Wright Frost Kelsey (c.1828 – September 21, 1902) was an early Oakland pioneer, horticulturist and proprietor of Kelsey's Nurseries. Kelsey was one of the first City Councilmembers of Oakland.

[ Question: there was a John Kelsey on the first City Council, but I'm not finding W.F. Kesley anywhere... are the names being conflated with regards to serving on council? The funeral notice mentions the tunnel idea, but not council. 4 Another funeral notice says they were brothers. 6 ]

He circulated the petition for the first sidewalk in Oakland and was one of the founders of the First Presbyterian Church. Some articles say that Kelsey was the first to conceive of what became the Inter County Tunnel ("Kennedy Tunnel") between Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. 4,6 [ Question: his funeral was done by the pastor of the First Congregational Church, and Eliza's obituary notes she had been the oldest living member of the First Congregational Church. Are Wright's family and John's family being conflated, too? ]

In the City Council records from late 1860s and early 1870s list W.F. Kelsey, nurseryman and hotelier and one of the property owners next to or in upper Chinatown. 2

He later moved to Fresno [ Question: Visalia? 9 ] after financial reversals, but returned to Oakland and a house at 768 - 15th Street (listed with a new address of 772 - 15th St. on the 1912 Sanborn) before passing away. 5

1912 Sanborn excerpt showing 768/772 - 15th St.

Kelsey's Nurseries

According to ads, Kelsey's Nurseries were established in 1852, the same year Oakland was incorporated as a town. The family home and nurseries were on the west side of Telegraph Avenue between Laurel (now 24th Street) and Sycamore. Hutchinson's Bay Nursery was nearly opposite, north of Bay Place (now 26th). 3 There was also a depot on Broadway, and later one in San Francisco.

The nurseries were advertised across the state, from Mendocino to Visalia to Lompoc to Anaheim.

In May 1874, Kelsey's Nurseries were purchased by George B. Davis and George J. Hutchinson. 7 [ Question: same Hutchinson as Bay Nursery? ] But apparently Kelsey bought them back. The California Horticulturist and Floral Magazine of 1875 had the following account of a pleasant visit to the Oakland Nurseries:

"The first place we stopped at was Mr. W. F. Kelsey's Nursery and Floral Establishment, on Telegraph Avenue, commenced in 1852. Mr. Kelsey has again undertaken the management of this business, with Mr. David Tisch as foreman" ... [long description as to Mr. Tisch's experience as a nurseryman] ... "At this nursery may be found fruit trees and plants of every variety and kind, evergreens, and ornamental trees and plants, bulbs, roses, etc. Mr. Kelsey has put up additional buildings to accommodate his many boarders. It is a delightful location to enjoy both country and town, as the street cars pass the place every five or ten minutes." 3

In 1879, Kelsey listed the entire tract for sale by auction, 8 and by the 1880 census, the family had moved to Visalia in Tulare County.

1866 ad1873 ad1876 ad

Wright F. Kelsey residence & nursery (1872) 1View from the upper floors of the residence of W.F. Kelsey, looking north from the vicinity of 24th Street and Telegraph (1872) 1

Links and References

  1. Oakland Public Library History Room
  2. Uptown Chinatown HistoryNews.net (via archive.org)
  3. The California Horticulturist and Floral Magazine, San Francisco, Volume 5 (1875)
  4. Funeral of W. F. Kelsey Yesterday Afternoon Oakland Tribune September 24, 1902
  5. Paralysis Causes Death of Wright F. Kelsey San Francisco Call September 22, 1902
  6. He Did Much To Upbuild The City San Francisco Examiner September 24, 1902
  7. Kelsey's Nurseries Los Angeles Herald May 19, 1874
  8. auction ad Mendocino Coast Beacon September 20, 1879
  9. Pioneer Oakland Woman Is Dead Oakland Tribune April 1, 1924