Henry Durant

henry dunant Henry Durant was raised on a farm northwest of Boston, in Acton, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. Born the son of Henry and Lucy (Hunt) Durant on June 18, 1802, he attended Yale University as a classmate of Horace Bushnell, and graduated in 1827. After tutoring at Yale for yet another four years, on December 10, 1833, Henry married Mary E. Buffet. One child, a daughter, died at an early age. At the time of his marriage he accepted the position of pastor to the members of the Byfield, Massachusetts Congregational Church. Henry held this post for sixteen years, until 1849, at which time, at the age of 47 years, he inexplicably altered his career, and entered the business of furniture manufacturing.

Henry pursued his new career for the next half dozen years. Then, in late 1852, for reasons that can not be adequately clarified, he left Massachusetts quite precipitously, failing even to await the forthcoming letters of introduction promised him for his arrival in California. Leaving his business and his wife, Henry boarded ship and sailed away toward the opportunities which lay in California. He arrived in San Francisco on the First of May, 1853. Mary had promised to join him within a short while, and by December of that same year she found herself nearing the shores of California aboard the sailing vessel, Nevada.

Henry stepped of the boat and immediately went in search of the Reverend, Samuel Willey, in the belief that he would be the best person to declare his intentions of establishing a school, an academy for boys.

It may be no coincidence that in the same month as his arrival there was held the annual, joint meeting of the New School Presbytery of San Francisco and the Congregational Association of California, in Nevada City. Mr. Durant, still a Congregational minister, attended by virtue of Willey's enthusiastic invitation, and it was there that he presented his plans. What he had to say was apparently convincing enough, for a committee composed of Willey, S. B. Bell, T. D. Hunt, and J. A. Benton was instructed to co-operate with Durant in the establishment of his academy. Following the meeting and his return to the Bay Area, Durant immediately set out to find an appropriate spot.

Within a month of his arrival in California, Henry Durant founded a henry dunant 2high school for boys, known initially as Durant's Academy, and very soon afterwards as Contra Costa Academy. The official founding date is given as June 6, 1853, the incorporation date as the 28th of June. On June 14, 1853 a board of trustees for the Academy was formally organized with Willey as president and Samuel Bookstaver Bell as secretary (both men were members of the Presbytery). Elected as trustees were Timothy Dwight Hunt and Joseph A. Benton (both in close association with the Presbytery), Edward B. Walsworth of Marysville and Horace Carpentier.

At the spirited suggestion of the owners of Oakland's Encinal, Henry agreed to situate his school not in San Francisco as initially contemplated, but across the Bay in scenic Oakland. He was said to have established his school in a "reclaimed fandango house". This building, erroneously referred to as the "Washington Pavilion", was actually located at the northeast corner of Washington and 2nd Streets, had been a Spanish dance hall, and was already occupied as a school house by a Miss Monroe.

Durant's school actually began in a two story structure which had been used as a boarding house and dance hall, and was located on the corner of 5th and Broadway, where the Alameda County Welfare Department now stands. It rented for $150.00 a month, payable in gold coin, in advance. The academy opened with 3 students and was moved a short time later, in September of 1854, to a site that lay between 12th and 14th Streets, and between Franklin and Harrison Streets. Durant chose this particular spot because it was the highest above tidewater and covered with oak trees. While it has also been said that Durant "squatted" this property, such is indeed unlikely given the invitation to locate in Oakland by the owners of this land. The squatting story becomes even less credible in light of the fact that on September 9, 1853, scarcely three months after the school's inception, Walsworth, Bell, and Hunt purchased, for $1000 the first parcel of school property from Edward Jones, William Dameron, John Hays, and John Caperton, and Hays and Caperton sold the college two more of these eventual four blocks on the same day for $500. Less than a week later Joseph Irving sold to Willey, Hunt, and Walsworth the final quarter of this parcel for $750.

On November 3, 1853, Messrs. Chittenden and Simson extracted an additional $1200 from Hunt, Wiley, Walsworth, Bell and Benton in exchange for their spurious claim to this four block portion of the "Sisters" share of the Rancho. It is also quite likely that this sale represented the first attempt to employ the "Sisters'" devise.

Upon settling into the new school quarters atop the oak knoll, Henry was appointed to the town’s Board of Education and he served on that body until 1858. It was less than a year later that Durant first sought a charter for a school of higher learning, i.e., a college, from the State of California. On April 13, 1855 the trustees of Contra Costa Academy were granted the charter for The College of California. This charter had been signed by the same Gov. Bigler who had been so helpful (to Carpentier) in the peremptory establishment of the town of Oakland, and County of Alameda. The Academy was then more suitably renamed the College School.

In the application for this charter, the existing school was described as "the seminary of learning now of two years' existence in the city of Oakland". The application was endorsed by the following named well-known citizens of the region: John C. Hays, John Caperton, Thomas P. Johnson, J. A. Freanor, H. S. Foote, Joseph C. Palmer, F. W. Page, Henry Haight, Robert Simson and N. W. Chittendon (having extracted their dues for the sisters claims), Theodore Payne, J. A. Benton, Sherman Day, G. A. Swezy, Samuel B. Bell, and John Bigler (the same Bigler who, as governor, granted the charter).

The trustees of the College were Frederick Billings, Sherman Day, S. H. Willey, Rev. Timothy Dwight Hunt, Mark Brumagim, Edward B. Walsworth, Edward McLean, Joseph A. Benton, Henry Durant, Francis W. Page, Robert Simson, A. H. Wilder, and Samuel B. Bell. As time went on, other names were added to this respectable list of prominent citizens who served, at least nominally, as trustees of the College: e.g., Major General John Fremont, Starr King, Judge Waller, W. C. Ralston, Anson Stiles, Peder Sather, Ira Rankin, Horatio Stebbins, and Laurentine Hamilton. A veritable who's who of the San Francisco Bay Area And finally, in 1856, Horace Bushnell, Durant's classmate at Yale, having finally arrived in California, commenced his participation in the designing of this educational enterprise.

The property of Contra Costa Academy was transferred to the College. The "College School" continued to operate and to prepare a college freshman class which were to begin their advanced studies by 1860. In 1857, undergoing something of a fiscal crises, Hays and Caperton foreclosed on their mortgage, the land was repossessed, and was sold at auction. In this process, it was returned to the College with all parties satisfied. At this point the Academy appeared to be self-supporting and the owner of its own land, owing only $5000.00 on its buildings. Money was still needed for its upkeep; it has been reported that Durant was so devoted to his college work that in 1861-62, while nearing sixty years in age, he worked in a mine in the Sierras to gain money for its development, but not with notable success. More than likely, this was a promotional venture, one which required and involved no real labor.

As early as November of 1857 the plan was to relocate the site of the College, which had yet to teach its first student, to its eventual location in Berkeley. The Berkeley site consisted of either 124 or 140 acres, depending upon the source quoted, and lay between the two branches of Strawberry Creek. The selection of this site has been attributed to Durant. In pursuit of this task, Durant appointed a committee and charged it with the responsibility of determining a suitable location for the projected college. The committee included Robert Simson, Edward McLean (an engineer), Henry Durant, and Sherman Day. The real responsibility for searching out a site was given to Dr. Horace Bushnell who took his mandate seriously and earnestly his search on July 14, 1856. While Willey much preferred the Mission San Jose location (he had examined it and found it suitable as early as 1852), Bushnell, who by now had spent 6 months traveling the length and breadth of the state, concluded that the best location would be in Napa. Making this announcement to the committee, he left for the East in January of 1857. However Durant preemptively declared that the college would be located in Berkeley. To quote the good Reverend directly: "this is the spot which possesses every one of the requisites of a college site of California; and it is the same time free from every one of the objections which lie against any of the other places proposed." To sweeten the pot, Francois A. L. Pioche, in November of 1857, donated the property, a portion of Plot 79, which now constitutes the north west corner of the Berkeley campus. The donation included land which goes beyond the campus, extending as far west as Shattuck Avenue. He stipulated at the time of donation that the land may only be used for educational purposes. In September of 1865, Pioche was induced to amend his deed, omitting the aforementioned stipulation. This came about as a result of Durant’s interest in the western portion (the land lying west of Oxford Street) of that contribution, and by July 7, 1868 Durant had obtained for his own purposes what was later known as the Terminal Tract, this is the property that is bounded by Shattuck Avenue and Oxford Street, University Avenue and Addison Street.

The site finding committee submitted its recommendations on March 1, 1858 and the board of trustees of the College of California decided on Berkeley as the new location for the college. Funds had then to be procured for this land which had to be purchased from several different owners. There were only two parcels that would be donated, and those two were offered conditionally. Willey and Rankin ascertained the titles in question, the terms of sale, and presented a report to the trustees.

However, four months prior, on November 11, 1857, Hays and Caperton had already sold to Ira P. Rankin and E. B. Goddard [both were trustees of the College] a major section of what was to become College property for $1200. Rankin and Goddard fronted these funds for the sake of the project, and for themselves realized no profit. At the same time, Goddard promised $5000 toward the construction of the first building. However no buildings were ever constructed by the College of California.

The piece of land obtained from Hays and Caperton began at the northeast corner of the Blake property, and was designated as being the southerly 3/8ths of plot 81 on the Kellersberger map. Founder's Rock is in this tract as well as the Mining and Metallurgy buildings, the Mechanical and Electrical Engineering buildings, the Agriculture building, Hilgard Hall, Haviland Hall, and all of the new buildings housing the behavioral and life sciences.

By the next fall Henry Durant had discovered a source of personal funding which precipitated what was to be the first installment of his real estate buying frenzy. Maybe it was Simmons, maybe Carpentier, maybe someone else, but the source of his venture capital is not known. In September of 1858, Durant purchased from Hays and Caperton the northerly 5/8ths of this same plot of land sold for campus purposes, consisting of 100 acres, and costing $1800. In 1860 Henry would be obligated to come up with an additional $600 to buy off the "Sisters" title from Robert Simson, his fellow trustee!

A month later Durant purchased the northern 30 acres of plot 70 for $1500, the totality of which had been homesteaded by James Leonard. There were, however, other claims on this property by the “partners”, and Sanjurjo’s claim on the portion south of Bancroft Way was finally purchased by Leonard in April of 1859 at the evidently discounted price of $4,200. On October 19, 1860 Leonard and wife sold to Durant, for $1000, an additional 10 acres of his 160 acre claim. Durant would later sell 23 acres of his portion to the University for $1000, and develop the remainder as a tract called "Villa Lots to the South".

In this enterprise he had Samuel Merritt as a partner. The “Villa Lots to the South” extended a little east and a few blocks west of Telegraph Avenue, between Bancroft Way and Sather Gate. It encompassed all of what is now Sproul Plaza. It was to this property that Durant and Woolsey established a horse car transportation line in 1871 and it was this block of Telegraph Avenue that Durant and Merritt developed as East Berkeley's first commercial center.

Henry Durant had become acquainted with Orrin Simmons shortly after his arrival in California. With Simmons, he established what would be a long-term working relationship, and from Simmons he made a variety of personal loans, and incurred other indebtedness based upon services rendered. It is noted that Simmons struggled to collect from Durant over the next 20 years and extending past the natural life of Mr. Durant.

On the first day of January, 1859, Orrin Simmons (and his wife, Hannah) sold to Henry Durant (and his wife, Mary) the northern 5/8ths of plot 82 for $1000. On June 6, 1860 E. B. Goddard bought 200 of these acres from Durant north of the College grounds site, for $45 per acre (or $9000.00), for “homestead purposes”. This parcel would include a portion of both plots 81 and 82. Shortly afterward this property was referred to as the Goddard Ranch. Henry had realized a personal profit of some $6000. For Durant, the real estate business began to look better and better. Unquestionably better than either the ministry or teaching.

By June of 1859, Henry Durant's energies had already shifted fully in the direction of his real estate interests. Accepting, along with Martin Kellogg, one of the first two professorships of the College, he turned the management and directorship of the boy’s school over to the Reverend Isaac Brayton. Brayton would purchase the school's buildings and two blocks of property from the College trustees in 1864. This sale did not include the other two lots, fronting on Franklin Street, which now constituted the home (the "mansion") of Henry. Durant's home would remain occupied until his death in 1876, long after all the sales of the adjoining property had been accomplished. Brayton already owned much of the surrounding Oakland properties, and by 1864 had turned the major part of his attention to the pursuit of profits from real estate trading as well. Brayton's dealings included, but were by no means limited to, the sale of the Mountain View Cemetery property to the City of Oakland in February of 1864; 209 acres for $13,000. Isaac died in April of 1869, leaving a well-to-do widow. Mrs. Brayton, upon her husband's death, snatched up the realtor's torch and went on to do quite well for herself.

The "old school" Presbyterians were not pleased by these secular pursuits, and amongst themselves began a search for an alternative school.

On April 16, 1860, the trustees of the College of California met at "Founders' Rock" to inspect and dedicate the chosen spot. "In carriages secured from Shattuck and Hillegass Livery Stable the band of trustees drove out Telegraph Road to the "Four Mile House" near Luke Doe's (that would be the intersection of Claremont and College) thence turning left following the country road past Mr. Simmons', there crossing Strawberry Creek." The property was still referred to as the "College Site", as the name Berkeley had not yet been decided. The boundaries of the College were then marked and a fence ordered to be built around it. In a report of June 1860, it was noted that the holdings of the College's real property are: "the four blocks and included streets in Oakland and the buildings there on, namely the Mansion House, Academy Hall, and the first small College Hall, valued at $18,000.00; and the Berkeley site, comprising then of 124 acres, valued at $18,600,00. Against this property there was very little if any indebtedness."

But in prosecuting the plans for a water supply, two issues became evident. The land behind the site would need to be owned in order to secure a constant and reliable source of water. What was wanted was wanted was both the catchment basin and both banks of the stream down to the College property. And in order to do this, a water company had to be formed.
In August the Trustees purchased from Goddard and Rankin their title to the College property, and that same month Sam Heywood sold to the College of California the water rights off what was called the "Ramsey Ranch", for $200. He had purchased this property from Benjamin Davidson who had bought it from McAllister. Heywood placed the contingency that the College must leave enough water for him and may take only what they could get via a three inch pipe.

In 1860 the College of California opened its doors in Oakland to a freshman class of 8, to be taught by 6 instructors. The full academic program was published for the first time in the catalogue for 1861-62. By 1864 there were fifteen students, by 1867 there were twenty. The first graduation class of the four surviving students took place on June 1, 1864.

In September of 1860, William Hillegass and his (first) wife Eugenia were paid $2,000 by the College of California for 17.31 acres of land in plot 71, that portion north of the Creek, the same that he has been erroneously credited with donating to the new University. The deed, dated September 4, 1860, was not recorded until 1865. The College of California accepted the property with the proviso that the creek which runs through Faculty Glen be used only for College purposes. The grantors reserved in the meantime the right to take 300 gallons of water per day from the Creek for their own use.

In August of 1864, Orrin Simmons proposed that the college buy 163 acres of his property east of the college site. The selling price was $35,000. By the 14th of August the trade was accomplished. Portions of this property were developed into home sites, all of which were scattered east of College Avenue. This area has since been now covered by the Memorial Stadium, the Greek Theater, and International House. This tract of land was called the "Berkeley Properties". On this same date, half of the College properties in Oakland were sold to Reverend Brayton for $10,000, income which unquestionably helped in putting together the "Simmons" deal.

In January of 1861, Durant purchased for $2000 the area from Hearst to Cedar Streets, Shattuck Avenue to Arch Street, adjoining his earlier purchase at Arch Street. It consisted of approximately 40 acres. In January of 1864 he sold a limited undivided interest in this property to Martin Kellogg for $100. Durant now owned everything north of the College site, and was on his way to owning a goodly share of the south and west sides as well. He would eventually, at one time or another, trade in every piece of property that bordered the University (except for that owned by Wm. Hillegass), most of the Ocean View properties, and a good part of the intervening land which bordered on University Avenue. The entire intersection of Shattuck and University Avenues, all four corners, was, at one time, Durant property. Comparing him to the likes of Horace Carpentier, he emerges a rank amateur, but for his time he was truly a real estate giant.

By August of 1861, Durant was selling forty acres between Grove, Hearst, Cedar Streets, and Shattuck Avenue. In June of 1864 he bought the block bounded by University Avenue, Addison, Grove, and Milvia Streets, about 10 acres. In 1867 Durant mortgaged a fraction less than 10 acres of the West Campus portion of his property for $4000. The value of East Bay real estate was clearly on the rise.

As early as October of 1860, Durant was no less earnestly into the real estate business in Oakland. Durant owned property all around his residence, up and down Broadway, in the marshlands, and on the waterfront. His eventual holdings were to include, but were not limited to: Center Street Properties [Center Street Home Lots in Oakland]; Hardy Tract; Adeline Homesteads; Oakland Homesteads; Oakland Point; Fountain Place; Choice Building Lots of Oakland (the old Oakland cemetery located just north of the school property); Broadway & Webster Avenue Tract; Villa Lots Joining the University to the South; Redivision of City Blocks #s 494, 495, 496; Bay View Terrace; Nilson Place; University Homestead and the Mitchell Tract.

His partners in the various real estate ventures would include Sam Merritt, John Dwinelle, Isaac Brayton, Edward Tompkins, William Sherman, Martin Kellogg, Ed McClean, G. S. Emerson, Perry Batchelder, William K. Rowell, Sam Penwell, A.C.R. Shaw, William Tierney, August Rammelsburg, Captain James Jacobs, and of course, Horace Carpentier.

He was also affiliated with Carpentier in the notorious waterfront dealings, and played a pivotal role in the formation of the BLTIA. He will not, however, become a partner with Willey in the development of the College Homestead Tract, a project that was originally designated to support the developmental efforts of the College at its Berkeley site. What most knew, and apparently Willey did not, was that the acquisition of the College property, including the 120 acres of College Homestead Tract, was intended as an investment to be realized when the State selected this site for the new University. Over this issue, these two men ultimately diverged.

Henry Durant was appointed first president of the University of California after this position had been offered and rejected by several other men. As a last resort Henry was asked and Henry accepted. He was also elected Mayor of Oakland in March of 1873. In 1874 he was reelected and, while serving his second term, died on January 22, 1875 at the age of 72. Durant died at his home of congestive chills at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon. It was sudden, as he was out and about the day before. He left a wife but no family.

The local newspaper, on the day following his death, carried a small notice of his passing. An earlier article suggested some concern for his longevity and recommended that a successor be selected, in case one is needed, because of his already advanced years.

There is a letter to Rev. D. P. and Mrs. Noyes from Mrs. Durant wherein she corrects some information she had given him regarding Henry's worth at the time of his death. In this letter she refers to him as "brother" but that may be just a religious familiarity. She had at first suggested $100,000.00 but in reflection explained how property prices had dropped so drastically that his business suffered losses amounting to 1/2 his holdings. Mrs. Durant had failed to realize that in spite of the volume of business her husband conducted, he worked mostly on credit; most of what he owned was heavily mortgaged, and Henry was, like the Spanish landholders who preceded him, land poor. Mrs. Durant remained living in her home at 1357 Franklin Street in Oakland.

Significantly, with the death of Henry Durant, the surviving elements of Horace Carpentier's political purchase in Oakland passed away as well.

 

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