Walter Blair (April 2, 1830–January 17, 1888) was a dairy farmer, capitalist, founder of Blair's Park, and once owned a large piece of what is now the city of Piedmont.
Walter was born April 2, 1830 in Ryegate, Vermont, to farmers of Scottish descent, and was one of 12 children. Amazingly, all 12 seemed to have survived into adulthood, but their mother died in 1842 when the youngest was 4 years old. Walter's father William Blair (September 12, 1789–September 29, 1853) then married Vermont-born Agnes Nelson (Blair) (May 10, 1804–October 13, 1874) in 1845. Sadly, Agnes died of consumption (tuberculosis). Several of Walter's siblings, Margaret Gray Blair (Dennison) (December 31, 1835–August 25, 1919) and Josephine Victoria Blair (Young) (January 13, 1838–April 22, 1917), ended up in Oakland, and two others elsewhere in California.
Walter came to California during the gold rush and settled in Piedmont in the 1852. 1 He purchased 600 acres of land from Peraltas for $1.25 per acre, and started a dairy farm. He married Phebe Ann Harvey (Blair) (July 29, 1835–February 6, 1918) in 1862 in Napa. They had two daughters, Florence Ethel Blair (January, 1864–1924) and Mabel E. Blair (Squire) (May, 1868–1930).
The 1870 census lists Walter and Phebe as living in Oakland; in 1877 they were living at The Centennial on Fourteenth Street in Oakland. They were members of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland.
Mabel married Henry P. Squire of Oakland in 1893. The 1900 census lists her as married, but living with her sister Florence in Piedmont; in 1910 Phebe was living in Berkeley with Henry and Mabel, while Florence still lived in Piedmont, near the corner of Vernal (now Highland) Avenue and Blair Avenue.
Blair started as a dairy farmer, but seems to have quickly found real estate and other interests to be profitable. He built the Piedmont Springs Hotel (1871), founded Blair's Park (1884) and opened the Dracena Quarry to sell the rock to the burgeoning city of Oakland and nearby Mountain View Cemetery. He also was president of the Oakland Piedmont Railroad Company / Broadway and Piedmont Railroad [ see 1887 directory ] which transported people up to Blair's Park near what is now Highland Avenue in Piedmont.
In 1874 he was a director of the Oakland Bank of Savings. He was a shareholder in the Wentworth Boot and Shoe Company (c.1883-1887). But the 1887 directory still lists him as the proprietor of Blair's Dairy at Peralta and Montecito in Piedmont, as well as railroad president.
Death and Burial
Walter died January 17, 1888, only 57 years old. He is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in plot 28. Blair Avenue in Piedmont was named for him.
Links and References
- History of Piedmont on city of Piedmont website
- Walter Blair on Lives of the Dead