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February 24, 2010 > History: Remnants of a Life

History: Remnants of a Life

Nothing about the book in the archive collection at the Hayward Area Historical Society is remarkable from the outside. In fact, the cover is a rather plain, ugly brown. But inside this small, thin book is one woman's view of Hayward, and to some extent, her life in general at the turn of the last century. On the very first page amid a sea of pencil smudges in small handwriting is "Clara C. Walpert, Haywards." The rest of the pages are filled with detailed pencil sketches of portions of buildings and scenery in and around Hayward. Most of the drawings are titled and dated, in a fashion, in the same small, cramped handwriting as Clara's name on the front page.

Sketches in the first half of the book are titled: Electric Light Chimney, Baxter, Parsonage, Ashford, Rices, Hahn, New York Brewery, Chandler, Haas, Garretsons, Old Landmark Haywards A St., NSGW Hall & Goodman, China House, and Hayward Cottage. Each of these titles represents a business or family home located in downtown Hayward around the turn of the last century. The Haas' for example owned a jewelry store on Mission Boulevard. The Garretson house belonged to one of Hayward's mayors. The New York Brewery was one of two breweries in town at the time and was located on the corner of A Street and Second Street. The NSGW (Native Sons of the Golden West) Hall hosted many community events from 1891 to the 1930s and was located at the corner of C and Main Streets. "China House" most likely refers to a series of homes and businesses operated by Chinese merchants along D Street between First Street and Mission Boulevard.

Each drawing is just a detail of the building and the setting surrounding that building. Most of the drawings show a portion of the building's faŤade with the gingerbread architectural details so common in late nineteenth century houses in this area. The top of a tree or bush that was next to the building might also be included.

In the second half of the sketchbook, Clara spent more time on still life and plant studies, though an occasional building drawing still appears. Her titles on these drawings provide a better clue to the date of the sketchbook: Hibiscus Honolulu HI Jan. 1900, Bridge on Ranch, Oak, Eucalyptus, Old Oak in Ca–on, Vallejo Mill Niles, Shanty on Ranch, Shanty, Old Teapot on Ranch, and Tallac July 29, 1902.

Who was this woman who left behind such a small, personal remnant of her life and this town?

Clara Christian Walpert was born April 3, 1868 in Hayward to John and Marie Walpert, both natives of Germany. John Walpert came to the U.S. around 1850 and signed on to be a drover for a company bringing cattle to feed the miners in California a few years later. Upon arrival in California he tried his hand at gold mining as most men did at the time and, as most found too, had little success. He came to the Bay Area to earn some money and eventually returned to the gold region to try his hand at gold mining again, this time with more success. With his earnings he bought 160 acres west of Hayward, which he successfully farmed.

In 1869, the year after Clara's birth, he bought 15 acres just south of the Hayward city limits, about the current location of St. Regis Retirement Center, where he built his home. He and his wife raised their three children: Clara, Lillian, and Oscar, in the house probably where Clara lived all her life. John helped build Hayward in the early years of cityhood by serving as a town trustee (the early equivalent to the city council) in the late 1870s and early 1880s. By 1900, he owned about 4,000 acres of land in the area. John's land ownership and political position indicates that the Walpert family was well known and probably well respected in the small but growing community of Hayward at the time.

There is very little information about Clara's early life, though her obituary mentions she attended the local grammar school and Oakland high school. There is no indication of how many years of high school education Clara received but she was sufficiently well educated to become the Assistant Postmistress of Hayward, a position she apparently held for many years.

In October 1899, Clara and her sister Lilly, who by then was Mrs. Henry Powell wife of a local dentist, traveled to the Hawaiian Islands where they spent several months. Their trip explains the beautiful hibiscus flower Clara recreated in her sketchbook. After 1901, Clara appears regularly in newspaper accounts of events at the NSGW Hall. The local chapter of the Native Daughters of the Golden West was established in 1901 and Clara, as well as her sister were very active members. She often seemed to be involved with decorating the hall for one event or another.

Clara and her sister along with Alice Garretson (a drawing of the Garretson house also appears in Clara's sketches) and Mrs. K.L. Cassity took a break from local celebrations in September 1902 to take a several week vacation to the wilds of Lake Tahoe. Here is where Clara was inspired to create her sketch of Tallac.

A few years later, a mention in the Oakland Tribune indicates more on the Walpert family's business dealings. John, Marie, and their children incorporated their holdings as the Walpert Land and Cattle Company with property in the foothills extending almost continuously from Hayward to Niles. Most of this land, now covered by homes, a golf course, and country club, is referred to as Walpert Ridge. Clara's sketches of various buildings on the "ranch" indicate that she spent some time exploring the family property.

By the 1920s, she is retired and living with a housekeeper at her home on E Street. She kept busy with activities at the NSGW and with the Hill and Valley Club. In 1925, Clara took what was probably her last big adventure, traveling to England, France and Italy.

Clara Walpert never married and died after a lengthy illness on September 25, 1934. Her obituary in the newspaper closes with further indication of her role in the community: "Miss Walpert, a beloved philanthropist, a member of the Hill and Valley Club, a lover of children and a loyal friend, is mourned by hosts of people in the district."

All of this information comes from census and passport records, and numerous newspaper articles. They cannot really tell us why Clara sketched what she did in her book, nor even if she filled volumes and volumes of sketchbooks in her lifetime. But by piecing together elements of her life in conjunction with the book, an image of Clara becomes clearer. One of a woman who probably walked to work every day along the streets of downtown Hayward and took walks in the foothills on her family's land. She captured images of what she saw on paper, maybe challenging herself to provide as much detail as realistically as possible.

Her sketches are representative of the type of limited subject matter deemed appropriate for respectable women in the late nineteenth century to depict in their artwork. While the drawings are good, they are by no means ground-breaking works of art. And yet, the sketchbook is amazing in its own way. It is not only a snapshot of what Hayward looked like around 1900, from a woman's point of view, but it is also evidence of a life well lived.

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