Charles Augustus Wetmore

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Charles Augustus Wetmore

Also Known As: "Chas. A. Wetmore"
Birthdate: (80)
Birthplace: Portland, Cumberland County, Maine, United States
Death: June 10, 1927 (80)
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Jesse Lamereux Wetmore and Matilda H. Harmer
Husband of Anna D. Smith
Father of Henrietta Victoria Wetmore

Occupation: Vintner, Lawyer, Lobbyist, Land Rights Activist, Author, Journalist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Charles Augustus Wetmore


Written by Theodore S. Van Dyke (1888)

Charles Augustus Wetmore was born in Portland, Maine, January 20, 1847, but came to California when nine years of age with his mother and other members of the family, whither his father, Jesse L. Wetmore, who was one of the pioneers of the State and prominent in the early days in the development of San Francisco, had preceded them. In his business as a contractor he built the old Meiggs Wharf, and the first Music Hall in the city. Afterwards he was engaged for fourteen years in railroad building, and opening guano mines in Chili, Bolivia, and Peru.

In 1859 Charles, then twelve years old, while a student in the Hyde Street Grammar School, in company with R. L. Taber, edited, printed, and published the Young Californian, which was the first juvenile paper on the coast. He afterward attended the Oakland College School preparatory to entering the College of California in 1864, from which he graduated, being valedictorian of his class in 1868, at the age of twenty-one.

During the last year of his college course young Wetmore's activity of mind drew his attention to the labor problem and he became Secretary of the House Carpenters' Eight Hour League. He soon succeeded in organizing all the leagues of Alameda County into the Mechanics' Institute, of which he was elected President. While living at home he paid all his college expenses. During the last two years of his college course he was the Oakland reporter for the San Francisco Bulletin. His vacations were spent in exploring the State on practical missions. In the summer vacation of 1866 he took charge of the leveling party of an expedition which was conducted under a State appropriation, directed by Hon. Charles F. Reed, in the Sacramento Valley, to determine the practicability and cost of bringing the waters of the Sacramento from Red Bluff, along the Coast Range, through the counties of Tehama, Colusa, Yolo and Solano. In 1867 he devoted the summer, at the request of the college authorities, to canvassing the central, northern and mining counties on behalf of the proposed erection of a State university. His success in awakening public sentiment was so great that, when at the next session the question came before the Legislature, there was practically no opposition to the plan of the founders of the College of California, whose magnificent property at Berkeley was accepted by the State as the first endowment of what is now the State University. As a testimony of their appreciation of his labors the trustees declined to accept any further payment of dues from Mr. Wetmore. He was also honored by having the degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts conferred upon him. On the day of graduation he was elected Secretary and Treasurer of the Associated Alumni of the Pacific.

In 1868, immediately after his graduation, Mr Wetmore came to San Diego, which it was even then whispered was to be a future commercial metropolis. He had a strong taste for journalism and he intended to publish a newspaper, but changed his mind and established a real estate agency, the first one in the new city. He had had printed an outline map of the harbor and had copies of it placed conspicuously in San Francisco offices to attract attention. In company with Mr. Winfield Curtis he negotiated his first sale—the San Bernardo Ranch. At that time the first small house was being built on Fifth Street in Horton's Addition, and the business of the town was conducted in Old San Diego. There was no wharf and no railroad.

Studying law and searching records led him into partnership with Solon P. S. Sanborn, a very able lawyer, then practicing here. The members of the firm devoted themselves to unraveling and perfecting old land titles. There were a horde of squatters here then, who, influenced by unprincipled lawyers, were misled into seizing of the property of absent owners with the hope of defeating their titles. They claimed that the city lands had been improperly disposed of and a reign of confusion was threatened. Mr. Wetmore was one of the organizers and a leading member of the Pueblo League, whose mission it was to protect the interests of bona fide holders of property from the raids of these land sharks. An attempt was made at one time to steal Cleveland's Addition, and Mr. Wetmore, in company with Clarence L. Carr and Major Swope, armed for defense, rode up from Old Town, destroyed the string fences before they were completed, and stood guard all day to prevent further aggression. On another occasion, by his prompt and energetic action, he thwarted the scheme of a party of real estate pirates who attempted to steal one hundred and forty acres, including the present site of the court-house and all the land from the bay to Horton's Addition, on the north side of D Street.

This unequal contest became uncomfortably warm for all parties and a bill was drawn up by Messrs. Wetmore and Sanborn, confirming the act of the old Alcaldes and city trustees, and urged before the Legislature so strongly by Mr. Wetmore that it was passed. This put an end to the squatter controversy and laid the foundation for public confidence in land titles in San Diego.

During the dull period following the dry season of 1869-70 Mr. Wetmore joined his father in his railroad work in the Cordilleras of Peru, for one year. Upon his return to California he became attached to the editorial staff of the Alta California. He was soon sent to Washington as the special correspondent of that paper, and while at the national capital he had frequent opportunity to aid San Diego in her contests with giant monopolies. He secured for the ex-mission lands the United States Patents, which expedited the settlement of titles to our neighboring lands. During his stay in Washington he was a member of the Land Attorneys' Association.

In 1875 he was appointed by the Government special commissioner to report upon the condition of the Mission Indians in this county, and during a flurry of excitement along the Mexican border he secured an order of the War Department establishing the military post, which is still here.

In 1878 he was appointed delegate for the California Viticultural Association to the Paris Exposition. The letters written during his study of vineyards in France to the Alta California created a sensation throughout the country, and aroused the people to the importance of developing viticulture on a grander scale than had been dreamed of before.

On his return from Paris he married a young lady of Washington and abandoned journalism, returning to California to reside permanently. He perfected the organization of the State Viticultural Commission and for several years he devoted his whole time and all his energy to the development of the industry which he had aroused. As one of the members of the State Board, Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer and later President of the National Viticultural Association organized in Washington in 1886, Mr. Wetmore accomplished an amount of work in behalf of California's viticultural interests that it is almost impossible to estimate.

During all these years he managed to make occasional visits to San Diego, always looking upon it as his permanent home. The Escondido town site and vineyards were laid out under his influence by a company organized in Stockton, of which he was a member, but which subsequently transferred the property to the present management.

During the past summer Mr. Wetmore opened an office in San Diego, having resigned his position as Chief Executive Officer of the State Viticultural Commission, and is once more an active citizen of San Diego. Here, surrounded by his family, he purposes settling down to enjoy the fruition of many years of past hopes. He has done much in the past towards laying the foundation that led to the development of the San Diego of to-day. In the future his active energy and indomitable pluck will aid in building up the great city that is bound to be.

From A History of Wines in America

From its founding in 1880 the board's dominating member was Charles Wetmore, one of the first graduates of the University of California, a San Francisco journalist, and a restless, tactless, enterprising man of considerable talent and great confidence. Arpad Haraszthy was president of the board for the first eight years of its existence, but the energy behind most of its activities came from Wetmore. He was one of the original commissioners, representing the county of Napa; when the office of chief executive officer was created in 1881, Wetmore stepped into the position and held it for the next six years. It was he who directed the surveys, collected the statistics, translated European technical treatises, arranged for publication of the board's reports and instructions, set the research policies of the board, and supervised its experiments. He travelled up and down the state to address meetings and inspect vineyards; he lobbied in Washington, publicized and promoted in New York, represented California wine at expositions. And all the time he poured out an inexhaustible flood of articles on every subject connected with grapes and wine in California, both technical and popular. In the eighties he was virtually synonymous with California wine to the public.

He did not do all this without stepping on toes, for he was quick to take the initiative against what he saw as obstructions and enemies. He resigned as chief executive officer in 1887, but remained a commissioner; a year later he became president of the board; in the next year, 1889, he became chief executive officer again, adding the title to that of the presidency. Though his presidency ended in 1890, he remained chief executive until 1891, when his connection with the board ceased. It is probably more than a coincidence that the energetic days of the board ended with Wetmore's departure. But the Wetmore connection was not yet broken, for Charles's brother Clarence, who had also served the board in various ways, succeeded as chief executive. Charles Wetmore is now best remembered as the founder of the original Cresta Blanca Winery in the Livermore Valley in 1882; he should also be remembered for his vital part in the operation of the Viticultural Commission in the first ten years, the effective decade of the board's work.

Partial Listing of Publications by Charles Augustus Wetmore

  • Propagation of the vine: How to regulate vineyards by the use of seedlings. A treatise illustrating the superiority of constitutionally perfect roots. Also an essay on the physical and moral influence of the vine (1880) [Viticulture]
  • Ampelography of California. A discussion of vines now known in the state, together with comments on their adaptability to certain locations and uses (1884)[Viticulture]
  • Treatise on wine production and special reports on wine examinations, the tariff and internal revenue taxes, and chemical analyses (1884)
  • How to raise the price of grapes: and an analysis of the sweet wine law (1891) [Viticulture]
  • The Silver Commission Report: questions concerning money which Americans must consider ; the issue for future political parties [Silver Currency]
  • Report [of] Chas. A. Wetmore, special U. S. Commissioner of Mission Indians of Southern California (1875) [Indians of North America]


  • 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls. Year: 1900; Census Place: Stockton Ward 1, San Joaquin, California; Roll: T623_108; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 109.
  • Passport Applications, 1795–1905. NARA Microfilm Publication M1372, 694 rolls. General Records Department of State, Record Group 59. U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2007. Original data: National Archives, Washington, D.C. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington D.C.; Passport Applications, 1795-1905; ARC Identifier 566612 / MLR Number A1 508; NARA Series: M1372; Roll #224.
  • Pinney, Thomas. A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1989-1989. p.350. Link
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Charles Augustus Wetmore's Timeline

January 20, 1847
Portland, Cumberland County, Maine, United States
- 1868
Age 16
Berkeley, California, United States
Age 34
Livermore, California, United States
October 23, 1885
Age 38
California, USA
- 1892
Age 41
Livermore, California, United States
June 10, 1927
Age 80
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States