Sonora resident Aleta Varela discovered firsthand that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
Genealogy library volunteer Linda Gookin looks through a history book signed in September 1885 by Melpomene Sugg. Maggie Beck/Union Democrat, copyright 2012
An avid book collector, she salvaged a box of books from a trash can in the Sonora Garden Apartments complex on Greenley Road a few years ago and came in possession of two that were owned by Sonora’s pioneering Sugg family.
Varela was unaware that the small hardcover books had belonged to a prominent family until she took them to the Tuolumne County Museum and History Research Center on Thursday, but had been intrigued by their old age since she found them.
“I’m a bookaholic, especially old books,” she said.
The 1914 signature of Earl Sugg McDonald is printed inside a Webster’s Handy Dictionary, and the 1885 signature of Melpomene Sugg is etched inside a “First Lessons in Our Country’s History” textbook.
The journey that led the books to an apartment complex garbage bin remains a mystery, but Varela hopes to return the books to a surviving member of the Sugg family.
The Tuolumne County Historical Society said Thursday that they do not know of any Suggs still living in the county but would search in other areas.
Melpomene Sugg is one of 11 children of William Sugg, a former slave from Raleigh, N.C., who was freed after paying his owner $1 in 1854. Earl Sugg McDonald is the nephew of Melpomene Sugg and grandson of William Sugg.
Sugg met Mary Elizabeth Snelling at a social gathering in the Merced area and they were married in Sonora during 1855. The town of Snelling in
Merced County was named after her family, who arrived there in 1851.
A year after their marriage, the Suggs purchased a property on the corner of Theall and Stewart streets and built an adobe brick home that has become an historic landmark in Sonora.
The original brick-faced, with walls up to 18 inches thick, was built in 1857 and was only a single story with three rooms.
As the family grew to 11 children, the couple added two stories and four rooms to the home in the 1880s.
Of all the children, Rosa Adelle Sugg was the only one who married. She wed Daniel William McDonald and they had two children, Vernon and Earl.
Born in Oakland, the children headed to Sonora in 1912 to live with their grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Earl Sugg McDonald eventually moved to Sacramento for work and only returned to Sonora to visit, but his younger brother lived in the home for the rest of his life, said Tuolumne County historian Carlo De Ferrari.
De Ferrari said he did not know Earl Sugg McDonald well but had been friends with Vernon Sugg McDonald for as long as he could remember. He has fond memories of spending time with the family.
“They were just well-liked people,” he said.
Vernon Sugg McDonald was a reporter in Tuolumne County for more than 30 years, with some of that time spent working for The Union Democrat.
He died in the house in 1982 at age 76 and was buried in the Sugg family plot in the Mountain Shadow Cemetery in Sonora. He was the last occupant of the Sugg house.
Bob Brennan, a close friend of Vernon Sugg McDonald and his wife Sherri purchased the building in 1979.
It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, and a plaque bearing a brief history of the home was erected in 2003 by the Matuca Chapter of the E Clampus Vitus historic preservation organization.