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Finding Aid to the Charles B. Polhemus Papers, 1858-1916
BANC MSS 91/17 c  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Charles B. Polhemus Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1858-1916
    Collection Number: BANC MSS 91/17 c
    Collector: Polhemus, Charles B.
    Extent: Number of containers: 5 boxes, 2 cartons Linear feet: 4.6
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Languages Represented: Collection materials are in English and Spanish

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of the Manuscripts Division. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Charles B. Polhemus papers, BANC MSS 91/17 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The Charles B. Polhemus Papers were given to The Bancroft Library on February 12, 1991 by the estate of Irene J. Polhemus.


    Charles B. Polhemus was born in Burlington County, New Jersey on February 10, 1818, to Ann Van Zant of Baltimore and Montgomery Polhemus, a New Jersey merchant and landowner. His paternal grandfather was Major John Polhemus, who served in the Revolutionary Army of 1775 and whose father-in-law, John Hart, was an organizer of the Jersey Blues and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Charles attended school in Burlington County until the age of 12, when he began to learn the drug business, earning a pharmacy diploma within four years.
    Charles Polhemus went to South America in February of 1836. He lived in Valparaiso, Guayaquil, Lima, and finally in Payta, serving as a clerk and book-keeper in the commission business, as principal of a business, and as U. S. Consul in Payta for four years. He came to California during the Gold Rush of 1849 and established a branch of Alsop & Co. of New York and South America in San Francisco. Alsop & Co. was one of the largest American banking and commission concerns in South America and Charles continued to work with them for the next 14 years. Between 1850-1860, he also served as the Consul for Chile and Peru in San Francisco. During these years, he lived on Stockton Avenue in a house brought, with 16 others in 1849 or 1850, around the Horn in pieces by Commodore Stockton. In 1852 he married Matilda Murphy, a native of New York. Matilda and Charles had three children: Mary Josephine, George B., and one who died in infancy, followed before 1880 by Matilda.
    In 1864, with Donahue and Newhall, Charles became interested in the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad, which they guaranteed and subsequently owned. They built a branch to Gilroy, which required the purchase of Commodore Stockton's ranch of approximately 2,000 acres, some of which was inside the city limits of San Jose. In 1867, Charles sold his interests in the railroad to Stanford, Huntington, Hopkins, & Co., later known as the Southern Pacific Railroad. In that same year, he and three associates purchased land in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties, which they later sold at great profit.
    Charles' own ranch included 110 acres of the original Stockton Ranch, nearly half in the city of San Jose, as well as several ranches in Santa Clara County, totalling nearly 1000 acres. The ranch appears to have become his primary residence sometime after 1860; his diaries record frequent stays at Lick House in the City. Charles died at home on his ranch on June 25, 1904, according to the diary of his son, George.
    George B. Polhemus was born in San Francisco on January 21, 1857 and was educated as part of the study group of The Rev. Dr. George Burrows, for preparation to enter Cambridge University. He did not complete his studies. Instead, in 1884, George purchased the Cerro Alegre Rancho, an 805 acre ranch near the S.P.R.R.'s Coyote Station. In addition, he leased 3,300 acres on which he raised Ayrshires, Shorthorns, Jerseys, Holsteins, and Holstein-Freesian cattle and thoroughbred horses. Although chosen by the Republican convention in 1886 to run for state assembly, he was defeated and showed no further political ambitions. George married Jennie Ryder, daughter of George W. Ryder of Santa Clara Valley in January 1887. His diary records the 8th birthday of a son, Charles B. Polhemus, Jr. [born November 27, 1888].
    [Obtained primarily from Pen Pictures from the Garden of the World, or Santa Clara County, California, 1888]

    Scope and Content

    Charles B. Polhemus came to California in 1849 and was an active and successful businessman and diplomat, with interests in real estate, the commission and banking business, ranching, and the railroad industry. This collection consists of retained copies of correspondence, diaries, and business records of Charles B. Polhemus and his son George.
    Series 1, Correspondence (Outgoing), 1864-1897, gives a long record of those to whom Charles wrote in his various capacities, both as a business and family man, and in his continued role as Consul for Chile in San Francisco.
    In Series 2, Charles' diaries record in some detail his daily life and activities as a rancher in the Santa Clara Valley, while also giving evidence of his involvement with the developing business of agriculture, land, and property rights in California, including legislation concerning these issues. Much of his time was spent "calling on" bankers and various other concerns, both in San Francisco and in Santa Clara County. His family life is also recorded in these daily entries. One cousin often mentioned, Henry D. Polhemus (born in Valparaiso, Chile), served as station agent for the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad and eventually settled in Marin County as an agent for the North Pacific Coast Railroad.
    The two diaries kept by George B. Polhemus (Series 6) record only briefly his daily activities. It is in the farming journals that appear to follow that may be found the detailed entries reminiscent of his father's diaries. A predominant concern throughout George's journals was water and water rights.
    The agricultural and business records of both Charles and George Polhemus, found in Series 3, 4, 5, and 6, give in even further detail an accounting of their activities in Santa Clara County.