Donna Reynolds
Special to The Union

Nevada County Namesakes: Bennett Street, Grass Valley

Grass Valley’s Bennett Street was named for John Thomas and Mary Terrill Bennett, who owned considerable property situated in this locale.

John Bennett was born in Camborne, Cornwall, England, on Nov. 18, 1821. He would join hands in matrimony with Mary Terrill, daughter of Thomas and Constance Terrill, born Aug. 11, 1829, in Redruth, Cornwall, England.

John ventured to America when a young man and settled in Mineral Point, Iowa County, Wis.

Here, three children would make their way into the Bennett household, beginning with eldest son, John Thomas Jr., born about 1845, followed by daughter Mary Hannah, circa 1847, and son, Gilbert Louis, whose year of birth has variously been noted as being between 1849 and 1851.

The Bennett family is a prime example of the lack of good record-keeping back in the early days, without which, putting their family picture back together became somewhat of an enigma.

Gilbert Louis was probably not yet born when his father ventured off on his first trek across the plains, which qualified him as a 49er since he failed to appear on the 1850 census with his mother.

In fact, the only child noted with Mary was their daughter, Mary, thus oddly leaving John Jr.’s whereabouts at this time yet another mystery.

John Bennett Sr. was amongst many men who set off for the gold fields whilst leaving his wife and family back “in the states.”

This was a common practice due to the earliest reports of the gold discovery that handily misled a great many of the 49ers to believe that once they arrived upon the scene, the gold would be so plentiful that instant wealth would be within their immediate grasp.

Thus it was not the intent of many who made this trek to stay, but rather to attain that wealth and return to their former homes.

Upon his arrival at the gold fields, John Sr. took to mining in both Sierra and Nevada counties. He must have had some level of success for he returned to Wisconsin the following year to retrieve his family.

With his family in tow, he traveled back across the plains, and upon this trip another child would make his appearance on Sept. 25, 1852.

The couple gave him the name William Alonzo Truckee Bennett, the Truckee River providing a clue to the location of his birth along the river in what was then Utah Territory (later Nevada).

The Bennetts settled in Grass Valley in a large home on the corner of Bank and Bennett Streets. Into this home nine additional little Bennetts came about.

The first to be a native of Nevada County was Elizabeth Louise, born Oct. 10, 1854. Following were George Matthew, born July 15, 1857; Katy, mid-December 1859; Harriett “Hattie” Amelia, April 14, 1862; Charles Horatio*, July 25, 1864; Edwin James, Jan. 29, 1867; Frederick P., March 30, 1870.

Up to this time, Katy was the only child they had lost to death at the mere age of two weeks on Dec. 31, 1859.

As is typical in large families, their eldest children began tying the knot and grandchildren had begun to trickle into the Bennett family picture, while some of John and Mary’s children had not yet been born.

John Sr., who had formerly been elected a town trustee and served as foreign tax collector, and his eldest sons John Jr. and Gilbert, were now running the family hardware store. Their old storefront today bears the address of 104 East Main St.

That the Bennett men were fond of bird hunting was established by the accidental shooting of John Sr. by John Jr. on Feb. 20, 1869.

John Sr. received a portion of the shot to the back of his head and neck, and by virtue of facing the direction he had, was not blinded by this accident and survived.

Another near-miss tragedy came their way when a couple of fire fiends attempted to torch the Bennett barn on July 26, 1870, but the attempt was thwarted via the cacophony raised by the family cow and neighboring dogs.

This luck would soon run out when the next mention of another family hunting excursion brought sad news of the death of John Thomas Jr., who met his fate in a drowning accident in Yuba County on Dec. 1, 1871.

Thus, the next Bennett son, born on Sept. 5, 1872, was undoubtedly bestowed with the name, John Thomas, in memory of his older, dearly departed brother.

Albert Carson, the last of the 13 Bennett children, arrived on June 4, 1875.

Mary Terrill Bennett’s death apparently came about before that of her husband, who departed this life on May 14, 1903. Their gravesites are located in the family plot in the Old Grass Valley City Cemetery at the top of Kidder Avenue.

The home in which the Bennetts lived has also gone by the wayside. If one strolls up Bank Street and looks within the fenceline of the home now present on the old Bennett lot, on the corner of Bank and Bennett streets, across the street from Dow Alexander Park, the historical marker for 49er John Bennett can be viewed.

Among the offspring of John and Mary Bennett’s children comes a tie to Hollywood. Son Charles Horatio and Louisa M. Cella (aka Louise Cello) Bennett had three children. Their eldest daughter, Hazel Marie Genevieve Bennett, first married Charles S. Hastings.

Their marriage apparently ended in divorce and she later became the second wife of Leonidas Frank Chaney (aka Lon Chaney Sr.), Hollywood’s “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” Lon F. and Hazel Bennett Chaney did not have any children. Creighton F. Chaney (aka Lon Chaney Jr.) was his son by his first marriage.


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The Union Updated Jul 22, 2014 12:55AM Published Jul 29, 2014 11:22AM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.