George P. Tebbetts was born in Concord, New Hampshire, Oct. 26, 1828. He was a graduate of Dartmouth as a medical student in 1848. After finishing his schooling, he took a position with a large shipping company in Boston, and while there decided to take a long trip for his health. The discovery of gold in California inspired him to change his sailing course in that direction.
The sailing vessel he took from Boston landed him at Colon, and he hiked across the isthmus with two natives carrying his heavy luggage. On his arrival at Panama he discovered that an epidemic of yellow fever was raging, and he attended the sick until the steamer on which he had arranged passage arrived.
He landed in San Francisco in the spring of 1849, outfitted himself and, securing the services of a Chinese boy, he left immediately for a location on the middle fork of the American River near Sacramento. Luck was with them, and within a few months he and the Chinese boy, who would not separate from him, returned to San Francisco with about $70,000 in gold. There the boy expressed a wish to return to China, and Tebbetts settled with him for $3,000.
The boy returned to China, and as the years rolled by, nothing was heard from him. Forty-five years later he walked into Tebbett's office in Santa Barbara and introduced himself. The surprise meeting after so many years was an enjoyable occasion, with much reminiscing by the two lucky gold seekers.
Just when Tebbetts arrived in San Diego is uncertain, but he is listed as one of the electors at the first election held in San Diego in 1850. In 1851 he was elected Councilman and served two years. As Chairman of the Council he automatically became Mayor, and held that office for two successive years. He was also a member of the Board of Supervisors in 1854-1861-1862-1863 and 1864.
The hotel business seemed a good field and in 1850 or 51 he became proprietor of the Exchange, a hotel on the south side of the Plaza. His partner in this enterprise was Philip Hooff, and Lt. George H. Derby, in his Phoenixiana, immortalized them both by referring to them as "Two bitts" and "Cloven Hooff".
In 1851 the uprising of the Indians at Warner's occurred, and Tebbetts served as an ensign with Fitzgerald's Volunteers. It was during that campaign and while the troops were stationed at San Diego, that Tebbetts participated in a so-called "Duel." The humorous account of that episode appears in the San Diego Herald, November 27, 1851. It reads:
A worthy medico and learned disciple of Aesculapius, conceiving his honor wounded by some remark of the Major General commanding the Southern Division of the State troops, demanded reparation after the most approved method. Seconds duly appointed, with Derringer's best, loaded with blank cartridges, posted the parties on the Plaza at two o'clock A.M. on the morning of the 24th. inst.
"Gentlemen are you ready? Fire! One, two, three, Bang!" went Medico's pistol, and down tumbled the General, who quickly recovering himself, advanced upon his alarmed antagonist, threatening to blow his brains out.
It is said that Medico (notwithstanding John Barleycorn tempted him to stand firm) furnished the amused spectators with a specimen of tall walking, and has since claimed the protection of martial law, painting his grievances in a light most amusing to all who were in the secret. If Medico will refer to his early reading he may chance to remember the account of the aspiring boy, who in his efforts to get to the top of a tall Bean, met with a mighty fall - pointing a moral that has since adorned many a tale.
This story, told and retold over the years, has become so garbled that only the name of one of the original participants, Tebbetts, now appears in the tale. The most recent version of this hoax is included in John Phoenix Esquire by George Stewart. He has the principal figures as Colonel John Bankhead Magruder, Tebbetts, and Lieutenant Derby. However, the actual participants were General Joshua H. Bean, San Diego's first Mayor, but at that time in command of State troops, and the "Medico" was none other than George P. Tebbetts. Nathan A. Tebbetts, son of George P. Tebbetts, told me that his father, in relating the incident, described the duel as a practical joke.
During Tebbetts stay in office as Mayor, a series of killings, horse stealing and general lawlessness aroused San Diegans to a fever pitch. When local authorities seemed unable to cope with the situation, public spirited citizens got together and organized "The Vigilantes."
The San Diego Herald was crying out at the time for better law enforcement, and suggested that drastic punishment should be meted out to these law breakers. On July 10, 1851, the following article appeared in the Herald:
Mayor Tebbetts had his horse stolen on Wed. night about 12:00 from his very door. If thieves are caught they will be hung up to the flag staff in the Plaza without trial.
Apparently the thieves, three in all, were caught, and Nathan Tebbetts, relating the story as told by his father, stated that the men were paraded through the streets with ropes around their necks, before they were strung up, and nearly every man in San Diego took part in the execution.
Word of the lynching spread, and when the news reached Washington that the town's mayor had done nothing to prevent the lynching, and had actually participated in it himself, investigators were sent out to inquire into the incident. When these special agents arrived at San Diego, they called on Tebbetts at his office and informed him they had orders to arrest him and everyone that was implicated. When they asked for the names of those who took part in the lynching, Tebbetts informed them they would have to arrest nearly all of the people in San Diego, as practically every male in town had hold of the ropes. When the investigators heard this, they quickly completed their reports, returned to Washington, and nothing further was heard of the matter.
Nathan Tebbetts permitted me to glance through his father's diary. Some of the notations during the year 1850 are of special interest.
Friday Feb. 22, 1850.
Weighed 176 lbs. never so much before. A grand ball up town in celebration of Washington's birthday.
Sat. Feb. 23rd.
Been up town to see Delorez - Beautiful!
Sunday Mar. 3rd.
Started to go to town, but the river is so high, I could not cross it.
Monday March 4th.
Steamer Oregon came in during the night.
Sunday, April 7th.
A little rain last night. Been to town. A man shot another there and they arrested him - great excitement.
Monday April 8th.
The man that was shot is yet alive, though shot through the lung.
During the late 50s and early 60s, Tebbetts acquired the San Luis Rey Ranch, and he often related how the padres permitted him to drive his cattle into the Mission during bad weather for protection. In turn he supplied them with grain and meat, when food was scarce.
Tebbetts left San Diego in the late 60s and settled in Santa Barbara, where he bought the San Roque Ranch. In 1868 he was appointed Post Master at Santa Barbara by President Grant. He was a charter member of the Society of California Pioneers.
Entering the newspaper field, he was instrumental in starting the Santa Barbara Press. Later in the 80s he launched the Daily Independent, which he published until 1893. He lost the paper through a foreclosure during the panic that year, but with the aid of townspeople he started the Daily News soon after, a paper he continued to publish until 1907.
In 1907, at the age of seventy-nine, he moved to San Francisco and made his home with his son, Nathan A. Tebbetts, until his death, January 9th, 1909.
Tebbetts was made a Master Mason in San Diego Lodge No. 35, July 13, 1852. On December 8, 1868, he demitted and became a member of Santa Barbara Lodge No. 192 and served as Secretary of that Lodge from 1869 to 1893.
Tebbetts was married twice. The maiden name of the first wife is not known, but the first name was "Delorez," and four children came of that marriage. Nathan Tebbetts could only remember the names of three: Stella, Horace and John. His second wife was Mary Jones, and they had three children, Jasper, Marjorie and Nathan.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Orion Zink, who solved the mystery of the Exchange Hotel, continues his Old Town research with a paper on the colorful Mayor Tebbetts.
THE EXCHANGE HOTEL
By Orion Zink
The Exchange Hotel, or "Tebbett's Place" in the early 1850's, were one and the same to Old Town San Diego residents. And while the life story of the proprietor of the Exchange is fairly well recorded, little is known about the building in which he conducted a more or less lucrative business. To date, no photograph, drawing or complete description of this hotel has been found.
The earliest mention of this famous hostelry appears in the first issue of the San Diego Herald, May 29, 1851, where it is advertised as a "Hotel and Billiard Saloon," and the proprietors were G. P. Tebbetts & Co. or to be more explicit, George Parrish Tebbetts and his partner Philip Hooff.
All of the business section of Old Town San Diego at that time fronted on the plaza; and seldom would the Herald bother to mention where a particular store, hotel or saloon was located. Occasionally however, Ames, the publisher, would include "On the Plaza" or perhaps "On the south side of the Plaza." When the south side was mentioned, he was referring to the side where the Machado house is located.
Lt. George H. Derby, the Army engineer who first diverted the San Diego River into False Bay, mentions in his Phoenixiana, the Exchange as the place where he first stopped when he arrived here in 1853. In his description of the San Diego that greeted him, he stated:
"A small Plaza forms the center of the town, one side of which is occupied by a little adobe used as a court room, the 'Colorado House,' a wooden structure, whereof the second story is occupied by the Herald, as a vast sign bearing that legend informed us, and the Exchange, a hostelry at which we stopped. This establishment is kept by Hoof, familiarly known as Johnny, but whom I at once christened "Cloven", and Tibbetts who is also called "Two bitts."
A hint at the type of building he was stopping in, is provided as Derby went on to describe his first meal in the place. He wrote: "After partaking of supper, which was served up in the rear of the billiard room, at fresco, from a clothless table, upon an earthen floor."
The mention of the earthen floor would seem to suggest that it may have been adobe, but again, the meal may have been served out of doors.
To John Judson Ames, editor of the San Diego Herald, we are indebted for occasional mention of the Exchange, as important local events took place. The first of these, other than advertisements, appeared in the Herald, June 19, 1851. It read:
"All Master Masons in good standing with their respective Lodges, are requested to assemble at the Exchange on the 20th. instant to make arrangements for celebrating the anniversary of our patron saint, John the Baptist."
At this meeting a petition to form a masonic lodge in San Diego was drawn up, and submitted to the Grand Lodge of California. The petition was granted August 1, 1851 and William C. Ferrell was named Master, John Judson Ames, Senior Warden and John Cook, Junior Warden. The name, San Diego Lodge, was bestowed at the time, and two years later it became known as San Diego Lodge No. 35, the oldest lodge in southern California.
Additional mention of the Exchange is made in the Herald on June 28, 1852, wherein Ames described a St. John's Day celebration. He wrote:
"The procession after marching through the principal streets, halted under the gallery of the Exchange and the Colorado house, to listen to the oration by J. Judson Ames, R.A. & K.T. which occupied about a half hour. Of its merits it isn't of course, proper to speak."
The Colorado House mentioned, was a two story structure, and the roof of the front porch with its protective railing, provided a gallery from which spectators watched bullfights, parades and other events. The reference to the "gallery" of the Exchange would seem to indicate that it was similarly adorned, and it leaves the impression that the Exchange was a two-story building.
Unfortunately, San Diego Lodge No. 35's records contain no description of the Exchange and make no mention of its location. This omission had its repercussions one hundred years later, when to celebrate the centennial of the Lodge's founding, plans were made to place a marker on the site of this first meeting place. Upon the writer, the Lodge's Historian, fell the task of locating that important spot.
In the search that was launched, public records were scanned, the San Diego Historical Society's files were examined and interviews arranged with Old Town's oldest residents. William Crosthwaite, son of Philip Crosthwaite, could not help; neither could Albert Smith who at that time was San Diego's oldest resident. Even Miss Corinne Whaley shook her head.
Months went by and I was about to abandon the search. Then one day while thumbing through the files of the San Diego Herald at the San Diego City Library, an article in the issue of November 3, 1855 caught my attention. It read:
"On the Plaza and its vicinity are several operations just completed or in progress, one of the most important of which is the raising and enlargement of the Exchange estate by Messers Franklin, who intend to devote it to their large and increasing business. The lower story is to be of brick, fronted by a handsome veranda which will be carried up three stories, the height of the building."
This item provided the first definite clue as to the whereabouts of the long sought Exchange Hotel. The Franklin building was Old Town's first, and for many years only three story building, and was at one time owned by Joseph Mannasse, a member of San Diego Lodge. It was here that many of the Lodge's early day banquets were held.
The Franklin House, together with the Colorado House and the little old brick court house, were destroyed by a fire in 1872 that consumed several buildings on the south side of the Old Town Plaza. A lengthy article covering this fire appeared in The San Diego Union, April 21, 1872. Luckily one building, the Machado house, an adobe, survived the fire. And with that as a starting point it was comparatively easy to locate the site of the Franklin House which had been built where once stood the Exchange.
Preliminary findings were referred to James Forward of the Union Title Insurance Co. for confirmation; George W. Elder his Chief Engineer, in searching the records, uncovered the following property transfer dated July 19, 1855: (Book E--Page 328)
Mumford & Phebe Eldred Jr. (Grantor)
Lewis Abram Franklin (Grantee)
"Conveys situate in the Town of San Diego. Having a front on the Plaza or public square of 35 feet more or less, and in depth 50 varas (measure) and known upon the plaza of said town, as part of Lot 2 in Block 30, upon which the building known as the 'Exchange' has been erected."
With this definite location, Mr. Elder brought the successive transfers up to date (1951) which revealed then, that J. H. Cardwell and Nora Cardwell were the owners of the property at 2731 San Diego Ave. At that time Maurice Roy's photograph gallery occupied the one story building, now occupying the site.
The owner's permission was obtained to place a bronze plaque. This was done in an appropriate ceremony June 16, 1951 in connection with San Diego Lodge No. 35's week long Centennial Celebration.
A large gathering witnessed the colorful plaque dedication ceremonies at Old Town. Invited guests included City and County officials, San Diego Historical Society representatives, Grand Lodge officers and San Diego County Masons, their families and friends. The program included a parade to the plaza lead by the Shrine Band. The principal speaker was Lloyd E. Wilson, P.G.M. of Grand Lodge. Others participating were, Rev. John B. Osborn, P.M., Maurice B. Ross, P.M., George W. Elder, P.M., R. M. Culbertson, W.M., Claude H. Morrison, P.G.M., Orion M. Zink, Lodge Historian, Judge L. N. Turrentine, P.M., 0. W. Campbell, City Manager and Nathan A. Tebbetts.
Nathan A. Tebbetts was the son of George Parrish Tebbetts, proprietor of the Exchange Hotel. Mr. Tebbetts, a newspaper man, who had come all the way from San Francisco, regaled the audience with stories related by his father, and with excerpts taken from his father's diary. This day to day record was religiously kept by Mr. Tebbett's father, during the many years he lived in San Diego.
Following the addresses the marker was unveiled by Albert Crosthwaite, grandson of Philip Crosthwaite.
Thanks to the efforts of John Davidson, in October 1951, the Historic Landmarks, of the Travel & Recreation Department of the State of California, registered the Exchange Hotel site as Landmark No. 491.