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Guide to the M. Theo Kearney Papers, 1865-1906
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Scope and Content
  • Biography

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: M. Theo Kearney Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1865-1906
    Collection Number: BANC MSS C-G 77
    Origination: Kearney, M. Theo (Martin Theodore), d. 1906
    Extent: Number of containers: 7 boxes
    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.
    Abstract: Correspondence and papers mainly pertaining to his property in Fresno Co., Calif., and to cooperative raisin production; pocket diary-account books, 1865-1903; social correspondence from his travels; newspaper clippings, pamphlets and pictures.
    Languages Represented: English

    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 Public Services. 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], M. Theo Kearney Papers, BANC MSS C-G 77, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Related Collection

    • Kearney Ranch records, [ca. 1888-1948], BANC MSS C-G 63

    Scope and Content

    This collection of Kearney's papers came to The Bancroft Library some time after his estate was received by the University. In 1949 the records of the Kearney Ranch, which had been administered by the University from 1906 to about 1948, were also placed here. A group of account books for the Fruit Vale Improvement Company, found with the personal papers, has now been placed with the Ranch papers which already contained two volumes of records, 1879-1892, for the Esterby "Rancho." The Kearney Ranch records have been cataloged separately (BANC MSS C-G 63) with a brief description and key to arrangement.
    The correspondence has been separated from the miscellaneous papers and divided into two groups: the business and general correspondence, arranged chronologically, and the purely social, arranged alphabetically. The general correspondence reflects Kearney's interest and activities in fruit growing and marketing, including cooperative organizations. He was also engaged in promoting land colonies and in developing his Chateau Fresno Park. His purchase of a Mercedes car with a custom body by Hooker & Company, England (a vehicle admired by King Edward VII) is recorded in the correspondence.


    M. Theodore Kearney died May 26, 1906, in his stateroom aboard the Cunard liner Caronia, alone, as he had lived in the Victorian mansion adjacent to his vast Kearney Vineyard property. The news did not reach California for nearly a week after his death, and then it was soon learned that he had left his estate to the University of California.
    Nothing is known of Kearney's family and early life, nor when or where he was born. Often spoken of as a "man of mystery," Kearney has been described as a rather irascible recluse who built up his great land holdings by shrewd purchases and heartless mortgage foreclosures. From his pocket diary-account books we know that he was in Boston 1865-1867, and was in San Francisco on Jan. 1, 1870. Listed for several years in the San Francisco directories as a real estate broker, Kearney became associated with W. C. Chapman, speculator in Fresno County lands. In 1877 he was agent for the Bank of California in the sale of the Easterby "Rancho" there, and in 1880 purchased N. K. Masten's share therein. This is believed to be the foundation of his ranching and vineyard enterprises. He acquired the noted Fruit Vale estate also, and, later, a controlling interest in the Fresno Vineyard Company. He played an important part in the affairs of the California Raisin Growers' Association. His correspondence and papers reflect the turbulence of his relations with his agricultural and business associates.
    Although Kearney has been described as a misanthrope -with a particular aversion to women -his papers do not bear this out. His pocket notebooks reveal that from his arrival in San Francisco he had entré to the highest social circles; his calling lists contain the most important names. Also, there is a considerable file of personal correspondence with friends and acquaintances from his travels, and particularly from his sojourns at various German "spas." This includes letters from a minor German princess, British nobility and members of American, British and Continental "Society."