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The March House, Burson

The land in the Burson area was settled long before the arrival of the railroad, on a parcel of land patented by John H. Peters on February 20, 1882 (Calaveras County Land Patent Maps). Peters, born in Michigan in 1837, was first noted in the U.S. Census in 1850, when he was residing with the Copernall family in Exeter, Monroe County, Michigan, and working as a 13-year old farm laborer. By 1870 he was living on his own farm in Elliott Township, northeastern San Joaquin County, where he resided with his wife Alice, aged 26, a native of New York, their daughter Ada, born that February, and two young farm laborers from Michigan. His real estate was valued at $600 and personal estate at $700 (U.S. Federal Census 1870).

About 1878 Peters moved his family to the land in the project area, where he was noted as a trial juror residing at the Chaparral House. Chaparral House was depicted on a historic map of the area as early as 1869, and the road leading northwest from its junction with the Stockton Road was known as Chaparral Road (General Land Office 1869). This was evidently the first house in the area, a large two-story frame building.

By 1880 the Peters family had grown to include six children; including three sets of twins; two more children were born on the Burson area ranch. Four years later Peters planted 20 acres of grape vines, and continued to farm his land. He was a close friend of Daniel Burson, his neighbor to the east, for whom the town was named, and the two men were noted as “intelligent, wide-awake and progressive farmers who will do much to make the place grow in importance and number when it is once fairly begun” (Las Calaveras 1973). Both men gave land to the San Joaquin and Sierra Nevada Railroad for a right-of-way through their properties in the 1880s. Thereafter, Peters built a home nearer Burson, renting the old Chaparral House to the Robbins family.

George Benedict. In 1887 Peters sold his land south of the Stockton Road to George Benedict and moved to the Avery area, where he continued to farm until his death in 1917. Under Benedict’s ownership the place was known as the Golden Goose Ranch. Benedict built the present house on the property, a home with six rooms and a six-foot porch around three sides with a roof over the porch. The interior ceilings were eleven feet high, and the home was built of the finest kind of redwood and the roof of redwood shingles. The total cost of construction was $750 (Las Calaveras 1973).

Benedict, a native of New York, evidently always farmed. In 1880 he was residing on Main Street in Ferndale and working as a farmer. After he sold the Golden Goose Ranch, he moved to Cherokee Lane, in Elkhorn Township, San Joaquin County. By 1910 the widowed Benedict was residing with his sons George and Gordon and operating a fruit farm (U.S. Federal Census 1880, 1910).

Dr. March. In 1895 Benedict sold the ranch to Dr. William Bright March. Raised in Merced County, March graduated from the California Medical College in San Francisco, then studied an additional year at the Eclectic Medical College in Cincinnati, graduating in 1884. Later that year he arrived in Wallace with his wife (Ermina) Minnie Jane, a native of Nova Scotia, and their son Irwin Beede, soon thereafter purchasing a home in Burson. The family moved to Brentwood in 1893, but, homesick for the Calaveras foothills, they returned to the area in 1895, purchasing the Golden Goose Ranch from Benedict. At this time, the ranch consisted of 57 acres, “with a good house, barn, chicken houses, and a small orchard and vineyard.” Four more children were born to the couple: Roy Vernon, Lester King, Silas Paul, and Dorothy Hannah Elizabeth.

From the 1880s to the 1930s, Dr. March administered to the medical needs of the people throughout West Calaveras, becoming one of the most beloved figures in the area. He was known for his services to the poor and “drifters,” as well as to the miners in Campo Seco and at the Gwin Mine, often giving free medical care.

Minnie Jane, a schoolteacher, gave up her profession upon marriage, but always took an active part in community affairs and managed the ranch during her husband’s absence. Her eldest son, Irwin, noted that she worked very hard, keeping the house in order, cooking, sewing, washing and ironing, canning fruit and vegetables, pickling olives, and answering the telephone and making appointments for the doctor. In 1910 sons Roy and James were noted as farmers, assisting their mother in the family enterprise, which then included an olive orchard on lands increased to 400 acres. Irwin noted that a lot of Dr. March’s earnings were spent on the ranch, but that it never made more than a small profit, if any.

Irwin B. March was County Physician for the Calaveras County Hospital in San Andreas for three years, graduating from medical college and interning at San Francisco City and County Hospital. He later served as a doctor in Europe in World War I, then was stationed at the Pentagon until World War II.

The senior Dr. March practiced medicine until a heart attack prompted his retirement at age 72 (Las Calaveras 1973). He died on the 23rd of June, 1936, and was buried at the Dorsey-Holman Cemetery in Camanche beside his wife, who died in 1929. The couple were reinterred at San Andreas Peoples Cemetery in February 1962 when the townsite was inundated for Lake Camanche.

The March Ranch passed to son Silas who in turn sold it to another son Lester, who lived there until 1951. He then sold to Richard Phillips, who sold to Mary Peters in 1956. Mary Peters totally remodeled the house, adding stucco siding, aluminum slider windows and doors, lowered the ceilings, altered the rooms, enclosed part of the porch, and added concrete terraces on all sides. She also built a frame barn, to the southeast of the house.

The property was purchased by Raymond and Bonnie Lopez in 2002 and renamed the Bonita Ranch. The Lopez family improved the olive orchard, and continues to produce olive oil from the old olive trees.

References 

  1. Agostini, J. J. 1904 Official Map of Calaveras County. J.J. Agostini, San Andreas, California.
  2. Calaveras, County of. n.d. Land Patent Maps. On file, Calaveras County Surveyor, San Andreas, California. 
  3. General Land Office. 1869 Township 4 North, Range 10 East, Plat. 
  4. Las Calaveras. 1973 “Dr. William Bright March. Some Calaveras Doctors.” Las Calaveras, Volume XXI, Number 4, July 1973. Bulletin of the Calaveras County Historical Society, San Andreas, California. 
  5. Manna, Salvatore John. 2005 “The True Story of the Founding of Burson, Revealed for the First Time.” Las Calaveras, Volume LIII, Number 4, July 2005. Bulletin of the Calaveras County Historical Society, San Andreas, California. 
  6. Ibid. 2008 “Something From Nothing: The Early History of Calaveras County. #23: The Country Doctor: William Bright March.” Society for the Preservation of West Calaveras History, Burson, California. Personal communication of 7 January 2008. Notes on file, Foothill Resources, Ltd., Murphys, California.
  7. March, Lester K. 1956 Correspondence of September 27, 1956. In files of Calaveras Historical Society, San Andreas, California. 
  8. Mather, J. G. 1869 Filed Notes of the Surveyor General. On file, Calaveras County Surveyor, San Andreas. 
  9. U.S. Federal Census: 1850 Ancestry.com, 1870 Ancestry.com, 1880 Ancestry.com, 1900 Ancestry.com.
  10. United States Geological Survey. 1894 Geologic Atlas of the United States, Jackson Folio. 1956 Valley Springs Quadrangle. 15 minute series. 1962 Wallace, Calif. Quadrangle. 7.5 minute series. 

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