Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Historic McGlashan site up for grabs

In 1893, newspaper editor, lawyer, and Donner Party historian C. F. McGlashan completed a remarkable building on a hillside in Truckee, California. White, with numerous tall windows and columns all around, the Rocking Stone Tower overlooked the town.

The tower was built was a 30-foot-high boulder with a flat top, at whose center perched a smaller rock (only 16 tons) so perfectly balanced on edge that a slight push would make it move gently, then rock back into place. Worried that the locals who scaled the base and larked about with the rocking stone might unseat it, McGlashan bought the property and built the circular tower, which housed his "museum" -- Donner Party relics, his butterfly collection, Washoe artifacts, and various other curiosities, including the rocking stone itself. 

Several years later, he completed a house close to the boulder and attached to the tower by a bridge. The house and tower became a landmark, even appearing in postcards, such as the one the image above is taken from. Until his death in 1931, McGlashan made his home in the "castle" on the hillside. Nearly four years after his passing, however, the house met its own fate. At 3:15 A.M. on October 18, 1934, a watchman discovered the blaze in the kitchen and was seriously burned attempting to douse it. The house burned to the ground, but the tower and its contents emerged unscathed. In 1939, the tower became Truckee's Veterans Hall Memorial Building.

Now the local Powers That Be have determined that the site is "surplus property" and have put it on the chopping block, with no publicity or input from residents. See the Sierra Sun article "Our Turn: Truckee history for sale" for more details about this latest development. For more about McGlashan's home and tower, see Give Me a Mountain Meadow, by M. Nona McGlashan.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Distressing News

On Friday I received a phone call out of the blue from Bill Springer, a fourth great-grandson of Capt. George Donner, to inform me that his brother Don died last month. 

Donald Donner Springer, a life-long resident of Springfield, Illinois, was an avid collector of Donnerana. He amassed a quantity of documents and other items related to his family history, gave talks to local historical and genealogical groups, and had a memorial erected to George and Tamzene Donner, along with other relatives whose graves are unknown, in the family plot at Oak Hill Cemetery in Springfield.

When JoAnn Brant Schmidt and I visited Springfield in 1998, Don put us up for a week, took us on a tour of Donner sites, and shared his remarkable knowledge freely. Don and Jo Ann were distant cousins, he being descended from George's son William and she from George's daughter Sarah -- naturally they had a lot to talk about! Don was a hell of a nice guy, friendly, generous, and a great host. 

If Don's passing weren't bad enough, Bill also told me that Jo Ann died over a year ago, and her husband of 59 years, Gil Schmidt, passed away in October, less than a year after Jo Ann. 

In addition to being sharp, funny, and having a great outlook on life, Jo Ann was an amazing genealogist. She's the one who cleared up the mystery of Sarah Donner (Capt. George Donner's daughter, not sister); found George Donner Sr.'s Revolutionary War service (North Carolina militia, not Continental Army), thus enabling any number of descendants to apply for membership the DAR and SAR; identified George Sr.'s wife Mary (surname Huff, though Jo Ann was always careful to say that while the inference was quite clear, she hadn't yet found any direct documentation); uncovered a collection of documents relating to the Donners back in Kentucky; and much, much more. A lot of information about the Donners in the family trees at stems from her research, though she's rarely credited. Neither Jo Ann nor I had been working hard on genealogy for a while, so we hadn't been in touch lately, which I very much regret. 

I'll try to find something more upbeat to post about next time.