Friday, November 27, 2009

Livermore Family - Business Leaders; Conservationists

[Photo of Livermore Plot by Michael Colbruno]


Horatio Gates Livermore (1805 – 1879) all Plot 14A, Lot 6 (None marked)
Horatio Putnam Livermore (1837 – 1916)
Caroline Sealy Livermore (1883 - 1968)


Horatio Gates Livermore was a Maine native who came to California in 1850 as a gold seeker. In 1854 he was elected to the State Senate from El Dorado County when the capitol was in Benicia. It was during this period that he became impressed by the possibilities of the American River for logging and development of water power to operate sawmills and other industrial plants. In 1856 his son, Boston-born Horatio Putnam Livermore, came to California across the Isthmus of Panama and joined his father in business.

The senior Livermore became interested in forming a company for the purpose of diverting American River water to placer workings in the foothills, and by 1862 he and both his sons, Horatio Putnam and Charles Edward, had taken control of the existing Natoma Water and Mining Company. In addition to the company, the Livermores acquired 9,000 acres of the Leidesdorff land grant in the Folsom area.

They began work on Folsom Dam in 1867 by spending $119,000 to construct a two-mile railroad from Folsom up to the damsite and to lay the foundation for the dam itself. In order to minimize the remaining construction costs, they entered into a contract in 1868 with the State Prison Board under which convict labor would be used to complete the dam. In exchange for the convicts’ services, valued at $15,000, the Livermores were to turn over 250 acres on the east side of the river adjacent to the dam for the proposed Folsom prison. Unfortunately, there would be no convict labor available until the prison was built, which meant that construction was delayed for several years.

Over a period of years, Horatio Putnam Livermore had gradually taken over the family business, and by 1868 he had settled in Oakland’s Rockridge area on large land holdings, much of which is today the Claremont Country Club. (The Livermore house was across Broadway Terrace from the current location of the clubhouse, and when Livermore, during a period of “financial reverses” in 1897, sold the house and grounds to the new club, they moved his house to the present clubhouse location and had Julia Morgan remodel it. That original clubhouse was destroyed by fire in 1927, and replaced by the current clubhouse). Horatio Putnam had varied business interests – wholesale drugs (initially his primary business when he arrived in California), quicksilver mining, hydraulic power generation, and major land holdings in Kern County. The senior Livermore (Horatio Gates) died in 1879.

In 1881, the stockholders of the Natoma Water and Mining Company formed the Folsom Water Power Company to take over from Natoma all its properties and rights related to water power. The new organization demanded prison labor due and insisted on a more generous agreement providing for double payment in convict labor. The state sued and lost in an attempt to force the company to abide by its old offer, and work on the dam was stopped for a time.

Under a new agreement reached in 1888, the prison acquired the use of the railroad and enough “fall” from the powerhouse canal to operate a prison power plant. In return, the prison was to provide 60,000 man-days of convict labor annually for five years, and the dam was at last completed in January of 1893. When the powerhouse became operative in 1895, it was the first in the United States to provide high-voltage alternating current over long-distance transmission lines for major municipal and industrial use. In September of 1895, a “Great Electric Carnival” drew thousands to Sacramento to celebrate the new power system. Decorative electric lights at the Capitol were seen for nearly fifty miles.

In 1903 the Livermores sold out to the California Gas and Electric Corporation, predecessor to PG&E. The powerhouse remained in operation until 1952 and was later donated to the State of California for development into a historic site.

When Horatio Putnam Livermore sold his Rockridge property in 1895, he moved to Russian Hill to a house on Florence Street he had purchased in 1889. After the purchase, he had engaged architect Willis Polk to remodel the interior in exchange for rent while Polk lived in the house. According to HP’s grandson, George, another tenant in the house was future famed Palm Beach architect Addison Mizener. When the Livermore family moved in, Polk built a house next door and was later hired by Livermore to help him upgrade the neighborhood by building many homes in the area. Most of these were destroyed in the 1906 fire and were later rebuilt. Horatio P. Livermore, however, managed to save his Russian Hill home from the fire by keeping the roof wet. Over the years the Livermore family was recognized as having had a profound effect on the Russian Hill neighborhood, and Horatio Putnam became known as the “Father of Russian Hill.”

During the 20th Century, while the Livermores maintained their presence on Russian Hill, much of the family lived in Marin County, primarily Ross. Horatio Putnam’s daughter-in-law, Galveston-born Caroline Sealy Livermore, wife of Norman Livermore, was a leader in the conservation movement. She was responsible for the creation of Samuel Taylor State Park in Marin, and is given much of the credit for the development of Angel Island as a state park. This latter effort led to her being honored by having the peak of Angel Island (originally Mt. Ida) renamed for her – Mt. Livermore.

Among the many family members buried here are Horatio Gates Livermore, his wife, Elizabeth, son Horatio Putnam Livermore and his wives Mattie Banks Livermore (who died in 1880 of tuberculosis) and Helen Eels Livermore (died 1941). Horatio Gates’ second son Charles Edward is there as well. In addition, Horatio Putnam’s son Norman Banks Livermore (1872 – 1953) and Norman’s wife Caroline Sealy Livermore (1883 - 1968) are in the family plot. Norman Banks Livermore had four sisters, a circumstance which may explain the many people in the plot with different surnames.

And, just for the record, the Livermores are not related to Robert Livermore, the English immigrant for whom the Alameda County town of Livermore was named.

[Biographies courtesy of Mountain View Docent Program; Sources: Brochure given to visitors at Folsom Powerhouse State Historic Park, articles from the Sacramento Bee, and an oral history of George Livermore from the Marin County Free Library]



The Livermore house on the back of the lot at 1045 Vallejo in San Francisco dates from 1865. Architect Willis Polk remodeled it c. 1891, and Robert A. M. Stern designed significant additions and alterations in 1990—the entrance is now at 40 Florence St.

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2 comments:

Genealogy Joanie said...

Thank you for undertaking this project. I am researching this family in the hope that I will be able to learn more about Elizabeth Kinney, mother of Horatio Gates Livermore. Her sister, Mary Kinney, was my great great grandmother.

ggia said...

H.Putnam Livermore invested in Kern County land around 1869, according to local historians. Authors have written that his wealth derived from patent-medicine investment, but online information suggests that his business interests were much more diverse. Has that story been documented?