Of butchers and blacksmiths, a look back at GE
The recent Glen Ellen Historical Society’s meeting, “Our Great Big Picture Show,” was a grand success.
Followed that evening by our annual fire house dance, it was the best possible hometown day one could hope for.
The stories shared by the Sullivan family visiting from San Francisco and Loren McClurg from Pasadena brought the history of our hometown alive.
Cathy Ellis and her family came from San Francisco to share the story of her great-grandfather, Timothy Sullivan who was our town’s blacksmith in the late 19th century. As Cathy eloquently shared her ancestor’s fate, Steve Lee, one of our historical society’s officers, was able to fill in more of the story. Jim Shere added photos illustrating Sullivan’s life. The combined parts created a complicated whole that enriched our town’s history exponentially.
Tim Sullivan drowned during a raging winter storm in January 1890 when the main bridge in town collapsed. His widow and children were left to suffer the consequences of that fatal night. Unable to collect old debts owed to the blacksmith, the family might have starved were it not for the generosity of local natives, Cathy shared.
After one more difficult year in Glen Ellen, the widow Sullivan departed to San Francisco. Cathy continued her fascinating tales of the Sullivan family describing the wretched conditions in the laundries of San Francisco where so many young Irish women worked, sacrificing their youth, their health and occasionally their lives. Cathy’s great-grandmother was among those who labored there, beginning as a 12-year-old.
Loren McClurg, from Pasadena, attended the meeting to share artifacts and information about his grandfather, Howard Gaige, whose family originally built the Gaige House. They were butchers with shops in Glen Ellen, Marin County and San Francisco. His tales and photos were enlightening and further enhanced our picture of old Glen Ellen.
Part of the slide show featured the beautiful artwork of Bonnie Portnoy’s grandfather, Tilden Dakin, who painted an idealized version of our town in the 19th century: a Bohemian tourist destination for San Francisco society and a working town of Native Americans, Irish, French and others. The missing part of our history is surely contained in Pomo and Miwok legends.
Among the guests at that Historical Society meeting was Ann Zollinger who shared a little information about our current Glen Ellen fire house and also illuminated a bit of the history of that venerable institution, preparing us all to thoroughly enjoy the evening’s party at the fire house. Honored among visitors that day was our former Fire Chief Bill Murray and his sweetheart Nancy Murray.
While this column is merely a glimpse of that Historical Society meeting with barely a mention of the dance, we invite you to further explore both of those events through their websites.
The Glen Ellen Volunteer Fire Department’s exciting website is www.glenellenfire.org/.
You can discover more fascinating news of our town on the Glen Ellen Historical Society’s website: www.facebook.com/glenellenhistoricalsociety.
I suggest bookmarking both. Then, visit Tilden Dakins’ site for an artful glimpse at turn of the century Glen Ellen: www.tildenaken.com/.