A familiar name popped up when I started researching the origins of Sausal Creek in Oakland. For some reason, I found myself reading about the Fruitvale area of the city. And that's when I came across the name of Henderson Lewelling.
Forty-five years ago, we lived in Milwaukie, Ore., on the southeast border of Portland. It was there I found out that all those orchards in the Willamette Valley started with a pioneer orchardist named Henderson Lewelling.
He, his wife and eight children traveled in 1847 from Salem, Iowa, to Oregon with a wagonload of about 700 fruit trees. According to son Alfred, the trees were in two boxes filled 12 inches deep filled with compost. The trees ranged in height from 20 inches to 4 feet.
His Iowa neighbors told him he was crazy. Other members of the wagon train told him he was killing the oxen with such a heavy load. Even his wife and daughters said he cared more for the trees than the rest of his family. All of the family members made it to Oregon, and half of the trees survived the trip.
Within a few years, the Lewellings had a thriving nursery in Milwaukie on the banks of the Willamette River. He had 100,000 trees for sale at $1 to $1.50 each.
Despite his successful business that supplied apple, cherry, and other fruit and nut trees to the orchardists of Oregon, Lewelling decided to sell off his orchards and nursery and move to California with enough trees to start another nursery.
In 1854, with son Albert and son-in-law William Meek, he bought 50 acres in the southern end of Alameda County, only to find out that the title to the property was invalid. So they uprooted the orchard and moved to 400 acres on Sausal Creek, which at the time was 5 miles from the Oakland boundary.
They named their orchard Fruit Vale and graded a road, still called Fruitvale Avenue, into their property.
Again the business was a rousing success. But Lewelling was a restless soul. His first wife had died in Milwaukie in childbirth. He had married two more times, and became a widower both times. He remarried for a fourth time.
In 1858, he sold his prosperous orchard and business. He and a couple of partners bought a ship bound for Honduras. Two sons and their families joined the group. He left his fourth wife behind without any means of support.
His purpose was to establish a utopian colony called the Harmonial Brotherhood. Newspapers had a field day reporting that it was to be a free-love colony. It was a disastrous adventure. He lost everything.
By 1860, he was back in California trying to start over. He did not succeed. His wife had divorced him. He was living with his in-laws. One day in December 1878, while burning the grass off a plot to plant more trees, he collapsed and died. His brother-in-law found his burning body.
Lewelling is buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. His tombstone reads: "Father Pacific Horticulture."
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at email@example.com.