National Register of Historic Places in Monterey County

National Register #82002210: Sheriff William Joseph Nesbitt House
24 August 2005
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National Register #82002210
Sheriff William Joseph Nesbitt House
66 Capitol Street
Salinas
Built Prior to 1881

This house is an excellent example of vernacular residential structures built during the settlement of California in the mid to late 19th century. These forms, so strongly associated with "home" by the western migration, formed the basis for many emerging communities in the far west, including Salinas.

Based upon the Greek Revival farmhouse with its low gable, boxed cornice, broad unornamented frieze, endboards, and classical architraves, these structures tended to lack strong stylistic pretensions; what decoration does appear seems derived from remembered regional expression.

Few of these house types remain in the urban environment, being lost to evolving stylistic taste and social fashion. A few examples appear in the more rural communities of California, like Salinas, where they offer the student of anthropology, history, and architectural history a valuable resource for understanding the forces, both external and internal, that shaped their making.

William Joseph Nesbitt and his wife, Frances Camilla Dunham, established residence at 66 Capitol Street at the time of their marriage in 1881, just two blocks from the seat of county government. There they remained until the Sheriff's death, at home on January 25, 1933. In over forty years of police work in the raw and sometimes rough Salinas Valley, Nesbitt had never took a man's life in the performance of duty.

John Steinbeck was born two blocks east of the Nesbitt home. Steinbeck's formative years in Salinas paralleled Nesbitt's tenure in office and prompted the author, many years later, to include him in his most personal novel, East of Eden. Steinbeck's description of the office of county sheriff is perhaps the most accurate in American letters:

"The sheriff's job was not an easy one, and that county which, out of the grab bag of popular elections pulled a good sheriff was lucky. It was a complicated position. The obvious duties of the sheriff - enforcing the law and keeping the peace - were far from the most important ones. It was true that the sheriff represented armed force in the county, but in a community seething with individuality a harsh or stupid sheriff did not last long. There were water rights, boundary disputes, astray arguments, domestic relations, paternity matters - all to be settled without the force of arms. Only when everything else failed did a good sheriff make an arrest. The best sheriff was not the best fighter but the best diplomat. And Monterey County had a good one. He had a brilliant gift for minding his own business."

Excerpted from the NRHP nomination.

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