The caretaker’s cottage on Elsie Street (Bernalwood San Francisco)

The “cottage” on Elsie street, razed in 1971, was the primary residence for four generations of my family from about 1870 to 1942. That was the year my mother graduated from high school and when she and her sister helped their grandmother settle into elder care. Thomas Quinlan was my great-great-grandfather. He followed his parents and brother to San Francisco in 1868. In 1871 he had received the position of caretaker for the Holly Park (or College Hill) reservoir. He moved into the house on Elsie Street with his wife, Caroline, and children James and Mary.

Mary married the son of a neighborhood shoemaker, Justin McCarthy by whom she had three children. Sometime after the death of her mother, Mary moved back home with her family to take care of the caretaker, you might say. By 1902 she was a widow with two school aged children, the eldest daughter, Kate, having died in a streetcar accident in the 1890’s.

The second daughter, also called Mary and nicknamed May in the family, grew up to become a teacher and then a vice principle in the neighborhood school. Although the son, William Justin, moved to Sacramento, he spent may of his holidays and weekends back at Elsie street.

During the time of my family residence in that “little cottage” many family members found relief and a warm fire in Mary’s kitchen and home. In the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake relatives displaced from their own homes found refuge in Mary’s home. She is reported to have been a kind woman with a great sense of humor. By the time of her passing she had buried her mother, her father, both daughters and her son, giving to the end. A beautiful soul.

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