“Let’s Talk Clovis” – Pioneer Widow Waite and Family

By Peg Bos | Clovis Museum

We are sharing information about the life of Widow Waite which was authored by local historian Ernestine Winchell (date of news article not known) and additional information provided by her great grandchildren Norma Meek and Jim Glass, who both reside in Clovis.

Norma Nelson Meek is the great granddaughter of Phoebe Jane Waite Nelson.  Phoebe Jane married John H. Nelson on June 7, 1882.  They raised five daughters and one son. Their son (Lee Nelson) lived in Clovis and raised two daughters (Norma Nelson Meek and Helen Nelson McGaughy).

Jim Glass is the great grandson of Sarah Agnes Waite Glass (1862-1925). Agnes married William Glass, their son Benjamin is the father of Jim Glass.

Timothy A. Waite was born in Indiana (1838-1887) and Mary J. Cavin Waite (1841-1911) was born in Ohio. They were married in Ohio on June 24, 1858 and settled in Des Moines County (20 miles from Burlington).

The family arrived (8 children ages from 16 years old to three months) at the Tollhouse area in 1875. Timothy quickly found work at the Glass & Donahoo sawmill. He was severely injured four weeks after he was hired at the mill and remained an invalid until his death a year later  in 1876.

“The men of the mill did what they could for him and made up a purse of $75.00 – a lot of money in those days, but it could not feed and clothe 10 persons for very long,” Winchell said. “So, as soon as her baby and sick husband could be partially cared for by the elder children, Mrs. Waite began to do washing and such other work as she could obtain.”

Mary struggled for six years to provide for their family of eight. Two of the children would die (1878-1879) in the diphtheria epidemic. The nearest doctor lived in Centerville (30 miles distance). Twenty children would lose their lives and were buried in the Tollhouse graveyard.

By 1882, Mary was able to purchase the John Morrow property. It was located on the Old Tollhouse Road south of Pine Ridge.

Tollhouse (2,000 feet elevation) was the start of the steep/difficult climb to the tall timber. Old Tollhouse Road ran up and along Burrough Mountain (4,000 feet elevation). Mountain Rest was at the top of the grade.

Pine Ridge was the center of early-day logging. Teamsters (driving six yoke oxen) would haul lumber from the area. Pioneer mill operators: James Hultz built the first Fresno County (near present day Meadow Lakes) sawmill in 1854. John Humphrey finished the Tollhouse Road and built the first major sawmill in the 1867. Joseph Bretz arrived in 1875. Members of the Bretz family continued the business for 70 years. The Clovis Bretz Lumber Company  (6436 N. Sunnyside) was closed in 1959.

Mary and her daughters began to serve meals to teamsters and travelers. Originally the meals cost 25 cents; by 1900 the price rose to three meals for $1. They also provided rest and recuperation for invalids.

Their location was known as “Widow Waite’s” until 1908 when a bathhouse and more rooms were added. It was decided that “Mountain Rest” would be a more appropriate name for the improved location.

Tragedy again fell upon the resourceful Mary when just as the finishing improvements were made the main building was destroyed by fire. She was 77 years of age and the task of rebuilding was too daunting. She moved to Fresno and lived with her daughter until her death in 1911.

Gene Rose (Fresno Bee staff writer and author of numerous historical books) wrote an article (12/15/83) regarding Marvin Chesseman of Fresno (great grandson of Widow Wait and grandson of Agnes Glass).

Marvin shared that his grandmother Agnes operated the rest stop until 1924 and that it was also known as Cressman’s. Marvin recalled: “The early cattlemen, like the Blasingames, Shipps and Qualls all used to stop there also.”

Our next article will be sharing “In the Early Years, childhood and courtship in the 1870s-’80s, as remembered by a California Pioneer, Phoebe Jane Waite Nelson.”

The Waite family is part of our rich heritage.