William Worthington Chipman – Alameda’s co-founder

William Worthington Chipman was born in 1820 in Vermont and grew up in Ohio, where he served as a school principal and studied law. In 1850, he came to San Francisco (via Panama) and set up a “Reading Room and Intelligence Office,” with newspapers from many cities as well as a register of “miners and strangers.”

In 1851, Chipman and his business partner Gideon Aughinbaugh purchased the Encinal de San Antonio, an oak-covered peninsula which was part of the rancho of Antonio Maria Peralta, for $14,000. Chipman was hoping to establish a thriving town, while Auginbaugh’s dream was to plan commercial orchards for the lucrative San Francisco market. They imported fruit trees from the East, and auctioned off lots.

Ambrotype of William W Chipman
c. 1850 Ambrotype of Alameda co-founder W. W. Chipman, from the Museum collection, displayed in a Victorian-era case, provided by George Gunn

An entry from Chipman’s diary, dated May 4, 1853, reads, “Three years ago, I landed on these golden shores. A remarkable country I have found.” He predicted that within 30 years, the celebrity of the metropolis of San Francisco would equal New York, Liverpool, and London. Another diary entry compares Alameda to San Francisco: “This is certainly a beautiful town. In contrast of San Francisco, its dust, its law suits, its chilling winds, are striking.” He made many references to the flourishing agricultural economy, but he also complained about the loneliness of being a bachelor at 33 years old, with “no wife to pull my hair or share my bed.” Four years later, he married the beautiful Caroline McLean (whose wedding dress is in the Alameda Museum collection). Caroline Street is named after Mrs. Chipman, and she also selected the names for three other Alameda streets – Mozart, Verdi, and Weber, named after her favorite composers.

Chipman was no longer alone, but he had an increasingly bleak view of the world, stemming in part from his business problems. Lawsuits against squatters depleted his capital, putting his Alameda real estate into the pockets of lawyers. In an 1855 diary entry, Chipman describes a confrontation between himself and a lawyer in Sacramento: “I was obliged to turn upon him and beat him soundly – very soundly.”

Aughinbaugh and Chipman undertook expensive projects – roads, wharves, ferryboats, bridges. Unfortunately, they did not have sufficient capital to carry out their plans, and they ended up selling most of the peninsula to investors to pay Peralta. By the late 1850’s, the co-founders lost control of the community they had brought into being. After Chipman’s death in 1873, his family moved from San Francisco into a house at the foot of Weber Street in Alameda, on a remnant of W. W. Chipman’s once vast landholdings.

In 1989 and 1990, Woody Minor wrote a series of articles about Alameda’s founders, W. W. Chipman and Gideon Aughinbaugh, for the Museum Quarterly. Woody researched history about Chipman and his family, with excerpts from Chipman’s extensive diaries. The information contained here is derived from Woody’s original articles. It was first published in the Fall, 2006 Alameda Museum Quarterly.