When Lime was King: Getting to Know Henry Cowell

I want to share these Henry Cowell clips. Besides the cement business at Davenport, Mr. Cowell also owned land in Princeton-by-the-Sea. Surely, he had a big stake in the Ocean Shore Railroad, planning to ship his concrete from Davenport to the big, new city to the north: San Francisco.

The “San Francisco Call” is one of my favorite old newspapers. Fremont Older was the paper’s famous crusading editor, the newsman whose personal story was as riveting as the Call’s bold headlines.

From the “San Francisco Call,” June 22, 1899

“Thousands of acres transferred”

“The largest transfer of property ever recorded in this county was filed today. It is from Henry Cowell to the Henry Cowell Lime and Cement Company. The property includes thousands of acres of land, much of which is covered by extensive improvements, including lime kilns.”

Same day, same, page, 1899

“Oil Strike Near Santa Cruz”

“Oil has been discovered on the San Vicente road, fourteen miles from this city. The discovery was made on a ranch owned by the Santa Cruz Lime Company, which formerly had kilns there. The ranch contains 8000 acres. A wharf will be built at Davenport and five miles of pipe laid from the ranch to the wharf.”
From the “San Francisco Call,” November 17, 1900

“Cowell Is Now Reputed Master of Lime Trade”

“Buys Cienega Plant and Also Arranges for Deal With Holmes”

“Higher Price for Product is Expected to Follow a Rumored Combination of Local Business Interests”

“It was a report last night that Henry Cowell and Co. had bought out the plant of the Cienega Lime Company, which is near Tres Pinos, in San Benito County. Coupled with this was also a story that a combination of interests was practically effected yesterday at a conference that took place in this city at which H.T. Holmes of the H.T. Holmes Lime Company, William Jones, William Russell, and H.T. Hawkins were present, the purpose being to control all the lime trade north of Tehachapi. William Jones is associated with Henry Cowell & Co. Hawkins is the secretary and Russell superintendent of the H.T. Lime Company.

“At the office of Henry Cowell & Co. the sale of the Cienega Company was denied. An admission was made that there was an important conference, but it was denied that any result could be looked for until next week.

“The story of the Cienega sale was accompanied with so much detail, however, that it is probably correct. The purchase by Cowell & Co. would place all the lime kilns north of Tehachapi in the hands of Cowell and Holmes. The last named had a plant at Tehachapi and also half a dozen or so lime deposits in Santa Cruz County. With the exception of the Holmes holdings, Cowell has previously acquired all the lime properties of the upper end of the State. He fought the Roche Harbor Lime Company of Washington to a finish in a war of rates and ended by securing $35,000 of its stock out of a total of $100,000. Since then he has competed with Holmes. The Washington product and that of the southern part of the State of California has been kept out of this market.

“Prices north and south have been much higher than they have in this city. Lime has been selling in Los Angeles at the rate of $1.75 per 220 pounds or barrel. The rate in San Francisco has ranged from $1.00 to $1.25 per barrel, and two years ago, when the fight was on with the Roche Harbor Company, went as low as 80 cents per barrel.

“The purpose of the combine of the Cowell and Holmes interests is supposed to be an increase of prices. The Southern California market is controlled by the Union Lime Company of Los Angeles and that company handles the lime from the Holmes plant at Tehachapi. There were two versions of the bargain that Cowell & Co. has made. The Cienega property was reported to have been sold for $10,000 by the First National Bank of San Jose, which secured it on a mortgage of $90,000, which, with accumulated interest, etc., amounted to $120,000.

“Cowell is also supposed to have taken in the IXL lime plant in Santa Cruz County, upon which there were two mortgages, the first of which was held by Leopold I. Cahn of this city.

“However the details may differ, the probabilities are for a deal by which competition will be done away with and that Cowell will gain absolute control of the market. Then the entire Pacific Coast territory of the United States will be in three lime deposits, two of which will be controlled directly by Cowell. He has been striving for years to accomplish this and has probably succeeded.”

From the “San Francisco Call,” December 3, 1901

“Cowell Refuses To Reduce Fee”

“Capitalist Says Acting as Lucas’ Guardian is Business”

“Henry Cowell, the man who made a fortune in lime and plaster on Drumm street in San Francisco, was a witness in Judge Ogden’s court this morning whither he had gone in response to a summons to tell about the management of the estate of John W. Lucas, an incompetent, who owns some interests in the Cowell corporation.

“When Cowell was asked how much he thought his fee ought to be for acting in the capacity of guardian for Lucas, he said $500 was about right. Judge Ogden asked Mrs. Lucas, who was present, if the amount was satisfactory to her. Evidently it wasn’t, for while she agreed that $500 was reasonable compensation, she didn’t want it paid until Cowell had settled with her husband for $500 back salary she claimed was due him.

“”It’s a cold business proposition with me,” exclaimed Millionaire Cowell when asked about this salary matter, and he signified that he was in no mood to take less for his services or call it square because money was alleged to be owing.

“Judge Ogden told Mrs. Lucas that he could not consider the matter of non-payment of salary in a matter of this kind and that it was for the other members of the Cowell firm to see whether they would pay.

“One of the partners will not consent,” said Cowell, and Mrs. Lucas, who understood that the witness meant himself, did not insist any further.

“During a colloquy that followed this discussion of the salary it was discovered that Mrs. Lucas would not take less than $45,000 for her husband’s interest in the cement business. Cowell intimated that he would ask for a dissolution of the business that has existed since 1850. Mrs. Lucas was appointed guardian of her husband’s estate after Cowell had resigned.”

From the “San Francisco Call,” August 27, 1902

“Warrant for Arrest of Millionaire Cowell”

“Charged With Delaying Mails in Santa Cruz County by Felling Big Trees”

“A warrant was issued yesterday for the arrest of Henry Cowell on a charge of delaying the passage of United States mails. The complaint was sworn to by H.P. Thrall, superintendent of the railway mail service.

“Mr. Thrall says that he proposes to prosecute vigorously the case against Cowell. In a letter to United States Attorney Marshall B. Woodworth. Mr. Thrall states that on July 14 of this year the mails were delayed nearly four hours near the Big Trees station, between Felton and Santa Cruz, and that in response to a note Mr. Cowell called on him and explained that he had an agreement with the Southern Pacific Company that he would not be liable for any damage to the railroad company in connection with the removal of trees adjacent to the right of way. Mr. Thrall explained that the United States was the party directly concerned, and that Cowell was liable to the Government for any delay to the United States mails by the felling of trees across the railroad track. Cowell went away promising to consult his attorney , and a few days later the mails were again obstructed by fallen trees on Cowell’s land.”

From the “San Francisco Call,” September 3, 1902

“Henry Cowell Justified in Cutting Big Trees”

“Case Brought Against Him by Post-office Officials Decided to Be Without Basis”

“Henry Cowell, the well known millionaire of Santa Cruz County, was before United States Court Commissioner Heacock yesterday morning for examination on a charge of obstructing the United States mails by causing or permitting his employees to fell large redwood trees across the narrow-gauge railway track at the Big Trees Station, between Felton and Santa Cruz. One one occasion, it was alleged by Superintendent Thrall, the United States mails had been delayed four and a half hours by a big tree that had been cut down by Mr. Cowell’s workmen.

“The prosecution, conducted by Assistant United States Attorney Banning, proved that the mails had been delayed in the manner stated. The defense, conducted by E.S. Pillsbury, proved that the bank adjoining the railroad track at the point of obstruction was so steep that it was impossible for the most experienced workmen to prevent the cut trees from rolling down on the railroad track. It was conceded that Mr. Cowell had a right to cut trees on his own land, so long as there was no intention on his part to obstruct the railroad trains or the mails. Judge Heacock thereupon dismissed the case and discharged the defendant.”

(More articles coming.)

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