In 1852, a discouraged 22-year-old Downeaster by the name of Charles Fernald boarded a ship and abandoned San Francisco. He had come searching for gold in 1849 and left with a law degree but little else. When the steamer Ohio reached Santa Barbara, he disembarked for a short visit with friends. Instead, he ended up staying 40 years.
Charles had arrived in a Santa Barbara beset by outlaws and vigilantism. His friends quickly recruited the 23-year-old to take on the vacant job of sheriff, a position that clearly was not for the feint of heart since two deputies had recently been murdered.
The prominent Californio families took to Fernald immediately. By the end of the year, he was appointed as a commissioner in the Estate of Don Carlos Antonio Carrillo and won the election for Santa Barbara District Attorney. Very quickly, he was appointed Santa Barbara County Judge, and over the next several years rose through the ranks to U.S. Circuit Judge. Then, in January 1860, Fernald received leave to visit his father in Berwick, Maine. There he met and fell in love with Hannah Hobbs, whose antecedents dated to the Mayflower. The two became engaged, but Fernald returned to California alone to pave the way for his genteel betrothed.
Fernald gave up his low paying judgeships and focused on private practice. His good standing with the Californios brought him retainers from the Arrellanes, Carrillos, and De la Guerras, who hired him to solve their land disputes with the Americans. In 1862, Charles Fernald returned to Maine, married Hannah and brought her back to California. On Block 247, they started building a home that fulfilled his promise to recreate a proper New England lifestyle in the sleepy pueblo. The house they commissioned was a two-story brick home consisting of nine rooms and flanked by two porches. In addition to his practice, Fernald became involved with civic improvement projects. He was principal founder of the Santa Ynez Turnpike Company, which built a toll road over San Marcos Pass. He was a major investor in the first mule-powered street railway, and he started the Santa Barbara Electric Light and Power Company. In 1882 he was elected mayor of Santa Barbara in a landslide victory.
By 1880 the Fernalds had four children and a considerable income. It was time to upgrade the house, so they commissioned a major expansion, designed, it is believed, by Thomas Nixon. Rooflines became pitched in Gothic spires, Queen Anne bay windows and porches extruded from the exterior, and ornamental bargeboards festooned the gables. The house doubled in size and assumed the appearance of a prominent well-to-do Victorian lady.
In 1892, Fernald died at age 62 of heart failure. The entire community was thrown into mourning and nearly every flag in Santa Barbara flew at half-mast on the day of his funeral. Hannah lived in the house at 422 Santa Barbara Street until she died in 1929, at which time her daughter Florence, a renowned pianist, inherited it. After Florence passed in 1958, the house was set to be demolished. Recognizing both the importance of the family who had lived in the home and the importance of preserving such an excellent example of Santa Barbara’s Victorian past, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum launched a campaign to save the house.
To move the house to property they owned on West Montecito Street, it was cut into three sections, loaded onto flatbed trucks and shuttled across town. Hundreds of telephone wires had to be cut to accommodate the Gothic lady. Once in place, restoration began. Much of the original furnishing had been sold or discarded over the years. Although the museum was able to acquire several original pieces, other pieces were obtained after careful research using old photographs of the interior to approximate the originals in style, period, and detail.
Closed recently for several years of additional restoration, in January, the Santa Barbara Historical Museum hosted an open house celebrating the completion of the most recent restoration work. The house is again open for tours given by dedicated and knowledgeable docents who share the story of the Victorian home and Fernald Family. To step back in time to a more gracious period in Santa Barbara’s history on Saturday mornings at 11 am, call the Museum to make a reservation at 805-966-1601. Group tours are available by appointment. Entrance for members and students is free; all others pay $10.
B) The Fernald house once stood at 422 Santa Barbara Street and was surrounded by elaborate gardens which occupied the entire block (photo courtesy SBHM)
C) Moving the Fernald house in 1959 required cutting hundreds of telephone wires (photo courtesy SBHM)