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Richard Chenery, Forgotten California Pioneer

This article was originally published in the (Hi)Stories of Our Neighborhoods column in the Fall 2016 issue of the Glen Park News. It is republished here with permission.

Chenery Street runs over a mile through Fairmount Heights and Glen Park, from 30th Street to its terminus at Elk Street and Glen Canyon Park. First appearing on the survey map of the Fairmount Homestead Association in May 1864, the street’s namesake seems forgotten. Mapped only 15 years after the Gold Rush and while the Civil War was still raging, it is these historic events that help reveal the legacy of Richard Chenery.

Born in 1817, Chenery was the son of a prominent New England family that had emigrated from England to Salem, Massachusetts in 1630. At news of gold in California, Chenery was elected captain of the Holyoke Northampton Mining Company, then departed for the Gold Country in February 1849. Traveling by sea and crossing the Isthmus of Panama, it took six months for Chenery to reach San Francisco.

He quickly observed that providing services to miners would be easier money than digging for gold. He became proprietor of the famous Globe Hotel in Sacramento, and also held interest in the National Hotel in San Francisco. Concurrently, he ran Chenery & Hazeltine (later the Brick Store) in Sacramento that sold all types of goods. Apparently a multitasker, Chenery also operated sidewheel steamers and served as first president of the California Steam Navigation Company. Five steamers transported goods and Pony Express mail between Sacramento and San Francisco, and the famous Lola Montez became a frequent passenger. The citizenry called him Colonel Chenery, reportedly for his participation in the Vigilance Committees of 1851 or 1856 (though his name appears on no official lists). And when the U.S. Government had no funds to feed the destitute Pomo Indians, Chenery stepped in to purchase 100,000 pounds of beef.

The Map of the Lands of the Fairmount Homestead Association, May 7, 1864. Courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.

After serving in the California Assembly, Chenery became a contractor for pioneer railroads, including California’s first line – the Central California Railroad – working with Theodore Judah to extend the road east of Folsom. He led the California contingent in Lincoln’s inauguration parade in Washington, D.C. in 1861, and soon after was appointed agent and acting purser for the U.S. Navy at San Francisco by Lincoln himself.

After a stint operating Chenery, Souther & Co. in San Francisco selling wine and liquors for the apothecary industry and general consumption, Chenery moved to Belfast, Maine in 1879. There, he ran the Crosby Hotel and helped the city establish its waterworks before his death in 1890 at the age of 73.

Other than the street that bears his name, it’s puzzling how Richard Chenery, a California pioneer of such stature, became so forgotten.

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