Weber’s Garden

I’m willing to wager that Charles M. Weber (1814-1881; left) is San Joaquin County’s most famous pioneer. I also suspect he’s remembered most often as the German immigrant and adventurer who built a fortune founding Stockton. But Weber had another side, too. What often gets overlooked is the passion that he (and possibly his wife, Helen Murphy Weber) had for gardening.

Fellow archivist Kimberly Bray, across town at Stockton’s Haggin Museum, last week pointed me to a passage in Weber! The American Adventure of Captain Charles M. Weber, by James Shebl (1993; page 88), that highlights this dimension. In 1859, poet Bayard Taylor visited Weber’s house in Stockton. “We are greatly delighted with our visit to Captain Weber’s,” he wrote.

There is no more beautiful villa in existence. A thick hedge, outside of which is a row of semi-tropical trees, surrounds the peninsula [on which his house sits]. The gate opens into a lofty avenue of trellis work where the sunshine strikes through branches of amethyst and chrysolite, while on the other hand beds of roses fill the air with odor. . . .

The garden delighted us beyond measure. The walls were waist deep in fuschias, heliotrope and geraniums, the lemon verbena grew high above our heads and the pepper trees with their loose misty boughs hailed us as old friends from the skies of Athens. A row of Italian cypresses were shooting rapidly above the other boughs in the garden.

The San Joaquin County Historical Museum holds receipts from nurseries that Weber patronized, plant catalogs from which he ordered, and letters by descendants that discuss his gardens. Its holdings also include the cottage that Taylor visited in 1859 (left), thanks to a decision more than two and one-half decades back to move the structure to the Museum’s grounds.

Not long ago, a group of local gardeners visited the Museum with the intention of bringing these resources together and creating a plan to landscape the Weber Cottage with plants true to the nineteenth century and in alignment with Weber’s tastes.

Members of the Museum staff look forward to those plans, which hold the promise of revealing in vivid three-dimensional detail a lesser-known dimension of San Joaquin County’s most famous early pioneer.

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