Horton offered to donate a city block (#212) for a courthouse, the records going to his hall at Sixth and F.
Whaley countered that he would sell the Brick House to the county for a courthouse, and would build a much-needed jail on an adjacent property. Louis Rose and other Old Town mainstays offered free land.
Another sign of the times: On March 3, 1870, Whaley and his partner, Philip Crosthwaite, moved their general store to New San Diego. “One by one the leaves are falling from Old Town,” wrote Rufus K. Porter. “Nothing will be left there in a short time but a few saloons and lawyers.”
On June 30, publisher William Jeff Gatewood moved his San Diego Union south as well.
Another upstart coup: Led by Horton, a group formed the first bank in the region, Bank of San Diego. Now people could deposit what they used to hide away. Elizabeth McPhail: “In those days it could be literal truth when a person said, ‘I’ll have to dig up the money.’”
On July 9, 1870, the Board of Supervisors voted 3–2 to relocate the courthouse in New Town: “All county officers must move to the new quarters by August 1, 1870.”
Old Towners fought back. The integrity of the original plaza “must be guaranteed,” they proclaimed, and the “courthouse question must remain status quo.”
Supervisor Slade urged Judge Bush and district judge Murray Morrison, two of Old Town’s chief defenders, to order that all writs from their courts must return to Old Town.
Judge Bush was a hard drinker who admitted he knew little about the law (“that was the business of lawyers”). On July 17, he and county clerk George Pendleton ordered Sheriff James McCoy to defend the current county seat, with force if necessary.
On July 21, the Union printed McCoy’s response: “I hereby command you and each of you” — i.e. Old and New Towners — “to assist me to arrest those who may attempt to remove” the county records.
The next day, the sheriff placed a cannon in front of the Old Town jail and an armed guard at the Whaley House.
The pro-move Union relished the strategy: “The Crisis is upon us: the secession of Old Town from San Diego…the cloud of which has been hanging over so long has at length broken and this once happy land is now the scene of internecine strife. OLD TOWN HAS SECEDED.”
The Union envisioned “the indomitable Bush” straddling a newly constructed earthworks, commanding the artillery, and — a virgin sword held high — shouting “Old Town…now and forever, one and inseparable!”
Then nothing happened. The posse disbanded, and Bush re-donned his judicial robes.
Late in August the five supervisors met at Horton’s Hall. Once again they demanded removal of the county records. But they couldn’t act since Pendleton, the clerk, was absent — by design. Without Pendleton, they failed to function as a board of equalization and enabled Judge Bush to pull a fast one.
Citing an old revenue act — letting him replace ineffective supervisors without an election — Bush ousted three board members and brought in Old Towners Charles Thomas, William Flynn, and J.S. Mannassee. Bush even fined the evicted trio $500 each for ordering a new county seat.
Though opponents immediately declared the act “bar sinister” (illegitimate), Bush swore in the new supervisors on September 1. At a board meeting at his home in October, Whaley once again offered to sell the Brick House to the county. Members tabled the vote.
Ephraim Morse, New Town advocate, wrote in January 1871: “The Bogus Board of Supervisors [has] finally located the Courthouse at Old Town…and the bonds are being printed. If the courts are not too slow they may be stopped before they go much farther.”
On January 27, the California Supreme Court ruled against Bush. He had no authority to make the change. The court kicked out the new supervisors and ruled that the reinstated board did have the authority to remove the county records.
Ephraim Morse applauded: “The decision of the Supreme Court…was a terrible blow to Old Town and a scathing rebuke to Judge Morrison…I don’t think they will fight any longer, but they may, and if they do, they will be crowned without mercy.”
In March, George Pendleton died. A West Point graduate (with Grant and Sherman), he came to San Diego in 1855, captained the San Diego guards, and served as county clerk and recorder for 14 years. He was “a man of capability and culture,” writes William Smythe, and “a steadfast friend of Old Town.” His passing cleared the way for change.
Supervisors appointed Chalmers Scott new county clerk. The young attorney, who sported a drooping walrus mustache, was an ardent New Towner. He would bring the county seat across the civic divide and make Horton’s Addition the real San Diego.
Accounts of how Scott made the move show that the battle between Old and New Town still rages today. ■
Next time: A Peaceful Transition, or with Shotguns Drawn?
- Grand Jury, September, 1869: “Whoever heard of a county without a Court House or public building?”
- June A. Reading: “As New Town became more outspoken in demanding the removal of county offices, the fight became one of Republicans vs. Democrats, as well as Old vs. New.”
- Daniel Cleveland: “Asked to speak at the Democratic Convention of 1873 [where he was up for reelection], Judge Bush replied, ‘Boys, I can’t make a speech, but if anyone in San Diego is fool enough to trust Tommy Bush, I would invite you all to take a drink.’ ”
Cleveland, Daniel, “Present S.D. Courthouse Dates to 1871 Move From Old Town,” Evening Tribune, October 13, 1952.
MacPhail, Elizabeth, The Story of New San Diego and Alonzo E. Horton, San Diego, 1979.
Pourade, Richard, The Glory Years, San Diego, 1964.
Reading, June A., “The Whaley House,” privately ciruclated pamphlet, San Diego, 1960.
Smythe, William E., History of San Diego, 1542–1908, San Diego, 1908.
Stanford, Leland Ghent, San Diego’s L.L.B., A History of Law and Justice in San Diego County, San Diego, 1968.
Strudwick, “The Whaley House,” San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, April, 1960, vol. 6, number 2.
Whaley, Lillian, “Old Times in Old Town,” ms San Diego Historical Society.
Articles in the San Diego Union, the San Diego Bulletin, the San Francisco Bulletin, and others.
Read Part Two: "Did They Go Gentle Into That Good Night?"