Marsh, the pioneering doctor whose stone mansion sits on the outskirts of Brentwood, was killed prior to the 1856 completion of his once-magnificent house. The first structure in the county built by a white settler, the now-crumbling edifice is expected to someday be the centerpiece of a 5,000-acre state park, if money for the restoration can be found.
That's what Bob Gromm, far East County historian and founding member of the John Marsh Historical Trust (JMHT), was doing at the house just before Mother's Day, 1972. In an effort to raise cash for the house's restoration, the Society was holding a Romeria (Spanish for "happening") at the stone house. Tent booths were set up on the lawn, where the Brentwood Women's Club, Brentwood Rotary Club, Brentwood Lions Club, Los Medanos College art class and others set up displays and sold items to benefit the cause.
The event was made more exciting, Gromm recalls, by a mix-up by the Sheriff's department regarding overnight safety. Although the show was held on Sunday, the tents and booths were erected on Saturday. As nightfall approached, there was no deputy, and a phone call revealed the fact that there was nothing on the department's calendar to suggest that people would be at the Marsh House on Saturday night.
"I was the general manager of the Romeria," Gromm said, "so I went home and got a shotgun and came back to the Marsh House to do guard duty for the night. It turns out that I was the last person to sleep in the Marsh House. The Rotary Club woke me up as they were preparing their fire for the barbecue."
The Romeria attracted a good crowd, as it was a great place to take Mother on her day, and about $15,000 was donated to the Marsh House restoration fund by the organizations operating booths.
In recent years, hopes have turned from such grass-roots efforts to state authorities to secure the money needed to first stabilize, then restore the house. Unfortunately, said Gromm, chances for getting any cash soon are slim.
"With the state funding crisis, funding for state parks is a big question, and the JMHT is a bit worried," he said. "We may have to go public to seek funding, with emphasis on large sponsors, as the restoration will cost in the millions."
To put together a package for investors that will explain the rich history of the house and the efforts to save it, the JMHT is asking locals for photographs, memorabilia or other items that will help with their documentation. Events like the Romeria were well attended, Gromm said, and if locals can share what they have (all materials will be returned), it would be greatly appreciated.
Items can be sent to Gromm at P.O. Box 547, Bethel Island, 94511. For more information, call 684-2117.