Lydia Knapp Horton (1843-1926)
There have been many San Diego women who deserve to be remembered for their outstanding accomplishments and service to their community. None is more entitled to this recognition than Lydia Knapp Horton, the wife and widow of “Father” Alonzo E. Horton, founder of the modern city of San Diego.
A California pioneer, Lydia Knapp arrived in San Diego in 1869 and was the first American woman to live on Point Loma. She saw Old Town in its heyday, and became active in the community life of Horton’s New Town, She experienced the booms and depressions of San Diego’s early years and lived to play a vital part in its development during the first quarter of this century.
Lydia Knapp Horton was born Lydia Maria Smith on August 7, 1843, in West Newbury, Massachusetts, the daughter of Daniel and Charlotte Bailey Smith. One of Lydia’s earliest recollections was clinging to her father as the family bid him goodbye when he left Newburyport on the brig Ark for California in 1849. Daniel Smith was among the first of the easterners to join the tide of argonauts seeking their fortune in California. His father had sailed for California in 1826 and was lost in the Pacific, but in spite of this tragedy the lure of California remained in the hearts of the family. The mines proved unrewarding for Daniel and two years later he returned home to open a tool shop which he operated successfully for many years.
Lydia and her two younger sisters, Helena and Mary Louise, received a good education for that time, with emphasis on art, music and “culture”. Lydia was talented in drawing and watercolor painting. In 1861 she became engaged to Frank Fenelon Knapp who served in the 25th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War. Lydia spent the war years working for the Sanitary Commission, knitting garments, rolling bandages, scraping lint, and in various money raising activities for the relief of the soldiers. Her fiance returned home near the close of the war only to die of yellow fever contracted in North Carolina. Lydia then became engaged to his brother, William Knapp, and they were married on March 29, 1866. She was then twenty-two and he was fifteen years her senior.
William had enlisted at the age of nineteen as a seaman on the brig Eveline which in 1847 took him to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and to California. During 1848-49 he served on ships sailing between the Sandwich Islands and the West Coast. In February, 1850 his ship, the Aurora, was wrecked on the Columbia River. The Gold Rush in California was at its height, so Knapp headed for the mines in El Dorado County, but after spending about two years there, he returned to the sea and to Newburyport. For the next ten years he was on ships plying between Newburyport and ports in Canada, Europe, Asia and South America.
During the Civil War Knapp served in the United States Navy. He enlisted in August 1862 and was named Acting Ensign assigned to the U.S.S. McDonough. In July 1863 the McDonough was engaged in battle with Southern forces at Stone Inlet, South Carolina, and was destroyed. Knapp then was placed in charge of a battery that was shelling Charleston. As a result of his actions during the war, he was commended and promoted to the grade of Acting Master. He remained in the Navy after the war and at the time of his marriage was assigned to the U.S.S. Ashuelot.
Two months after his marriage, the Ashuelot left on a lengthy voyage to China by way of England, Africa, Cape of Good Hope, Singapore and Hong Kong. While his ship was in port in Africa, his prized possession, a small framed picture of his bride, was stolen from his stateroom. Knapp, accompanied by some sailors, followed the thief into the village and recovered the picture. Today that picture is in the collections of the San Diego History Center, and on the back, in Lydia’s handwriting, is the story of its adventure. In Hong Kong Knapp was transferred to the Sloop of War Wyoming, which returned to Boston via Cape Horn. Lydia had remained in Newburyport where their first son, William Bailey Knapp, was born on December 28, 1866. Knapp was detached from the Wyoming in February, 1868, and honorably discharged in May.
The following August the Knapps, with their son, William, left by ship for California, crossing the Isthmus at Panama, and after a difficult journey arrived in San Francisco in September, 1868. Knapp had joined the U.S. Engineering Corps and was assigned to the Tidal Gauge & Meteorological Observation Division of the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey. The Knapps lived at the Presidio, where on January 15, 1869, their second son, Philip Crosby Knapp, was born. A few months later Knapp was appointed Tidal Gauge Keeper at the San Diego station. The family sailed from San Francisco on the Orizaba and arrived in San Diego in September, 1869.
Passengers arriving on the Orizaba disembarked at Horton’s Wharf, at the foot of Fifth Street, in what was then called New Town or South San Diego. The town was only two years old. It had been founded in 1867 by Alonzo E. Horton, a merchant from San Francisco, who purchased 960 acres for $265.00 and laid out a townsite three miles south of the little village now known as Old Town. Only about thirty buildings, or shacks, scattered about in the brush, had been erected in Horton’s New Town by the time the Knapps arrived – a discouraging sight to one who had been used to San Francisco and the bustling coastal cities of Massachusetts. The Knapps spent their first night at Dunnell’s Hotel, State and F, which had been built by William Heath Davis as his home in 1850 during a first and unsuccessful attempt to establish a new town in that location. The next day they moved to the Franklin House in Old Town where Knapp renewed acquaintance with several men he had met when he was in San Diego in 1847.
The Knapps lived at the Franklin House until their furniture arrived from San Francisco. When the furniture was being removed from the ship some of it fell into the bay and remained in the water several days until it was rescued and dried out.” The family moved next to Roseville on Point Loma where they lived in a house built by Louis Rose on what is today Rosecrans Street, between Addison and Byron. Rose had mapped his subdivision into lots and streets in 1868, but it was all on paper; the entire area was nothing but a brush covered desert with only one dirt road leading from Old Town to the lighthouse at the tip of Point Loma. Rose intended the house to be a hotel, but it never was used as such. There were no other buildings in the tract and no other people lived in the area. The Knapps’ closest neighbors were whalers on Ballast Point, a few Chinese fishermen along the shores of the bay, and a Mexican family in La Playa.
The Tidal Gauge station where Knapp was employed was in La Playa and had been there since 1853 when Andrew Cassidy became the first tidal gauge keeper. Cassidy was in charge of the tidal gauge and meteorological observations for seventeen years until he resigned in 1869 and Knapp became his replacement. Cassidy was one of the earliest residents of La Playa and confirmed to later historians that there once was a forest of trees on the shores of San Diego bay. He remembered seeing stumps of trees when he first arrived and believed the trees must have been destroyed by fire or by the crews of the hide ships in their tanning operation.”
Knapp visited the tidal gauge twice a day, morning and evening. Lydia later described the recording procedure: “There were floats put down in the water and attached to an upright, and as the tide rose there was a sheet of paper on a roll-and as the tide rose, the pencil travelled across the sheet and would give the rise and fall of the tide.” Knapp had the use of a government launch that was kept at Rose’s Wharf, at the foot of Canon Street, which he used to get to La Playa. The launch was also used by the Knapps to take them across the bay to New Town.
To obtain supplies, and for entertainment, the Knapps travelled on horseback to Old Town where they soon made friends with the residents. Among those residing in Old Town were several people who impressed Lydia. She was especially fond of E.W. Morse, a New Englander who had been in San Diego several years and who knew the country and the Spanish language well. He and his partners, Thomas Whaley and Philip Crosthwaite, owned a general store facing on the Plaza. Whaley was an educated and travelled man who had built the first brick house in Old Town. Crosthwaite had been with General Kearny and had a keen Irish wit. Lydia enjoyed hearing the three men talk when business was quiet, “shy Mr. Morse, dignified Mr. Whaley and rollicking Philip Crosthwaite.” Years later she liked to tell a story about Mr. Morse once going with some army officers to borrow money from Louis Rose who lived in Old Town. The officers needed the money to pay the soldiers when government money was late arriving. Mr. Rose disappeared into his back courtyard and when he reappeared he was carrying a money bag covered with dirt. It was an example of money actually being “dug up,” at a time when there was no bank available.
There were many “Judges” living in Old Town at that time. Lydia compared this with Mark Twain’s comment that when he shouted “Goodbye, Colonel” as he left San Francisco by boat, every man on the dock raised his hat and called goodbye. She said the same thing would have happened in Old Town if one substituted “Judge” for “Colonel.” The Old Town judges included Witherby, Hayes, Gatewood, Sloane, Bush and several others. Father Antonio Ubach, the Catholic priest in Old Town, was loved by his parishioners and much admired. According to Lydia, he was a “tall Spanish type” and wore a heavy black beard by special dispensation. When he rode into town on his fine, spirited horse, “he seemed to have come down off a canvas painted by an old Spanish master.”
The Knapps attended banquets and balls in Old Town. “Liquor flowed like water and everyone indulged, most too freely. The young women were beautiful, and were gaily and attractively dressed. Both men and women were graceful dancers and the men were gallant toward the ladies.” Lydia recalled seeing bull fights in the Plaza and a duel in which no one was hurt but honor satisfied by the firing of shots.
The Knapps had two horses but no carriage. Sometimes they rode horseback to Ocean Beach to enjoy the beach and ocean. They also went to New Town once a week when the steamer arrived from San Francisco. When a steamer came in sight a flag was raised at the lighthouse and then the Knapp family hurried to their launch to go across the bay to get their mail and news of the outside world.
Early in 1871 Knapp commenced construction of a small house at what is today the corner of Addison and Locust Streets, just one block west of the Rose house where they were living. The one story house was 24 x 32 feet in size, with an ell for kitchen purposes. A cupola roof gave the little house distinction. The Knapps moved into their new home in April. There still were no other buildings around, and Roseville was just a vast wasteland.
Knapp’s work gave him plenty of free time so he often rode over to Old Town where he was well known and liked by Old Towners. He enjoyed local politics and in June of 1871 he was elected Old Town delegate to the Republican County Convention which he attended in August.
Although there was no activity in Roseville and little in Old Town, a boom was on in New Town. In answer to the prayers of Horton and other investors in New Town, the Texas & Pacific Railroad had agreed to bring its tracks from Texas to San Diego making San Diego the southern terminus of a cross country railroad. News of these plans brought the start of a great land boom and San Diegans were confident that their town would soon become a great metropolis. On August 26, 1872, the steamer California landed at Horton’s Wharf bringing Colonel Thomas A. Scott, President of the Texas & Pacific; and several other influential business men to San Diego. From the balcony of the Horton House Scott addressed an enthusiastic crowd in the Plaza, assuring them they would soon have the long awaited railroad. The Knapps were in the crowd that welcomed Scott and his party.
At about that same time, there was in port the naval vessel U.S.S. Hassler with a scientific party aboard. Among the scientists was the distinguished naturalist and famous Professor Jean Louis Agassiz. In a speech to San Diegans Agassiz said, “You have a great capital in your climate. It will be worth millions to you. This is one of the favored spots of the earth and people will come to you from all quarters to live in your genial and healthful atmosphere.” These were encouraging words and remembered during the lean years when plans for the railroad failed to materialize.
While Agassiz was in town, Knapp presented him with a rare sea urchin he had found in San Diego bay. The San Diego Union reported the gift and said “The sea urchin was of a variety very rare, so rare indeed that the Professor thinks that the only specimen collected, or at present in any collection that resembles it at all, is one that he himself discovered on the shore of the Red Sea. He prizes this addition to his collection very much indeed.” When the Knapps went aboard the ship to make the presentation, William found several of the officers were old acquaintances he had known in the Navy. Mrs. Agassiz, who had accompanied her husband, greeted Lydia and was delighted to find she was from Massachusetts as they had not met an eastern woman in over a year.”
In September of 1872, Knapp was notified that the government was transferring the tidal gauge to Washington Territory. Provision had been made for only three tidal gauges on the west coast and they would be at San Francisco, in Oregon and at Port Townsend, Washington Territory. This gave each state and territory one gauge. The transfer was made in October.
By then the County Courthouse had been moved from Old Town to New Town, most of the businesses and residents had deserted Old Town, and New Town was now San Diego. It is not known if Knapp was offered the position as tidal gauge keeper in Washington Territory, but the family chose to remain in San Diego. Their little frame house in Roseville was rafted across the bay by Chinese fishermen and relocated on a lot at the northwest corner of Front and Ash.
The Knapps would remain in San Diego until October, 1873, during which time they became well known in the community. Lydia was among the small group who met at Horton’s Hall in June 1873 to organize a Unitarian Sunday School. San Diego now boasted five churches – Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian. Horton had given each denomination lots on which to build a church; and now offered the same to the Unitarians, first giving them free use of Horton’s Hall with its organ as a place of meeting. Lydia was named first Secretary-Treasurer of the Sunday School.” Horton and his wife Sarah were among the first members of the new church and so the Knapps and Hortons became friends, a friendship that would result in marriage when both Horton and Lydia were widowed. Knapp was unable to find suitable employment in San Diego so the family moved back to San Francisco leaving San Diego on the Orizaba on October 17, 1873.
In San Francisco Knapp was again employed by the Federal Government, this time as a Postal Clerk in the San Francisco Post Office, a position he held until his death. Lydia was homesick for Masschusetts and her family, but William was unwilling or unable to pay the expense of a trip east. Finally in 1877 her mother sent her money so she could come home for a visit, and in June she left with her two boys, aged seven and ten. This time she travelled by train from California to Massachusetts, a much easier trip than the one by ship to California in 1868.
The visit to her family resulted in a permanent separation between William and Lydia. When he failed to send her money, she knew she would have to work to support herself and the boys, who were now in school in Newburyport. With financial help from her family, she went back to school to study art, in Newburyport, Boston and New York. For the next ten years she supported herself and her children by her artistic talents – teaching and painting, especially china painting, then popular and much in demand. She made a new life for herself in Newburyport with her family and friends. She was active in church and club activities, and joined the Woman’s Suffrage Society, becoming active in the women’s rights movement. She was a good speaker and not afraid to express her opinion in public.
On June 24, 1885, William Knapp died at the age of fifty-seven in San Francisco after suffering a stroke, leaving a small estate to which Lydia, William, Jr., and Philip were entitled. Included among the assets were four parcels of unimproved real property in San Diego, acquired when he was living in Roseville. All four parcels were sold on December 8, 1886, by the Executor of the Knapp estate to E.W. Morse of San Diego for a total consideration of $1056.
E.W. Morse was a close friend of the Knapps when they lived in San Diego and it can be presumed that in making the purchase from the estate he was looking after Lydia’s interest. Court records of the Knapp estate were destroyed in 1906 during the San Francisco earthquake and fire, so there is no way of knowing what Lydia and her sons received when the estate was distributed.
On November 1, 1888, after the estate was settled, Lydia left Massachusetts to return to San Diego “to settle up business affairs” as she was quoted later. San Diego had grown considerably since 1873 when she had left. The population then had been around 3000 but in the great boom of the eighties had grown to nearly 40,000. By 1889 when it was evident the boom had become a bust the population dwindled to around 16,000 as many were scurrying to leave. This was not a good time for any one looking for employment, but Lydia was fortunate in having many good friends among the old timers who were confident that San Diego would yet become a great city. For a time after arriving she was in charge of the Women’s Exchange at 939 Sixth Street, a store where women could bring their handiwork for sale or exchange. Then a vacancy occurred on the teaching staff of the Southwest Institute when the art instructor resigned. Lydia’s teaching experience in Massachusetts made her well qualified to fill this position. The Southwest Institute was San Diego’s best known private school for both boys and girls and was located at Third and Elm.
Among her old friends in San Diego were Mr. and Mrs. Alonzo Horton who now were living in a beautiful mansion on First Street. Horton’s influence in the town was waning as newcomers were taking control of its politics and business, and his wealth had dwindled considerably with the collapse of the great land boom. On May 17, 1889, while Mrs. [Sarah] Horton was visiting in Washington, D.C., she was thrown from a carriage and instantly killed. This was a great shock to her many friends in San Diego and to Horton who was again left a widower. He had lost three wives in his youth and his marriage to Sarah had been a good one that lasted nearly thirty years. It was Sarah who had helped him in building San Diego, the city of his dreams, from a wasteland to a bustling city and one which they both confidently believed would become a great city.
A year and a half later, Horton at the age of seventy-seven married Lydia Knapp, aged forty-seven, whom he had known since New Town’s earliest days. On November 21, 1890, they were joined in the home of their close friends, Mr. and Mrs. E.W. Morse, at Ninth and G Streets. The next day the San Diego Union reported the marriage:
“The founder of San Diego, A.E. Horton, whom every man, woman and child knows as “Father” Horton, took unto himself yesterday for the handsome mansion on the heights, a bride who will adorn it by her natural graces and high cultivation. Mrs. Lydia Maria Knapp is known best here in the Unitarian circle, having resigned the Superintendency of the Sunday School only last week. As art instructor of the Southwest Institute for two years, her skill has spoken for itself. The ceremony was held at the Morse residence. Judge John D. Works, Associate Justice of the State Supreme Court, officiated, and Mr. and Mrs. Morse stood up with them. Roses perfumed the parlor where the party of five sat down to lunch. Then Mr. and Mrs. Horton took the four o’clock train to Los Angeles where they intend to visit Arrowhead and other resorts and will return in ten days. He is thirty years senior of the bride, but is young in heart and certain he will live to see San Diego the metropolis of the coast.”
Lydia presided with grace over the Horton mansion until 1892 when Horton was finally able to sell it. They then moved to a smaller, but still impressive house at 2829 State Street, on what became known as Horton Hill overlooking the bay with an even better view of the ships coming into the harbor. Horton could stand on his veranda and watch the ships from San Francisco coming into the harbor and still have time to get in his carriage and drive down to the wharf to greet the passengers as they disembarked. Horton, with his long flowing beard, dressed in a black frock coat and silk top hat, became San Diego’s official greeter.
Lydia, after her marriage, became even more active in cultural activities and art circles. Painting; which had been a source of income to her, became a hobby, and she continued her interest in the betterment of the status of women. In 1895 a group of prominent women, many long time San Diego residents, organized the Wednesday Club. Its object was stated to be for “artistic and literary culture.” There were thirty-three charter members who chose Lydia Horton as their first President. She was later named their first Honorary Member in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the city. The Wednesday Club has remained one of the more prestigious of the women’s clubs in San Diego, meeting in their club house at Sixth and Ivy Lane, built in 1911.
Lydia had seen the growth of women’s clubs in the east and was anxious to see them get started in San Diego. In 1898 she wrote: “When the history of the last quarter of the 19th Century shall be written … there will come the history of women’s clubs.” She believed strongly that the opportunities of women’s clubs to help workers, the library, children’s homes and to pursue other social needs of the community, would be fostered by the Federation of Women’s Clubs, just beginning to be organized in the United States.
Lydia’s mother, Charlotte Smith, came from Massachusetts to make her home with the Hortons from 1895 to 1898. Both William and Philip Knapp made several visits to San Diego after their mother’s marriage to Horton. They considered making San Diego their home but employment opportunities were better for them in the San Francisco area. Neither cared much for Horton and they were not pleased with the marriage, mainly because of his inability to support her in the style they felt she deserved. When the Spanish American War broke out Philip enlisted in the Volunteer Signal Corps and sailed for Manila under General Arthur MacArthur. During that war Lydia devoted many hours to working with the Red Cross in San Diego and San Francisco, publicizing the needs of our soldiers and raising money for the cause.
Lydia Knapp HortonIn April, 1897, Lydia was first elected a member of the Board of Trustees of the San Diego Public Library. The Library had opened in 1882 in rooms donated by the Consolidated Bank, later moving to the St. James Hotel and in 1898 to the Keating Building, Fifth and F. San Diegans had long been hoping for a library building. In 1896 a drive for a library building had begun after Lydia read a paper at the Wednesday Club entitled “Public Libraries” pointing out the need for a library building. As a result the Wednesday Club raised $500 and donated it to the city to start a library fund. When it became known that Andrew Carnegie was making grants to cities for library buildings, Lydia, as Secretary of the Library Board of Trustees, wrote to Carnegie telling of San Diego’s pressing need for a building. Carnegie replied that he would be glad to give the city $50,000 for a library building if the city would agree to maintain it and provide the site.
San Diegans were jubilant over the prospect of such a generous gift but the question arose as to a suitable location. Several sites were suggested and after much discussion and some controversy the city agreed to purchase a half block on E Street between Eighth and Ninth at a cost of $17,000, the city to pay $9,000 and the rest to be donated by citizens. When it was known that a library for San Diego would become a reality, J. W. Somers, a library trustee, wrote: “To Mrs. Lydia M. Horton, our efficient and honored secretary, we are indebted for securing this great benefaction. The building will in a measure be a memorial to her untiring energy and unselfish devotion to the interest of the public library. We owe her a debt of gratitude that we can never adequately repay.”
The cornerstone was laid March 19, 1901, and after speeches by Judge M.A. Luce and Philip Morse, Lydia Horton read a paper she had written telling the history of the library. Distinguished architects, Ackerman and Ross; of New York, designers of the Congressional Library in Washington, D.C., were selected to design San Diego’s modest building. The Carnegie gift was the first to a library west of the Mississippi. The original grant of $50,000 was augmented by an additional $10,000 making possible a little gem of a building which San Diegans could justly be proud of. The library was completed and opened in 1902.
Lydia served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the library for seven years, and for the rest of her life the library was one of her main interests. The Children’s Room in the library was provided at her suggestion. She was active in other worthwhile projects, serving as a member of the Boards of the Associated Charities and the Children’s Home Association. The welfare of women and children, as well as the poor, was always uppermost in her mind, and to it she devoted her time, energy and speaking ability.
Monthly payment to Horton of $100 by the city of San Diego for sale of his interest in some downtown property (Horton Plaza) terminated in 1903.
It represented a major loss of income and, at age 89, Horton was unable to pursue any gainful employment. So Lydia was obliged to go to work to supplement their meager income. She found employment as Librarian at the State Normal School. The monthly salary of $75 helped ease the loss of the $100 from the city. Her full time employment worked a hardship on her home duties and care of an aged husband, and certainly would not have been undertaken if it were not for their financial need. She continued in this position until after Horton’s death, and this limited her civic and social activities during those years.
Horton continued in remarkably good health and drove around town each day in his horse and buggy inspecting new building and watching with pride the growth of his city. In December 1908 he became ill and was taken to Agnew Sanitarium where he died on January 7, 1909. Masonic funeral services were held in Elks’ Hall on January 9. Prior to the services more than 8,000 people passed before his flower covered casket to pay solemn tribute. The streets were lined with people as the cortege passed bearing his body to its final resting place in Mount Hope Cemetery. His was the largest funeral ever held in San Diego to that time. William and Philip Knapp came from San Francisco to be with their mother, and to help her plan for the future.
Horton left no estate. On December 11, 1897, he had conveyed to Lydia all of his interest in the home on State Street, together with “all other real property in the city of San Diego, also in the county of San Diego, belonging to me or in which I may have any interest.” It was under this latter clause that Lydia’s two sons, as her heirs, many years later received a settlement from the county of San Diego when the county found it necessary to quit title to the land on which the Courthouse was located. It had been donated to the county by Horton with the provision that should the land ever not be used for county purposes title would revert to him. Although property valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars had passed through his hands during his long life, Horton in effect died penniless, the only asset remaining being the State Street property. Lydia was therefore dependent on her salary from the Normal School.
In April 1909, soon after Horton’s death, Lydia requested a raise in salary, pointing out she had been employed as Librarian for six years and during that time there had been a great increase in the number of volumes in the library. However, there is no record that her salary of $75 a month was increased. She was sixty-six years of age, weary and ready to retire, so the following year she submitted her resignation. In April, 1910, she sold the State Street home, and Philip Knapp, who loved and admired his mother and was financially well off, began sending her $100 a month, a contribution he continued as long as she lived. With the money from the sale of her home and the help from her son, she felt financially able to give up her employment.
Still in good health, Lydia Horton now found time to devote to civic and cultural organizations as well as the meetings of her beloved Wednesday Club. She moved in with her friend, Miss Daisy Sheran, who owned a beautiful Victorian house on the corner of Seventh and A, now the site of the University Club. Woman’s Suffrage in California was then a topic under debate. The right of women to vote had long been one of Lydia’s great concerns and so she worked hard for passage of the law that granted woman’s suffrage in California in 1911.
In 1910 plans were being made for an Exposition in San Diego celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal and Lydia was asked to serve on the Women’s Board of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. She was pleased to serve on this committee and watched with enthusiasm the development of a “magic city” on the site selected in City Park, now named Balboa Park. She had many friends in San Francisco which was also having an Exposition at the same time as San Diego’s, and she was invited to serve as an Honorary Vice President of the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. She served during the two expositions with enthusiasm and charm, entertaining visiting dignitaries and acting as hostess at functions both in San Diego and San Francisco.
When the United States entered World War I, Lydia was at the forefront of the dedicated women who wanted to do their share to help in the war effort. She was named Vice Regent of the San Diego Chapter of the U.S. Service League, a civilian organization dedicated to aiding servicemen. She served as Librarian of the organization for two years, devoting almost full time effort to this work for the duration of the war. In October 1917 she was named Grand Marshal of the patriotic escort on departure of one of the first contingent of Liberty Boys from San Diego. She made an imposing figure, very much the genteel dowager, but friendly and easy to talk to, and always interested in everything that was happening around her.
In 1917 she moved into a small frame California bungalow she purchased at 3571 Fifth Street, just around the corner from the Wednesday Club. After the war she continued with her club work and was in demand as a speaker, usually telling about the early days in San Diego as she remembered them. Her son, William, now a widower, moved to San Diego and made his home with her while working as a realtor. In November 1921 she suffered a slight stroke and was hospitalized for several weeks. Her health continued to fail and in 1923 her unmarried sister, Helena Smith, came from Massachusetts to live with them and care for her ailing sister. Although Lydia was confined mostly to home, she kept informed about all that was going on in her city. Friends regularly dropped in to visit, and neighborhood children often stopped in after school to chat. San Diegans who recall those visits remember her as a frail, but alert and regal appearing old lady, who seemed interested in everything they had to say.
In 1924 she was interviewed by a reporter from the San Diego Union who described her as a “book and flower” lady who lived with her son in a small bungalow and who read much of the time, surrounded by flowers. “She’s genteel and unobtrusive, has raised a family, taught school, swelled the family exchequer … and did a man-sized job in working for the success of the Exposition in 1915.”
In 1924 she suffered a more severe stroke and was taken again to St. Joseph’s Hospital where she remained for nineteen months. During those months William visited her daily and when she was able took her for a drive. Other times they sat and visited in the sun parlor of the hospital. She longed to go home, and so finally was taken there where she could be in familiar surroundings with her beloved books and flowers. It was here that she passed away on October 17, 1926.
The San Diego Union in reporting her death referred to her as a famous pioneer woman who, as the widow of “Father” Alonzo Horton might well be called “Mother” of San Diego because of her long association with the city and her many good works in connection with civic development.
The well attended funeral was held at Johnson–Saum Chapel with Dr. Roy Campbell, Pastor of the First Congregational Church, officiating. He read Psalms 84, 91 and 103, and gave as his reason for selecting these passages “that only jubilant passages fitted the crowning experience of so rich and enriching – so triumphant a life.” Burial was in the Horton plot in Mount Hope Cemetery where Horton, his parents and his former wife, Sarah, had already been buried.
In her will, Lydia left some small bequests to her two sisters and several nieces and nephews. To her friend Daisy Sheran she left a blue oriental prayer rug, and to Horton’s niece, Mary Horton Titus, ten teaspoons marked “Horton” and a small bust of Horton. The residue of her modest estate went to her two sons.
For more than forty years she had been an ardent supporter of causes that would give women more opportunities. She had worked and spoken for woman suffrage and lived to see it come to pass. She participated in women’s services in three wars, the Civil War, the Spanish American War and World War I. A New Englander who pioneered in California and then was obliged to work to support herself and her children, and in later years to support an aged husband, and who devoted many years to actively promoting cultural and civic projects, Lydia Knapp Horton was a gracious example of an early “liberated” woman.
[from MacPhail, Elizabeth C. “Lydia Knapp Horton: A ‘Liberated’ Woman in Early San Diego.” The Journal of San Diego History 27.1 (Winter 1981): 17-41.]
Return to Biography.