Daisy (Kelly) MacCallum, a Mendocino Matriarch
"Daisy" - a nickname which matched her sunny disposition - was born Emma Shirley Kelly in 1859. The story is that she was responsible for adding another "e" to the family name because in adolescence she thought the shorter spelling too "Irish." Daisy usually got her way so "Daisy" Kelley she was until she married the dashing Alexander MacCallum, her father's bookkeeper, at age 20. He was shrewd and she was charming. A winning combination.
Her parents, William and Eliza, were from Prince Edward Island on Canada's East Coast. They crossed Panama and arrived here in August 1855. "Crossing Panama" sounds easy today, but when William and his brother, James, first came, fired by talk of a California gold rush, it wasn't. James died of cholera there among the swamps, and William very nearly died.
Fortunately, when he and Eliza later came that way, there was a railroad to accommodate the bride. Not that swamp trudging would have fazed Eliza. She was a devout and determined lady with a will of iron. Daisy inherited her will and determination, though she was never "called to ministry" as her mother was, a hands-on Baptist preacher who also played the organ. She even built a church to do it in. The building still stands a stone's throw in back of MacCallum House. It is now a health food store.
The house itself was a wedding present from her parents, constructed in what was then called "pointed cottage" style. When first built, it was more highly decorated with cresting on the roof ridge and finials at the point of the gables. The architect and builder was John D. Johnson, who did many of Mendocino's long lasting redwood, New England style Victorian homes.
Before the house was ready for occupancy, Alex, Daisy and their first child, Donald, lived with her parents. The Kelley House is still right across the street. It is now a museum and contains the Mendocino Historical Research Society. The public is welcome and the friendly guides have many pioneer artifacts and records - and an unlimited supply of Eliza's tasty apple butter!
Finally completed in 1882, the MacCallum house got a rave review from the local newspaper, The Mendocino Beacon: "Hot and cold water in three different places (count 'em!) and there is a bathroom with a sprinkler overhead for family use. The house contains five airy bedrooms with lofty ceiling and corresponding breadth, a cheery dining room, a parlor with space for a library, a pantry with a washroom ...it is a beautiful residence."
You might think it odd that the three MacCallum's lived in such a paradise for only three brief years. Daisy's love of change and travel partially explains it.
In later life, after Alex died, she often went abroad. Daisy had an excellent education; She attended a private school for girls in Mendocino, and had gone on to a seminary at Benicia (which later moved to Oakland and became known as Mills College). She was also a voracious reader on topics from potting plants to tomes on Sanskrit. Many of the remaining books, pictures and some house furniture in the MacCallum House were hers.
Throughout her life distance called her, both intellectually and geographically. Having been toted around by doting Pomo Indians as an infant on their cradle boards, and raised in a Mendocino when every third person was Chinese, she had an early exposure to, and comfort with, other cultures.
In 1885, when an opening came for Alex to manage her Uncle Blair's mill, they moved to Glen Blair, East of Fort Bragg, renting the Mendocino house to the Henry Brown family. Her daughter, Jean, was born at Glen Blair, and Daisy started her lifelong interest in horticulture. Maybe she did it partly as therapy. She loved roses, and again got the newspaper's attention for the "thousands of beautiful" blossoms in her garden at Glen Blair. Her roses also still grow around MacCallum House. A Chef's Garden contains herbs and edible flowers, whose leaves and blossoms grace the dishes in the restaurant. She suffered from a spinal injury in a childhood accident. She was bedridden for some years and then in a wheelchair. She had operations, steel braces and pain, but regained partial health. She walked with the aid of a cane - or a garden rake - through a long, adventurous and useful life.
In the rainy seasons, the mill slowed down, and the young family would live in San Francisco. They finally moved there permanently in 1896 when Captain Blair died, and Alex then managed Blair's estate and that of their brother-in-law, Drexler.
But Alex's health wasn't the best. He had a weak heart which the earthquake and fire of 1906 didn't help. He died in 1908. Donald dutifully accompanied his mother back to Mendocino. Her lovely house had been wrenched from the foundation. North Coast towns were severely devastated, a fact often eclipsed by the more dramatic fate of San Francisco. They began to survey and repair the damages.
Daisy had the house moved to its present location - a little lower on the lot and a tad to the West. She added the back part at that time. She was a very social person. She needed the extra room, not only for a growing "army" of nieces and nephews, but also for a constant flow of interesting professional people to slake her appetite for "what's happening". Artists, writers, and musicians visited - as they still do in her absence - to enjoy the ambiance of her questing spirit.
The Victorian age of her parents had ended with its ready answers and cut-and-dried solutions. She wanted to explore what lay ahead (for herself, her family, the world) and influence the outcome in whatever small way she could.
Her modus operandi was to seat you in her presence on her sun porch where she regularly held court (see picture below), pour you a cup of tea, and hand you one of her yummy oatmeal cookies.
Then she'd probably say something like, "I read your last book," or "Enjoy your music," or maybe just, "So, how have you been?" She would want to hear about your travels, and might even tell you about the time she visited Egypt and was present at the opening of King Tut's tomb in 1923. Daisy got around! But she always returned to Mendocino, "the most beautiful spot on God's green earth". True to form, she hoed and weeded. She was wiry and petite, scarcely 5 feet tall - but a giant in spirit who never let her troubles get her down. As a friend once said of her, "When in doubt, she dug..." And in her garden, many roses remain. She died at age 94 in 1953.
CHRONOLOGY: 1850 -William Kasten, first Caucasian settler, shipwrecked German seaman, built the first cabin on the headlands and filed claim on the area. Daisy's father purchased 5-acre tract bordered by Main and Lansing) for $2650, @ 2 percent interest per annum. 1852-Henry Meiggs built first mill; Daisy's father was in the crew. Though politically inept, probably the best railroad builder of that period. 1855 -William Kelley brings his bride, Eliza Ford, to Mendocino. 1859-Daisy is born, 1879-Daisy marries Alexander MacCallum. 1880-Daisy's first child, Donald, is born (died 1960), 1882-MacCallum House built, 1885-MacCallums move to Glen Blair; Jean is born (died 1970). 1896-MacCallums move to San Francisco. 1908-Alexander dies (Daisy moves back to Mendocino). 1909 -MacCallum House moved to its present location on the lot (addition is built). 1953-Daisy dies, age 94. 1953-1974-Maccallum House maintained by family. 1974-William and Susan Norris bought the house and it became a Bed and Breakfast Inn. 1976-Tim Cannon leased the first floor to open the MacCallum House Restaurant and Gray Whale Bar. 1986-Rob Ferrero purchased the restaurant and bar operation from Tim Cannon. 1985-Joe and Melanie Redding purchased the Inn and maintained the original atmosphere of the house while updating and enhancing the home in ways that Daisy would approve. 1997-Chef Alan Kantor purchases the bar and restaurant lease from Rob Ferrero and becomes chef-owner of the restaurant. 2002-Second-generation locals Jed and Megan Ayres and Noah Sheppard purchase the property from the Redding's, Daisy's home was always a meeting place for friends, artists, writers, musicians and other professional people, and it continues to be shared in that manner. It continues to qualify for historic landmark rating. The original water tower, greenhouse, gardener's shed, gazebo (playhouse), garage, and old livery stable have all been renovated and transformed into guest rooms, 1996 -Alan Kantor assumed the restaurant and bar operation. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has been an executive chef for nine years. His training in classical French cuisine is the foundation for the North Coast cooking he favors, which emphasizes fresh local seafood and organic meats and produce from neighboring farms and ranches. There are three distinct dining areas. The Gray Whale Bar/Cafe has a wrap-around sun porch and old Victorian sofas in front of the fireplace. Two fire lit dining rooms are elegantly situated in the wainscoted library and parlor. The atmosphere throughout is warm, friendly and inviting.
Written and Researched by: Owen Scarborough, M.A, UC Berkeley