My grandmother Sarah Chester Barnes was born in 1882 and grew up on the family’s cattle ranch near Sebastopol. Sarah’s mother was Kate Elizabeth Urton and her maternal grandmother was a Chester. The Barnes, Urtons and Chesters were all families that had settled in this area around when Sebastopol was formed in the 1850s.
A small-town girl, Sarah ventured out in her late teens to volunteer at a hospital in the big city of San Francisco. Here she would meet Fred Walford, the Australian adventurer who had traveled more than halfway around the world to come to that very hospital in 1901. Fred had arrived in California with his brother Albert from the Gold Rush in Alaska; where he thought he had found the location of his fortune.
We do not know why Fred went to the hospital; maybe he sought relief for his chronic seasickness. We do know there he found the love of his life and two years later, in 1903, Fred and Sarah were married in Sebastopol. In 1905, Fred took his new bride back to Alaska to try to locate exactly where that big Klondike stake would be.
They never found it, but they did discover something else: the start of their family. First daughter Malvina (married name Morledge) was born in Nome in 1907 and second daughter Violet (married name Arbios) was conceived there before their return to the Bay Area where she was born in 1910. Fred and Sarah also acquired the right to join the “Sourdough” club, a distinction for those who had wintered in The Land of the Midnight Sun.
Back in California, third daughter Audrey (married name Lynch) was born 1919 in Oakland, where Fred and Sarah had settled in a house just a few miles from the University of California. All three Walford daughters met and married Cal guys.
After WWII, Fred and Sarah moved over the Berkeley hills to Alamo, where they built a house among the walnut trees. Sarah, with her “green thumb,” loved cultivating the flowers, vegetables and fruit trees. Fred showed off his “jack of all trades” skills (he was actually a house painter) building “the little house” which included a garage, bedroom/bath and washing room with a “mangle” for pressing sheets and tablecloths and storage for Sarah’s beloved jams.
Before the neighbors’ trees grew too tall to block the view, evenings were often spent enjoying the setting sun’s light on Mt. Diablo, known by the family as “Grandma’s Mountain.” Later would come the lively canasta or cribbage games that Fred and Sarah loved to play using the scrimshaw boards they had acquired those many years before in Alaska.
In the spring of 1953, joined by many of Sarah’s siblings, the families of all three daughters plus a few of their remaining “Sourdough” club friends, Fred and Sarah celebrated their Golden Anniversary at the Alamo Women’s Club. Their story spanned 55 years until Sarah passed away in 1960 at the age of 78 after a lengthy cancer battle. Fred lived on to the age of 92, passing in 1970.
While the family knew that Fred Walford had come from afar to meet Sarah, the family never realized quite how far. The story was that Fred Walford’s father was a sea captain who had emigrated from England to Melbourne, Australia, where Fred was supposedly born.
But research conducted by granddaughters of his brother Albert concluded that, contrary to this family story, Fred was actually the son of a mariner who had come not from England but Sweden, where Fred himself was born as “Olaf Wohlfahrt” in 1878 before moving to Australia. Fred and Albert had changed their names possibly like many immigrants coming to the States, for a new beginning.
If Fred was looking for a fresh start in America, he certainly found it with Sarah Barnes, according to the local paper’s 1903 wedding account “one of Sebastopol’s best and most highly esteemed young ladies.” And while they never cashed in on that Alaskan fortune, Fred and Sarah’s life together was one of immeasurable richness.