Posts Tagged ‘sulphur’

Laundry Farm Canyon – Revealed…..#7 (the 50’s)

June 18, 2017

During the 2nd and 3rd grades at Burckhalter elementary,  mike willson having experienced his classmates standing in front of the class sharing something from home, it was called show and tell.  But in Mister Hayden’s 4th grade class,  it was an opportunity to share an event from the weekend.  Steve graham standing before the class talking about the hills above his house, and following Leona creek that flowed into Mills College’s Green-lake to the abandoned sulphur mines and an old rock quarry called Devil’s Punch Bowl.  Just the mention of the creek, abandon mines and a quarry named Devil’s Punchbowl sparked Mike’s sense of adventure and to think that it was within hiking distance.  Although Steve wasn’t in Mike’s circle of closer friends,  Karl Kreplin and roger Monroe were, and they both lived in Leona heights near Steve.  mike deciding to visit with both of them about what Steve had said, the two nonchalantly saying they had been there.  Mike couldn’t let go of what Steve had shared with the class about the Sulphur Mines and Devils Punchbowl,  mentioning to Roger about wanting to see it for himself, his friend listened but was hesitant,  finally agreeing to show him what Steve had talked about in class.

Laundry Farm Canyon Map

(The amazing history of Leona Heights and Laundry Farm Canyon) .    –  Nestled in the foothills of central east Oakland was what later became known as Leona heights and laundry-farm Canyon.  The native Huchiun Ohlone Indians having established a village deep in the redwoods above the bay inlet with its full-flowing spring-water creeks cascading down from the hillsides amongst the fog draped forest of the redwood evergreen Giants.   Spanish explorers having passed within a half-mile of the canyon and in the late seventeen hundreds,  Missionaries and  Spanish Californios would finally settle in the area.


On August 3rd 1820,  Spanish governor of California,  Pablo Vicente de Solá presented Don Luís Maria Peralta a land grant of 44 thousand-eight hundred-acres embracing what would become the east bay sites of Oakland, San Leandro,  Alameda, Emeryville, Piedmont, Berkeley, and Albany.  With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848 and with California becoming a state in 1850,  the U S Federal land-act required the Spanish Californios to prove their land titles in court.  By 1879 all that remained of Don Luís, son Antonio Peralta’ s 16,067 acres inheritance from his dad was 23 acres,  the years of attorney fee’s having pillaged the estate .



Sadly, in the 1840’s logging had started in the redwood-covered-hills just beyond laundry farm Canyon,   and within 20 years, men numbering 400 at their peak had logged out the entire redwood-forest.   In 1851, three men, Horace Carpentier, Edson Adams, and Andrew Moon began developing what is now downtown Oakland,  and on May 4th  1852 the Town of Oakland was incorporated.  two years later in 1854 it was re-incorporated as The City of Oakland




Mills Seminary 1889

In the 1850’s Pliny Bartlett, a recent San Francisco businessman decided to incorporate a laundry business, associating himself with George H Hallett and P. E. Dalton. Their idea was to establish a white labor laundry,  at that time being almost exclusively operated by the Chinese.  Bartlett and his associates would  ferry the laundry from the numerous San Francisco hotels across the bay to the southeastern end of Alameda. The laundry was then hauled up the hill to the spring-water fed horseshoe branch of Leona Creek, where it was washed, bleached and dried on the grass, the hillside area now becoming referred to as Laundry-Farm Canyon.  In the 1860’s the laundry enterprise moved to west Oakland,   with the redwood-forest logged out, the hillsides of Laundry-farm Canyon and Leona Creek were now sparsely populated,  but that would change when Cyrus and wife Susan Mills bought 55 acres of pasture and a cottage alongside Leona Creek.  Mrs. Mills an educator who had operated The Young Ladies Seminary of Benicia, moved it to Oakland,  building Mills Seminary on the south end of laundry-farm Canyon bordering Leona-Creek,   the creek being dammed to form tiny Lake Aliso as a flood control means during the raining season for the school.


In 1876,  a flat hilltop site above the canyon, referred to as Observatory Hill becoming a popular picnic spot, a foot trail led high up above the creek to the meadow on top of the hill with a 360 degree view of the surroundings.   an enterprising man named Lane ran a 4-horse-drawn canopy sightseeing tour buses up the hill.  Later in 1887 the Laundry Farm Railroad was built across the Mills property, the incorporated Mills Seminary, now renamed Mills College. The railroad continued north into the laundry farm Canyon across the creek from where the original laundry shack had stood,  a Car Barn being build where the trains were switched and stored.  With the scenic area becoming a major attraction the 3-story Laundry Farm Hotel was built in 1892,  a quarter-mile east of the Car Barn on a 200 acre site on the south bank of Leona Creek opposite of Observatory Hill.  the railway track from the Car Barn was extended to provide service to the hotel.  The hotel suffering a fire in 1897 but being rebuilt.  the train service and tracks to the hotel removed in 1902, the track beds becoming roadways, but the hotel experiencing a second fire in 1907 and was not rebuilt    .


Francis Marion ‘Borax’ Smith







The Leona Heights sulphur mines began operation east of the Laundry Farm Canyon in 19 oh 6, the project of  Francis Marion twenty mule team  Borax Smith,   a Oakland businessman and civic leader born in Richmond Wisconsin in 1846,    leaving Wisconsin at the age of 21, to prospect for mineral wealth in the West,  making his fortune in borax mining,  but also invested locally in real estate.   the innovating Borax Smith having a bunker built at the railway car barn at the laundry farm Canyon site connecting an aerial cable tramways to the sulphur mines, able  to transport over Two hundred thousand  tons of Iron Sulfide, known as Pyrite from the Leona Heights Mine. The mineral was trammed by aerial tramway down the hill to a sizing mill, crushed and shipped by railroad to Stauffer Chemical Company in Richmond for the manufacturing of sulfuric acid    .

Macadam rock quarry – Oakland

Devouring the hillside

The Leona Heights rock quarry opened in 1909 a mile northeast up the hill. The quarry,  its face being over 125 feet high,  operated with a crew of thirty five men.  Two gravity trams, one 2500 Ft. long, the other, 1200 ft., along with concrete chutes, would take the rock from the quarry down to the crusher and then loaded to be transported by rail.   The rock was a fine-grained basalt and is used for roadway macadam and concrete.  macadam getting its name from John Loudon McAdams, a process he invented in 1816 using aggregate stone for road construction.  The quarry had the perfect quality rock needed to make up the three two and smaller three quarter inch stones for a road.  It was later when they poured tar on the cracks between the laid stones it would better support a load,  giving the road mixture a new familiar name,  Tarmac.


The adventurist weekend to explore Devils Punchbowl and the sulphur mine having arrived,  Mike riding his bike past the school, then proceeding down Sunnymere Avenue to where it intersects Mountain Boulevard.  his anticipation bursting at the seams,  when arriving at Rogers house on Kuhnle Avenue, Roger nonchalantly saying, “Let’s Go”    .