Mystery Industry at Agnew's California - A Legacy of Lick's Paper Mill

James Lick (1796-1876) was reportedly Califonia's wealthiest citizen when he died, which placed him ahead of the likes of The Big Four and Nevada mining barons. He's best known for funding Lick Obsevatory, on Mt. Hamilton near San Jose, California, but he funded many other good works. He dabbled in a great number of disperate enterprises, from piano-building to land speculation. At Agnew's, north of Santa Clara, California, in accordance with his varied interests, he constructed a paper mill that was served by a South Pacific Coast Railroad spur. He also built the mansion and large, round stone barn that sill stand nearby.

fig. 1, Lick Mansion, Agnew's California, 1973
In 1973, I had the pleasure of touring the Lick Mansion and round barn led by Clyde Arbuckle, San Jose's late and renowned city historian, who posessed a photographic memory, an encyclopedic knowledge of regional history and geneology (it was unnerving to introduce myself to him and have him reply with a low-down on my father and his ancestors), and a true gift of gab. As Clyde led our group to the barn, I spied a much more intriguing set of structures nearby, and sneaked off to click off a few rapid, clandestine photos of them. Today, Lick's mansion and barn are still with us, but everything that you see in the photos below is long gone, replaced by upscale condos.

Through prodigious reearch, not to mention the help of Robert Bowdidge and others by way of a Wx4 Whazit Contest, I now have the story fleshed out. It all started with James Lick's attempt at revenge over a thwarted marriage. Later: floods, Joshua trees, a horse-powered South Pacific Coast RR branch, "insane" people, booze and loads of toxic waste.

The full story should appear on Wx4 in the first part of 2015. Stay tuned.

Should you have info or comments:

- E.O.

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