The First House in the community that would become Middletown
John Henry Berry is universally credited with building the first house in Middletown, on the southwest corner at the intersection of Calistoga and Main streets, although at the time both were merely trails rather than streets. The deed marking the earliest sale of a parcel of the Rancho Callayomi — the first, once probate of the Ritchie estate allowed — was issued to the partnership of John Henry Berry and Oscar Armstrong on September 24, 1870. Armstrong, listed as a saloonkeeper in Guenoc in the 1860 census, promptly built a saloon on the northeast corner across the intersection. The pair soon purchased parts of adjoining parcels to the north to bring their holdings from 47.4 acres to a little over 80 acres.
Berry was a carpenter and cabinet maker, and in his later years became a Lake County constable. His first house, a four-room, two-story frame building, was short-lived.
Two of John Berry’s sisters had preceded him in moving to Lake County. Lamira in 1861 had married William Grey Cannon, one of the earliest Lake County residents who had joined the same wagon train as the Berry family in 1852. The couple lived in Solano County, Sonoma County and Nevada before settling in Coyote Valley here in 1865. Margaret Lutitia married Charles Marsh Young in Sebastopol in 1866 and the young couple moved to Coyote Valley.
In 1871, Young bought John Henry Berry’s interest in the acreage in the center of the Callayomi grant, and partnered with Arm- strong to have it surveyed and platted to found Middletown. Young’s ambitious nature soon had him razing the original house to replace it with a fourteen-room hotel.
John Henry Berry had arrived in California in 1852. With his parents Baxter Bell and Elizabeth Berry, and six younger siblings, he had come across the plains from Mahaska County, Iowa, as a part of the Purvine wagon train. He was 19 years old; a brother two years younger died of cholera during the journey.
There is a wealth of information about John H. Berry’s parents available online. Baxter Bell Berry had been a judge back home, well-liked and well-respected; Elizabeth Preston Camron was from a prestigious family. The family’s genealogy claims Abraham Lincoln had been best man at the wedding of Elizabeth and Baxter Berry, and gave them a berry bowl set as a wedding gift.
Arriving in California, Baxter Berry was astute enough to give the gold fields short shrift and settled his family in Sonoma County near Sebastopol.
John Henry was the eldest of their eight children, and in 1854 married Minerva Ann Lindsay.The 1860 census shows both John Henry and Minerva, with four children, as well as his parents’ family living in Tomales in Marin County, although the elders had returned to Sebastopol by 1870.
By the time he built the house in Middletown (which did not yet exist in 1870, and when founded was initially known as Middleton), John Henry and Minerva had three sons and three daughters. Another son and two daughters were born here.
The eldest son, James Baxter, also became a carpenter. He never married, but helped raise his sister Lillian's children after she died. The youngest son, John Jasper, became a schoolteacher in Middletown and married a local girl, Helen Groom. We have no information on the other children: Leander Linsey, Samantha Lucinda, Harriett Elizabeth, William Edward, Eva Lillian, Minerva Susan and Irene.
John Berry's wife Minerva and several of the Berry children spent a good deal of time in Indian Valley, Idaho, where her brother lived. She is reported to have committed suicide while there. The date is not given.
John Henry was listed in the Registrar of Voters as a slight man, 5’6”, with blue eyes, no noteworthy physical impairments and, by the time of the listing in 1898, gray hair.
In 1900, he was elected a county constable and married for a second time. His new wife is recorded only as Ada S., a native of England.
J. H. Berry died in 1905 and is buried in Middletown Cemetery.