south orchard in 2003). These artifacts are dated 1780 to 1840.

The Thompson-Galvan excavations during the monitoring of the Mission Tierra in 2003, several fragments of blue on white transferware dated 1780-1840. It is not immediately clear from the report why the nineteenth century limit is 1840 (is 1840 the terminus ad quem for the production of this particular transferware, or does the date relate to its time horizon in the stratigraphy of the site?); however, these broken shards appear to have been recovered in the south orchard area bounded by the adobe walls. Since the Colombet house was in this area, according to several maps, one wonders if the tranferware artifacts reflect damage sustained to the Colombet property during the 1868 earthquake.

Building St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary - 1882

In 1882, Archbishop Alemany allocated funds for building a massive brick and concrete building that originally served as the Seminary of Saint Thomas Aquinas (originally located at Mission Dolores in San Francisco). This building served in the capacity of a Roman Catholic seminary until 1898. At that time, this seminary was closed and its role was transferred to St. Patrick’s seminary in Menlo Park which opened the same year.

It should be remembered, however, that the Dominican Sisters had purchased the St. Thomas Seminary lands (some 29 acres) in 1891. The masonry and cement building that had been the seminary became the core building for the Dominican convent.
Not much is widely available on the history of this particular building and, with an eye toward researching some of the architectural history of this core building, I made a trip to the archives of the San Francisco Archdiocese where, in fact, a certain amount of primary source records are held that illuminated some of the material elements of the building, particularly with respect to cooking on the range originally constructed within the seminary building.

Primary Sources: Bricks, Cement, and a Faulty Flue

According to the records of the Archdiocese, some 385,000 red bricks were purchased for the construction of the seminary building in 1882. However, no architectural design survives completely unchanged through the construction process and the St. Thomas seminary building was no exception. It seems that a large percentage of brick batts (brick batts are the half-lengths containing one finished end that are used in turning corners and patterning masonry edges ) were eliminated from the design and only some 379,640 bricks were used in the construction. The original estimate caused the construction firm to inadvertently over-charge the archdiocese by some 50 barrels of cement. For the record it should be noted that the construction firm itself recognized the mistake and adjusted the final costs in favor of the church.

Figure five: the completed St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary building utilized over a quater million bricks and some 200 barrels of cement in its construction. Note the position of the chimenys on west face of the building. (Photograph sourced from Richard E. Thompson, Jr. and Andrew Galvan, Mission Tierra Monitoring Report,May 2003)

What does this story of a building with a quarter of a million bricks have to do with the DSQHR excavation? Honestly, I am not sure. However, the Huerne & Everett letter indicates that one barrel of cement was used for every 1,500 bricks laid at the construction site. Since the cement had to be hydrolized at the place of construction, this suggests that a relatively large area near the seminary building had to allocated temporarilly for the staging and mixing of approximately 200 barrels of concrete. This staging area needed lime and a nearby source of water.

During excavations in support of the Mission Tierra Monitoring Report (Thompson, Galvan, 2003) remains of two large lime kilns were unearthed near the orchard site demarcated on the 1854 map (as well as later maps)of the area. While the lime kiln complex is identified as mission era in the report, given the large quantity of cement mixed during the 1882 construction of St. Thomas Seminary, one is left to reflect on the possibility that the mission era kiln site may have been re-used in the cement operation of 1882.

The construction history of what came to be the core building of the DSQHR convent is part of the material history of the site and its architecture. Moreover, the story eventually leads the discussion back to cooking and our artifact scatters appear at first blush related to human food and beverage consumption. To continue: the original 1883 seminary building was constructed with less bricks than estimated, in particular, less brick batts. Interestingly, there are high percentages of brick batts used in facing the corners of chimneys and this takes us to the next development in the story.

In 1883, the office of P. Huerne, Architect and Civil Engineer, was engaged by the archdiocese to investigate what was thought to be an incorrectly constructed flue for a coal-fired cooking range servicing the seminary dormitory. To quote from the Huerne report below:

They [an engineer and a range contractor] find the range and everything belonging to it, and also the chimney flue correctly constructed. They find the [masonry] pipe put up on top of the brick chimney has a smaller sectional area than the chimney flue, the difference being about 1/5, & they pronounce this to be one of the causes of the poor draft, but they were told that the range worked well when the wind blew from certain directions, and only gave trouble when the main building, which is higher than the top of the kitchen flue, broke the force of the wind (the southwest or the rainy season wind).[emphasis in original source].
These facts being established, I think it best to continue the flue up to the height of 3 feet above the ridge of the roof of the main building by adding 5 feet in height to the [existing] brick chimney.

The Huerne men proceeded to make a practical sketch of the situation of the chimney, flue, and materials.

Figure six: Huerne & Everett sketch of brick and masonry chimney that required extending five feet beyond the roof line. The original end cap had to be demolitioned prior to remodel.

Manuscript sources courtesy of the Archives of the Archdiocese of San Francisco:

MSS, Letter from Huerne & Everett to Archbishop Alemany dated April 28th, 1883, with sketch.

MS, Lease between party of Italians and the Archdiocese of San Francisco granting Italians right to fifty percent of harvest of wine grapes and orchard produce and other terms, dated August 25th, 1877.

MS, Letter from Huerne & Everett to Archbishop Alemany discussing exact use of brick quantities and refund of overpayment for 250 barrels of cement during construction of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, Mission San Jose, dated June 1883.


  1. Very interesting stuff! I researched the mark on one of the shards of china I found and flagged and found a possible maker. Based on a mark on one of the pieces of china which I have a very blurry picture of a maker for some of the china could possibly be John Maddock and Sons. I am going to take a better look at the mark tomorrow and try to get a clearer picture so I can do more precise research but from memory and my blurry picture this mark seems close. I'll post my findings in a main post!

  2. Please do Kristen, I wasn't aware that anyone found anything as cool as china with a makers mark

  3. David this is great stuff - I'm looking for the latest installment you spoke about last Saturday - more info on the vineyards and structures above our field site.

  4. David, I have to say, I love reading your posts. You are an awesome historian/researcher/archive hound. Why you are not working for National Archives is the 2 million dollar question. Bravo!

  5. I love love the research that you have been able to turn up! Giving historical context to our site, especially in these early days, is so important and helps form a more structured hypothesis of what we might find. Kudos for doing the leg work for us David P.!


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