Gunn, born in New York and involved in anti-slavery efforts in Philadelphia, decided to try his luck as a miner. Leaving his wife and four children in the east, he traveled overland through Mexico to the Pacific coast, and caught a Chilean ship to San Francisco. He then took a ship to Stockton and walked the seventy-five miles to Woods' Diggings, which developed into the new town of Jamestown. Gunn spent a few months mining gold in the creeks but with little success. He then took over the practice of a physician, and was also elected county recorder.
Gunn bought an interest in the Sonora Herald newspaper and built the building here in 1850 of adobe, using Mexican laborers. It was designed as a residence in a residential part of town--the only residence that was two stories. But the parlor on the first floor was used as the printing office, and the front room used as the county recorderís office.
Having decided to remain in California, he sent for his family, who traveled around Cape Horn. Gunn's wife Elizabeth did not much like a printing press occupying her parlor, but had to wait for more than a year for a separate building for the newspaper to be built.
The 1852 fire that destroyed most of Sonora came within 200 feet of the house, and the Gunns soaked blankets in water and placed them on the roof.
Gunn was fearless in his writing in opposing slavery in the Herald newspaper, as the many southerners in the area wanted to introduce slavery back into California, which by this time had been admitted to the Union as a free state. Another effort tried to have California secede and become an independent state.
Gunn also owned a drugstore, and apparently later abandoned his medical practice in favor of all of his business activities.
Gunn did well for a time but lost a significant amount of goods during a second fire in Sonora. He sold the newspaper but continued to own the drugstore, and was involved in other ventures, including a bridge across the Stanislaus River that was built but fell down and never rebuilt.
Gunn and Sonora went through hard times toward the end of the 1850s, and in 1861 he and his family moved to San Francisco.
The Gunn residence was remodeled repeatedly as it successively served functions as a county hospital, boarding house, and for forty-two years a hotel and Italian restaurant known widely as Bisordi's.
Gunn in 1852 was also involved in a plan to build a railroad from Stockton to Sonora, but nothing came of it. Nearly fifty years later, the Sierra Railway finally brought rail service to Sonora. The depot was south of here, where the current railroad tracks cross Washington Street. High school students at the turn of the 20th century would take the train from all over the county to the Sonora depot and walk the mile up Washington Street to the new high school just north of town.