HISTORY OF THE
SENTER/DARBY HOUSE PROPERTY
247 JONES STREET
MURPHYS, CALIFORNIA 95247
Prepared 2017 By Judith Marvin, Local Historian
Since the early 1850s, the property at 247 Jones Street has been owned by several Murphys pioneer families, although the original structures have been demolished or significantly altered since that time.
The first documented record of the property was listed in the 1858 assessment, when it was assessed to William Lapham, as a lot of one acre with a poultry fence and improvements, located on the road from Murphys to Douglas Flat (present Jones Street). It was bounded on the west by Sleeper & Dunbar’s Lumber Yard (location of present Dunbar House), and southwest of Volney Shearer’s property (The Arbors). It was valued at $1000. Lapham was the owner of the Big Tree Grove in the early 1850s,
In December of 1858, Lapham sold the Jones Street property to P.L. Traver, a Murphys merchant, for $1300, noting that it was located in the east end of Murphys, on the south side of the road where the C.A. Curtis, Dr. William Jones, and P.L. Traver residences and the Sleeper & Co. Lumber Yard were situated. The lot was 80 feet wide by 450 feet deep to a back street.
Four years later, in October of 1862, Traver sold the property to Riley Senter for $450. The deed noted that the property was enclosed by a semi-circular fence and included a stone building known as Traver’s Powder House, undoubtedly where he stored blasting powder safely away from his store. In addition, Traver deeded several commercial properties on Main Street, as well as his stone store, built in 1856, to Senter, who would operate it for several decades.
Riley Senter was married to Harriett Sleeper, the daughter of his neighbor lumberman Albert Sleeper, on 20 April 1863, and that year Senter was assessed for the house and lot located on the south side of Jones Street, bounded east by Traver’s house, and west by Dunbar, as well as for the other commercial properties on Main Street. In 1867-68, the assessment for his Jones Street residence noted furniture worth $400, a wagon, horse, and $2000 stock in trade in the store, $950 in cash, and $1200 in solvent debts.
In 1875-76, the residence was assessed for $50 for the real estate and $1200 in improvements. A decade later, it was noted as Lot 4, Block 6 (the townsite having been established and mapped in 1876), with a house, barn and fence; the real estate valued at $60 and improvements at $500.
Riley Senter died in February 1902, and the property passed to his son Willis R. Senter, who sold it to his sister Hattie Amelia (Minnie) Batten for $200 in August of that same year. At that time Hattie and her husband Fred Batten were residing in Sheep Ranch. By 1910, Fred and Hattie had moved to the Jones Street residence, where they lived until selling to Jay Anson “Chub” and Florence Darby in March of 1926. The Darby family resided on the property, where they raised seven children, and Chub enlarged and added on to the residence as their family grew. Florence died in 1963, and Chub in 1983—they were the last of the pioneer families to reside on the property.
Lapham. William Lapham, the first recorded owner of the property, was one of the earliest owners of the Calaveras Big Trees property. The land on which the Grove is located was first claimed by Joseph Lapham of Sonora, in July 1853, as the “Mammoth Grove Ranch.” In the fall of that same year, William W. Lapham, who had an adjoining claim, purchased Joseph’s claim. The land was then acquired by A.S. Haynes, who built the first hotel to accommodate the tourists who made the trip from Stockton by stage coach. In December 1858, Haynes sold to James L. Sperry of Murphys, who, with his partner John Perry, built a new and larger hotel in 1867.
Traver. Peter L. Traver, the second owner, a native of New York, settled in Murphys in the 1850s, erecting a stone general merchandise store—the oldest extant building in Murphys and the present home of the Murphys Old Timers Museum. In 1862, Traver sold the store and Jones Street property, with his stone powder house, to Riley Senter and moved to San Francisco where he operated a grocery business.
Senter. Riley Senter, a native of Ohio, was born in 1818, came to Calaveras County in 1849, and to Murphys in the early 1850s. He was interested in mining and was fairly successful at his claim on San Domingo Creek, and at one time owned the Oro y Plata Mine. He began purchasing property on Main Street in the 1850s, eventually owning at least five commercial properties as well as P.L. Traver & Co. He purchased the store in 1862, where he operated a successful general merchandise business for over 30 years. He was a trained druggist, operating that business in conjunction with the general store, confining his attention solely to the drug business in later years.
In addition, Senter purchased stock in the Union Water Company, becoming superintendent after the ditch was completed to the Stanislaus River, and served as secretary for many years. He was the Wells Fargo Agent for about 20 years, and also served as postmaster in the 1870s. A civic-minded individual, he was Clerk of the Board of School Trustees for 50 years from the foundation of the district until his retirement from business. He was also involved in fraternal organizations and served as treasurer of Ophir Lodge, No. 33, Free and Accepted Masons for 42 years, and as Treasurer of the Big Tree Lodge I.O.O.F.
Born in Springfield, New Hampshire, in 1842, Hattie Senter (Sleeper) was the daughter of Albert (1818-1903) and Martha (1820-1873) Sleeper, natives of New Hampshire. Albert founded the logging and lumbering firm of A. Sleeper & Co. in Murphys in the early 1850s, eventually partnering with Willis Dunbar who succeeded him in the business. The lumber yard was located west and adjoining the Senter home on Jones Street (now Dunbar House).
The couple had two children, Willis Riley (W.R.), born in 1866, and Hattie Amelia (Minnie/Millie), born in 1870. Mother Hattie died in San Francisco on 8 November 1879, and the children were raised by their father on the Jones Street property. Having been in ill health for several years, Riley Senter died at the home of his son Willis in Stockton on 2 February 1902, and was buried in the Buena Vista Cemetery in Murphys beside his wife.
Willis was married to Ida Matteson (1866-1949), daughter of pioneer Murphys livery stable operator T.J. Matteson, on 24 November 1887. Willis was a traveling salesman for Schilling & Co. for many years, residing in Stockton in the 1890s and early 1900s, before moving to Lemon Cove, Tulare County. Living on a farm, Willis worked at various times as a fruit farmer, commercial traveler, and insurance agent. He died in Lemon Cove in 1944, and in May1949 both were buried in Buena Vista Cemetery. They were survived by a daughter, Gladys Meriam (1891-1931) (Boone/Grove), and a son, W. Rolland (1899-1925).
Hattie Amelia (Minnie) Senter was married to Fred Batten (1860-1935) on 30 January 1899. The son of John William Batten and Catherine Reese, natives of Wales, Fred was born on the family ranch in Vallecito (now Irish Vineyards), and raised in the home built in 1867. Fred and Hattie first resided in Sheep Ranch before moving to the Jones Street house in Murphys in 1902, when Hattie purchased the home from her brother Willis. Fred worked at various times as a sawmill laborer, vaquero on a livestock farm, and as a farmer after they sold the Jones Street house in 1926 and moved to the family ranch in Vallecito. The couple had three children: Melville Senter (1896-1971); John Albert (1910-1939); and Harriett (Hattie) Frances (1912-1971), who married John Wheeler Fisk, a native of Alabama.
Darby. Hattie Batten sold her family’s Jones Street house to Jay Anson Darby, Jr. and his wife Florence, on 23 March 1926. Chub was the eldest child of Jay Anson Darby, Sr. (1864-1946) and Virginia Adina Firebaugh (1862-1945). The Darbys resided at the present Red Apple Ranch, where Jay, Sr., worked as a teamster and as a ditch tender for the Utica Mining Company. The family raised five children at Red Apple Ranch.
Known as “Chub,” as he was rather chubby as a child, Jay Darby, Jr., was named when his parents moved to the Prince building in Altaville. He never went to school beyond the second grade, but was taught to read by his wife Florence, whom he met when she was teaching at the Peppermint School. Chub and Florence Elizabeth Adams (1889-1963) were married in Valley Springs on 23 May 1915. Florence was the daughter of John R. Adams (1846-1917) and Cornelia Burke (1854-1940), whose family settled in the Milton area in the mid-1880s, where John had a ranch on Rock Creek.
Chub and Florence had seven children: Estelle Olive (1916-2013), Jay Anson 1919-1936), Jack R. (1922-1987), Andrew Firebaugh (1924-1987), Kathleen Alice (1928) (Lauren Crespi), Richard Earle (1929-2011), and Daniel Brian (1934-2013). The younger three were born when the family resided in the Jones Street house. For many years, Chub worked as a ditch tender for the Utica Mining Company (later the Hobart Estate Company), tending the ditch which coursed from the Stanislaus River to the mine in Angels Camp.
After the mine shut down forever in the mid-1930s, Chub worked as a miner for the St. Joseph Lead Company at the Sheep Ranch Mine, at the Carson Hill Mine in Melones, and the Oro y Plata Mine in Murphys. Chub also cut fence posts for local ranchers for many years, as well as making shakes for roofs. He entered the Murphys Homecoming Parade dressed as an early-day gold miner, pulling his donkey and throwing “nuggets” to the children along the route. He also collected many relics of the early days, including a Fresno scraper, several long toms, and other mining equipment on his property.
Florence died in 1963, and Chub continued to reside in the family home until 1979, when the property was sold to Tom and Dotty Schellar. Chub died in Sonora in 1983—his obituary noted that he worked in the gold mines and was a wood cutter. He was a long-time trustee of the Murphys School Board and Murphys Community Club.
The appearance of the original Senter house is unknown, but by the 1870s it was a one and one-half story frame dwelling with a cross-gable roof and a shed-roofed porch, supported by slim square posts, that wrapped around the west elevation. Fenestration consisted of 2/2 frame windows, double-hung. The walls were clad in horizontal board siding, with end boards. The front yard featured mature trees and ornamental plantings, separated from the street by a picket fence. As the assessment more than doubled between 1867-68 and 1875-76, the home may have been built or added onto during the interim. Chub’s daughter, Kathleen Crespi, thought that the Battens added the large dining room with a sloped entrance on the rear of the original home. They may also have added the boys bedroom on its west side.
During the tenure of the Darby family, the house was enlarged and added on to several times, resulting in the central section with a front gable roof, surrounded side-gabled additions on the front and rear. Chub added a master bedroom (with screened windows and shutters) on the rear elevation, the back porch, and a bathroom. The front section, with a low-pitched side-gable roof and a recessed entry, was constructed in 1946, as Florence had always wanted a larger home. A stone cellar, to the rear of the home, was extant when the Darby family moved to the site. The rental cottages were constructed ca. 1933-34, as Florence thought that they would attract tourists, like a motor court. That dream was never realized, and the cottages were rented to local folk.
When Tom and Dotty Scheller owned the home, from 1979 to 1990, Tom gutted the building, adding a second kitchen, new bathrooms, interior wall-cladding, windows, additional bedrooms, and an apartment in the rear section.
In 1990, it was purchased by music and movie producer, Dennis Sanfilippo, as part of his local acquisitions after winning a California Lottery. In 2017, the torch was passed to his lawyer, Scott Frazier, who already operated vacation rental and hospitality properties in Calaveras County including the famous waterslide house on Lake Tulloch. The property is managed by the Frazier Land and Property Company.
The present structure is clad in stucco, with paired 6/6 vinyl windows primary elevation, and a small recessed entry porch on the east side, supported by a peeled log post. In contemporary configuration, the property boasts 6 rental units and a season hostel type rental in the front unit.
U.S. Federal Census, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940
Calaveras, County of
var. Deed Books
var. Assessor’s Roll Books
var. Vital Statistics
n.d. Senter Family File
n.d. Senter photographs
Kathleen Darby Crespi, daughter of Chub and Florence Darby
2017 Notes on interviews of 21 and 22 March 2017. On file, Judith Marvin, Murphys, California.
Tom Schellar, former owner of Darby House
2017 Notes on interview of 17 March 2017. On file, Judith Marvin, Murphys, California