Mary Hayes Chynoweth

Who was San Jose’s most famous lady?  Could it have been a woman with magical powers to heal and locate rich iron mines, who believed that optimistic thinking and a sound diet were the keys to good health?

If so, then it had to be Mary Folsom Hayes Chynoweth, a healer, teacher, spiritualist, minister, hard worker, mother of two important San Joseans, political advisor and holder of “The Power.” As a youngster, Mary Folsom lived in the small town of Cuba, New York, in a family of Free-Will Baptists.  By age twelve, she was helping to support the family by washing clothes, sewing and weaving. She became a teacher at 18 and taught school after the family moved to Wisconsin.

One day while teaching, she was stricken with the “Force,” driving her to her knees where she received “The Power” to heal and to have spiritual insight.  Soon she was called upon to heal a man who had deeply cut his hand with a saw.  As she passed her hands over his, he quickly recovered.  Over her lifetime, more than 7,000 people claim that she had cured them of various maladies.

She married Anson Hayes, a widower with a five year old daughter.  Mary bore him three sons: Everis, Jay Orley and Charles Carroll.  Young Charles died when he was only four, but the other sons and their families continued to live close to Mary all her life, most often with all their families in a single large mansion divided into three living quarters.  The sons invested in iron mines in Wisconsin, but were unable to locate the rich veins of ore beneath the surface.  Mary used her miraculous power to pinpoint the exact location of rich ore.

In 1872, the family decided to vacation in California for the winter at a place then known as “Haywards,” and, while there, she was invited to lecture on temperance.  The family ventured a few miles south to San Jose and loved the area so much they made an offer to buy the John Tennant farm just south of town.  It was not for sale so they purchased 168 acres just south of the Tennant farm and, before returning to Wisconsin, they made a second offer to Tennant that was later accepted.

In 1873, Mary’s husband died of a heart attack and sixteen years later she married Thomas Chynoweth, an epileptic who was 21 years younger than she was.  He died just two years later.  It is curious that the great healer was unable to heal either of her two husbands or her young son.

Great financial success in the Wisconsin mines allowed the family to return to San Jose, where the first great mansion, designed by architect George Page, was built.  Here Mary constructed her True Life Church, acting as the spiritual guide for its congregation.  Her sons purchased the San Jose Herald newspaper in 1900 and the San Jose Mercury in 1901, intent on upsetting San Jose’s political boss of the time, Johnny McKenzie, and the corrupt political arm of the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The purchase of the two papers created the San Jose Mercury Herald, giving them a public forum for their reform campaign. 

In 1905, Mary Hayes Chynoweth died at age 80. Her last words were: “I have never wronged anyone.”  It is curious how similar this was to “Mountain” Charlie McKiernan’s motto of the same era, now the motto for the local E Clampus Vitus chapter: “Right Wrongs Nobody.”


  1. Leonard was the spelling changed from or to Chynoweth.  This is the way it is spelled on street signs.  My grandmother was acquainted with a “Miss Hayes” who resided at the Hayes Mansion during the ‘20s and ‘30s.  Was this a daughter?  We were treated to a tour of the Mansion before it became Frontier Village.

  2. Thank you Dan Sturges for pointing out the proper spelling of “Chynoweth.” The error has now been corrected with our apologies.

  3. Hi – I have a few questions I’d like you to clear up for me. As author of Sand Dreams and Silicon Orchards (a history of Silicon Valley) and a few other projects I wrote that included Mary, I had an opportunity to interview some of her 100+ year old relatives and others intimate with the family, as well as get an unpublished copy of the memoir her grandson wrote about her.

    You say she was a Spiritualist (that is a very defined religion), I have never come across this information about her – instead she founded a Unitarian church, quite another defined religion. Can you please let me know where you came upon this information – I’m very interested as I’m writing a new memoir on her and appreciate all the help I can get. Also, I have it on good authority that she was from Holland, NY. Also, in her grandson’s memoir she’d left the east coast in search of a new home and found it in a place called “Edenvale” an old name for this particular area of San Jose. I have it that this was not a vacation she was on, but rather a quest and she was traveling to San Jose to find a place to live and build her church. I’ve never heard about the

    Thank you for your time.

    • I am a direct descendent of Mary Hayes Chynowth.  My family, having spent much time in Edenvale and participating in the religious activites there, have made it clear that she was not starting a Unitarian Church, nor was she building a church.  She did not believe in Church-based religions.  Although she gave sermons,she gave them at her chapel, and her True Life religion was based on personal worship, generally taking place in the home.

  4. My great great grandmother was Lodema Folsom Haskell Atwood.  She had some connection with Mary Flosom Hayes Chynoweth.  Could it be that they were sisters?  Lodema was born in 1829 in Cuba, Alegheny, NY.  From old letters I found that the middle part of the new mansion being built in 1904 was for Mary Folsom, and a room at backk for Lodema.  Anyone have any info?

    • Hi.  I wonder if you ever heard talk of Lodema’s grandchildren?  In particular, Edna Gertrude Jackson who I believe was the daughter of Lodema’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth.



  5. My grandmother was Martha Amelia, but went by Millie.  Her mother was Helena Victoria, and Helena’s mother was Lodema.  I believe Lodema was the sister who Mary healed of the burn on her head. Millie’s sister, my Aunt Myrtle, wrote a letter about her visit to Edenvale in 1904, which I came across recently.  They were building the estate, and were anxious to show it to her.  I also found that I am in possesion of Mary’s book “A spiritual thought for Each Day” vol ll.
        Which of Mary’s son’s are you decended from? I would love to ask you who the people Myrtle talks about in the letter are.  She talks about Aunt Mary and cousin Mary.  Aunt Mary would also be my Aunt of course, but am wondering who cousin Mary was.

    • I was excited to come across the references not only to Mary Hayes, but the names Folsom and Haskell.  I have been trying to unravel a family mystery that maybe someone here can help with.  My grandmother had in her possession a number or original photos of the Hayes family.  My great-grandmother said that Mary Hayes was her grandmother.  She also had in her possession a long braid of red hair.  My great-grandmother was Edna Gertrude Custer (nee Jackson, born Wisconsin, December 1880.  I have pictures of her that were taken in Wisconsin somewhere around 1895.  She married William Lorenzo Custer in San Francisco in 1901 and moved to the Hayward Highlands sometime in the mid 1920s. 

      I have an old postcard of the Hayes mansion, and on the back my grandmother had written “cousins Sybil, Byron, Helen, Eva.”  I also have a copy of a letter written to my great-grandmother by her cousin Myrtle, telling her that their grandmother had died (I believe this was August 1908). 

      Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Hello to all,

    I am also some how related to Mary Hayes Chynoweth (distant cousin?). I am a descendent of Abraham Folsom, Lodema Folsom and George Bryon Haskell (sp?)George married in Mauston, Wisconsin. I have 3 books that were passed down to me by my great-aunt. One of which is, A Spiritual Thought For Each Day – Volume II and In The Light Of Today. I remember my own grandfather talking about the family spiritual beliefs.

    • Hi.

      Are you descended from George Bryon Haskell whose father was Wallace? Can you tell me the name of his spouse? and who is your great-aunt?

    • Interesting that has this gentleman’s name as:  “Byron George Haskell” instead of “George Bryon Haskell”. 

      Tracy – It’s nice to see your post.  My mother (Marti Raffaele – above) and I have been communicating with Alex (above) and have learned quite a bit from her(by the way, I think you and Alex and I are the same generation).

      Mom and I are trying to figure out who Sybil is.  Is she by any chance your grandmother?

  7. Hi,

    Yes, George Bryon Haskell was my 2nd great grandfather. His fathers name that I have is Dr. Geo. Darwin Haskell. Which spouse? To George? My great aunt’s name is Myrle Deasy. On a previous post you mention cousins names that your grandmother listed on a postcard. Eva Alice Haskell, my great grandmother born in 1885 in South Dakota.

  8. Hello,

    I don’t know the name, Sybil. I was working earnestly on my family tree in the earlier 90’s. At the time my great uncle was living who was a historian in his own right and helped me immensely with some of my research. From the posts I see and from what you have mentioned it looks like our 3rd great grandmother is the same person, Lodema Folsom? If I am correct do you know the names of Lodema’s parents?  I’ll have to check out the

    Thank you for your message.

  9. Tracy
      On ancestry’s 1860 census Bryon Haskell, 4 yrs,parents George D and Lodema, syblings, Helena, Charles E, and Mary.  On a 1920 census we see Bryon G. Haskell, spouse Ella M (could it be Mary?), and 20 yr old son Myron living in San Jose, CA.  I have a picture of the family taken about 1902 – with two older girls, and Myron, the baby.  I don’t know the names of the girls.  Does any of this ring a bell?    Marti

  10. Tracy – could George Byron’s father be Charles Allenson Haskell, and his grandparents be Lodema and George D? Bryon George’s brother is Charles Allenson.  Lodema and George D were married in 1948 in NY.  Charles was born in 1851 if my source is correct.  Do you know if George had a brother Andy?

  11. Tracy – Alex and her aunt and cousin and I will be meeting for lunch at the Hayes mansion on July 3rd.  I don’t know where you live, but if you are in the area we would love to have you join us – noonish.


  12. Hi Marti,

    So sorry I didn’t respond prior to the 3rd. I appreciate the invite, but I would not have been able to join all of you. I live in Oregon. I do plan on making a couple of trips down to CA over the next couple of months. If there is another lucheon please let me know.

    Happy 4th!

  13. Tracy
      We will eventually be coming again.  I will certainly give you an earlier heads up next time.  I wasn’t sure until the last moment if I would make the trip, and Kimberly, who had planned to come also, had to cancel as her husband was in a very bad accident. There were actually 8 of us at the luncheon, as more of Alex’x cousins and another aunt also came.  It was great.  Alex and I actually had rooms at the Mansion.  It was a wonderful place to stay.  Look forward to another reunion – this time with you and Kimberly too!