The section of Wilmington referred to as Haselton was once known as Markhamville. The name came from settlers who arrived prior to 1800, and it was more than a century before the change was made to Haselton. Among the early-nineteenth-century residents was Nathan Markham, who earned a living in iron manufacturing before turning to farming. He and wife Susan raised six sons and four daughters. The Markham work ethic served them well.
Three daughters and two sons were teachers in area schools. Several sons became prominent businessmen in different cities, and four of them were successful attorneys. George became the president of Northwest Mutual Life, an insurance company that is now 153 years old and holds more than $1 trillion in individual policies. And Henry became the governor of California.
Henry Harrison Markham was born in Wilmington on November 16, 1840. At the age of 19, he was still working on the family farm, but extended his education by attending Vermont’s Wheeler Academy, from which he graduated in 1862. Shortly after, he moved to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on the western shore of Lake Michigan.
An overriding concern at the time was the war, and just as his young father (only 18) had fought in the Battle of Plattsburgh, 23-year-old Henry enlisted, joining the North’s Civil War forces in December 1863. Tracking the movements of Company G, 32nd Wisconsin Infantry reveals their role in Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea. Henry survived that campaign, but for him, the war ended soon after.
In January 1865 in South Carolina, the troops of the 32nd had slogged their way for days through the muddy morass of Whippy Swamp, sometimes waste deep in cold water. At a place known as River’s Bridge, the Confederates released a hellfire in defense of their position, but a relentless push forward by Union troops forced the rebels to fall back.
Dozens died in the battle, and Henry was badly wounded. After a period of recovery at Beaufort, S.C., he was mustered out in May 1865 as a 2nd Lieutenant. Returning to Wisconsin, Henry took up the study of law with a well-known firm, and within a few short years, he was admitted to legal practice at various levels, including the US Supreme Court.
When his brother Charles arrived, they formed a very successful law partnership in Milwaukee. Henry was joined in marriage with Mary Dana at Waukesha, Wisconsin, in May 1876, and from outward appearances, life was good.
But illness and the nagging effects of his war injuries took an increasing toll, compelling Henry to seek a more healthful climate. Catching his eye was a magazine advertisement: “To Health Seekers—A Beautiful Home in a Beautiful Land—A Fruit Farm in Southern California.” With 22 acres, 750 fruit trees, and a vineyard, Henry was sold. In the late 1870s, Pasadena, California, became the new Markham homestead.
In addition to operating his fruit orchard, Henry kept busy pursing civic and business interests in California. Besides investing in various mines, he helped found the Pasadena Public Library and served on the school board, assuming a position of prominence in the community.
In 1884, the Republican Party in southern California was searching for a strategy to defeat the Democrats, who had long wielded power. A few interested candidates seemed lackluster at best, and Henry was approached as a dark horse possibility. He consented, and then did what he had always done in any endeavor: worked hard. Success followed, and for the next two years, the interests of southern California were looked after in Washington by Congressman Markham.
At re-election time in 1886, he seemed a sure bet to win again. But, just as he had reluctantly surrendered his law practice in Wisconsin, Henry said “Thanks, but no thanks” in declining the opportunity. The east-coast climate had again diminished his health, and he opted for civilian life in Pasadena rather than another term in Washington.
Aware of his leadership capabilities and his interest in the plight of war veterans, Congress elected him as a manager of the National Homes for Disabled Soldiers. The position was unpaid, and Henry frequently used his own money to finance related expenditures. In that regard, the home in Santa Monica greatly benefited from his largesse.
In 1887, Henry commissioned a magnificent three-story home to be built on his property (the cost in 2010 translates to well over $1 million). The huge mansion would easily accommodate his growing family (three young daughters), but Henry wanted more for them. He began building a playhouse, specially constructed to also accommodate Dad, who was 6 feet 2 inches tall. It was a beloved structure that the children shared for years with many friends.
Markham expanded his business connections beyond the area’s mines. He was president of the Los Angeles Furniture Company, and a director on the boards of two banks and the Southern California Oil Supply Company. Others like him led a surge of financial prosperity and population growth in southern California. In the upcoming political campaign, the south was hoping to wrest control from the northern power base at San Francisco.
Once again, the party turned to Markham, nominating him as the candidate for governor to avoid a party split. In a bitter, hard-fought battle, he defeated San Francisco Mayor E. B. Pond by 8,000 votes to become California’s 18th governor. The victory was attributed partly to Henry’s manner of personally greeting thousands of voters who became well acquainted with the “Markham Glad-hand.” It was his signature move—a firm, hearty handshake evoking sincerity.
While holding office from Jan. 1891–Jan. 1895, Markham did much to advance business in the state. When the Panic of 1893 struck (considered second-worst only to the Great Depression of the 1930s), he backed the idea for the California Midwinter International Exposition (a World’s Fair). With San Francisco as the host city, a massive parade was held. Represented were many businesses, civic organizations, and military groups. A work-holiday was imposed by the governor, to great effect. On the first day alone, more than 72,000 people attended.
During his tenure, Markham also handled the effects of a national railroad strike; led the second-largest fundraising effort among states represented at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893; secured military facilities that brought millions of dollars to California; forced a railroad company to pay $1.3 million it owed the state; helped bring trolley service to Pasadena; backed the building of the Santa Fe Railroad; and worked towards establishing a harbor facility in southern California.
Early in his tenure, an interesting meeting occurred when Governor Markham welcomed President Benjamin Harrison on a tour of California. The president was the grandson of another president, William Henry Harrison, and during the trip, California’s new governor revealed a personal connection to the First Family.
The elder Harrison’s election platform in 1840 had included tariffs that were meant to protect American businesses. Nathan Markham, an iron manufacturer at Wilmington, was so delighted when William Henry Harrison won the election in 1840, he named his newborn son Henry Harrison Markham. (Unfortunately, the president died after a month in office, the shortest term of any US chief executive.)
After a successful four-year stint as governor, Henry Markham decided not to run for a second term, returning to private life and the world of business, where he did well for more than two decades. He died of a stroke in 1923 at the age of 83, but was certainly not forgotten.
His impressive home was torn down in 1939, but through the years the Markham Mansion had played host to many grand social occasions, both during his tenure and after his death. The family name also remained a fixture on streets, buildings, and other locations in Pasadena.
In 1963, forty years after the governor’s death, Markham Place was honored by the Pasadena Beautiful Foundation as its first Banner Block. The neighborhood was near Henry’s former mansion and orchard, where many old, beautiful homes had been restored. In 2010, popular tourist destinations include the Governor Markham Victorian District.
Was the old neighborhood really that impressive? Next door to Markham was Adolphus Busch (Budweiser, etc.). Nearby was the Gamble family (Procter & Gamble) and Bill Wrigley (Wrigley’s gum). Others locating in that vicinity over the years include the Maxwells (coffee), the Cox family (communications), and the Spaldings (sporting goods). The area was once known as “Millionaire’s Row” in the days when a million dollars suggested exclusivity.
And what of that wonderful playhouse so lovingly built by Henry Markham for his daughters? In 1970, the California State Historical Society became aware that after 85 years, it still existed. The family had passed it down so that subsequent generations of children could enjoy it.
Wishing to do the same, the owner contacted Governor Markham’s fourth daughter, Hildreth, 81 (born in 1889), seeking her consent for donating it to the Pacific Oaks Children’s School. Soon after, the house (which had been refurbished regularly in the past), was placed in a corner of the children’s play yard at the school, a memento of California’s governor from New York.
Photo Top: Henry Harrison Markham.
Photo Middle: Civil War photo of 2nd Lieutenant Henry H. Markham.
Photo Bottom: California Midwinter International Exposition, 1894.
Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.