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X. THE LUMBER INDUSTRY—1850-1953 (continued)


1. The First Sawmills

The first sawmill in today's Del Norte County was established in 1853, soon after Crescent City was platted. Machinery for the mill was landed from Pomona in May of that year, and F. E. Watson built and operated this first mill for R. F. Knox & Co. of San Francisco. This mill was located in the gulch near the intersection of today's Third and C Streets. Many of the logs cut into lumber at the mill were hauled over Howland Hill from Mill Creek. To transport the logs, the loggers employed "two large wheels about twelve feet in diameter, with an axle between and a long tongue, on which the logs were loaded, and partly dragged and wheeled by oxen." [20]

Watson's Mill was enlarged and relocated in 1855 at the corner of today's G and 7th Streets, opposite W. A. Hamilton's residence. This mill was destroyed by fire in 1856, and some of the equipment salvaged by a Mr. Kingsland was used to build a small mill on Elk Creek. [21]

W. Bayse built and operated a water-powered mill on Mill Creek, six miles from Crescent City. The road over Howland Hill opened by Watson and his loggers was improved, for the purpose of hauling logs into town. The cost of transportation was too high and Bayse soon went bankrupt. [22]

A horse-powered mill operated briefly near where the Elk Valley Mill subsequently stood. It was reported that the carpenter, who was building the City Hotel, was able to pack the lumber from the mill to the hotel and work it up as fast as it was sawed. Consequently, the mill was not considered a good investment and soon shut down. [23]

Another man, A. M. Smith, built a mill on Smith River, near where it was later spanned by the bridge erected by the Crescent City & Smith River Railroad. The Fairbanks Brothers opened a small mill near Smith River Corners. N. O. Armington became interested in this undertaking and a grist mill was added. [24]

There was a small sawmill at the Waukell Agency on the Klamath in the late 1850s, but its production was reserved for the government. [25]

In 1860, when the enumerator for the Eighth Census compiled the Fourth Schedule for Del Norte County, he reported there were two mills—the Crescent City and Del Norte. Both were equipped to handle lumber, as well as flour. The Crescent City Mill, employing seven men, was steam-powered and in 1859 had produced 1,200 barrels of flour, 60 tons of bran, and 150,000 feet of lumber. [26] The Del Norte Mill, employing six men, was water-powered, and its output in 1859 was: 2,000 barrels of flour, 80 tons of bran, and 130,000 feet of lumber. [27]

2. Crescent City Mill & Transportation Co.

With the decline in freighting and packing trade, following the completion of the Oregon & California Railroad to Redding and Roseburg in 1865, Crescent City business leaders became concerned. At the instigation of J. Wenger, Sr., a public meeting was held in 1869 and steps taken to shore up the county's sagging economy. It was determined to organize a corporation for the construction of a sawmill to utilize "the immense stand of redwood and spruce so providently accessible." This would be a community venture with some members paying for their certificates in money, others with labor. [28]

The company thus organized was designated the Crescent City Mill & Transportation Co., and steps were taken to build a large steam sawmill to cut lumber for export. Work was begun immediately, with John H. Chaplin and J. Wenger, Sr., in charge. The plant, called the Lake Earl Mill, was located two miles north of Crescent City, on the lake of that name. Until 1880 the mill was plagued by shallow water in Lake Earl. A dam was then constructed across the outlet of the lake, about one-fourth mile below the mill, with gates so constructed that during the rainy season the surplus water could be let out. Behind the dam there was always sufficient water to float the biggest logs. The pond would hold 3,500,000 feet of timber, sufficient to keep the mill running for an entire year. The mill was linked with the Crescent City Wharf by railroad.

The capacity of the mill in 1881 was 32,000 feet per day. Most of the lumber sawed was spruce. Double circular saws were used, as well as edgers, slab saws, and planers. The circular saws had diameters of 64 and 60 inches, each. Thirty men were employed in the mill, and an equal number in the logging camp. Wages varied from $26 to $75 per month and board, depending on the degree of skill of the employee. [29]

Until 1869 little thought had been given to exporting lumber, and no wharf had been built. Freight had been unloaded onto a lighter at a cost of three dollars a ton, and another dollar added for drayage to a warehouse. If the lumber industry were to prosper, a wharf would have to be built. Justus Welles and J. K. Johnson were given the contract. Until the wharf was completed, lumber was hauled by oxen from the mill on Lake Earl to the waterfront, where it was stacked above high-water mark. A number of rollers were fashioned to reach about 200 yards, then placed about three feet apart, and the lumber run on to lighters. [30]

The first cargo of lumber shipped from the Lake Earl Mill left Crescent City aboard the schooner Fanny Jane, Peter Caughell commanding. Several more shipments were loaded from the beach, before the wharf was extended a sufficient distance from the shore to permit the lighters to be loaded directly from the wharf. [31]

The manager of the Crescent City Mill & Transportation Co., informed the enumerator for the Ninth Census, in 1870, that his plant represented a capital investment of $45,000; it was steam-powered with three saws and one planer; there were 26 men currently employed in the mill; and last year's payroll had totaled $12,500. [32] The value of the company's capital equipment had increased to $75,000 in 1880. The greatest number of hands employed at the mill during the past 12 months had been 25, while the least for any month had been eight. Skilled hands were paid $2.50 per day, while day labor drew $1.25 for an 11-hour day. The mill had operated in 1879 at full capacity for five months, three-quarters capacity for three months, one-half capacity for one month, and had been closed down for three months. In 1879 the mill had turned out 3,500,000 feet of lumber and 30,000 laths valued at $33,000. [33]

3. Hobbs, Wall & Co.*

The shipments of lumber from Del Norte County by the Crescent City Mill & Transportation Co. drew the attention of the Hobbs, Gilmore & Co. of San Francisco to northwest California. Caleb Hobbs and David Pomeroy of that firm visited Del Norte and liked the economic opportunities. In 1871 they incorporated as Hobbs, Pomeroy & Co., and built on Elk Creek, a short distance upstream from its mouth, a mill and box factory. The mill was two stories, the upper being occupied by the sawmill, the lower by the box factory. There was an engine room on one side of the main building.

*See National Register Forms, pp. 353-363.

Elk Creek was used to bring logs down from the woods, three miles away. The creek had a depth of about five feet, and logs nine feet in diameter could be rafted to the mill; those larger than that were split beforehand. Arriving at the mill, the logs were hauled up an inclined plane by steam power, the entire operation being controlled by one man. They were then in charge of the sawyer, who, by means of levers and pulleys, turned them on to the carriages. While being sawed, the logs were moved on the carriage by jackscrews, manipulated by one man. The mill ran triple circular saws, the first a 74-inch saw, the second a 60-inch, and the third a 50-inch. There was also a 21-inch horizontal saw. On the mill floor could be found a 50-inch pony, one edger, one slab saw, two trimmers, one picket saw, one lathe saw, and one planer. The planer could plane anything from a 10-inch timber to a small moulding. Its capacity was: surfacing from 15,000 to 18,000 feet per day, tongue and groove 13,000, and rustic 12,000. [34]

The capacity of the Hobbs, Pomeroy Co. mill was from 45,000 to 50,000 feet per day. The greater part of the sawed lumber in 1880 was spruce and redwood, with only small quantities of fir, for local use, being sawed. In calendar year 1880, the mill sawed 6,000,000 feet of lumber, while the box factory worked up 1,250,000 feet into boxes. Value of the lumber sawed was placed at $60,000. The number of men employed in the mill and box factory was 70, with another 30 in the logging camp. Wages ranged from a low of $20 to a high of $75 per month, with board included. [35]

Most of the boxes made in the box factory were destined for bread and sugar, and for the Cutting & Co. packing house of San Francisco. From 1,500 to 2,000 boxes were turned out daily. Spruce was used principally in the manufacture of boxes, though a few redwood boxes were fashioned. One million feet of lumber from the yard was yearly worked up into boxes. In addition, 250,000 feet of slabs and waste lumber from the mill were annually worked up into sugar and small bread boxes. Machinery found in the box factory consisted of: three large splitting saws, one self-feeding re-splitting machine, two small saws for general use, two cut-off saws, one horizontal 43-inch header, two planers (one double-surface and the other a single-surface), and one edger. [36]

A railroad spur, the first in Del Norte County, had been built from the Elk Valley Mill to the Crescent City Wharf. The lion's share of lumber sawed by Hobbs, Pomeroy was shipped to the San Francisco box factory of Hobbs, Gilmore & Co. In addition, the company owned 1,600 acres of timberland. [37]

David Pomeroy was drowned in 1879, when Mary D. Pomeroy foundered with all hands, while bound from Crescent City for San Francisco, with a cargo of lumber. J. G. Wall took Pomeroy's place, and the firm became known as Hobbs, Wall & Co. [38]

4. Other Lumber Companies 1860-1880

In the late 1860s and early 1870s Anthony and Thomas Van Pelt operated a small steam sawmill, with a capitalization of $3,000 near Pebble Beach. With a small labor force, usually about four men, they employed a circular saw to turn redwood into lumber, which they shipped to San Francisco. [39]

The Smith River Mill, 12 miles from Crescent City on Smith River, continued to be operated by waterpower. In 1870 Robert Foster was the owner-operator. He and his 11 hands were able to turn out 5,000 feet of redwood lumber per day. [40]

In 1880 there was a mill at Growler Gulch, owned by the Big Flat Gold Mining Co. Lumber sawed by this water-powered mill was used in the Big Flat mines, the logs being hauled down the gulch and up a skid road to the mill. [41]

5. Economic Condition of the Del Norte County Lumber Industry in 1880

By 1880 the lumber industry in Del Norte was beginning to boom. Local historian and booster, A. J. Bledsoe forecast that

in the near future Del Norte will export more redwood, spruce, and fir than any country in the State. Other lumber counties in California are fast losing their forests and will soon have no lumber to ship. The lumber business here is just in its infancy. The lumber now sawed is but a trifling amount to what will be cut in a few years to come. Its future value to the county cannot be overestimated. The capital now lying use less in city banks will in a few years find a safe investment here. For it is certain that as the production in other parts of the State decreases, more attention will be directed to the forests of this county. [42]

It was estimated in 1881 that timber acreage in Del Norte available for ready exploitation totaled 238,700 acres. Taking the low estimate of 250,000 feet of timber to the acre, the 238,700 acres would provide not less than 59,675,000,000 feet. Calculating the number of working days in a sawmill at 300 per year, and limiting their capacity to 25,000 feet per day, Bledsoe estimated, the Del Norte forests would provide timber for one sawmill for 8,525 years; to five sawmills for 1,705 years; to ten sawmills for 853 years; and to 20 sawmills for 426 years. [43]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004