Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Forgotten Ones Who Built Locke

A somewhat forgotten part of Locke's history are the stories of those who actually built the town itself. Whether you choose to believe that the Chinese built it or not, the facts do not lie. The write up from the National Registry of Historic Places even states " the buildings were mostly erected by Caucasian contractors along conventional lines typical of the region."

Cleveland Hill

So who was it that built the buildings? One of the men that we know of for sure was named Cleveland Hill.  Born on January 7, 1885, in North Carolina, to parents John Hill and Anise Ives. He was one of nine children (four sons; five daughters). By the time Cleveland was 11 years old, he had lost two sisters, a brother and then finally his own mother, who passed away at the young age of 33.

Sometime after the turn of the century Cleveland moved out to California. By that time his trade was in construction, being a "Carpenter and Builder."  He would continue that trade well into his golden years. In a published interview of Theodore Peter Budnik, son of Russian immigrants Peter and Xenia Budnik, who lived in the area consistent with the original boundaries of Locke (as confirmed in 1920 Census), Budnik remembered Cleveland Hill working in the bar at "The White House"- this was a boarding house/saloon that was set up for prostitution.  In the book, "Bitter Melon" by Jeff Gillenkirk and James Motlow, Ping Lee claimed that Cleveland Hill was a friend of his father, Lee Bing, and that he had a bar next to his father's store in Locke. He also mentions that Hill came to build the gambling house and Lee Bing's store.

Records show that Cleveland lived in Locke for a few years, and eventually he settled down with a lady named Eva. At some point it looks as though either the couple divorced or his wife died. Later voting registry lists have Cleveland living in Walnut Grove and listed as a Republican. Census records show him being remarried, this time to a lady named Ida.  After a few years the happy couple bought a house located at 1856 44th Street in Sacramento, where they remained the rest of their lives. Cleveland Hill passed away on February 9, 1967, at the age of 82 years.

George Carlton

George Carlton was born in 1862, to German and English immigrant parents who had settled in California. Not much is known about Carlton's younger days or his profession before coming to town. By 1916, he is listed on the registered voting directory as a "Proprietor," residing in Locke, California. Although there is nothing that states he helped physically build Locke, the records show he certainly made a mark in its history there, which is worth mentioning.

By the 1920 census, he is listed as being 57 years old and his profession is listed as the "Watchman" for the "Town of Locke." What is interesting is that ancestry.com misread the cursive and noted it as "Watchman" in a "Laundry House" but as soon as I looked at the actual document and zoomed in, it was clear to see the words TOWN OF LOCKE- not laundry house!  How in the world someone mis-read that, I will never know!

This notation makes sense though, as a newspaper article in the Sacramento Bee dated 1920, claims that George Carlton was Locke's very own Constable. It appeared that at one point the town of Locke was used to getting away with a lot compared to the other little delta towns, when it came to the illegal activities going on such as gambling, drugs, etc. According to the newspaper, Locke was basically immune to any legal action from outside authorities, and that everyone knew it, and that is why it became the "Mecca" for gambling in Northern California. The explanation seemed to be evident in this snippet of the article:

"Exactly why Americans can gamble in Locke and cannot in Walnut Grove; why such gambling games as run at Locke, openly and in plain view from the streets do so without the slightest fear of interference from the Sheriff’s office; exactly why this freedom from arrest exists at Locke and apparently nowhere else in the county- at least to the same degree- is one of those mysteries over which Chinese game keepers smile inscrutably. The Sheriff of Sacramento County is Ellis Jones. The Constable of Georgiana Township in which Locke and Walnut Grove lie, is George Carlton, who lives at Locke.”---

By the 1930 census, George was now listed as the Assistant Postmaster, as Clay Locke was always the official Postmaster of Locke since October 13, 1916, when he was appointed by the U.S. Postal Service.  It appears that Carlton may have moved to Los Angeles later on, as death records state that a George Carlton, with the same birth year, passed away on December 12, 1930 in Los Angeles County.

(Copyright 2015- J'aime Rubio)

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