The ability to predict economic growth is difficult. In our modern world, economists rely on computerized data of past trends to estimate how financial markets and business will increase or decline. During the late 19th century it was a bit more difficult, especially in California. During the early years of the Gold Rush, mining created an economic boom that had never been seen before in the United States. The entire country benefited. However, as the state’s economy grew, and the wealth coming from mining declined, agriculture and other industries began to gain a foothold. The historic record shows us that between 1870 and the turn of the 20th Century, agriculture dominated the California economy. Although mining was yet producing a good bit of the wealth circulating in the state, many investors recognized that it would not last forever and looked to either move their money into other businesses or consolidate their ventures into enterprises that would work in tandem to increase their wealth. The latter was the idea behind the proposed consolidation of the Amador Canal and Mining Company, the Amador Lumber Company, and the Sutter and Amador Water Works in 1879. In order for the consolidation to take place, prospective investors had to be convinced that their outlay would pay off. That was the goal of three men at the heart of the venture – Theodore Le Roy, a San Francisco real estate developer, Frank Mason Brown, the manager of the Amador Canal and Mining Company, and engineer Richard Harper Stretch, who was hired to prepare a report on the assets, revenues, and projected income of the three businesses. Stretch had his work cut out for him. In this, the third chapter in the saga of this proposed consolidation, readers will learn how much money these three businesses were making, where the money came from, and contingencies in the plan.
In 1878, much of the industry in Amador County relied on the Amador Canal for water. That year, there were a total of 29 mine stamp mills operating in the county, running 510 stamps.
Seventeen of those mines relied on the canal for power - the Bonanza, Bunker Hill, Centennial, Eureka, Excelsior, Gover, Kennedy, Keystone, Lincoln, Loyal Lode, Monterichard, Moore, Oneida, Original Amador, Potosi, Rising Sun, and Talisman – where a total of 385 stamps, or nearly 75% of the total in operation, received their water from the canal. Water had ever been a valuable commodity to the mining industry and the lack thereof due dry seasons or the freezing temperatures, played into Stretch’s convincing narrative. He noted in his report that the ever-present source of the Mokelumne and the route of the canal made it a reliable year-round source – “The nearly complete exposure of the canal to the south is a matter of great importance and value, as it protects the canal to a great extent from the destructive influence of frosts and the danger of slides, caused by saturation of the ground during heavy rainfalls. The banks dry rapidly and thus keep in good order, amply compensating for the loss by evaporation, while this trouble will be more or less completely removed by the growth of young trees along the outer banks, which are springing up rapidly and should be fostered by the company. During the more than usual cold weather of the present winter, when almost all ditches and canals in other portions of the State have been frozen up, and unable to supply even the small amount necessary…the canal had been used for floating logs during the entire winter.” Stretch also detailed three years of net revenues realized from supplying water to the mine mills. In 1877, the company made a profit of $26,000, in 1878 that grew to $41,668.55, and in 1879 it increased again to $88,791.40. Based on this growth he projected that in 1880 the company would make $120,000.00 just from supplying water to the mines. This not only included the mines along the Mother Lode but also the gravel deposits east of Sutter, east of Ione, and on the Arroyo Seco Grant. Stretch estimated these deposits at a total of 22,000 acres of which about 10,000 was readily available for mining. Then there was the agriculture. Here, Stretch showed his colors as a visionary. He recognized the strides made in agriculture over the previous decade and sought to cash in. He proposed that wastewater dispelled from the mines be transported via canals and ditches to the western reaches of Amador County to irrigate pasture and crop land.
Stretch also painted a profitable picture for the Amador Lumber Company. They were already working in tandem with the Canal Company, having entered into a contract with them in 1876 to float logs downhill in the canal to reduce transportation costs. He reported that at the end of 1878, Amador Lumber had a stock of materials on hand amounting to $32,250, including $10,500 in mining timbers (10” to 24” in diameter by 16 ft. long), $14,000 in sawed logs (700,00 ft. of lumber), $2,000 worth of lumber in the yard (100,000 ft.), and $5,750 of firewood (1,000 cords). However, their liabilities and expenses amounting to $22,125 offset those figures reducing the value of their stock on hand to $10,125. Stretch attempted to soften this narrow profit margin by explaining that other lumber mills in the mountains could not compete with the Amador Lumber Company’s ability to deliver product to the mines at a cost of $6.50 per milled foot, and thus profits would increase in the future as more customers turned to them for their wood needs. Especially those situated within a few miles of the terminus of the canal. According to Stretch, wood consumption in 1878 at those nearby mines totaled 6,450,000 feet of lumber, 25,000 mining timbers, 250,000 pieces of lagging, and 12,000 cords of wood. Stretch estimated that by the end of 1879, the Amador Lumber Company would realize a profit of $49,500.
Figures for the profits of the Sutter and Amador Water Works are elusive and Stretch did not detail their costs and revenues in his report other than to say that the net income for 1878, “as taken from the books,” was $3,865.45. He indicated that future revenues were “not likely to vary greatly, although it is liable to a gradual increase…placing future figures at $4,000 per annum.”
As his job required, Richard Stretch did his upmost to convince prospective investors that this consolidation would reap them great profits. He wrote that the consolidation “is capable of vast extension” supported by a bullet list of fourteen points, pointing out that growth and new enterprises were the key to its success – that quartz mining had slowed gradually from 1851 to 1866 because its progress was stopped by the want of water facilities and it remained in that condition for eight years until the canal company offered an abundant supply, fostering a new start; that new mining enterprises were being projected daily through the refitting and reopening of old mining works and opening up of new ones, suggesting that only 1/10th of the Mother Lode vein had been tapped in Amador County; that as the mines deepen the ores are better and occur in larger bodies and as such are an encouragement to investors; that future works are dependent on the canal for water “the company having control of the only available supply;” that rates charged for water are out of proportion to the advantages to be enjoyed in the future; that upwards to 10,000 acres of gold producing gravel lie beneath the line of the company’s canal; that future use of mine waste water for irrigation will only be available from the canal company; that the lumber business can be extended immensely by product shipping to San Francisco cheaper than other companies; that these various businesses give absolute permanence to the operation of the company; and lastly, that a steady income was an assured thing, and that its prospective profits coming from the mining of auriferous gravels “may double and triple the value of the company;” however, there were contingencies to a successful future of the consolidation. To accomplish these ends, Stretch offered that several improvements needed to be made to the system.
To be continued…