The brief history below of John Marsh and his Stone House is excerpted from Written On The Land: 10,000 Years of Human History Along Marsh Creek by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The series of brief articles traces the history of human activity at the Stone House site along Marsh Creek, as well as the geology that has preserved archaeological records called “some of the most unique and important within the California State Park system” by the Sacramento Archaeology Society.
For the full Written on the Land story, click here.
“At a time when most non-Indian people lived in Spanish-style adobes, Marsh built a three-story mansion of brick, timber, and local sandstone. The Gothic Revival home was designed by San Francisco architect Thomas Boyd. It had seven gables, arched windows, a marble fireplace in the living room, and a tower 65 feet tall with a panoramic view of the rancho. Around the outside of the mansion was a wide portico supported by octagonal pillars and finished with a balustrade. Sadly, Abby Marsh died of chronic tuberculosis in August of 1855, less than a year before the house was finished. Marsh himself lived in it for only a few weeks. In September, 1856, while on his way to the town of Martinez, he was ambushed by three vaqueros who claimed he owed them money for the work they had done branding his calves. Marsh refused to pay them and was murdered.
After Marsh’s death, the rancho and the stone house passed to his two surviving children: Alice, his daughter by Abby, and Charles, his son by a French-Sioux woman named Marguerite who had lived with him back in Illinois. Today the Marsh House stands in a state of “arrested decay.” It was badly damaged in the earthquakes of 1868 and 1906, and has never been completely restored. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and is now the focal point of Marsh Creek State Park.”
The Stone House Today
More than 150 years of neglect, weather, earthquakes and vandalism have reduced the great Stone House to a shadow of its former stauture. The house was built with two exterior walls – one of sandstone and one of brick. The interior brick walls have failed, and three exterior sandstone walls have deteriorated and are in danger of collapse. The north walls, both sandstone and brick, collapsed entirely more than a decade ago.
Numerous emergency measures have been taken over the years to keep the house standing. In 2010 the collapsed north wall was replaced with a permanent, load-bearing wall and a temporary system of steel support columns was installed throughout the house. The $1.4 million project was funded by the California Cultural and Historical Endowment (CCHE) with equal matching funds from the City of Brentwood. The John Marsh Historic Trust assisted State Parks and Brentwood in obtaining the grant.
Work will begin in the spring of 2014 on a six-month, $775,000 project to permanently stabilize the sandstone walls. The fix uses a unique method consisting of steel studs running behind the sandstone walls and into a new concrete foundation. A thick layer of construction foam similar to that used in roofing will be applied to provide structural strength and serve as an epoxy to bind the stones together, permanently preventing further collapse. The project is funded by the CCHE, State Department of Parks the John Marsh Historic Trust.
The next step will be to complete the stabilization of the building, which includes connecting the new exterior to the building’s existing interior support system, and the removal of the temporary steel columns. Replacement of the roof, balcony and interior restoration will follow, depending on available funding. The Trust hopes to raise an additional $5 million for that work through donations and grants.