Early Residents of Montclair – Before 1920

Way back in the mid-1980s I started looking into the history of Montclair in Oakland Hills. I discovered that there were people living in the area we now call Montclair in 1865. Here is “A bit of History” of them.

I will also be doing a piece about the residents from 1900-1920.

Colonel John C. Hays – Fernwood

In the late 1850s, retired Texas Ranger Colonel John “Jack” Coffee Hays purchased about 800 acres of land in the hills of Oakland, behind what is now Piedmont. His beautiful country estate was called Fernwood, and he lived there with his wife Susan and their children.

Residence of Col. John C. Hays, Oakland, Alameda County, California.”
(Published by Thompson & West, Oakland, Cal., 1878)
from Oakland History Room

His home was located near today’s Mountain Boulevard and Thornhill Drive in Montclair. The area was frequently referred to as Hays (Hayes) Canyon or “Jack Hays Canyon.” The main road to his property from downtown Oakland would later be Moraga Avenue.

Hays died at home on April 22, 1883, at 66.   After his death, Fernwood was sold to William J. Dingee.

William J. Dingee – Fernwood

William Dingee, water magnate and competitor off Anthony Chabot. Dingee enlarged and embellished the gardens, adding fountains, terraces, and statues. The improvements were said to have cost a quarter-million dollars.

Athens of the Pacific 1896 – Google Books

Dingee built an opulent 19-room Queen-Anne-style mansion and had additional landscaping with gardens, terraces, and waterfalls. He also added such features as a deer park and an elk paddock.

Athens of the Pacific” 1896

Sadly, the home and countless artworks were destroyed in a fire in 1899. Oakland Tribune Oct 19, 1899

Sometime after 1915, Dr. and Mrs. Nelson M. Percy of Chicago, Illinois, purchased the former W.J. DIngee home “Fernwood” for an undisclosed amount.

Oakland Tribune March 12, 1916

Cote Brilliant

Judge E.M. Gibson owned the property just beyond Thornhill School. Gibson built a beautiful home he called “Cote Brilliant.” which was later owned by E.M Boggs. The house burned down in 1910. Dr. Mark Emerson bought the land in the mid-1920s and built a lovely home, and lived there until the late 1950s. St John’s Episcopal Church is now there.


Map showing the locations of the Gibson and Fields land
Oakland Directory 1889


Oakland Tribune April 23, 1887



J. B. Fields

Joseph B. Fields was born in England. Before moving to Hays Canyon, he was an Oakland Police officer for 12 years.

Oakland Tribune Apr 16, 1890

He owned 25 acres of farming land next to the property of Judge Gibson. His farm was in the general location of Aspinwall Road is today.

Fields died at his farm in 1891.


SF Chronicle Jan 25, 1891

Glen Kohler

Glen Kohler, the home of Mrs. C.A. Kohler, was located about where Thornhill Drive, Pinehaven Road, and Woodhaven Way meet.

Oakland Tribune Oct 17, 1885

Cordelia A. (“CA”) Kohler was the widow of Andrew Kohler (1819-1885) of Kohler & Chase Pianos.

Oakland Tribune Nov 14, 1885

Glen Kohler was designed by architects Samuel and Joseph C. Newsom (Newsom Brothers) in 1885. The residence was 18 rooms in what was known as a “freestyle.” It cost about $10,000.

She died at her home in Hays Canyon on November 27, 1894.  Her funeral was attended mainly by the old settlers of the county and was held at her home on November 30, 1894.  She is buried at Mountain View Cemetery alongside her husband Andrew and her daughter Louisa (1849-1854), who died at the young age of 5.


S F Call Nov 29, 1894

I don’t know what happened to Glen Kohler after Mrs. Kohler died.

More Info:

7 thoughts on “Early Residents of Montclair – Before 1920

Add yours

    1. I think I was in your home for Girl Scout party in early 70s. I remember you talking about the history of your house. Gibson’s Land became Thornhill Park -https://abitofhistory.website/2019/04/18/__trashed-2/\


  1. Thank you for this wonderful history. Fond memories of Montclair where I had my birthday parties in Montclair Park in the mid-late 1950s and took cotillion dance lessons at the Ladies Club in 1960 & 61.

    I’m traveling and cannot remember my WordPress password, so can’t comment directly.

    I hope all is well with you and your family and that your husband is continuing to recover.

    Happy Thanksgiving from Linda Feldman

    Liked by 1 person

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