February 15, 2005 > Young girl steps back in time at the Shinn House
Young girl steps back in time at the Shinn House
by Tatyana Hamady & Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson
Driving by the Shinn house last December, something caught Molly Hancock's eye. She begged her mother to stop the car and the two went inside the historical landmark to take a tour. Both mother and daughter expressed their enthusiasm for the 150 year old home and were asked if they would like to become docents for tours. While her mother declined, Hancock excitedly accepted the offer and now at the age of 13, is the youngest docent ever to volunteer at the Shinn House.
The young docent has become conversant with the history of the Shinn property and acquaints those who come to the house for a tour with the history and living conditions of bygone days.
About a century and a half ago, in 1856, a doctor from San Francisco named Joseph Clark purchased 250 acres of land in what would later become Fremont. Clark found he could not care for the acreage himself and convinced his sister Lucy, along with her husband James Shinn to move from their home in Texas to look after the ranch. The Shinns agreed and, along with their seven children, made the trip to California.
As this was a time before modern medicine only three of the seven Shinn children survived. The eldest of the three, Charles Howard Shinn, was an acclaimed author and naturalist. Shinn was considered an environmentalist alongside the likes of John Muir and was the first superintendent of Yosemite Park.
The middle (and only female) child, Milicent Shinn, attended the University of California at Berkeley majoring in child psychology. She became the first woman to receive a doctorate from the university and the eleventh individual awarded a Ph.D. at the university. Her book, "Biography of a Baby" was mandatory reading for all child development studies majors until the 1970s.
The last of the three children was Joseph Clark Shinn. He was a pioneer for his generation, helping to shape the state legislation that allowed the creation of water districts. He created the first water district in the state in 1913 and remained on the Alameda County Water Board for over 40 years, a key force behind consolidating local water rights.
The youngest Shinn married a woman by the name of Florence Mayhew, a graduate of Washington High School, Class of 1898. Mayhew was active in starting health clinics in the area and her efforts resulted in the creation of Washington Hospital.
In 1962, Florence Mayhew Shinn donated the Shinn family home, along with its surrounding gardens, farm buildings and four and a half acres of land, to the city of Fremont. Shinn House opened in 1976 as a historical park, a Bicentennial Year accomplishment for the Mission Peak Heritage Foundation.
Shinn House has been a popular attraction in the area for a number of years. One of the reasons Hancock decided to volunteer at the Shinn House was its sense of history. Hancock, a Union City resident, appreciates the fact that the landmark represents one of the families who contributed to local history
"Some kids don't understand history so much, and I love it," said Hancock. "It helps me understand the background of the place I live in. For example, kids my age living in the 1800s must have had it much harder; the young girls had to cook for their families and tend to the house, and guys had to rake leaves away from the house and cut wood for the fire. It was really hard."
Her eagerness and expertise have made Hancock an attraction herself at Shinn House. Not too long ago, a crab feed was held at Holy Spirit church and the grand prize raffle winners were awarded private tours of the Shinn house with Hancock as their guide.
"She knows more than most of the adults who volunteer," said Joan Serifino, chair of the Mission Peak Foundation.
When asked how she feels about being a docent, Hancock replied as any 13-year-old would; "It is a really cool experience."
The teen's enthusiasm has even rubbed off on her 10-year-old sister, Sara, who is looking forward to volunteering at Shinn House when she is able to fit into a Victorian costume worn by the guides.
Along with being a docent, Hancock also plays volleyball for the Union City Colts club team, plays the Alto Sax and sings at Barnard White Middle School. Although she hopes to play college volleyball at USC or Stanford, she wishes to remain a docent at the Shinn house until she is 60 or maybe beyond..
To arrange a tour of Shinn House by Hancock or one of the many other knowledgeable docents, call (510) 795-0891. Tours are provided every first Wednesday and third Sunday of each month from 1 to 3 p.m.
Shinn Historic House is located at 1241 Peralta Blvd. in Fremont.