Butte County

Biographies


 

 

 

 

WENDELL P. HAMMON

 

 

WENDELL P. HAMMON.--The name of Wendell P. Hammon is as naturally associated with the idea of the development of Northern California as the name of California itself is associated with the idea of a domain of gold and prosperity, of fruit and flowers, and of sunshine and health. Oroville knows him as a man who did much to bring the town out of the lethargy that followed the mining boom, and make it a solid, progressive community. San Francisco and the rest of the state know him as a business

man of high enterprise and unimpeachable integrity. It is perhaps as a pioneer in the field of gold dredging that Mr. Hammon is best known; not that he has confined himself to this, however, for he has been and still is deeply interested in the growing of fruit, particularly of oranges, and is connected in one way or another with a number of corporations of varied scope. His name is almost a household word in California, where he is known as a builder of electric railroads and a leader in the development of hydro-electric power projects, as well as the world's most prominent dredge-mining operator.

W. P. Hammon was born on May 23, 1854, in Conneautville, Crawford County, Pa., the son of Marshall M. and Harriet S. (Cooper) Hammon. His paternal ancestors settled at Providence, R. I., about the year 1726. The early education of Mr. Hammon was obtained in the grammar schools of his birthplace and in the state normal school at Edinboro, Erie County. He left the latter institution in 1875, before graduation, however, and came to California. Upon his arrival here he looked about for an opening and soon secured a position as a salesman with L. Green and Sons, of Perry, Ohio, a large fruit-importing concern. He took a keen interest in the fruit industry, and two years later, seeing an opportunity to launch out for himself, engaged in the nursery business. Meanwhile he studied the subject carefully, and in a few years began to be spoken of as an

authority on horticulture. He removed to Butte County in 1890, and this proved to be the scene of most of his future operations. He planted a large orchard about ten miles below Oroville, near the Feather River, and devoted most of the next ten years to fruit-growing. In those days the Sacramento Valley was not very well established as a fruit-growing

center, and the opening up of the large grain ranches to more intensive cultivation, especially to fruits, had not been accomplished, nor were there transportation facilities by which to get the products of the farms into markets at nominal cost.

It is to such men as Mr. Hammon that the citizens of the county owe their prosperity and advancement; he did a great deal of the pioneering in the fruit-growing industry, and it was while he was pursuing the development of his ranch by superintending the digging of a well, that he was handed some shining particles that had come out with the dirt. Thus it was that he became interested in dredger mining. When he saw the shining particles of gold thickly imbedded in the dirt, he at once decided that if a machine could be constructed that would handle large quantities of this dirt, a tremendous industry would be established in this county, and it would add very materially to the wealth of the state. From a very small beginning the dredging industry grew to large proportions, and the man who was the pioneer of dredger-mining soon became a millionaire. Through his initiative the world has had many millions of dollars added to its wealth from lands that had been considered worthless and from the tailing piles left by the early placer-miners, the dredger following in their path and once more turning over the piles of rock and soil in search of the yellow metal. Although confining his principal operations to California, Mr. Hammon also operated in a small way in Eastern Oregon, Idaho and Arizona.

After finding excellent pay-dirt on his own property, Mr. Hammon secured an option on about one thousand acres and prospected it thoroughly, with gratifying results. Gold dredging had never been carried on successfully on the Pacific Coast, and to many this method appeared impractical. Mr. Hammon, however, came across a new type of dredge built and, after organizing the Feather River Exploration Company, began operations on March 1, 1898. As in the case of every new enterprise, progress was difficult and there were many who scoffed at the idea and predicted failure, and for a time it was all outgo and no returns. The dredging machinery was improved from time to time until success was assured. The rest of the story is so well known that it needs no telling. Today Mr. Hammon directs the largest gold-dredging operations in the world. His companies have control of more than ten thousand acres of land in California and Oregon, and more than thirty dredgers are at work. Among his corporations engaged in the industry are the Yuba Consolidated Gold Fields Company, the Calaveras Dredging Company, and the Powder River Gold dredging Company. The gold dredging operations have advanced Oroville and Butte County to a place in the front rank as a mining district, the world over; and Oroville, like Ballarat and Kimberley, has become a by-word in London, Paris and New York.

Mr. Hammon continues to be a large factor in the fruit-growing industry. He has invested many thousands of dollars in developing orange and olive groves in Northern California, and is today the largest single producer in Butte County and vicinity. His investments in this line have not been made from sentimental reasons, but have been the result of hard-headed, clear-sighted, business-like investigation into conditions that actually exist. Among some of his holdings are the Gawthorne Grove of forty acres; the Hammon Grove of olives, of sixty acres. At Palermo he owns a beautiful summer home, which has been made of the show places of the county; also what is known as the Hammon Orange Grove, of one hundred twenty-five acres. These tracts are watered from the Palermo ditch, the water coming from the Middle Fork of the Feather River. From his groves Mr. Hammon has been selling over four hundred tons of olives annually to the various olive factories in Oroville and vicinity, and over one hundred fifty car loads of oranges have been marketed in the East each year, in time to catch the fancy holiday markets and command the highest prices paid during the season. Employment is given about thirty people during slack times, and during the busy season the number is increased to over one hundred fifty. Two large packing houses are kept busy packing the fruit for shipment. All this contributes towards the prosperity of the community. Mr. Hammon considers his orange and olive groves among his very best investments, which is a guarantee to others that they are safe in making investments in the same localities. He is president of the Oroville Orange and Olive Groves, and is an officer and a director in the Finnell Land Company, Hammon Engineering Company, Plumas Investment Company, Yuba Construction Company, and Sierra Pacific Electric Company. He was one of the organizers of the Ventura Consolidated Oil Fields Company, Montebello Oil Company, and Ventura Refining Company, as well as its heaviest backer; and he was interested in the installation of hydro-electric and irrigation projects.

The marriage of W. P. Hammon united him with Miss Gussie Kenney, born in Placerville, Cal., a daughter of Ephraim Kenney. Her father was a forty-niner, and a prominent mining man of the early days of Placer County. Of this union three children have been born. Wendell C., a graduate from Stanford University, is now a First Lieutenant in the Fourth United States Regiment of Engineers in France. Glenn A. was a student at Stanford until the declaration of war, when he enlisted for duty; he is now inspector of armored tractors and tanks at the United States Ordnance Depot at Peoria, Ill., with the rank of Second Lieutenant. The daughter, Georgia, a graduate from Mills College, became the wife of Scott Hendricks, who is now Judge Advocate at Camp Zachary Taylor, at Louisville, Ky. Mrs. Hendricks died in San Francisco in 1915.

Ever since settling in Butte County, Mr. Hammon has been one of

its most influential citizens. Emphatically a man of work, he is never idle. No enterprise of worth has been projected that failed of his support and substantial encouragement; and every plan for the promotion of public welfare has had the benefit of his keen judgment and wise cooperation. A man of broad and charitable views, he aids every movement

for the advancement of education, morality and the well-being of the state. He is a citizen of whom any community might well be proud.

 

 

Transcribed by Sande Beach.

Source: "History of Butte County, Cal.," by George C. Mansfield, Pages 647-649, Historic Record Co, Los Angeles, CA, 1918.


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