Guide to the Knight Family Collection, [1854-1984] – History

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Diaries of Benjamin Knight

The Knight Family Collection consists of the family records generated primarily by four generations of the patriarchal line, spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Knights were an influential Santa Cruz family, first arriving shortly after the American Civil War. These documents include correspondence, legal documents, photographs, journals, and personal papers detailing the everyday lives of a prominent family in a small California coastal community.  Though the collection contains information pertaining to five generations of the family, the bulk of the collection focuses on four generations of Benjamin Knights: Benjamin Knight, Sr. (1803-1883), a machinist; Dr. Benjamin Knight, Jr. (1836-1905), a Civil War veteran, medical doctor, owner of Knight’s Opera House, and state senator of California; Benjamin K. Knight (1874-1947), a district attorney and judge; and Benjamin B. Knight (1899-1989), a district attorney and veteran of World War II.

The family patriarch, Benjamin Knight, Sr. (1803-1883), a machinist from Rhode Island, came to California in 1850 on a mining expedition, where he built the first log cabin on the present-day site of Nevada City. After two years he returned east. He worked for a time in the industrial northeast to support his family in Rhode Island. He and his wife, Amey Ballou Knight, had nine children: Obediah, Mercy, Mary, Noah, Benjamin Jr., Amey, Lucina, Thomas, and Lucretia. For nearly 30 years Benjamin Knight Sr. kept a diary of daily activity, noting the weather, work accomplished each day, and major events, including the assassination of President Lincoln and the end of the Civil War.

Dr. Benjamin Knight, Jr. (1836-1905), fought in the Civil War along with two of his brothers, serving nearly two years in the Massachusetts Cavalry before resigning due to ill health. Once discharged, he began studying medicine at Harvard Medical School, graduating in 1868, where he specialized in Hysteria (a 19th century medical term for a functional disturbance of the nervous system, nearly always associated with women). In 1869 he married Lydia Anna Killey and on the same day they left for California to begin a new life together. In 1872 his parents (Benjamin Knight Sr. and Amey Ballou Knight) came out west to live with them. Dr. Benjamin Knight, Jr. became a well respected and prominent member of the Santa Cruz community. He served as a school trustee, was made county physician in 1880, and was elected as the state senator in 1883 for Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties. He worked with some of the most powerful and influential men in California political history during this time. In 1887 Dr. Benjamin Knight, Jr. bought the Opera House. An important local venue, the Opera House was known for the wide variety of entertainments that were produced there, ranging from Shakespearean dramas to the “Red Stocking Blondes,” a production for men only. The Opera House was closed in 1921. Meanwhile, Dr. Knight and his wife had added four children to their lives: Edith, Ida, Mary Alice, and Benjamin Killey Knight.

Benjamin Killey Knight (1874-1947) was the only son of Dr. Benjamin Knight, Jr. As a young man he served as treasurer for a traveling minstrel group that performed at Knight’s Opera House. He was expected to follow the footsteps of his father and study medicine, but instead he showed an interest in the law. At the age of 21 he graduated from Ann Arbor College (Michigan) in 1895 and came home to start practicing law in the office of the Santa Cruz County District Attorney, Carl E. Lindsay. In 1896 he married Helen Bliss of San Jose, and they had three children: Edith, Marion, and Benjamin Bliss Knight. In 1904 Benjamin K. Knight bought the house at 42 Locust Street, which served as the family residence for the next 59 years. In 1898 he ran for Santa Cruz County District Attorney on the Republican ticket and won. He served as D.A. until 1914, when he was elected to the Santa Cruz County Superior Court bench, and in 1924 Judge Knight was appointed to the bench of the First District Court of Appeal, in San Francisco. He was re-elected in 1930 and served a 12 year term. Throughout his career his daughter Edith served as his secretary. A popular and influential man in the community, Judge Knight died in 1947.

Benjamin Bliss Knight (1899-1989), went to Mission Hill School and Santa Cruz High, and was on the rowing team of the University of California at Berkeley. He belonged to the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1918-1920, serving in the capacity of an apprentice seaman. In 1924 Benjamin B. Knight married Miriam Doyle, and they had a son, Benjamin Doyle Knight (1940-1984).  Benjamin B. Knight decided to follow his father’s profession and went to Hastings Law College, graduating in 1933. The following year he ran for Santa Cruz County District Attorney and won, a position he retained until 1943, when he reenlisted in the Marine Corps, serving stateside in domestic intelligence until the end of World War II. In 1946 he was appointed to the War Crimes Commission in Washington, D.C.

While the bulk of this collection refers to these four generations of Benjamin Knights, it also includes some documentation on another important branch of the extended family, the Stipovichs. After World War II a granddaughter of Benjamin K. Knight, Barbara Jones, married into the Stipovich family. The Stipovichs were a prominent Santa Cruz family and had been the proprietors of the California Restaurant on Pacific Avenue for many years. Photographs and menus of the Stipovich family and the restaurant are included.

The Knight Family Collection offers a unique perspective of living in the Santa Cruz area during this transformative time in California history. When the Knights first arrived, Santa Cruz was a tiny pioneer town whose industries in lime, leather, and lumber were just beginning. By the 1940s Santa Cruz had become a bustling small city of nearly 17,000 people. The photographs and letters contained in this collection illustrate the physical, social, and political development of the area, as well as family dynamics and community relations. Here one will find documents providing a wealth of information on the intimate daily life activities of people living in California during this time period.



1850    Benjamin Knight, Sr. first comes to California; returns to Rhode Island

1861    Benjamin Knight, Jr., and brothers Noah and Thomas join the Massachusetts Calvary

1863    Benjamin Knight, Jr., honorably discharged due to ill health

1865    Civil War ends

1868    Benjamin Knight, Jr., graduates from Harvard Medical School

1869    Benjamin Knight Jr., marries Lydia Killey and moves to Santa Cruz, California

1872    Benjamin Knight Sr. and wife move to Santa Cruz, California

1880    Benjamin Knight, Jr., made county physician

1882    Benjamin Knight Jr., elected to State Senate to represent Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties (served until 1885)

1885    Benjamin Knight, Jr., elected President pro-tem of the California State Senate

1887    Benjamin Knight, Jr., buys Opera House

1895    Benjamin K. Knight graduates from Ann Arbor law school

1896    Benjamin K. Knight marries Helen Bliss in San Jose, California

1898    Benjamin K. Knight elected as District Attorney; reelected as D.A. until promoted in 1914

1904    Benjamin K. Knight buys family home on Locust Street

1914    Benjamin K. Knight elected to Superior Court as Judge; reelected until promoted in 1924

1918    Benjamin B. Knight joins Naval Reserves

1921    Knight’s Opera House closes

1924    Benjamin K. Knight promoted to Associate Judge, 1st District court of appeals, reelected 1930

1933    Benjamin B. Knight graduates from Hastings Law College

1934    Benjamin B. Knight elected as District Attorney

1943    Benjamin B. Knight enlists in Marine Corps



Harrison, E.S. 1892. History of Santa Cruz County, California. San Francisco, CA: Press Publishing Co.

Koch, M. 1973. Santa Cruz County: Parade of the past. Fresno, CA: Valley Publishers.

Mathews, C. July 28, 1991. A classic immigrant tale. Santa Cruz Sentinel, pp. D-3.

Nelson, R.L. 2004. Old solider: The story of the grand army of the republic in Santa Cruz County, California. Santa Cruz, CA: The Museum of Art & History.

O’Day, E.F. October 4, 1940. The district court of appeal in San Francisco. The Recorder, pp. A1.

Prudden, A.E., ed. 2006. A legal history of Santa Cruz County. Santa Cruz, CA: The Museum of Art & History.