Through the early history of The Union, some surnames have come to light that bring to mind namesakes of local interest, including the birthplace of The Union: the Exchange Building, which is now known as the Holbrooke Hotel.
Daniel Parker Holbrook* was born in Roxbury, Suffolk County, Mass., on May 11, 1823 to Amos and Betsy Holbrook. He was raised on a farm, but in his teens became a sailor. Upon learning of the California gold discovery, he was among the first to seek the new El Dorado, leaving Boston on Feb. 7, 1849 aboard the brig Arcadian, he sailed around Cape Horn and arrived at San Francisco on Oct. 29, 1849. He remained there but a short time before the brig sailed up the Sacramento River to the Embarcadero, as Sacramento was then called, and wintered in that locale.
He and his elder brother William Henry Holbrook were first noted in California on the 1850 census in Sacramento. They later went to the Bear River and engaged in mining and trading and became partners with Porter in erecting the first wagon toll bridge across the Bear River. For many years this was known as “Porter’s Bridge,” and was used as a crossing for teaming from Sacramento by way of Auburn and the mining camps of Nevada County.
Daniel remained at the Bear River for several years before finally being attracted by the Gold Beach mining discoveries in 1853, which first brought great excitement, but later caused much loss and disappointment to those it had attracted.
In 1856 Daniel settled in Boston Ravine (near today’s intersection of Highway 20 and Mill Street in Grass Valley), which at the time was a distinctly separate town from Grass Valley and the larger of the two. He later moved to Grass Valley when it became the central point for business. He was in Grass Valley for the 1860 census, occupied as a miner, and was later in the wholesale and retail liquor business with his stand on Main Street as advertised on the front page of the first extant edition of the Grass Valley Daily Union.
Charles Woolson Smith**, who is credited with erecting the present “brick hotel” today known as The Holbrooke Hotel in 1862, was operating this building as The Exchange Hotel at this same point in history. Smith lost the hotel by means of a loan default in 1877 whereupon Miles Poore O’Connor took over possession.
Meanwhile, Daniel Holbrook had become a married man on Oct. 24, 1867, by taking the hand of Ellen “Nellie” Thurston in a ceremony held in Grass Valley. Ellen was born in Wolfeboro, Carroll County, N.H. on March 4, 1838. The Holbrooks were found as a couple on the 1870 census, Daniel was at this point still engaged in the liquor business. His brother, William had returned to Boston where he was engaged in the mercantile business, but later returned to Grass Valley seeking remedy to his ill health, but this did not come to pass, as only six months elapsed before he died at Daniel’s home on March 11, 1875.
Daniel and Ellen Holbrook purchased The Exchange Hotel from M. P. O’Connor on Jan. 1, 1879 for the grand sum of $12,000. They completely remodeled the building and renamed it “Holbrooke House.” On June 4, 1879 one of the most magnificent balls ever given in the country took place in celebration of the completion of the work. The 1880 census lists the Holbrooks, he as Propr Hotel, she as Keeping Hotel.
Following several years of poor health, Daniel Parker Holbrooke died on Feb. 27, 1883. His funeral was held at the Holbrooke Hotel on March 1 at 2 p.m. Ellen continued as proprietor of The Holbrooke Hotel and the 1900 census reveals she had, at that time, a partner named Jerome Deasy, whose wife Sarah was listed as a boarder.
Ellen E. Holbrooke’s last years on earth were compromised by ill health, but through her indomitable will power she was said to have cheated death on more than one occasion. Once when taken ill while visiting San Francisco, doctors advised her to put her affairs in order, she in turn remarked that she would do nothing of the kind: that she had no intention of dying and would pack her effects and return to Grass Valley. And return to Grass Valley she did, and resumed her position as proprietor of the Holbrooke House.
She was stated to have been of old Revolutionary stock, and through her determination to live seemed to have shown similar traits of her honorable ancestors. Her obituary stated, “She proved herself a business woman of rare force of character, far-seeing and keen, personally directing every department even to the most minute detail. Above all she was a womanly woman, with a large heart and a great charitable nature which gave liberally to those in need.”
Ellen E. Holbrooke held her position of proprietor of the Holbrooke Hotel until death took her from Grass Valley’s midst on May 22, 1906.
Daniel, his wife Ellen, and brother William are all buried in the same plot in the Masonic Cemetery at the top of Kidder Avenue in Grass Valley.
*The surname was seen in all early records as Holbrook, upon William’s death the “e” at the end appeared.
**Charles Woolson Smith, native of Syracuse, New York, died in Grass Valley on April 2, 1882 at the age of 58. His middle name is sometimes seen as Woodson, but appears on his headstone in Grass Valley’s Masonic Cemetery as Woolson.
Donna Reynolds is a volunteer at the Doris Foley Library for Historical Research.