Alfred W. Burrell (1820-1893) may have been the silent fourth partner to Oakland’s founding trio: Horace Carpentier, Edson Adams and Andrew J. Moon.1

Burrell served on the 1852 Board of Trustees, which existed before the first City Council in 1854. 1

Burrell was born in Vermont and came to California in 1851 seeking (what else?) gold. He first arrived in San Francisco but moved to Oakland (can you blame him?). Oakland then consisted of 3 wooden buildings at the foot of Broadway. He built a hotel – the first – on Second Street between Washington and Clay in 1854; it was called the City Hotel. 1 In 1859 he quit the hotel and bought 160 acres “at Claremont” and turned it into a ranch. He worked at this until 1863 when he moved back to town – 312 Third Street – and worked at, you guessed it, real estate.

Horace Carpentier, a friend of Burrell’s, liked to stay at the City Hotel. Rumor has it that Burrell once foiled an assassination attempt on Carpentier that was to have taken place behind a lumber pile on First Street. Another time, Burrell warned Carpentier that he was at risk of being drowned. When Carpentier was taken out on a boat he was prepared when the boat capsized in a creek. It wasn’t just Carpentier that Burrell was friendly with – he also could soothe angry tempers on the waterfront, but it seems we have him to thank for Carpentier’s survival.

We also have Burrell to thank for bestowing the waterfront on Carpentier: on May 7th, 1852, only 5 days after Oakland’s first incorporation, Burrell introduced an ordinance that would grant Carpentier the whole waterfront in exchange for a schoolhouse and a wharf(!) (some sources say 3 small wharves.) And Carpentier didn’t even build the schoolhouse. The Board of Trustees suspended the rules and rushed the ordinance through. It passed unanimously. 2

Burrell didn’t make out like a bandit, though. Oakland: The Story of a City says ”Reportedly, he owned a fourth share equal to those of the famous three, but lost it through naivete, poor management, or bad luck.” 1 Burrell’s daughter Ellen/Helen became a world traveler and journalist who, writing under the pen name, Olive Harper, produced a prolific collection of poetry, plays, dime novels4 as well as newspaper and magazine articles that appeared in publications across the U.S. She wrote a manuscript called The Stormy Petrel, and indicates her father fell behind on taxes (besides the ranch at Claremont, he had more property along Telegraph, too) and gave away much of the land. Bagwell says Ellen's writings are indexed at the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library under "Helen [sic] Burrell D'Apery" (name from her second marriage), while an excerpt available at the Oakland History Room is under "Ellen Burrell Gibson" (name from her first marriage). It appears the former index has been fixed.

Links and References

  1. Oakland: The Story of a City. by Beth Bagwell. Oakland Heritage Alliance: 2012
  2. “OAKLAND NEWS: Death of A. W. Burrell, an Old Pione`er – He Saved Carpentier’s Life Twice.” San Francisco Chronicle: Dec 10, 1893.
  3. The Stormy Petrel by Ellen D'Apery, at UC Berkeley Bancroft Library
  4. /www.mysteryfile.com/Harper/Compleat.html