Santa Clara County History

History of Santa Clara County


The Attractions of the Big Basin, or California Redwood Park--How It Was Preserved by the Efforts of a San Josean--The Annual Forst Play in a Natural Setting.

San Jose points with pride to its great subsidiary attraction, the California Redwood Park, or Big Basin, as it is more popularly known. It consists of 14,000 acres of sequoia sempervirens trees and is the oldest living grove in the world. It is about twenty-five miles from San Jose in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains and is reached by fine highways from San Jose and Santa Cruz. The history of its preservation is graphically told in the following article written by Wilson E. Albee and published in the San Jose Mercury of April 22, 1917:

"Giant redwoods, mighty with the strength which had withstood the ravages of centuries, quavered at the menacing snarl of the saw mill; trembled with the throb of its engines; moaned with the scream of the ripping, tearing steel teeth, cutting through the heart of the forest, nearer and ever nearer, and from their towering height beckoned across the mountains for rescue; beckoned to those who were that those yet to come might feast on their grandeur. And there was one to answer.

"Across the range above Wright's station, a spark smouldered and burst into flame. Whipped into fury by the mountain breezes, it spread, eating its way swiftly and licking clean the forest behind it, sending up a pall of smoke seen 'round the world. From England came the call for the story and pictures, showing not only the fire, but the big trees which it menaced. Andrew P. Hill, with camera and plates, plied his art preservative for a day among the Santa Cruz Trees near Felton, meeting, at the end of his expedition, with the unalterable opposition of Mr. Welch, proprietor of the hotel, who stated that the trees were a perquisite of his hostelry and that he would do his own advertising of them. Words followed: blows might have, but what did happen was a firm determination on the part of Mr. Hill that those trees should belong to the people.

"This was in March, 1900. Prior to that time Mr. Hill had taken numerous pictures of the trees, spending days among them alone with his thoughts and his camera. Perhaps it was this association with the big things of the forest which added depth and breath and height to the idea which first came to him during the argument with Mr. Welch. Perhaps some part of that great strength of the forest was imparted to him, adding its power to his, that he might the better fight his battle of preservation, and perhaps it was from the vastness of the forest that he drew some of that determination which withstood hunger and privation while the fight was on, enabled him to surmount obstacles, accomplish the impossible and carry the Redwood bill through the state senate and assembly in spite of the determined opposition of the controlling element and the governor of the state.

"It was following his argument with Mr. Welch at the hotel near Felton that Mr. Hill met John E. Richards, then an attorney, now judge of the Appellate Court, on the train. Mr. Hill told of his determination to get the big trees for a public park. Mr. Richards was impressed. That night Mr. Hill wrote out his idea in a letter to Mrs. Josephine Clifford McCrackin, whose home had been burned along with twenty-three others in the recent forest fire. Mrs. McCrackin forwarded the letter with her approval to the Santa Cruz Sentinel and it appeared in that ublication in the morning, the first article ever published advocating public ownership of the trees. On the evening of that same day there appeared an article by Mr. Richards upon the same subject in the San Jose Herald.

"Mr. Hill, upon his return to San Jose, called upon Judge M. H. Hyland and Judge A. L. Rhodes. Both were taken with the idea and Judge Rhodes urged that Mr. Hill should make the preservation of the trees his life work. In reply to a letter sent the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce, a resolution favoring the project was passed and Mr. Hill was asked by J. F. Coppe, secretary of that body, to have a like resolution passed by the San Jose Chamber of Commerce. This was done, Mr. Hill appearing before that body and was appointed chairman of a committee to work for the preservation of the trees.

"After some communication with Mr. Coppe of Santa Cruz, it was decided to throw the project into line with the educational institutions of the state so as to keep it out of politics as much as possible and the first meeting was called to be held at Stanford University in April, 1900. Arrangements were made with Dr. David Starr Jordan, then president of the university, who lent his hearty co-operation to the movement. At this meeting there were present delegations from the Academy of Science, the University of California, University of Stanford, Sierra Club, San Jose and Santa Cruz Chambers of Commerce. Santa Clara College, San Jose State Normal School, delegates from the University of the Pacific being invited but unable to attend.

"Up to this time those interested in line with the first idea of Mr. Hill, had been thinking only of the Santa Cruz grove. Just at this time Mr. Hill received a letter from Mr. Coppe stating that Dr. Anderson, of Santa Cruz, a prominent botanist, had asked that the attention of the committee be called to the Big Basin trees saying: 'As your enthusiasm is for these smaller trees, so will it grow in proportion to the size, the grandeur and the vastness of those in the Big Basin.'

"The proposal was taken up with Dr. Jordan and it was learned that Professor William R. Dudley, of the Stanford botanical department, and Charles B. Wing, a young teacher of the institution, had made a complete survey of the Big Basin and that for seven or eight months attempts had been made to purchase the land for the university. The land belonged to a number of lumbermen, however, and the figure for purchase was too high. Professor Dudley, when informed of the proposition of public ownership hailed it with joy and entered with great zeal and enthusiasm into the proposed work.

"In order to learn more of the Big Basin possibilities a committee was appointed by Mr. Hill composed of W. W. Richards, Carrie Stevens Walter, Rollie S. Kooser, Mrs. Stephen A. Jones and Andrew P. Hill. This committee was joined in Boulder Creek on May 15, 1900, by a delegation from the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce, among whom were J. F. Coppe, secretary: J. Q. Packard of the smelter trust; H. L. Middleton, representing some of the lumber interests and Charles Wesley Reed, a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors. The next morning the party went to the tie camp where they were cutting trees from five to twelve feet in diameter. About 300 acres of the basin had been cut in the three previous years during which a mill had been operating. Passing the camp they proceeded to Slippery Rock where they made a permanent camp and it was on May 18, 1900, while the committee was seated about the campfire that Mr. Hill suggested the organization of a club, the object of which would be the preservation of the trees. The club, known as the Sempervirens, was organized and Charles Wesley Reed elected its first president and Mrs. Carrie Stevens Walter, secretary. The camp where the organization was affected, was named for the club.

"The committee traversed the basin in all directions and took numerous photographs. It was while they were driving along the China Grade road beyond the property owned by Mr. Tray, that Mr. Hill noted the ridge between the San Lorenzo and Boulder Creek on one side and the waters of the Pescadero on the other. Pointing to this, he stood up in the carry-all and said: "We will build a road over that ridge from the Santa Clara County." Some objection was raised immediately by some of the Santa Cruz members, but soon they saw that the construction of such a road would be of value to them and they became supporters of the proposal.

"Several months previous to this time a committee had been appointed to get a price on the land. No action had been reported by them. A railroad had already surveyed a way into the basin and preparations were being made to cut the whole area of 15,000 acres. Action must be taken quickly if the trees were to be saved. In the face of some opposition Mr. Hill took the upper hand, met with Mr. Middleton, conferred with Dr. David Starr Jordan and Professor Dudley and the head of the Stanford law department and an option on the land was executed at Stanford.

"Up to this time everything had proceeded nicely. Steps were taken to have a bill introduced in congress for the purchase of the Big Basin, but, owing to the fact that there was another big tree bill before that body, the action was withdrawn. Mr. Reed was appointed at a meeting held in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco as a committee of one to draw up a bill to present to the State Legislature. It was presented by Assemblyman George H. Fisk of San Francisco, but before long it was reported back by the assembly committee on ways and means with the recommendation that it 'do not pass.' The senate finance committee returned a like recommendation and another meeting was called at the Palace Hotel where it was reported that the bill was 'dead.' Mr. Hill refused to understand what the word 'dead' in this instance meant. He insisted that the bill could be passed no matter how 'dead' it was, and because of his enthusiasm and determination he was unanimously elected to go to Sacramento and take charge of the bill.

"Hardly had Mr. Hill reached Sacramento when he found that it would be a stiff fight to get the bill appropriating the needed $250,000 passed. He went to Alden Anderson, formerly of San Jose, then lieutenant governor. Mr. Anderson suggested that changes be made in the bill in order to get it through the committee and that the support of Grover L. Johnson be obtained. Mr. Johnson became a friend of the measure immediately upon its presentation to him by Mr. Hill, and called the bill from the table onto the floor of the house and had it reported back to the committee. Mr. Hill was given a hearing and the bill was re-written and returned with the recommendation that it 'do pass.'

"This was encouraging, but Mr. Hill soon discovered breakers ahead. He learned that a certain controlling 'push' would not let the bill pass and that it would cast him $5000 to get it through. He determined that there was but one way to swing this opposition in favor of the measure and immediately took train for Santa Clara. Here he called upon Fr. Robert E. Kenna, then president of Santa Clara College, and after outlining the situation to him asked that the Catholic church be committed to the bill. Fr. Kenna made a trip to Sacramento with Mr. Hill to see for himself the actual conditions. Upon their return Mr. Hill spoke at a meeting of the Jesuits, gained their support and persuaded them to send a committee into the basin to examine the trees and report back whether or not they were worth saving. Upon the return of the committee action was taken without delay and practically the, whole power of the church was placed behind the measure for saving the trees. Mr. Hill returned to Sacramento with a new courage. Through a request of Fr. Kenna, D. M. Delmas consented to go before the legislature and speak for the bill. His address, made after a visit to the Big Basin, was one of the most powerful ever delivered upon a public project, and created a strong sentiment for the bill.

"Hope for the passage of the bill was strong at this time. Then came word that the governor was opposed to having the bill come up to him because of the size of the appropropriation. New conditions were imposed which at first seemed impossible to meet. It was hoped that the conditions would prove an insurmountable obstacle to the advocates of the bill, but the opposition failed utterly in their estimation of Andrew P. Hill. They required a new contract on the land. Although his funds furnished by the Sempervirens Club was growing low Mr. Hill left immediately for San Francisco. Opponents watched him go. They did not expect him to return.

"In San Francisco he met Mr. Middleton and asked for a new contract on the land. 'You cannot get it,' answered Mr. Middleton, 'It is not a question of whether or not I can get the contract,' replied Mr. Hill. 'The only thing is that I must have it. What are your conditions?'

"The conditions named were that Mr. Hill secure a guarantor who would pay the sum of $50,000 in case the state should decide to purchase the property and not be in a position to make an immediate first payment. Mr. Hill hesitated but a moment. 'I will have that sum guaranteed to you before 12 o'clock tonight,' he said.

"At 8:30 o'clock that evening 'Mr. Hill called upon Dr. Jordan at Stanford. Dr. Jordan could not make the guarantee. Telephoning ahead that he was coming, Mr. Hill started for Santa Clara, where he outlined the situation to Fr. Kenna and suggested that if he did not have the money it was certain that 'Jimmie' Phelan or his sister, Mrs. Sullivan, could furnish it. For some time Mr. Hill argued and planned and finally, with a laugh, Fr. Kenna agreed. Immediately Mr. Middleton was communicated with.

"The cars had all stopped running and 'Mr. Hill walked to San Jose, reaching the office of the San Jose Mercury at one o'clock in the morning. Going to the office of Harry G. Wells, then editor, he said, 'Mr. Wells, I want you to write the greatest editorial you have ever written.' 'You are too late,' returned Mr. Wells, 'the paper is already on the press.' Mr. Hill persisted, outlining his plan for laying a copy of the Mercury with the editorial on the desk of every senator and assemblyman that morning. The request was granted. Mr. Hill writing the editorial, and 150 copies were run off, Mr. Hill taking them on the 4:30 o'clock morning train.

"The appearance of the editorials on every desk at 8 o'clock in the morning created a stir in the legislature, because they showed that the 'impossible' conditions imposed for the passage of the bill had been met in every detail. Nor was this all of the plan of campaign worked out by Mr. Hill. At 11 o'clock that morning Fr. Kenna himself arrived in Sacramento. After visiting the church he went to the capitol building and was assigned a room in the Board of Education. For the greater part of the day Mr. Hill brought individual members of the senate and assembly to him for conference. A poll had been taken and it was found that there were only seven senators willing to vote for the bill.

"Just at adjournment time Senator Shortridge, upon request of Mr. Hill, asked that the legislators remain to hear Fr. Kenna speak. They all remained and Fr. Kenna was ushered to the speaker's chair to address them. His plea for the bill was simple, beautifully worded, but determined. Out of the thirty-three senators there were eighteen Catholics. When the vote was taken on the bill, which had already passed the assembly, there were thirty-two favorable votes, the only one in opposition being that of the chairman of the finance committee who stated that he hoped it would carry but that it would not be consistent for him to vote for it.

"There remained but one thing more: the securing of the signature of Governor Gage who had strong objections to signing. Mr. Hill worked ceaselessly. The money given him by the Sempervirens Club had long been exhausted. His own personal funds were gone with the exception of money he had carefully saved for the last big play of his campaign, that of telegraphing to organizations in all parts of the state to bring pressure on the governor.

"For days he had been living in a dingy hack room with no running water or other conveniences. Day after day he ate 15 cent meals, some days only one of them and upon one occasion his only food during the day was an orange someone gave him.

"Mr. Hill arranged with the governor for a date upon which a public hearing was to be granted when reasons why he should sign the bill could be presented. The date of the hearing was flashed over the state and the meeting was crowded with interested advocates. Among them were Prof. William R. Dudley of Stanford: Prof. Senger of the state university: the grand president of the Native Daughters and the grand president of the Native Sons, with J. Z. Anderson representing the California Pioneers. There were many others making a determined stand for the measure.

"Then, as a master stroke, a thing which hitherto had been done upon but a small scale, Mr. Hill sent out his prepared telegrams to all parts of the state. Nearly all one day one man in the telegraph office worked on these. All the next day he received hundreds of telegrams from organizations and individuals directed to the governor, urging him to sign the bill.

"The plans were a success. Governor Gage signed the bill and in March, 1902, 3800 acres in the Big Basin, one of the most wonderful groves of trees in the world, passed into the hands of the people of California; a park in which they might find refuge from the rush and dust of the cities; where they might rest from their toil and where they might find themselves among the truly great things of nature--the mighty redwoods of the forest. And for this the people have, more than anyone else, to thank Andrew P. Hill."

After Mr. Albee's article was written, more land was secured, so that now the park consists of 14,000 acres. The Sempervirens Club also secured a state appropriation of $70,000 for building a road into the park. The road was built and now thousands of people visit the great redwood forest every year. A hotel has been erected and also many cottages and there are fine tenting accommodations for campers. In 1919, as a fitting climax to their efforts, the members of the Sempervirens Club presented a beautiful forest play which will live in history a monument to the artistic, literary and musical talent of Don W. Richards and Thomas V. Cator, the author and composer of the play. Over 5,000 people were present at the production. There was a natural auditorium and the talent was among the best in San Jose and vicinity. Vocalists from other parts of the state also participated. The theme of the play, "The Soul of Sequoia," was carried on by aesthetic dances, vocal numbers and spoken words. The unique features were memorable. The play consisted of a prologue, four episodes, each presenting a different form of dramatic expression; and an epilogue. The first episode was in the form of a dance pantomime typifying the awakening of life. The second was in the cantata form, showing the solving of the seed of forest life. Grand opera was the third--Indian  in theme--which told of the death of Sequoia, the spirit of the forest. The last was the saving of the trees from the axe of the woodsman. Among the leading actors was one of the mountain deer, which, lured by the calls of the assistant park warden, had been tamed sufficiently for the appearance in the play.

The production of 1920, held on July 3, out-rivaled that of 1919, both as to performance and number of spectators. This out-of-door spectacle, which will be given annually, will make San Jose the Oberammergau of America. At the 1920 performance Dean Hanson was the musical composer, Mr. Cator having retired.

The officers of the Sempervirens Club are as follows: President, Andrew P. Hill; honorary presidents, Chas. Wesley Reed, Mrs. W. C. Kennedy; vice-president, Judge J. R. Welch; secretary-treasurer, Dr. Charles Pease; consulting attorney, Herbert C. Jones; depository, First National Bank. Directors--Judge J. R. Welch, H. L. Middleton, Rev. Z. Maher, Mrs. A. T. Herrmann, A. P. Murgotten, A. P. Hill, Judge J. E. Richards, Herbert C. Jones, W. R. Flint, Dr. James B. Bullitt, Mrs. S. A. Jones, Col. C. B. Wing, Judge Isaiah Hartman.

The following excerpt is taken from the prelude to "The Soul of Sequoia," written by Don W. Richards: "Through countless ages these redwood trees have stood, sublime, magnificent, their utmost branches sweeping the very sky, their feet carpeted by the virgin soil from which in long-dead centuries they sprang. They rise like pillars of a majestic temple, dedicated to the worship of their Creator; a sacred grove, where mortals may, with reverent hearts, draw near to the Father of the Forest.

"So we came wandering here in these Cathedral aisles, adventuring, seeking the Spirit of Romance, with wistful ear striving to catch the echo of some mystic melody from out the past. Here in this peaceful spot where dreams are born, strange fancies hovered to us. It seemed as if the spirit of the woodland whispered tales of immemorial lore. Perhaps it was the west wind sighing low in the branches, the stream weeping for days that are gone, the rustle of wood-folk in the thicket, but we heard--

"We shall try to lift the curtain for you, to people the woodland with nymphs and elves, to wake the Wild God and draw from him the ethereal strains that piped the dancers to Sylvan revelry. For you we have invoked the elements to reveal that solemn festival, the Ritual of the Sowers. From her long sleep Waona comes with Sequoia, her brave lover, her voice thrills through the forest but dies away in sadness o'er Sequoia's slain body. The Padres, intoning the Misericordia, enter in time to save the Indian Maid from self-inflicted death. And last, Brundel, the woodsman, meets his master, the destroying axe is broken and the forest is preserved for ages yet unborn. The spirits of the Forest gather to pay homage to the trees, and in song and in dancing to rejoice in their delivery from destruction."

Source: Sawyers, Eugene T. History of Santa Clara County, Los Angeles, Calif; Historic Record Company, 1922.

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