Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Guide to the Tuolumne County Water Company Records
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (94.53 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Organizational History
  • Bibliography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Tuolumne County Water Company Records, 1853-1909
    Date (inclusive):
    Collection number: 308-1072
    Creator: Tuolumne County Water Company
    Extent: 10.8 cubic feet (17 boxes)
    Repository: California. Department of Parks and Recreation
    Sacramento, CA 95814
    Physical location: The collection is located at Columbia State Historic Park, Columbia, CA

    Administrative Information


    The collection is open for research by appointment only. Appointments may be made by calling (209)532-0150.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the California State Parks. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permission to reproduce or to publish, please contact California State Parks, Columbia State Historic Park.

    Preferred Citation

    [Item]Tuolumne County Water Company records, Columbia State Historic Park, California State Parks, Columbia, California.


    The bulk of the TCWC records were discovered on Columbia State Historic Park premises. Apparently, for many years the collection was stored away and forgotten within the park, until about 1987, when park staff investigated an old trunk in the museum and discovered it full of TCWC documents. They were heavily damaged from water, mildew, and insects. The documents were removed, cleaned, and placed in storage boxes in the Archives building.
    Staff later discovered that many of the documents that were in decent condition had been removed from the original collection, and dispersed throughout the subject and name files at some point before the trunk was discovered. For example, if a piece of water company correspondence relating to miner supplies was sent to Mr. John Doe it might have been filed under Doe or it might have been filed under General Store. Additional water company records arrived at the park through individual donations—in particular, the Conlin Family donation in the 1940s (see Conlin Family Papers).
    In 2001 special funding was provided by California State Parks to reconstitute the collection, organize it according to archival principles, rehouse the records in acid-free folders and boxes, and create a finding aid to provide enhanced access to the collection. Additional materials relating to the Tuolumne County Water Company may be found at the Tuolumne County Historical Society archives, the Bancroft Library, and the Huntington Library.

    Organizational History

    Emigrants who rushed to California after the discovery of gold in 1848 discovered an environment whose climate and geography were sharply different from home. The California climate, with its periods of wet and dry, drought and flood emphasized the importance of resource management, espcially water management. As well as its domestic importance, large quantities of water were essential to large scale mining operations and the control of water became one of the biggest and most complex struggles facing the settlers and argonauts.
    The Hildreth party has been given the credit for discovering gold in the Columbia area around 1850, although there is some evidence that a small settlement of Mexican miners may predate their arrival. The summer of 1850 was typically hot and dry; the creeks dried up and most miners moved either down to the river valleys or up to higher elevations. Winter brought miners back to the Columbia area following the rains and the return of the seasonal creek. Those merchants who managed to survive the summer realized that maintaining a market in the area relied on a steady supply of water, and local miners realized that a reliable supply of water was needed to make mining feasible year-round. Together, they established to Tuolumne County Water Company (TCWC) in June of 1851.
    The TCWC was created as an employee owned and controlled company. The founders went to surrounding areas raising investors. By the end of June, 1851, 160 shares of stock had been sold and the route had been surveyed, but the company was forced to borrow money to finance the construction costs of sawmills, roads and equipment. Among the financiers who soon gained control of the company was D.O. Mills, the pioneer banker in Columbia. The TCWC incorporated in September, 1852, with a new issuance of shares initially valued at $275.
    The availability of water and its price strongly influenced the fortune of the town. A struggle for control of the water, between owners of the TCWC and the miners who depended on reasonable rates and abundant supply, resulted in the formation of the Columbia and Stanislaus River Water Company in 1855. For a brief period competition lowered rates, but the new miner-operated company soon ran into financial problems and was sold; first to repay debts and later resold to the same financiers who controlled the TCWC. Disgruntled miners protested this perceived monopoly, which eventually led to the destruction of ditches and flumes and personal threats against employees and officers of the corporation. In 1858 many miners left Columbia after a boycott of the TCWC's water did not succeed in lowering rates.
    In the following decades the water company continued to expand, taking over ditches, flumes and reservoirs and lakes constructed by other water and fluming companies in the county, but as gold production declined, so too did the population, resulting in less demand for water and less income for the company. By the 1880s many ditches were in disrepair and dams and reservoirs reflected a lack of maintenance. The demand for electricity resulted in the company going into the hydroelectric field, but even this could not sustain the fortunes of the company. By 1903 the remains of the company was being offered for sale, valued at $500,000 with an impressive list of ditches, flumes, dams, lakes and reservoirs all over the county.


    A History of Tuolumne County California : compiled from the most authentic records, San Francisco: B. F. Alley, 1882.

    Buckbee, Edna Bryan, The Rise and Fall of Columbis: The Saga of Old Tuolumne, New York: The Press of the Pioneers1935.

    Cassel, Bonita M., Columbia: A History of the "Gem of the Southern Mines," Arroyo Grande, California: Bear Flag Books, 1995.

    Davis-King, Shelley, et al, Contextual History of Tuolumne County Sonora: County of Tuolumne, 1994.

    Eastman, Barbara, John Wallace and the Tuolumne Water Company Sonora: Tuoloumne County Historical Society, 1970.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The Tuolumne County Water Company (TCWC) Records consist of approximately 10.8 cubic feet of materials dating between 1853-1909 and document all aspects of the TCWC ’s business, with particular emphasis on the company’s financial records. The water company was a large operation and an intricate part of the economic and social life of the area for many years and the documents reflect significant aspects of mining life. Time and wage books and scrip receipts indicate the miners’ dependence on the company; purchase invoices and correspondence detail the costs of constructing the massive flumes and ditches, and shares and stock receipts indicate the relative wealth among the company founders. Other documents indicate the location of specific mines, the ethnic constitution of the townspeople, and the operations of other local businesses. Some correspondence details the problems of the water system itself and the “water war” which engulfed the area and its people with violence and mistrust. The bulk of the collection consists of the financial records of the company, including account books, water receipts for water purchases, and checks and payroll documents.


    The collection has been organized into the following series:

    Series I: Administrative Records, 1856-1908. .8 cu. ft.
    Series II: Legal Records, 1856-1886. .1 cu. ft.
    Series III: Operational Records, 1853-1909. .1 cu. ft.
    Series IV: Financial Records, 1853-1907. 9.8 cu. ft.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Columbia (Calif.) History.
    Columbia and Stanislaus River Water Co.
    Columbia Main Gulch Fluming Co.
    Columbia State Historic Park (Columbia, Calif.)--Archival resources.
    Enterprise Water Co.
    Nil Desporandum Water Co.
    Northern Light Fluming Co.
    Tuolumne Co., Calif.
    Tuolumne County Water Co.
    Tuolumne Redemption Co.

    Related Material

    Additional materials relating to the Tuolumne County Water Company may be found at the Tuolumne County Historical Society archives, the Bancroft Library, and the Huntington Library.