Emeryville Historical Society Archive: Joseph Stickney Emery (1820 – 1909)

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Emeryville Historical Society contributor Richard Ambro recently passed away at the age of 73. He resided in Emeryville’s Triangle neighborhood up until his sudden passing. To honor him, we have received permission from the Emeryville Historical Society to publish one of his many pieces from The 1996 Emeryville Centennial book. Richard was an archeologist by profession and was very active in the efforts to preserve Emeryville history and local artifacts. He was a community advocate and a regular at the Emeryville Senior Center.


Joseph Stickney Emery

By Richard D. Ambro, Ph.D.
Joseph Stickney Emery is considered the founder of Emeryville. He was born in New Hampshire in 1820, and came overland to California in 1850 to make his fortune. He first tried his luck in the mines, but later went to San Francisco where he worked as a stone-cutter. In the Spring of 1852, Emery opened a quarry for rubble stone on Goat Island (now Yerba Buena Island) in San Francisco Bay. He used this material to prepare the foundation for the famous Parrott Building, built by John Parrott at the corner of Montgomery and California Streets in San Francisco. Parrott later gave Emery permission to quarry stone on Angel Island, which he carried out until the island was taken over by the United States Government three years later. During those three years (1852-1855), Emery was a contractor who worked on some of the most important buildings in San Francisco. In 1854-1855, he built the first dry dock at Mare Island Naval Shipyard for the United States Government, and in 1869, he obtained the contract to supply stone for construction of the United States Mint in San Francisco. He opened a quarry on an island near Victoria, B.C. to obtain the stone for the latter. During the Gold Rush, Emery was a member of the Vigilance Committee in San Francisco. He married Adeline (also called Emma and Ella on census schedules) of New York and they eventually had six children, all them born in California.

Oakland Township map: HistoryofBerkeley.org
1878 Oakland Map: mapsofthepast.com

Plot No. 6

In 1859, Emery paid $8,000 for Plot No. 6 of the former Vicente Peralta rancho, in what would become northwest Oakland and later the southern portion of Emeryville. Although Plot No. 6 was originally surveyed to be 153.76 acres, it was sold as 185 acres, perhaps reflecting inclusion of tidelands on the west. Emery built a house on the west side of the San Pablo Road (now San Pablo Avenue) at the intersection of what came to be Park Avenue. Emery continued to make a living as a contractor into the 1870s, as indicated on the 1870 Census, and as his 1869 contract for construction of a dry dock at Mare Island attests. However, the 1860 and 1880 Census sheets list Emery as a “farmer”, indicating that he farmed on his East Bay holdings as well. He also began selling off parcels of his land and was an active promoter of the district and Alameda County. Emery was an active supporter and organizer of civic improvements, especially transportation facilities. He built the Telegraph Avenue streetcar line and in 1871 built the San Pablo Avenue streetcar line. The latter, built with Emery’s own money, extended from Broadway past his home at Park Avenue to Stanford Avenue, with a spur that ran westward down Park Avenue from San Pablo to the railroad station. Around 1880 Emery was one of the organizers of the company that built the California and Nevada Railroad, later acquired by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. He also helped found Mountain View Cemetery, and at the time of his death was president of the cemetery association.

Clipping from the Jan. 1909 S.F. Call announcing Emery’s death.

Emery’s Wives

The first Mrs. Emery died sometime after the 1880 Census, and the then 74-year-old Joseph Emery married his second wife, Amelia Kent Marsellus, a 48-year-old widow originally from Pennsylvania who had lived in California for over thirty-five years. The second Mrs. Emery was the widow of Edwin P. Marsellus, a California pioneer who had arrived in 1849 and had been a lifetime member of the Society of California Pioneers. Two of her married daughters came to live with her, along with two grandchildren. Joseph S. Emery died on January 22, 1909 and was buried in Mountain View Cemetery under the direction and ceremonies of the Knights Templar. His widow continued to live in the Emery house into the second decade of the 20th Century.

Emery Compound

Thompson & West’s lithographic view of the Emery mansion in ca. 1878 shows it to have been a large, ornate two-story Victorian residence in ltaliante style. The house was decorated with fancy wood trim, a widow’s walk, ornate brick chimneys, and a wrap-around porch on both floors decorated with elaborate railings and finials. As the structure appears to have been constructed on a high stone foundation, only a partly subsurface basement is suggested. This view and the Sanborn map of 1903 indicate the house was built set well back from the streets in the middle of a well-tended garden, with the paths and scattered stone ornaments typical of Victorian taste. The entire parcel was enclosed in a wooden picket fence with suitable entrance ornaments at the front and back gates.

The 1878 view was probably somewhat schematic, and does not indicate the location of privies, sheds, henhouses, trash pits, etc. on the parcel, nor even the Coggeshall’s house to the north. However, it does indicate the fancy two-story coach house in the northwest comer of the parcel. This structure may be the one shown on the 1903 Sanborn map on the west side of the alignment of Emery Street, which was not opened at that time. This structure and attached one-story sheds along the north side would have been where the coaches, wagons and horses were kept, and possibly served some of the hired help as well. Another structure labeled “work” apparently housed specialized activities . The windmill was located closer to the house and was presumably the location of the original well dug when the house was constructed. Farther west was a henhouse, and a trash pit and privies must have been located somewhere in this or adjacent outlying areas. The 1912 Sanborn map indicates no obvious changes in the Emery compound.


Circa 1913, the coach house and outlying structures were demolished, and the Emery mansion was moved to 4325 San Pablo Avenue, where it was indicated on the Sanborn map of 1934. That map labels the house as a rooming house, its final incarnation. The structure was demolished in 1946.

Thompson & West’s lithographic view of the Emery mansion circa 1878.

The Emery Household

The 1860 Census Indicates that Joseph Emery and his family were already in residence on Plot No. 6 only a year after purchasing the land. Mr. Emery was listed as a “farmer” whose real estate was valued at $30,000 and personal worth at $5 ,000. He resided with his wife (recorded here as “Emma”) and his young 3-year-old son Joseph. Also in residence was Brad Cocheron (?) of New Hampshire, either a relative or friend from Mr. Emery’s home state. Eliza Garety, a 27-year-old Irish woman served as cook, and both 48-year -old Joseph Geise of Frankfurt on Main in Germany and Alfred Pierce, a 28-year-old Englishman served as laborers.

As this census data was collected only one year after the purchase of their holdings, one wonders where the family and its servants and employees were housed. It is unlikely that they constructed a residence so quickly, although a prefabricated home such as the one Frederick Coggeshall built in the early 1850s is one possibility. They may have resided in an already existing house on their property. The United States Coast Survey map of 1857 does not indicate a residence in the area where the Emery mansion came to be constructed, but several structures already in existence in 1857 may have served as their temporary home. The most likely would have been either the homesite immediately to the east, on the east side of the San Pablo Road (San Pablo Avenue), or more likely the larger homestead in the vicinity of the modem intersection of Park Avenue and Hollis Street. These locations may have been where the Hobarts previously resided before Emery’s purchase of Plot No. 6. A third, more remote possibility may have been one of the two structures spotted on the 1857 map near the boundary between Plot No. 6 and Plot No. 38 south of modern 45th Street somewhere between Watts and Harlan Streets. The Hobarts were not listed on the 1860 Census in the vicinity of the block in question. As Emery’s name is close to F. Coggeshall and E. Wiard on the census schedules, they apparently lived close by on their own land, and the Hobart homestead or another would have served their needs. However, by 1868, Emery had constructed a fine home on a large lot on the northwest comer of San Pablo avenue and Park Avenue. The 1870 Census reveals that the Emery family had grown with the addition of four more children, 9-year -old John, 7-year-old Henry, 5-year-old Abbi, and 3-year-old Fannie.18 At that time , they had only two employees: 28 year-old Mary Dryer, an Irish servant who probably also was the cook, and a 24-year-old Canadian laborer, Charles Dion. By this date, the Emery household was certainly in their home on the northwest corner of Park Avenue and San Pablo Avenue. In 1880, Emery was again lis ted as a farmer on the Census, and that his family had grown with the birth of a son Ralph D. only 11 months earlier. It is interesting to note that their daughter Abbi was now fifteen and apparently preferred to be called Mary. Mrs. Emery, who reported her age in 1860 as 26, now preferred to pare a few years off her age so that the 1880 Census reports her age to be only 38. In 1880, the Emery’s had three servants to help with the large family and stately grounds of the mansion. E. O’Coner [sic], aged 60 , and M. Connor [?] were two Irish women working for the family, as was a 24-year-old Canadian man whose name is illegible on the schedule.

Amelia M. Emery

Mrs. Emery died, and most of their children grew up, married, and left home, so that in 1900 only unmarried Henry (37 years old) a miner, and Ralph (20 years old) an accountant remained at home. Emery was now 79 years old, but had remarried five years earlier to his second wife, 53-year-old Amelia M. Emery. Though born in Pennsylvania, she had lived with her first husband in California. Two of her daughters, both born in California, and two of her grandchildren were living with her in the Emery mansion when the census was taken. Mrs. Emery’s daughter, Janie D. Durand, was 35 years old in 1890 and had been married to a man from Wisconsin. However, her children were born in California, so she was either a recent widow or was living apart from her husband. Her son Alfred J. was 2 years old and his sister Dorothy was only 3 months old in June, 1900. Mrs. Emery’s second daughter was Amy S. Hoyt, who had no children, and lived alone with her mother. Both of Amelia’s daughters and grandchildren were listed as stepchildren of Mr. Emery, although the relationship was apparently informal. There were two servants listed on the 1900 Census—Martha Jamison, a 30 year-old black woman born in California—described as a domestic by profession, and possibly the cook—and Patrick Gibson , a 35-year -old Irish man characterized as a laborer by trade.

Mr. Emery died in 1910, and the household was reduced to Mrs. Emery’s daughter Jane (now Jane Carter) and her two children. Their servant was Hugh B. Davis, a 36-year-old Californian and Susie R Davis [?], a Californian of English and Spanish—Mexican descent.

In 1913, the Emery home was physically moved to 4325 San Pablo Avenue to permit construction of the ballpark. However, the 1920 Census lists Henry H. Emery and his wife Emily in residence at “4326 San Pablo Avenue”, suggesting that they either still lived in the old family home in its new location, or across the street.

Later Use of the Area

After the Emery house was moved in 1913 and its associated structures were removed, the site was primarily taken up by the Oakland Base Ball Association (Oakland Oaks) ball park. After 1955, most of the land was occupied by a Pepsi Cola bottling plant, which has now been demolished. In addition to the relocated Emery house at 4325 San Pablo Avenue, a brick building containing a series of stores was constructed at 4317-4323 San Pablo Avenue.

J.S. Emery now rests in Plot 1 at the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland.

An additional account of Joseph Emery’s life can be read in the online book San Francisco: Its Builders, Past and Present:


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The Emeryville Historical Society

The EHS was founded in 1989 by a small group of local history buffs. Membership, which comes with a subscription to their quarterly printed journal and access to their vast archives, is available through their website.


  1. Thanks! I was a history major undergrad and love urban, neighborhood history! More like this please. Is the Emeryville Centennial book mentioned on sale any where?

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