Friday, March 1, 2019

Clara Classen & Fred Barker's names on Redwood Peak

Recently I was up on Redwood Peak in Oakland with some friends. I always look at the names and dates scratched into the rocks, there. Some are old. Redwood Peak used to be a very popular hiking destination, I think in part due to the view. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the hills were still nude from all the logging, and you could see a lot from the peak. Now the peak is cloaked in beautiful, second-growth redwood trees.

I was walking around the peak and a name caught my eye, CLASSEN. I live near Redwood Peak, and ride my bike and hike in the area all the time. I'm curious about its history, so I'd read quite a bit about it, and the name Classen is associated with it. Amelia Sue Marshall has done an excellent job in East Bay Hills: A Brief History, here describing the Classen property. The article she references is also below, but the article after that... that's worth reading. What I do here is curious noodling. Buy her book and read it.

When I saw the names I asked my friend Patrick to take a picture. He sent me these two photos:

Fred S. Barker and Clara L. Classen were married in 1899, so this would have been scratched in before then. He was born in 1877 and she in 1882. They were likely teenagers when they scratched their names in the rock.

Frederick Barker, Oakland
Clara Classen, OaklandLICENSED TO MARRY Frederick Barker, Oakland Clara Classen, Oakland Tue, Feb 28, 1899 – Page 3 · Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Alameda, California, United States of America) ·

She and Fred had a daughter Isabel on March 5, 1900, and another daughter Madaline Isabel Barker April 10, 1901. In the 1900 census, he was listed as an "iron-moulder", she listed no profession. In 1930, according to the census they lived at 5832 Lawton Avenue. His profession was "molder" in the "foundry" business, while Clara didn't list a profession. Fred passed away in 1946 and Clara in 1959. They are both buried in Mountain View cemetery. If you know Janis, Susan or Jerry Halford, their descendants, please show this to them.

Clara was the daughter of John T. & Lena Classen and sister of John Jr. and Emily:

Wed, Aug 4, 1926 – Page 30 · Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Alameda, California, United States of America) ·

John Classen family
Lena, wife
Clara, Emily, John Jr. childrenJohn Classen family Lena, wife Clara, Emily, John Jr. children Sun, Nov 12, 1922 – Page 35 · Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Alameda, California, United States of America) ·

John T. Classen owned the land northwest of Redwood Peak: (mis-labeled as Clarsen on this 1894 George Sandow map)

And again on this circa 1892 property map, this time spelled correctly:

You can be sure I will research that dotted line...

This 1896 article titled DIMOND THE BEAUTIFUL mentions him:
A number of well-known Oaklanders and San Franciscans have already secured summer homes up in these hills. Mr. Thomas Magee has made a sort of earthly paradise out of Alder Farm, where he spends what play time he is not disporting in the high Sierras. Father McNally of Oakland has a ranch overlooking both counties, where he is considering the idea of colonizing some of the City's homeless boys and giving them a chance at useful lives. Near neighbors to him are J. T. Classen and C. C. Crowley, who will shortly build him a home overlooking San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda and the Golden Gate.
He's referenced in this great piece written in 1907, titled "SAW SAN FRANCISCO SWALLOWED AT GULP":
Some distance above Joaquin Miller's place a trail leads off from the road and winds upward through a shady canyon to Redwood Peak. In all I had ever learned of California, I had never heard that giant redwoods once looked down upon Oakland from directly above it, as it were. It may not be a matter of information to others and yet I venture to note it for the benefit of any who may have been ignorant as myself. Trees thirty or forty feet in diameter stood within view of the city hall tower, Mr. Classen, the owner of the peak, asserts.
This January 8, 1910 article by Harold French - namesake of the French trail, and someone about whom I'll write much more - TRAMPING TO REDWOOD PEAK relates this return path:
A fine lunching and resting place lies a hundred yards down the northern slope, from which you may look down into the densely forested Redwood canyon, which, with the waters of Moraga valley, drains into San Leandro creek and Lake Chabot. To the eastward roll the hills of Contra Costa county, Rocky ridge and Las Trampas, 1,900 feet high, and beyond them the San Ramon valley, with Diablo looming double the height of the midway ranges. Northwesterly, six miles in an airline, lie Grizzly peak and Baldy. But double the distance if you follow the ridge. Your prettiest homeward route lies along the winding road through the forest from Classen's down to either Fruitvale or Leona heights.
This May 31, 1911 article, also by Harold French, titled CAMPING OUT UNDER CALIFORNIA SKIES he writes:
TRIP No. 13 - Redwood Peak, June or July. Train to Fruitvale and trolley cars to Dimond. Walk up road past Joaquin Miller's to elevation of 1,100 feet, where you cross a stile and ascend a foot-tempting trail up canyon opposite until you come to Classen's ranch, just below summit of Redwood Peak. Flourishing young redwood forest; inspiring panorama looking eastward over Contra Costa Hills to Mt. Diablo. Round trip from Dimond 7 miles; ferry and car fare 30 cents.
But where this story gets more interesting is in this Knave article from September 7, 1941:
A request from a reader of the Knave for information concerning the days when redwoods were cut on our hills and sent to the mills has brought me a number of interesting interviews, Dr. John S. Engs tells me he received the following information from a Mr. Closson, who then lived with his wife in a house on the crest of the ridge at the base of Redwood Peak. "He was the owner of a rather large tract of land adjoining. On this tract grew many second-growth redwood trees. Back of his house was a fruit orchard which had been planted in a deep depression of the hilltop. He told me that in early days the area covered by his orchard had been a mill pond. The water had been impounded by a dam at the lower end. Many years ago the dam broke, releasing the water. He said, "I have many fine second-growth trees on my place, and some day they will be worth money." At that time his place was a popular Sunday rendezvous for hikers and horseback riders throughout the year. For the small sum of 25 cents Mrs. Closson served a bountiful luncheon of bread and butter, ham and eggs and coffee. For those bringing their own food she would furnish hot tea or coffee. I used to ride to their place nearly every Sunday morning for several years following the earthquake,
John T. Classen was from Denmark, so he would have pronounced his name like "Closson". Who writes in to clarify the spelling and history of her father, and Redwood Peak, but Mrs. Fred Barker, AKA Clara Classen in this Knave article from October 19, 1941:
Stories of the redwoods, early lumbermen, forgotten graves, and hallowed meeting places, have appeared here within recent weeks. Names of persons who lived in the hills have been mentioned, sometimes doubtfully and with spellings conflicting. Today I offer the following from Mrs. Fred Barker of this city and, as you will see, the story is out of her memories and family records: "Information given in your previous article is correct as far as can recall. My father, John Classen (referred to as Mr. Clossen by another writer) was the owner of considerable acreage, a portion of which included Redwood Peak. He was a lover of nature and wanted those who appreciated the same to enjoy his place, provided they destroyed nothing in the line of shrubbery or trees and left no picnic rubbish around. Our place, as has been mentioned was a meeting spot for some of the most prominent businessmen of Oakland and San Francisco. Many have passed on. I have a register with hundreds of names of visitors that came there on weekly hikes. Recently Mr. Merritt wrote about a grave he discovered with a Scandinavian name on the headstone. There was a grave not far from our home and a man by the name of Jackson was buried there. I recall very clearly the day he was buried. It was a dreary one and his body was brought up from Oakland with great difficulty as the road was very bad and steep. My father met the hearse and helped them on their way. It was this man's wish that he be buried in the area where he formerly lived and loved so dearly. The grave that Mr. Merritt spoke of, with a headstone and the name 'Rover' carved on it, was for a dog that belonged to my brother, John Classen Jr. The dog was shot by some mischievous hunter.” So we have another story carried on and authenticated by one "who was there."
I could keep going, but I'll save the story of the graves, and of the tangled ownership of Redwood Peak over the years for another post. This time a bit of graffiti on a rock led me on a pretty wonderful chase. You can see these inscriptions for yourself; climb to Redwood Peak and look on the north side of the rocks, down low. All of the linked articles above are worth reading. Some I've transcribed on this blog, and some are waiting for me to do that...


  1. This is amazingly wonderful research! I have looked at the names carved into the rocks on Redwood Peak, and never seen Clara's.