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
Built Prior to 1881

The Nesbitt House is an excellent example of vernacular residential structures built during the settlement of California. These residences, strongly associated with home back east, were 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 houses lacked stylistic pretension.

Few of these houses remain, mostly in farming communities like Salinas.

Sheriff Nesbitt and his wife, Frances Camilla Dunham, lived here from their marriage in 1881 until the Sheriff's death in 1933. In over forty years of police work in Salinas Valley, Nesbitt 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."

Adapted from the NRHP nomination submitted in 1982.

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