Daniel Chichester's home now historic inn

Written by Joanne Burkett from research taken from Paolo Sioli's History of El Dorado County California, from El Dorado Co. birth, marriage, death and land records and often from interviews.

A beautiful old home lounges on a Placerville hillside, a block north of Highway 50 on Spring Street. Today, that Victorian beauty serves as a popular bed and breakfast inn, Chichester-McKee House, owned by Bill and Doreen Thornhill. But, on June 11, 1892, it was nothing but a building frame -- a skeleton -- a promising beginning to the eye of the writer who reported on its construction for the Mountain Democrat.

Two months later, on Aug. 27, the Democrat reported, "D.W. Chichester's new residence is nearing completion. It is a neatly constructed and exceedingly attractive dwelling. It is of modern design, and cost a snug sum to build."

The home's owner, Daniel Wood Chichester, was a low-key character in El Dorado County history. Although he was partner in a prosperous lumbering operation, owned a beautiful and spacious hillside home and raised a family of six children, he led a conservative life.

Daniel was descended from a long line of Chichesters that traced their lineage back several generations in New York and, before that, England.

Born on July 21, 1831 in Coeymans, a small town along the Hudson River in Albany Co., NY, Daniel was the second child born to David E. Chichester and Eliza Wood. He had an older brother, Reuben, who was a year his senior, as well as two younger brothers, George and Linton. A baby sister, Sarah, died in September 1842 when she was just five months old. She is buried in the Gilboa Rural Cemetery, in Gilboa, NY, the small Mohawk Valley town the family moved to when Daniel was a young boy.

Two more sisters followed, Bessie and Amanda, as well as two adopted girls, Julia Middlebrooks, who died at 15, and Caroline Matilda Totten. Caroline, who would always be known as "Tilly," would grow up and marry Daniel's younger brother, Linton. Upon Linton's death, Daniel, also widowed by then, would marry her himself and build the beautiful Placerville home for her.

Gilboa, the place in which Daniel spent his childhood, was a hilly, rural beauty, not unlike Placerville.

When he was 17, he left home to work and attend the better schools of New Bedford, Mass., where he stayed with relatives. For two years, he kept to his work and studies, then, in January 1850, the 19 year-old was inflicted with gold fever, like so many other young men.

The Hibernia sailed out of New Bedford harbor with Daniel onboard. By now, he had grown into a slender young man of average height -- 5 foot 8 inches tall. Deep-set blue eyes complimented his fair skin and a head of wavy dark hair gave him a youthful look, even later in middle age.

The Hibernia followed its usual route, rounding Cape Horn a couple months later and docking in San Francisco Bay on June 2, five months after leaving Daniel's homeport.

Striking out from San Francisco, he worked his way east until, by autumn, he was in Placerville. By the spring of 1852, he had joined Predmore & Company, which had started the first sawmill at the lower end of town.

Over the next few years, Daniel engaged in a couple ventures, usually involved in lumbering. However, he did spend some time at a stamp mill, where ore from the old Pacific mine was crushed.

Time passed, and on Jan. 1, 1866, Daniel was married to Sarah Luella Young, a dark-haired 19 year-old from the town of Fulton, in Calloway County, Mo. A baby girl, Lillie, was born two days before Christmas that year. The following Sept. 1, 1867, Daniel's brother Linton was married to "Tillie" Totten. On Aug. 16, 1868, Sarah gave birth to Sarah Eliza, who would be nicknamed "Daisy."

Back in Gilboa the following March 22, Daniel's father, David, died at the age of 60, preceding his wife, Eliza, by three years.

Daniel and Sarah added two more daughters to their growing family -- Georgie Eldridge and Luella May -- on Nov. 27, 1870 and Dec. 4, 1872, respectively. However, 1872 was to be a year of losses for Daniel. On Jan. 12, his grandmother, Eliza Wood died back in Gilboa. Then, in December, the birth of Luella would prove to be too difficult for Sarah. She couldn't recover. She died on Christmas day at the young age of 25.

Daniel could not raise an infant, so baby Luella was sent to live with Sarah's father, Garrard Young, and his wife, Jane.

He worked and took care of his girls, but in 1877 the dreaded diphtheria made a deadly visit, taking the lives of little Georgie on May 19 and "Daisy" three days later.

A small death notice for the girls in the Mountain Democrat on May 26, read: "Little Georgie, sweet and mild, half a fairy, half a child, slowly, softly laid away underneath the fearful clay; kisses on her little brow -- ah, the angels kiss her now! Roses on her little bosom, her sweet self a broken blossom."

As if that was not heartbreaking enough, beneath it, for her sister, it said: "Kiss her; leave her laid away, underneath the fearful clay. Leave the roses on her bosom; kiss and leave the broken blossom. Angel Daisy! Sweet and mild. Beauteous angel, love my child."

Daniel was left with but one child, Lillie, who was now nearly 11. Then, some time before the first part of 1879, Daniel married his brother Linton's widow, "Tillie."

"Tillie", the beautiful daughter of Levi Totten and Ann Bronk Totten, had been born in Fultonham, NY on Sept. 1, 1849. She had suffered her own tragedies. Not only had she lost her husband in 1875, but also she had lost their two year-old daughter, May, in 1870.

"Tillie" and Daniel had so much in common. It was a natural union. They were lucky enough to have 20 good years together.

On March 10, 1880, Daniel and "Tillie" welcomed their own child, Metra, into the world, followed two years later by a boy, Clyde Totten Chichester, on May 5, 1882.

Meanwhile, Daniel had been mainly working in the lumber business, but sometime between 1880-1885 he became the bookkeeping partner in the firm of S.G. Beach & Co. He built the house on Spring Street for "Tillie," a home they would get to enjoy for too short a time.

Lillie and Luella married and moved to their own homes. Metra and Clyde were still living at home. Daniel would spend some 14 years with S.G. Beach & Co. before becoming ill. He ailed for five years before dying at age 69 on Aug. 1, 1900. Three days later, his family stood graveside as Rev. George Bird conducted services in Placerville's Union Cemetery, where Daniel's first wife and daughters were waiting.

By 1904, "Tillie" was living in Woodland. The next year Clyde married Lillian Marie Robert, followed on June 28, 1905 by Metra's marriage to David Johnston.

Clyde and his wife would eventually move to the Bay Area, where he died in 1972. He left three children.

Metra and David, although they remarried each other in 1934, never had children. They moved to Woodland.

"Tillie" and her own mother, Ann Totten, would also make their home in Woodland until "Tillie's" death at Metra's home in 1920. She was buried with Daniel in Placerville. Metra died in Mill Valley in 1960. 

It's a story tinged with much sadness, but while the Chichesters lived on Spring Street, they were happy. Many family photos, in the collections of descendents, show them together and with friends, enjoying life. 

The house is lively these days. Bill and Doreen Thornhill never seem to tire of telling the family stories they've learned from the Chichester descendents they have met. They admit they feel that the Chichesters are their own ancestors now.

Doreen loves to show the special architectural details and furnishings of the home and Bill seems delighted to pull out the Chichester photos and the research he has done on the family. Neither gets ruffled when strangers stop by to ask about the old home, which was painstakingly restored in 1978, its rooms filled with Victorian treasures. Its four bedrooms, though boasting of period appeal, also bow to modern requirements -- each has its own full bathroom.

Permission is granted by the author to use or republish this article, but proper attribution to the author -- Joanne Burkett -- is requested.

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