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March 29, 2011 > History: Tilden - Thane Family

History: Tilden - Thane Family

Harmon John Tilden was born in New York State in 1825. He grew up in the area and was educated in local schools.

Mr. Harmon John Tilden and Miss Mary Jane Lee were married in Barre, New York, April 18, 1850. Their daughter Laura Eliza was born January 2, 1855. The family came to California in the 1850's. They lived for a while in Calaveras and Amador Counties where Harmon served as district judge. The family moved to San Francisco in 1865 where Harmon served as president of the Board of Education. He was president of the Republican State Central Committee in 1872 and was appointed internal revenue collector in San Francisco by President Grant. Harmon was also a member of the Odd Fellows order for many years and served as Grand Master in California.

The Tilden family moved to the Niles area in the 1880's. There are several references in the literature to "Judge Tilden's ranch and orchard at the head or north end of the lagoon." This description has become rather confusing with the passage of time. The Washington Township assessor's map for 1900 shows the Tilden property at the junction of the Niles - Centerville road with the present Mission Boulevard. The Tildens eventually handed the property on to their daughter Lida Thane.

Judge Harmon J. and Mary Lee Tilden celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1900. It was "the most important social event" that Niles had seen for years. The celebration began with a family reunion and dinner at the Tilden house followed by a public reception at the Niles Odd Fellows' Hall. Festivities included a number of toasts, letters and remarks from prominent citizens of the Bay Area and beyond.

The Tilden children were quite successful in their endeavors. Laura, who was usually called Lida, graduated from Mills College, became an accomplished concert singer and performed with famous opera companies. She married Joseph Eiley Thane in 1874. They lived in Oakland for a few years before establishing their permanent home in Niles near the Tilden residence. Joseph became an orchardist and probably helped his father-in-law, Judge Tilden. Their children were Laura, Bartlett (Bart) and Hazel.

Lida was a tireless worker for many causes and movements. She was a founder of the Country Club of Washington Township, a writer, one of the first women school trustees and a leader in the movement to secure a local high school.

Always interested in the problems and rights of children, Lida helped establish a child clinic that later became the Public Health Office. She was a member of the Children's Welfare Board and Child Welfare Club. Lida served in the Niles Improvement Club of the Ladies Guild of the Niles Congregational Church where she was superintendent and teacher of the Sunday school for many years. She was also an active member of the Toyon Branch of the Children's Hospital.

As noted by the Township Register in 1924, "Mrs. J. E. Thane was assisted by daughter Laura Whipple putting on a whist party at her home for the benefit of the Toyon branch of the baby hospital that brought out 40 ladies. There were nine tables of players and dainty refreshments were served." Quite a number of "out-of-town ladies attended the affair."

A few days later Mrs. Thane was a hostess for a meeting of the Country Club of Washington Township that featured a talk by David Starr Jordan.

Bart became a prominent mining engineer, scientist, geologist and writer. He was described as an empire builder when he "transformed an Alaskan area from a quiet mining district to a highly developed commonwealth." The city of Thane was named for him.

Hazel became a dramatic actress and singer. She died quite young.

Charles Lee Tilden was born in Calaveras County in 1857. The family moved to San Francisco in 1865 where he graduated from Lowell High School. He graduated from the University of California and received a law degree from Hastings College in 1881. As a member of the California National Guard, Tilden earned the rank of major in the Spanish American War. He later helped create the system of East Bay regional parks and served as a first president of the District's Board of Directors. Tilden Park with its nature area was named for him. They established a home in Alameda where they raised their son Charles, Jr.

Laura E. Thane married James Whipple, who died in a mining accident. She went on to become a leader in many Washington Township projects including founding the Toyon Branch of the Oakland Children's Hospital, the local University of California Alumni Association and the Niles Civic Club. A successful realtor, Laura helped launch Moffett Field and was a life-long worker for the Country Club of Washington Township. She put so much energy and time into public and social work that she earned the title of "The Grand Old Lady of Washington Township."

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