State park officials were both surprised and elated to learn that the state had allocated $1.4 million to assist with the restoration and preservation of the 165-year-old John Marsh House located in unincorporated Brentwood.
“A gift from heaven, that’s a really good way to put it,” said Elise E. McFarland, district interpretation and education manager and acting cultural resources manager with California State Parks. “This is a fantastic thing for us. We’re over the moon and so, so grateful to the people that made this happen.”
State Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Contra Costa, secured the funding as part of the state’s new budget. Glazer was urged to seek funding for the house by Contra Costa County District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis, who has been a longtime advocate for the historic property.
“Given the house’s standing in our local history and the rich archeological composition surrounding it, restoring this treasure will be a huge benefit to students, nature lovers and history buffs from throughout the region,” Glazer said.
The 7,000 square-foot sandstone structure is the centerpiece of the 3,700-acre Marsh State Historic Park. John Marsh, a Harvard-educated physician settled on the property in 1837. He developed a 50,000-acre ranch known as Rancho Los Meganos and lived there until his death. Marsh was ambushed and murdered by disgruntled employees after a dispute over wages in 1856, the same year his mansion was completed.
Prior to Marsh’s arrival, archeological evidence indicates that Native Americans inhabited the region for 7,000 years. The park remains an important archeological site.
“There are so many opportunities for the community to take advantage of all the park has to offer,” Burgis said. “A lot of kids think that history happened somewhere else, but a lot happened right here in our backyard, too.”
The John Marsh Historic Trust was formed in 1994 to preserve and restore Marsh’s home. In 2014, the group became an official cooperating association for State Parks, working to benefit not only the house but the entire park. That effort includes working with State Parks, private sector partners and the public to build awareness of the park’s educational, recreational, natural-preservation and open-space benefits.
"We couldn't be more thrilled,” said Rick Lemyre, John Marsh Historic Trust board member. “Marsh was a pioneer in many ways, not the least of which was his arrival in what's now California. The Stone House is the most visible piece of his legacy, and will be the perfect place to learn about this remarkable man, the Native Americans and Hispanics who came before and lived with him, and the 3,700 acres of open space around it that remains much as it was in 1856. It's time Marsh and his marvelous mansion step out of the shadows of history."
McFarland noted that specific plans for how the state’s grant will be spent still need to be developed, but completing the stabilization of the structure will be the first priority.
“We got through most of phase two of the stabilization effort before running out of funds,” she said. “This $1.4 million will help us restart the effort to stabilize the house...The end goal – someday down the road – is that we’ll be able to give tours of the structure. One of things that we’ve got going for us with the stabilization process is that this work has already begun. There’s a plan for how to proceed. It’s so much easier to restart a process”
While the grant is earmarked specifically for the restoration of the Marsh House, Trust President Barry Margesson stated that the Trust is launching an effort to raise funds to match the state grant. Those funds could be used to establish facilities or interpretive programs at the park, which is currently closed to the public.
“This $1.4 million legislative allocation is the greatest action since our community committed itself to saving the John Marsh House in the 1960s,” said East County historian Carol Jensen.