In today's Tulare, the Del Lago Tract or Chevy Chase Drive neighborhood finds some of the most prestigious homes. But in the early days, following the founding of our town in 1872, the most opulent houses, the families of Tulare's leading business and professional men, were located west of the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. Settlers built the early churches (Congregational, Methodist, Christian, Episcopal, and Catholic) in those neighborhoods within easy walking distance from most of their parishioners.
There are probably still at least one hundred houses built in the nineteenth century - a few even in excellent condition, while others are in various deterioration stages. Although all of them are of some interest, I will sketch the history of three that I have found most interesting.
1) Andrew Neff was the first train engineer into newly founded Tulare on July 25, 1872. On New Year's Eve in 1876, he married Victoria, daughter of Isaac and Charlotte Wright, and thus became part of Tulare's first family. The Wrights had arrived in this area two years before the railroad. In 1888, for a reported $5,000, Neff built a two-story house for his family at 457 South H Street. One hundred years later, as the city was celebrating a century of incorporation, the house was unofficially named the "Centennial Gem."
Just inside the front door, a beautiful mahogany staircase leads from the hall to the second floor. The parlor features a white marble fireplace. The last time I visited the house, the large kitchen contained an antique cast-iron wood-burning cook-stove, now cleverly converted to gas. Two original buildings survive in the back yard - a handsome carriage house and a useful outhouse.
In 1893 Neff moved his wife and two children to Oakland when Southern Pacific transferred him to that city. For many years the house belonged to businessman Turner Nelson and his family. Son Joe grew up there; daughters Ada and Ivy, who never married, lived out their lives in that house. Ada died in 1964 at age 83, Ivy, in 1968 at 89.
George and Lois Story bought the house from Warden and Normand Nelson (grandsons of Turner, sons of Joe) in 1969. "Wim" and Elizabeth Meyer acquired the property in 1988 and lovingly restored the house to its 19th-century splendor. Restoration returned the eight-foot ceilings to their original ten feet. According to City Hall records, the current owners are Amador and Maria Perez.
2) Banker John Albert Goble, one of early Tulare's most influential men, built an elegant home at 225 South G Street in 1890. His son, mortician Frank Goble, and eventually grandson Jack Goble, also an undertaker, resided there until 1988. Builders used nothing but redwood in its construction, and they made the bricks used in the foundation in Tulare.
The family often moved to the usually cooler three rooms in the basement during the summer. They had the basement equipped with a well, hardwood floors, and a dumbwaiter, and often invited ailing neighbors to share the coolness on scorching summer days.
After the house eventually became abandoned, vandals took over. They stole the beautiful spiral staircase banister along with anything else removable - even the front door. Such vandals covered both interior and exterior walls with graffiti, all the windows were broken and then boarded up, and fires set several times.
Sadly, the house no longer exists, a casualty of neglect, and the final result of a losing battle waged between the city and the owner, Joanna Goble Myers, the Hawaii-based great-granddaughter of John Albert. The city razed the historic house in 1996.
3) The white house, trimmed in blue, at 304 West Tulare Avenue is generally considered the oldest in Tulare. The Cartmill family built it in 1873 or 1874 as their town house. William Cartmill had brought his family to a ranch five miles northwest of Tulare's future site in 1861, eleven years before the birth of the city.
The south-facing front door opens into a vast hall with doors leading to the parlor, bedrooms, dining room, and kitchen. The hall and parlor still have the original ten-foot ceilings. Bricks salvaged from the original foundation provide the steps to the front door.
Mary Cartmill (granddaughter of William, daughter of Wooster) was born in 1884 and lived most of her long life in the house. She taught school for a few years before starting a 44-year career with Security National Bank. She moved to Rossmore Village, a retirement home in Walnut Creek, in 1992 and died there in 1995, just two months shy of her 101st birthday. Glen and Nancy Rose are the present owners of this historic house.