Save The Graves – 2023

J. & J. Blair – A Family Affair

Save the Graves returned to Placerville Union Cemetery on October 21, 2023. Guests enjoyed portrayals of the Blair family of El Dorado County, and spent the day getting a glimpse of what it was like to be an early influencer in El Dorado County. The legacy of the four Blair brothers who immigrated from Scotland in the mid 1800’s runs wide and deep in El Dorado County and beyond.

Save the Graves 2023 October Event – Placerville Union Cemetery

Pauline Larsen Blair
December 16, 1855—June 3, 1944

Born in 1855 to Norwegian pioneers in the Utah territory, Pauline Larsen Blair traveled with her family by wagon to El Dorado County at just 5 years of age. During the journey across Nevada, their wagon train was attacked by Indians, but Pauline and her family survived. Upon settling in El Dorado County, the Larsens established orchards. Her father, Nels Theodore Emil Larsen, was the first to plant pears east of Placerville. In 1876, Pauline was wed to Matthew Blair, Jr. They went on to have eight children, whom she raised to be proud and responsible citizens of El Dorado County. In her later years, Pauline insisted she be allowed to drive the latest automobile contraption. She began driving at the young age of 70 years old and found the new pastime to be absolutely exhilarating. It is impossible to overstate the influence that Pauline’s family – the Larsens and Blairs – have played in El Dorado County’s agricultural industry over the last 170+ years.

Mary Elizabeth “Mollie” Wilcox Hurd
February 1870—February 18, 1929

Born in Placerville in 1870 to a successful frontiersman and merchant, Truman Wilcox, and his wife, Mary Robertson, Mollie was the niece of John and Jane Robertson Blair. Her father, Truman, was not only bound to the Blairs by marriage but also through several lucrative business partnerships. The Wilcox store and warehouse were located on Upper Main Street near the intersection at Broadway. After graduating from a private high school, Mollie relocated to Southern California, where she met her first husband, Frank Stoddard. Frank was the nephew of Elizabeth Stoddard Huntington, wife to Collis P. Huntington of the Central Pacific Railroad. Like others in his family, Frank worked in the railroad industry. His family connections and executive career in railroads elevated Mollie as an important figure in Los Angeles’ philanthropic circles. Aside from raising their two children, Mollie threw herself into the important work of women’s and children’s aid societies. Mollie was instrumental in compelling the state legislature to take up and pass a bill that required fathers to pay child support regardless of whether or not the child was born in or out of wedlock. Following a divorce from Frank Stoddard after their children had grown, Mollie married an old acquaintance and friend, former Los Angeles area state senator, Henry M. Hurd. They were frequent visitors to Placerville, where they owned the Pioneer Lodge. Mollie Wilcox Hurd remained close to her extended Blair family throughout her life. She was also an early supporter of the Placerville Shakespeare Club, and upon her death in 1929, she bequeathed a generous donation to build the historic Shakespeare Club building. Today, every year on her birthday, Shakespeare Club members visit Mollie’s grave and leave flowers upon her memorial.

Matthew Blair I
1825—January 19, 1867

Matthew Blair was born in Renfrewshire, Scotland, in 1822, the eldest son among six children. Matthew grew up in a respectable working-class family of weavers. In 1846 he married Isabella Murray, and they began a family of their own. By 1850, Matthew was bound for the United States with his brother James Blair, the two following in brother John’s footsteps. Settling in the Midwest as a day laborer, Matthew soon sent for his wife and children. By 1860, his younger bachelor brothers, John and James, had become successful entrepreneurs in El Dorado County, California. It was decided that Matthew and his now adolescent and adult children would join the rest of the family in the west. They traveled by way of the Isthmus of Panama and soon settled in the area known today as Pollock Pines. Matthew and his son, Matthew Jr., leased the Long Canyon mill from his brothers James and John, where they worked the land and provided a steady stream of fresh lumber for the J. & J. Blair Lumberyard in Placerville. Tragedy struck when in 1847 Matthew died in a freak accident at the sawmill. He was only 41 years old. Today, Matthew’s descendants still live on the very land he was working when he died. The Harris Family Farm is the Easternmost of the Apple Hill farms. Their pie shop still bakes Blair family recipes, and Matthew’s remarkable journey from Scotland to El Dorado County, followed by his tragic death, is shared with visitors to the farm to this day.

Marion Blair Harris
December 24, 1878—July 5, 1965

Born in Placerville in 1878 to Matthew Blair, II, and Pauline Larsen Blair, Marion Blair Harris was the eldest daughter among her eight siblings. She was raised between the family home on Clay Street and the historic Blair mill site/ranch in Pollock Pines. As a student at El Dorado High School, Marion excelled at academics, being particularly gifted in mathematics. In 1912, she married local orchardist John Harris, and together they raised four children. She was passionate about family and preserving the Blair legacy in El Dorado County. Her sons later partnered with their cousins in the 1940s to establish “Blair Brothers Lumber Co.”. Marion and John planted pears and later apples on the old Blair family ranch and operated a successful orchard. When her parents died and the farm was slated to leave the family, Marion pooled resources with her son Blair Harris and bought out her siblings to keep the farm in the family. Today, the farm continues to be operated by Marion’s grandchildren and is known as the Harris Family Farm.

Mabel Blair Birdsall
September 15, 1877—July 27, 1947

Born in 1877 as the youngest child of John and Jane Blair, Mabel lived in Placerville with her 3 living siblings until the age of 10 when her family relocated to Sacramento to expand the Blair business empire. In Sacramento, Mabel attended high school and became the Belle of Sacramento’s young social scene. In 1898, she married Ernest Stratton Birdsall in what was considered to be Sacramento’s biggest wedding of the decade. Mable and Ernest settled in Auburn where she helped Ernest to expand and grow his family’s successful olive oil empire. In the years that followed, Mabel partnered with Ernest in support of his political campaigns for the state legislature. Birdsall was victorious and represented Placerville and other Sierra Foothill counties in the senate. Mabel Blair Birdsall raised three daughters with Ernest. She never forgot her Placerville roots and would often stay locally for extended periods of time while attending to family business and other affairs.

Lora Kyburz Blair
December 5, 1877 — September 30, 1957

Lora Kyburz was born on the Clarksville ranch of her late pioneer grandfather, Samuel Kyburz, in 1877. Though they were working-class dairy farmers, the Kyburz family was proud of their rich heritage in the state of California. Samuel was actually an assistant to John Sutter at his fort in Sacramento well before the start of the gold rush. Lora was raised understanding that to be a Kyburz was something to be proud of. Her father later bought a resort town near Silver Fork off modern Highway 50 and named it Kyburz in honor of his father (Lora’s grandfather), Samuel. Lora was an adventurous, hardworking, and lively young woman who enjoyed taking biking excursions around the county at a time when it wasn’t necessarily considered lady-like to do so. Around 1896, Lora acquired her teaching certificate, and for over a decade, she worked as a teacher in small schoolhouses throughout El Dorado County. She later married Matthew Blair, III. Lora and Matthew raised their family in the old Turner Residence off Upper-Main, where they would host Blair family watch parties during Wagon Train Days. Together they had four children, one of whom, Matthew Gordon Blair, would go on to become Mayor of Placerville and also joined with his cousins to establish the Blair Brothers Lumber Company. Lora died in 1957 and spent her entire life as a proud resident of El Dorado County.

John Blair
February 23, 1824—March 12, 1907

Born in Paisley Scotland in 1824, John Blair was the first of his family to arrive in El Dorado County in 1852. Shortly thereafter he acquired the Sportsman’s Hall, which with his brother James Blair, John expanded into a thriving inn along the busy Carson Rd. John and James soon acquitted thousands of acres of forestland throughout modern day Camino and Pollock Pines, established mills and founded the J & J Blair Lumber Company. For the next 100 years, the Blair name became synonymous with quality, integrity, and value in El Dorado County. Eventually, John and James Blair became two of Placerville’s most affluent and well-respected entrepreneurs. The first Blair lumberyard was located at the corner of Cedar Ravine and Main Streets. Additionally, the J. & J. Blair Lumber Company expanded into mining interests, gravel production, railroads, general building materials, as well as soaps, tallow, and hides. Known locally as the “genial Scotchman”, John Blair was very civic minded and highly influential in the development and improvement of early Placerville and its surrounds. His home on Cedar Ravine Rd–built during the Civil War–still stands and is known today as the Judge Thompson House (named for a later owner). There he and wife, Jane Blair, raised their 6 children.

James “Bud” Blair III
October 29, 1909—May 23, 1992

Born in 1909 in Placerville to James Blair, II, and Erla Blair, James “Bud” Blair III was the grandson of Amanda Schooley and James Blair I. Ernest W. Blair was his uncle. Well known for his athleticism, Bud was active in the athletics programs of El Dorado High School. In 1928, he left Placerville to study business at Cal Berkeley, where he was recruited to the University’s celebrated men’s rowing team. At 6’2, Bud was the smallest man of the crew. In 1932, his team was selected to represent the United States in the Los Angeles Olympic games. In a surprise upset, their team brought home the gold medal in men’s rowing for the United States, making Bud the first Olympic gold medalist in El Dorado County. After serving in the South Pacific during WWII, Bud returned to El Dorado County and married Gayle Lockhart of Placerville. For nearly 30 years he worked as the manager of the Placerville Fruit Growers Exchange. One of his key accomplishments was helping to guide the Fruit growers exchange through the difficult transition from pears to apples after the devastating pear blight obliterated crops countywide. Bud was a lifelong volunteer for causes supporting the public good, including the El Dorado County Historical Society (where he served as treasurer) as well as a docent of the El Dorado County Historical Museum.

Ernest William “E.W.” Blair
August 2, 1882—August 2, 1953

Born in Placerville in 1882, Ernest William Blair was the second son and fifth child to James and Amanda Blair. Ernest was a precocious teenager and excelled at anything he put his mind to. At a young age he took an interest in photography and even had a dark room/development space in his parents’ home on Cedar Ravine. As a young adult, Ernest chose not to follow in the family business like his brother, James Jr. – who would go on to manage the family lumber business – Ernest was more interested in finance. In his late teens and early 20s Ernest worked as an agent for Wells Fargo shipping. In 1908 he accepted an offer to work for the J. S. Cook Bank in Goldfield Nevada during a mining boom there. He also married Minnie Nichols, the daughter of a pioneer Folsom family in 1908. Together they had three children: Helen, Seward, and Ernest Jr. Aside from his lifetime career as a banker, Ernest and Minnie also ran a successful farm and restaurant. His wife, Minnie Nichols Blair, later went on to be awarded the Distinguished Nevadan award by the University of Nevada. In 1977, the Minnie P. Blair Middle School was named for and dedicated to her.

Amanda Schooley Blair
February 1, 1842—May 13, 1916

Amanda Schooley was born in 1842, the middle of 8 children to Ezra and Nancy Schooley of upstate New York. Amanda was a cousin to the family of William H. Seward, U.S. Secretary of State in the administration of Abraham Lincoln, and was a frequent inhabitant of the Seward household as the companion to their young daughter, Fanny Seward. In 1850, Amanda’s father, Ezra, left NY in pursuit of gold in California. He died just 10-miles outside of Coloma that same year. Upon reaching adulthood, Amanda made her way to El Dorado County with her mother and several siblings. She was wed to James Blair of J & J Blair Lumber fame in 1862. The newlyweds first lived at Sportsman’s Hall until 1865, when they built a home on Cedar Ravine Rd. just across the street from James’ brother and business partner, John. Together James and Amanda raised 6 children in Placerville. Amanda was a skilled seamstress and many of her handiworks have been preserved to this day. She was proud of her familial connection to the Sewards and even lobbied one of her sons, Ernest, to name his first son Seward in honor of her cousins. Amanda’s grandson, James, III, would later become El Dorado County’s first Olympic gold medalist in 1932. Amanda raised her children to be strong and self-sufficient. All three of her sons, James, Ernest, and Roy, went on to become successful businessmen–much like their father–James I.

Abigail Pearson Blair
1848—August 13, 1940

Amanda The Blairs – fellow Scotsmen with a lumberyard located just next door – encouraged the introduction of Abigail to their younger brother Robert in the early 1870s. The couple soon began courting and were married shortly thereafter. Together, Abigail and Robert raised a family of four children from their residence at the corner of Cedar Ravine and Pacific Streets in Placerville. Their daughter, Jessie, went on to marry neighbor William “Bert” Combellack and raise a family of her own just a few doors down on Cedar Ravine. Abigail Pearson Blair was a devoted wife, mother, and grandmother who was highly involved in maintaining a sense of closeness with extended Blair family members as the elder Blairs, such as John and James, began to pass away. Her husband, Robert, was the last surviving original Blair brother when John Studebaker returned to Placerville in 1912 for a reunion with the old-timers who were there at the time of the gold rush. It is through the scrapbooks of Abigail and her daughters that many accounts of Blair family history have been preserved.