PETALUMANS OF YESTERYEAR
Clara McNear and her husband John arrived in Petaluma November, 1856, in response to a letter from her father urging the young couple to come. Clara’s father, George Bailey Williams, arrived in Petaluma in 1851 and built one of the first hotels. It opened in 1852 and was called the American Hotel. After selling this hotel on Main Street, Williams built a second one on Washington Street. The Washington Hotel opened in March 1856, the year he invited his daughter and son-in-law to Petaluma.
John and Clara had a nest egg of $3,000 which John began to loan, at interest, to businessmen in the community, and thus increased his capital. In 1857, he bought a lively stable and hay yard, with a partner. He sold his interest to his partner in 1859. John, a 7th generation Maine seafarer, used the capital to establish a shipping business on Petaluma Creek. From then on, his entrepreneurial skills developed so that today Petaluma still enjoys the fruits of the McNear legacy.
Clara and John had five sons. Only one survived, George Plummer McNear, their second son born in Petaluma in 1857. He was the McNear who followed in his father’s footsteps.
The crown of the McNear legacy is Cypress Hill Cemetery. That legacy directly relates to Clara and the love her husband had for her. She died in the cold, rainy January of 1866 at the age of 29. The soil in the community burial grounds, Oak Hill Cemetery, was saturated. Water kept filling in the gravesite. So, John went looking for a high, dry place for Clara. He found it on the highest hill in what is now Cypress Hill Cemetery, where Clara and other members of the family and the community are buried.
Without Clara Williams McNear, there would be no McNear legacy. Three men, her closest kin, are all remembered as having done much for the advancement of Petaluma. George Bailey Williams, her father. John Augustus McNear, her husband, and George Plummer McNear, her only surviving son.