Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am

The Grant family: Money, power and pyromania: A Piece of My Mind

If you have visited the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, you have driven through Joseph D. Grant County Park. It is a beautiful drive in spring. The road meanders upward between hills coated with the electric green of new grass, highlighted by swathes of Day-Glo yellow mustard as if God had taken a Magic Marker to the landscape. Higher up, the roadside sparkles with glowing orange California poppies set off by patches of purple lupine and yellow sheep tail.

The park brochure tells you that Joseph Grant was the son and heir of Adam Grant, for whom Grant Avenue in San Francisco is named. The senior Grant co-founded Murphy, Grant & Co., a dry-goods store that rivaled Levi Strauss in selling overalls to miners. The San Francisco store burned in a spectacular fire in 1875, but most of the inventory was spared and the demand for Nonpareil Overalls remained.

Joseph was a mover and a shaker. He managed the family business, started the Columbia Steam Co. and served as president of California-Oakland Power and as life trustee of Stanford University. After Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in 1932, Hoover stayed at Grant’s ranch for three weeks to lick his wounds.

The brochure doesn’t say much about Joseph’s wife, Edith, or their three children. But if you are lucky, you might find a park ranger to guide you around the ranch house and explain how daughters Edith and Josephine did not get along and would engage in rolling-around-on-the-floor fistfights at the mansion, sometimes during social events. And how as teenagers they would invite some of the ranch hands to join them on rides into San Jose for supplies, throwing empty liquor bottles out the limousine in both directions to mark their trail.

He might tell you about the nightly drunken parties Josephine would host in one of the older side-buildings, and about how Joseph burned the building down to stop the parties.

He might tell you about how daughter Edith used to shoot at people who trespassed on family property – including the mailman. It was said that she also shot her own horses if they came in range of the front porch.

He might tell you about how son Douglas, a business disappointment but adept at golf and drinking, died in a house fire lit by one of his neglected cigarettes. Or about how Josephine, when she took over the ranch, burned all the family letters and documents.

There is a novel to be written here, don’t you agree?

And no, there is no connection between the incendiary Grant family and our Grant Road in Los Altos. Our street was named for the two homesteaders who first claimed property along Permanente Creek, brothers Theodore Frank and George H. Grant. Their bunkhouse can still be seen at Deer Hollow Farm. I wonder what their story was? Maybe not so inflammatory – unless they, too, burned the records.

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