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A Trip to California in 1856 - Part 2

by Isabelle Walton Lusk

This article is a continuation of Isabelle Walton Luskís memoir. She journeyed from Bangor, Maine to the California Sierras. In Part 1, Isabelle described herself and her trip preparations.

Part 2 - Isabelle Meets her Chaperon and Travels to New York

So with my two trunks, my [several] hundred dollars, [I traveled over the Maine countryside] on the 23rd of November 1856 for California. I took a steamer to Belfast where I met my chaperon, Mrs. Lucille Barnard.(1)

She with her two boys, Henry aged seven and Charles [who was] eighteen months old, was going out to her husband to settle in California. Charley Barnard was and old friend of our family. I had known him since I was a little girl, but his wife I had only met [once]. Charley went to California in the early 50s and made his pile, as the saying was, then came home. Stayed out one winter here, but before the next winter left his family and his business in the care of his wife's father for the land of sunshine and Gold. Two months after he left, little Charley was born. So she was taking to him the little one he had never seen.

He had written to her to sell everything, pack up her household and sail for California on December 3, connecting with the John L. Stephens on the Pacific side.(2) The first class passage was at that time 300 dollars clear through.


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This 1861 map shows the journey Isabelle took from Bangor to New York. Courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection



Charley Barnard was a short rather stout man. A demi-blond with big blue eyes. He had only a common school education and was trying to read and study with the help of his wife, who had been a teacher. He had a keen sense of humor which made him a favorite wherever he went.

Mrs. Barnard was tall and slender, with a long waist and long neck. She was a refined and educated woman who had been a schoolteacher before her marriage. She lived in a time when it was proper for women to be very prim and prudish. She seldom smiled and I never heard her laugh aloud. She was very thrifty and would never think of giving a tip to any servant. And when I thought she should put on her best [clothes] she said she could not afford to put on such [nice clothes] on such a rough and dirty trip. This is a great mistake because then, as now, most people judged you by your tour dress, and the respect given one is sometimes for the clothes you wear and not yourself.

When we arrived at the station in New York [City], then called the Depot(3), what a hubbub there was. The place for blocks around was filled with vehicles of every sort. From one horse [carts] to private [cabs], and the two horse coaches.

We were to go to the State House [Hotel] for dinner, and then at three in the afternoon to the steamer for California.(4) We found the State House coach to climb in, but Mrs. Barnard found she left her carpetbag in the stateroom [of their steamer] and of course ran back for it and got it just in time to rescue it. [At some point, Isabelle and Lucille Barnard become separated because they cannot get on the same coach to the hotel. They agree to meet at their hotel in New York.]

As we drove to the hotel, I thought the State House had greatly improved since [my] Brother Alfred was here. At that moment a private carriage drove up and a gentleman helped a lady out. They were relatives one could see the resemblance. I did not notice where the others went, but as the lady walked by my side she asked, "Are you alone my dear?" [she inquired].

"Just now I am madam, but my chaperon is on another coach and there was not room for me."

"Then we will go in together and register."

So we walked into the office. I stepped back for her to register first and saw that she wrote Mrs. Octavia Ashley, New York. I registered Miss Isabelle Walton, Bangor, Maine. We walked into the parlour as the office boy opened [the door]. [The lady said], "I am here again, Jane. Just give me my old room if empty. I am going to be here for dinner and I am going this afternoon."

"Yes, Madam," [the maid said], then she turned to me. "Do you want a room, Miss?"

"Just to freshen up. [I will be here] for the 12 o'clock lunch." I put a silver dollar in her hands, and she fairly gasped. That maid would have followed me to California and waited on me hand and foot.(5)

Then we went back to the parlour and Mrs. Ashley asked why Mrs. Barnard did not come. I sat a moment and said, "Do you think it is possible they took her to another hotel? That might be, or my coach took me to another hotel." I looked around at the fine furniture and surroundings and asked quickly what hotel is this? I did not notice the sign.

"Why, this is the Astor House."(6)


(1) The Penobscot River in Maine was a prime thoroughfare from Bangor to the Atlantic Ocean. It appears that Isabelle took a steamer from Bangor to Belfast, Maine (37 miles away); and then she and Lucille Bernard took another ship to New York City.

(2) The Pacific Mail Steamship Company had a steamer named for John L. Stephens, one of the primary people in the forming of the Panama Railroad. After traveling overland by rail in Panama, travelers took steamers like the SS John L. Stephens to San Francisco.

(3) New York became the center of shipping after the Gold Rush with thousands of immigrants arriving in the city. The Battery area of lower New York City was a fort for the US Army until 1821. It was then used as an entertainment area called Castle Garden. In 1855 it became the United State's first immigration processing center and was called the Emigrant Landing Depot. It was replaced by Ellis Island in 1892. Source: castlegarden.org.

(4) Isabelle and Lucille Barnardís journey comprised taking another steamer to the Isthmus of Panama, the Panama Railroad to the Pacific Ocean, and then a steamer to San Francisco. New York to San Francisco via Panama is 5,287 nautical miles. Source: maritimeheritage.org

(5) According to the website measuringworth.com, the silver dollar tip would have compared to $182 today for unskilled labor wages.

(6) The Astor House was the first luxury hotel in New York. It was on the site of John Jacob Astorís home, with 5 stories and over 300 rooms. In 1856 it was considered the prime business hotel. John Fremont and his family lived there while campaigning for president that year. Abraham Lincoln stayed there in 1860 before gaining the Republican nomination for president. Source: "Where Lincoln Tossed and Turned", New York Times 9/27/2009.

Thanks to Eric Bennion and Frances Lusk Bennion for sharing this memoir.