Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Inventory of the William Hammond Hall Papers, 1878-1907
91-07-04, 91-06-10  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (214.70 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Introduction
  • Agency History
  • Contents
  • Works Consulted

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: William Hammond Hall Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1878-1907
    Inventory: 91-07-04, 91-06-10
    Creator: Hall, William Hammond
    Repository: California State Archives
    Sacramento, California
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Publication Rights

    For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the California State Archives. Permission for reproduction or publication is given on behalf of the California State Archives as the owner of the physical items. The researcher assumes all responsibility for possible infringement which may arise from reproduction or publication of materials from the California State Archives collections.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], William Hammond Hall Papers, 91-07-04, 91-06-10, California State Archives.


    The William Hammond Hall Papers described in this inventory cover the years 1878 to 1907. Although Hall only served as State Engineer until 1889, some maps and miscellaneous papers date up to 1907 due to the fact that this record group was housed as documents still in use with the Department of Water Resources (DWR) until 1991.
    The William Hammond Hall Papers came to the California State Archives throughout 1991. Joseph P. Samora, Archivist II, coordinated the transfer of these records. Not only did this include working with DWR to negotiate the transfer of the majority of the records, but Mr. Samora also had to obtain miscellaneous field books from a private law firm and the State Lands Commission to whom DWR had loaned materials for litigation purposes.
    Mr. Samora began the processing of the collection as he was working to bring it together to be housed at the Archives. This included comparing the collection against two lists provided by DWR, one for the field books and the other for the maps. The final processing, including preparation of this inventory and arrangement of the miscellaneous papers subgroup was conducted by Jenan Shabbas, graduate student volunteer, in 1996.
    J. Michael McKown, Senior Boundary Determination Officer for the State Lands Commission, stated that the William Hammond Hall Papers are the most comprehensive historical account of water supply, irrigation and natural waterways in California in the 1880s. They provide valuable evidence... to determine the historic locations of the State's waterways, information critical to defining the nature and extent of the State's sovereign ownership interests in and along these waterways. In the absence of reliable survey data such as these records, thousands of dollars must be expended for soils analysis, vegetation studies and other research to establish historic conditions. 1
    The entire record group is open for research without restrictions under the conditions of the California State Archives' access policies. However, many of the maps, field books, and miscellaneous papers are extremely fragile, and, where possible, use copies may be made available to researchers to avoid wear and tear on the original records. At the discretion of the reference archivist, records may be copied for scholarly or personal research. Researchers are responsible for obtaining copyright permission to use material in publication.
    The suggested citation to these records is State Engineer--William Hammond Hall Papers. AC 91-07-04 [or AC 91-06-10 if using the Miscellaneous Papers subgroup]. California State Archives.
    1 J. Michael McKown, letter to Joseph P. Samora, 13 December 1991, California State Archives, Sacamento, California.

    Agency History

    William Hammond Hall served as California's first State Engineer from 1878 to 1889. During those years, Hall surveyed and reported on the state's water resources, both calling attention to problems and recommending solutions. Hall's examinations still serve as the most extensive study of California's water systems to date, the scale of which, considering the fiscal situation of California's state government, is likely never to be matched.
    Hall was born in Hagerstown, Maryland on 12 February 1846. In 1853 Hall's parents, John Buchanan and Anna Maria Hall, brought the family to California where Hall was educated in private academies from 1858 to 1865. His parents' plans for him to attend West Point Military Academy were abandoned due to the Civil War, and shortly after the war he began his engineering career by serving as a computer and draughtsman in the office of Colonel R.S. Williamson of the U.S. Engineer Corps. In this position, Hall's first field assignment was as an assistant in the barometric measuring of snow-clad peaks in Oregon. After returning from Oregon, Hall worked as a rodman and then a surveyor under the U.S. Board of Engineers for the Pacific Coast. This agency was working on topographic surveys to determine how harbors should be fortified, a charge which took Hall from San Diego Harbor to Neah Bay, then the most southern and northern harbors on the Pacific Coast of the U.S. While working for the Board of Engineers, Hall also gained experience in studying river systems by surveying the rapids of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers in order to improve navigation of these important waterways. 1
    Upon returning to California, Hall did hydrographic work for the harbors in San Diego and San Francisco then directed the topographic contouring of the San Francisco peninsula, focusing especially on the Presidio area and Point Lobos. In 1870 the first Board of Park Commissioners of San Francisco awarded Hall the contract for a topographic survey of the Golden Gate Reservation. That year Hall also married Emma Kate Fitzhugh with whom he would later have three daughters. Following his work for the Park Commissioners, Hall was appointed the Engineer and Superintendent of Parks in San Francisco. He served in this position, planning and improving Golden Gate Park, until 1876. 2
    From 1876 to 1878 Hall worked for the Nevada Bank (which later became the Bank of California) where he was in charge of extensive land and water properties owned by the bank in the San Joaquin Valley. Here he gained his first extensive knowledge of irrigation works, the documentation of which would soon become his greatest achievement. 3
    In 1878 Governor William Irwin appointed Hall to the newly created post of State Engineer. There Hall was re-appointed four times until his resignation in February 1889. Two major causes motivated the California Legislature to create the position of State Engineer. One was the long and devastating drought that had virtually destroyed the cattle industry in Southern California and drove countless small and marginal farmers off their land due to lack of adequate irrigation. Additionally, floods in Northern California were wreaking havoc, frequently resulting from improper drainage and a lack of adequate flood control measures. The Legislature of 1878 charged the State Engineer with investigating the problems of irrigation, the condition of drainage lines, and the improvement of river navigation. At the same time, the Legislature appropriated $100,000 for the position. 4
    There existed two views of what the State Engineer was to accomplish. One, held by those who voted for the creation of the office simply to placate agitators, wanted no radical changes and viewed the position as needing and having little power and even less funding. The other side, believing that any action taken by the State needed to be based on solid investigations of California's water resources, viewed the State Engineer's position as the means of gaining the necessary knowledge on which to formulate policy. This group of legislators felt their role was to act on the recommendations of the State Engineer. 5
    Hall's first action as State Engineer was to send out parties to investigate various rivers and the lands surrounding them. These parties, led by assistant engineers whose names would eventually gain fame in their own right (Grunsky, Boschke, Schuyler, and Mendell to name a few), continued throughout Hall's tenure to supply the State with vital information regarding California's water resources. Their studies served as the raw data and observations behind Hall's reports to the Legislature. 6
    Hall's suggestions to the Legislature focused on his opinion that the State must take it upon itself to regulate California's water resources. Hall felt that the Legislature should first survey the extent and nature of existing water rights and then take on the role of issuing water privileges. He recommended that the lawmakers and the courts carefully study and provide for a solution to the problems presented by the competing interests of riparian proprietors and appropriators. During his tenure as State Engineer, Hall supported the organization of irrigation districts as the best means of financing and regulating irrigation works. Hall's reports to the Legislature all included brief histories of California's water system, for he felt that only through understanding how the state's systems came into being could lawmakers intelligently plan for the future. The nucleus of Hall's recommendations came down to planning. He advocated that the State should selectively apportion water based on comprehensive technical observations carried out over years of study, a long but necessary time period due to the lack of adequate documentation of water usage up to that time. 7
    By 1881 Hall and his assistants had conducted massive amounts of research, which were used not only to make recommendations for action to the Legislature but also would later go into the publication of Hall's landmark work on irrigation. In 1881 Hall asked the Legislature for $50,000 to complete his research. The Legislature gave him $20,000, an insufficient amount which forced Hall to continue his research by paying for much of it out of his own pocket. By the end of 1882 Hall was under attack by members of the Legislature and the press, a matter which he attributed to his stance against the Drainage Act of 1880. Somehow, despite his adversaries' efforts Hall managed to garner enough funding to produce and publish two volumes of his work on irrigation. Then in 1889 the Legislature voted to abolish the office of State Engineer and instead make the State Mineralogist the ex-officio State Engineer for the next two years. With his position abolished, Hall offered to stay on as an unpaid consultant in order to collect the final data for the rest of his irrigation study, needing only $6,000 for staff and expenses. He was denied, however, and the labor which he had put into the final two volumes of his work went to waste. 8
    In 1906 the office of State Engineer was re-established and a year later the Department of Engineering created. Although this agency did resume Hall's labors, the time lapse was too great to be overcome. The department asserted, in 1914, that to discontinue the State Engineering Department and its labors at a time when... it was getting on its feet was a blunder little short of a crime. Their report went on to declare that the Legislature's actions of 1889 had cost the State valuable time in putting together and implementing a workable water policy. 9
    In the end, Hall and the position of State Engineer fell victim to the bureaucracy of government and politics. Hall, in advocating sweeping changes in the State's policies regarding water rights and appropriation, made instant adversaries of some of the most powerful individuals and organizations in California, those in control of the water who had secured the favors of countless members of the Legislature. Hall was a man of strong beliefs. As Charles Korr explains, He looked at the entire water problem with the view of a man completely convinced of the absolute wisdom of his plans. Unfortunately, Hall, refusing to compromise on what he felt was a correct opinion based on sound research, was destined to failure when attacking and being attacked by those who wished to maintain the status quo, especially considering his lack of political background and knowledge. 10
    Hall did go on, however, to develop a prosperous career despite his disappointment with the California Legislature. Only a month after he resigned his post as State Engineer in 1889, Hall was appointed to the State Examining Commission on Rivers and Harbors, from which he soon resigned, and served as Supervising Engineer on the U.S. Geological Survey to investigate irrigation. From 1890 to 1896 Hall worked in private practice as a civil engineer, in charge of irrigation and water supply work in Southern and Central California and in Washington. From 1890 to 1891 he also worked as consulting engineer to the Northern Pacific Railway. Then in 1896 Hall left California to work in Europe and South Africa, where he spent the next three years constructing a plant to supply water to the mines around Johannesburg, consulting on irrigation and water works in London, and reporting to the Russian Minister of Agriculture on irrigation and canal projects in the transcaucus and central Asia. Hall returned to California in 1900 where he managed properties for investment and development, acquiring land in the Lake Eleanor and Cherry Creek watersheds which later were selected as water supply areas for San Francisco. Hall died at the age of 88 in San Francisco in October 1934. 11
    As Charles Korr explains, if the State Engineer were to be judged by the number of irrigation works constructed under his administration, Hall would be deemed a failure, for during his tenure the State began little in the way of actual construction. However, what Hall did leave to California is impossible to measure. His emphasis on planning based on thorough technical observations would serve as a rule of thumb for those who would later build upon Hall's beginnings and construct the State's revolutionary water systems. These engineers of the 20th century followed Hall's lead in looking at California's water and irrigation problem not only from its technical aspects but also in its social and political contexts, which had always been, and remain, strong forces in planning any water resources management policies in California. The suggestions put forward by the State Engineer in 1907 and 1927 are almost identical to Hall's recommendations of 1880. Later when Edward Hyatt, the father of the Central Valley Project, began his work in the 1930s, his ideas were strongly reminiscent of Hall's report made to the Board of Directors of the Central Valley Irrigation District decades earlier, in which he envisioned a system of canals for the San Joaquin Valley that would provide drainage and a water supply. Finally, not to be negated, are the priceless maps left as part of Hall's legacy, maps which today tell us much not only about the water systems of California in the past but also about how our present systems came into being. 12
    When in 1889 Hall lamented that there had been no move made to plan for irrigation in California, he attributed the inaction to being simply for the reason that there is a lack of knowledge of what can be done and a lack of organization and capital to carry it out. 13 Today, Hall would be proud to know that, although he could do little to instigate organization or garner funding, he is now pointed to as the forerunner in helping California gain the knowledge it needed to begin planning for water policy. A knowledge and planning that have saved California's water resources from serious jeopardy in the past and will continue to do well into the future.
    1 Franklin Harper, editor, Who's Who on the Pacific Coast (Los Angeles: Harper Publishing Company, 1913), 243-44; Press Reference Library (Western Edition), Notables of the West (New York: International News Service, 1913), 421.
    2 Harper, Who's Who, 243-44; Press Reference Library, 421; San Francisco Chronicle, 17 October 1934, 13:5.
    3 Harper, Who's Who, 243-44; Press Reference Library, 421.
    4 Charles P. Korr, William Hammond Hall: The Failure of Attempts at State Water Planning in California, 1878-1888 Southern California Quarterly 45 (December 1963): 307; Elsey Hurt, California State Government: An Outline of its Administrative Organization from 1850 to 1936, vol. 1 (Berkeley: Bureau of Public Administration of the University of California, 1936 and 1939), 219-20.
    5 Korr, William Hammond Hall, 307.
    6 Korr, William Hammond Hall, 308.
    7 Korr, William Hammond Hall, 308-11.
    8 Korr, William Hammond Hall, 311-14; Hurt, California State Government, vol. 1, 219-20.
    9 Korr, William Hammond Hall, 311-14; Hurt, California State Government, vol. 1, 219-20.
    10 Korr, William Hammond Hall, 315-17.
    11 Harper, Who's Who, 243-44; Press Reference Library, 421; San Francisco Chronicle, 17 October 1934, 13:5.
    12 Korr, William Hammond Hall, 314-18; William Kahrl, editor, The California Water Atlas (Sacramento: State of California, 1978 and 1979), 90.
    13 William Hammond Hall, Irrigation in California National Geographic Magazine 1 (1889): 290.


    Although William Hammond Hall served as State Engineer only until 1889, the Hall Papers cover the years 1878 to 1907 because the records were housed until 1991 as documents still in use by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) where they became somewhat intermingled with those of later time periods. The majority of the records, however, date to 1889, and only a few scattered reports, field books, and maps are from later time periods.
    The record group has been broken into subgroups by type of records. These subgroups reflect the divisions apparent in the records when they were transferred from DWR. The subgroups are miscellaneous working papers, field books, and maps.
    The majority of this record group is made up of the field books, covering the years 1878 to 1907, which were kept by Hall and his assistants as they gathered technical information on California's water systems. The field books cover various regions throughout the state, primarily, but not limited to, Southern California and the Central Valley. The books include notes, statistics, residents' observations, charts, tables, and miscellaneous diary entries. They also contain information still valued today relating to water rights and property ownership.
    The miscellaneous working papers, which arrived in no discernible order, had largely been left untouched since Hall's time. These records are primarily reports and various supporting data compiled for inclusion or use in Hall's irrigation studies. Of these studies, Hall was only appropriated funds to publish two volumes, leaving the final two volumes he intended to produce unfinished. While some of the records in this subgroup include reports on Southern California, which was covered in volume two of Hall's work, the majority of these documents cover the Central Valley, which Hall had planned to address in the third volume. This subgroup has been arranged according to the subject covered by each report or supporting matter, such as canals and ditches, irrigation, rivers and watersheds, and rainfall, for example. Aside from the Canals and Ditches series, which is organized according to a preliminary table of contents found with the records, each subject series is then organized by type of document (reports, charts and tables, correspondence, newspaper clippings, etc.) and, where applicable, separated by region and arranged alphabetically.
    The map subgroup, which includes 83 original maps and various duplicates, has been left in the arrangement in which it arrived from DWR. The numbering system is also DWR's. The maps are valuable tools in discerning what the state's water and irrigation systems were like during Hall's time. They provide the first extensive and comprehensive study of water in California conducted with strict scientific and technical methods. As such, they can provide researchers with immeasurable information, for they indicate not only watershed areas, drainage systems, and irrigation works, but also land ownership and land grants, soil classification, and crops.
    Aside from the maps, all of the records in this record group are textual documents. Most of the written documents, apart from field books and charts and tables, are typed. There are also some handwritten copies/drafts of the reports.

    Works Consulted

    Hall, William Hammond. William Hammond Hall Collection. California State Library; Sacramento, California.
    -----. Irrigation in California. National Geographic Magazine 1 (1889): 277-290.
    -----. Irrigation Development: History, Customs, Laws and Administrative Systems Relating to Irrigations, Water-courses, and Waters in France, Italy, and Spain. Vol. I of Report of State Engineer of California, on Irrigation and the Irrigation Question. Sacramento: State Printing, 1886.
    -----. Irrigation in Southern California: The Field, Water Supply and Works, Organization, and Operation in San Diego, San Bernadino, and Los Angeles Counties. Vol. II of Report of State Engineer of California, on Irrigation and the Irrigation Question. Sacramento: State Office, 1888.
    Harper, Franklin, editor. Who's Who on the Pacific Coast. Los Angeles: Harper Publishing Company, 1913.
    Hurt, Elsey. California State Government: An Outline of its Administrative Organization from 1850 to 1936. 2 vols. Berkeley: Bureau of Public Administration of the University of California, 1936 and 1939.
    Kahrl, William, editor. The California Water Atlas. Sacramento: State of California, 1978 and 1979.
    Korr, Charles P. William Hammond Hall: The Failure of Attempts at State Water Planning in California, 1878-1888. Southern California Quarterly 45 (December 1963): 305-22.
    Press Reference Library (Western Edition), Notables of the West. New York: International News Service, 1913.