John Vonderlin Sheds New Light on Gordon’s Chute

Story by John Vonderlin

Email John ([email protected])

Hi June,

The “Chronicling America” website at the Library of Congress is down temporarily, but the California Newspaper Archive is back online. I’ll get back in there soon as we are winding down the “Spring Cleanup” here in Santa Clara with just one more section starting Saturday. I obsessively gather stuff for my building projects, Meg’s wood stove, donations for thrift stores, friends, etc. One site alone contributed 525 “new” bricks which took four loads. My hands are a mess, my backyard looks like a lumberyard and the spare bedroom is piled high with junk I’ll be foisting on any visitors we get. All my “Free is Good” and Packrat tendencies are just about satiated. Sorting, grading, longterm storage, and everything else still needs to be done, but the “JunkLust” is subsiding. I’ll send some pictures of my nuttiness when the piles reach their zenith.
The attached ScreenShots are from the July 15th, 1896 issue of “The Call.” Because the site is down I can’t get the OCR version yet, but when I do I’ll send it along. The accompanying article contains more info on “Gordon’s Chute” then I have seen anywhere else. It also reveals some differences from the generally known history of “The Chute.”
Did you read the HMB Review article about a young man who found “alien” scrawlings on the beach at Tunitas? Apparently, Jim*** is back. Enjoy. John



One of the first enterprises of any magnitude, outside of mining, ever undertaken in California was the construction of Alexander Gordon’s grain chute on the coast a few miles from Purissima, in San Mateo County. It was done way back in 1860, just after it was demonstrated that the best wheat in the world could be raised on the vast fields of the Santa Clara Valley. It was easy enough to grow the grain, but the trouble was to get it to market. Hauling it by teams to San Francisco was slow and expensive, so Alexander Gordon hit on the idea of his chute, and was not long in getting plenty of backing.

It took several years to build the chute, and it is said to have cost over half a million dollars. When it was finished it was possible for a vessel to lie out in deep water, an eighth of a mile from land, and have the grain poured into her hold from a pipe or come to the deck in sacks as fast as they could be counted.

This was accomplished by building a pier of piles out into the ocean the desired distance, and from the end of an inclined plane, carrying a smooth tube chute which reached to the top of the cliff, 150 feet high, on the shore. The wagons full of grain simply drove to the shore end of the chute and dumped their loads into it. Gravity carried the wheat to the vessel over a quarter of a mile away.

To provide for occasions when there was no vessel to receive the grain, extensive warehouses were constructed on top of the cliff, in which it was store until wanted. There was a little city at the end of the chute and at least 100 men were employed in the different departments and in keeping it in order.

The venture proved a failure on account of the dangerous locality in which it was located. Winds, fogs and treacherous currents sent several vessels that were being loaded ashore. Several men who operated [missing words] the water and were drownded. Loss of life was great and after two seasons the grain chute was abandoned.

No attempt was made to remove any part of it until a few months ago, and it stood there thirty years at the mercy of wind and waves. Not much of the old pier is left standing now, but such as is is most picturesque. The old piles rise grimly from the water and the apron at the end creaks and growns dismally. The actions of the waves has washed out a large portion of the center of the pier so that it would be almost impossible to reach the end now even if one desired to.

The work of removing the old warehouses and other buildings was completed a few weeks ago. All the iron work in the pier that could be reached was taken out. This has, of course, weakened the structure so that it can’t be very long before the waves wash it out of existence.


***Jim Denevan

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