The landscape of Amador County during the 1870s was much different than it was when gold seekers first began to dig into the banks along its rivers and streams in 1848. As the frenzied rush of miners flooded the foothills, it was clear that gold was also to be found distant from the natural waterways. Their solution – dig ditches and build flumes to bring water to the dry diggings. Within a year, hardrock mining was underway and in 1852 hydraulic mining began. California’s gold production peaked that year when 3.9 million troy ounces was produced. Increased production, especially from hydraulic mines, meant an increase in the need to reclaim water as did the steam engines used to run the mills. As the population of Amador’s towns increased, so did the need for water for homes and businesses which induced companies to form and establish town waterworks. A number of water companies were formed to build the infrastructure and deliver the water - the Volcano Water Company, Jackson Water Company, Cosumnes Water Company, Alpha Water Works in Volcano, Lancha Plana Water Company and the Ione Water Company – just to name a few, and each and every one vying for the waters of the Mokelumne River. By the spring of 1858 there were a total of 35 major water ditches in Amador County with an aggregate total length of 501 miles. This count does not include smaller, privately owned, ditches and flumes. Lumber was also needed in ever increasing quantities to build flumes, shore up underground mine shafts, build headframes and mine buildings, and for the construction of homes and businesses; thus, the number of lumber mills increased as well. All needed water, either to directly run their equipment or to supply their steam boilers. The same report that listed the ditches in Amador County in 1858, enumerated 19 lumber mills milling a total of nearly 100,000 board feet per day. The largest producers at that time were Pratt & Cartland’s mill at Grass Valley and the Amador Canal Company mill of Bayerque & Company on the North Fork of the Mokelumne, each pumping out 10,00 board feet per day. The quartz mills also needed lumber and water. That 1858 report also listed 28 quartz mills, running a total of 276 stamps, not including mills which had only two or three stamps. In addition, there were 4 water-powered grist mills. Over the next two decades, some of these enterprises would fail, some would grow, and others would be combined into single entities. The ever increasing need for water and lumber led to wealthier investors seeking to get in on the action. In 1879, Bay Area real estate mogul Theodore Le Roy looked to Amador to add to his fortune. He, along with Frank Mason Brown, and Richard Harper Stretch, set out to convince investors that a consolidation of the Amador Canal & Mining Company, the Amador Lumber Company, and the Sutter & Amador Water Works would be an extremely profitable venture. Le Roy hired Stretch, an accomplished engineer to evaluate the businesses, and provide a report to Brown who was the manager of the Amador Canal & Mining Company. What was it that these three men and the companies’ Boards saw that perpetuated this proposed consolidation?
At the time Stretch completed his report, the Amador Canal Company held a first and exclusive right to take 10,000” of water from the North Fork of the Mokelumne River and second right to an equal quantity. These water rights were gained through a convoluted history abandoned rights and lawsuits. In 1879, the company was in possession of the canal and a number of ditches totaling a length of 94 miles. Their holdings included 45 miles of the main canal consisting of just under 42 miles of ditch, nearly three miles of flume, and 1,600 feet of 32” pipe, a portion of which was previously known as the Butte Canal; the 10-acre New York Ranch reservoir with a second 55-acre reservoir under construction; the distributing Tanner Reservoir above Sutter Creek; ten miles of canal running north from the Tanner Reservoir which included some piping to deliver water to and increase flows in Sutter, Amador, and Rancheria Creeks; four miles of canal running south from Tanner Reservoir, also including some piping, delivering water to the Monterichard Mine; 5 miles of ditch taking up water from the Oneida Mine and delivering it to the Moore Mine; eight miles of small ditch branching from the sawmill of the Amador Lumber Company to deliver water to the Newton Copper Mine; and the 22-mile long Buena Vista ditch and its small branches, taking water out of Sutter Creek, delivering it to the gravel deposits south of Ione. In 1878, the Amador Canal system supplied water to 21 mines and several farmers, totaling $55,588.55 in revenue. Richard Stretch estimated that by 1880 that would grow to $100,551.60.
The Amador Lumber Company was organized in 1876 and in October of that year leased from the canal company the exclusive right to float timber through the canal for 50 years. In return, the lumber company transferred one quarter of their capital stock amounting to 12,500 shares to the Amador Canal & Mining Company and took on the responsibility of making alterations and repairs to the canal to facilitate the floating of timber, firewood, and milled lumber. Included in those improvements was to raise, strengthen, and line the banks of the canal where necessary; straighten and shorten sections of the Amador Canal, the Harmon Flume, and the flume at New York Ranch; and construct a V-flume and tramway at Clinton. Amador Lumber also purchased 800 acres of timberland at the head of the canal, built a new mill at the lower end of the canal, and added a mile-long V-flume into Sutter Creek. They were also given the privilege of running the Amador Canal Company’s sawmill year round and to freely use water from the canal to run milling equipment instead of steam. However, they were also required to pay tolls on the wood they floated through the canal at $5.00 per 1,000 feet of lagging, $.50 per cord of firewood, and $2.00 per 1,000 board feet of lumber and mining timbers. However, even with these costs, the agreement allowed the Amador Lumber Company to deliver timber to the mill at a reduced price and promptly supply lumber products as needed. This was boom for the Amador Lumber Company. During the first decade of the Gold Rush, much of the usable timber supply had been depleted from the lower reaches of the foothills, leaving lumber companies to harvest larger trees at higher elevations and transport the milled lumber 18-20 miles to the foothill mines and towns by wagon which was a very costly enterprise. Stretch’s report estimated profits for the lumber company to be $49,500 for 1879 and projected this would increase exponentially should a consolidation of the companies occur.
The last of the triad being considered for consolidation was the Sutter and Amador Water Works Company. This business was established in the early 1850s at the Sutter Creek Water Company. They eventually expanded their operations piping water to Amador City and thus the name in 1879 when Stretch prepared his report. He described the water works as complete and “a naturalized outgrowth of the canal.” The water works supplied water under heavy pressure to Sutter Creek and Amador City through a system of pipes ranging from 2” to 6” in diameter. In 1878 the canal company realized a profit of $3,865 for supplying water to the Sutter and Amador Water Works. Stretch projected this would rise to $4,000.00 per annum within a short time as the towns grew.
Stretch proposed that all three companies would prosper with increased revenues should they be consolidated. The 1878 aggregate net income for all amounted to $59,234.00 – the canal company profiting $41,668.55, the Amador Lumber Company $13,700, and the Water Works $3,865, as stated above. He estimated that due to economic growth occurring in Amador County in 1879, at the end of the year, their combined profits would amount to $142,131.60. This figure was quite the enticement for would be investors to support the idea of consolidation.
To be continued…