Friday, June 18, 2021

O.C. pioneer Alfred Hawley: Free love cultist, socialist, gun dealer and baseball benefactor

Alfred & Elizabeth Hawley (From Spencer Olin's 1979 article)

Pioneers were hardly ever the "Ma and Pa Ingalls" stereotypes we all know from television. One example is colorful Santa Ana and Newport Beach pioneer Alfred E. Hawley, whose tale covers some unexpected ground. 

Hawley was born in Cambridge, Vermont in 1847. When his mother died, he moved with his father to Oneida, New York. While attending school there, he met Elizabeth Mallery who later became his wife. Soon after marriage, he went into manufacturing and became superintendent of the Wescot Chuck Co. in Oneida (making lathes and drill chucks).

In both Vermont and New York, “we heard glowing accounts of this land of promise" in Southern California, Alfred told the Santa Ana Register in 1923. "Eventually this was what brought me west. Originally, I came out on a visit. I liked it so well, I went back home, closed my affairs, and came west to stay. I have never regretted my decision. The fishing is good, the people are good, business is good, and Santa Ana is the best ever. What more could I ask?"

His account left out some interesting details. For instance, Alfred was among the “Townerites” – a dissident faction of the Oneida Perfectionists' "Bible communist," free-love, utopian community. This group had come west to Santa Ana under the leadership of J. W. Towner who became a key figure in the creation of Orange County and was the county's first Superior Court judge.

"Prior to their departure from New York, the Townerites had carefully formulated a plan for acquiring land in California," wrote Spencer Olin, Jr. in his article, "Bible Communism and the Origins of Orange County" (California History, Vol. LVIII, 1979). "Towner probably drafted the article of agreement dated September 1881, which made Julius Hawley, Roswell B. Hawley, Alfred E. Hawley, Frederick A. Marks, Martha J. Marks, Edwin S. Nash, Charlotte S. Reid, and William A. Hinds copartners for the purpose of purchasing land. . . . By combining their limited financial resources . . . [they] were able to raise $26,200 for purchasing a substantial block of land soon after their arrival in Santa Ana. The 458-acre Ross tract near the western boundary of the city was purchased and then divided among the copartners.”

Alfred Hawley also bought land for himself around Santa Ana as early as 1882, but did not move into the area until 1887. 

A later photo of A. E. Hawley.

In Santa Ana, Hawley experienced firsthand a bit of the old “Wild West” before it faded away. Jack rabbits and packs of coyotes could be on downtown streets. Election nights were marked by bonfires and street fights. "Fourth street, notorious for its saloons, was a dusty thoroughfare in summer [and] a veritable sea of mud in winter,” he later recalled. “In the block where I had my little shack, purchased in the '80s, there were at least five saloons. The grogshops, doing a flourishing business, got many a dollar of the hard-earned wages of the men who were struggling to put Santa Ana on the map."

Upon arrival in Santa Ana, Hawley bought a small stock of sporting goods from J. P. Hutchens (another former Oneida Perfectionist) and then opened his own gun and sporting goods shop on the north side of Fourth St., downtown. The shop moved to various locations around the business district over the years as new buildings or better rent became available. Most of the locations were on 4th Street, but its final location was at 305 N. Sycamore St. 

At some point, he built a baseball diamond on the back of his lot, which served as a home to the team he sponsored: the Santa Ana Yellow Sox. Notably, the team’s 1906-1908 lineup included Walter "Big Train" Johnson of Olinda, who went on to become the greatest pitcher who’d ever played the game. It’s said that another of Hawley’s Yellow Sox was Arnold "Chick" Gandil who is now best remembered as the ringleader of the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal.

Hawley also acted as the promoter of the West 9th Street Baseball Park -- another early baseball diamond in Orange County. Naturally, more interest in sports meant more customers buying sports equipment.

The vast majority of sales at Hawley’s sporting goods shop were innocuous enough. But sometimes guns ended up in the wrong hands, as in one incident he later described: “It was not unusual for a man to come in and ask for a weapon, and we thought nothing of this incident at the time. In a very short time, however, that man, using the same weapon, walked down Fourth Street and killed an inoffensive Mexican."

The Hawleys moved to Newport Beach in August 1888, during the town’s early development boom, and built about eight houses there – most of which they rented out. Meanwhile, they continued to maintain the sporting goods business in Santa Ana. 

Walter Johnson (center row, third from left) among his fellow Santa Ana Yellow Sox.  (Floyd H. Mitchell Collection) 

Hawley was a prominent member of the Socialist Party in Orange County and wrote a regular column for the Santa Ana Blade. He ran for the Fifth District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisor in 1906. However, he received only 37 of the 849 votes cast and came in a distant third to winner George W. Angle.

Throughout the 1920s, Hawley was often consulted when people wanted to know what Santa Ana was like in the early years. He retired from his store in 1926, turning the business over to his son, Otto J. Hawley. Alfred  Hawley died after an extended period of illness, in 1930.

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