Source: Guinn, James M. History of the State of California and Biographical Record of Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties. An Historical Story of the State’s Marvelous Growth from its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time — by Prof. J. M. Guinn, A. M., Author of A History of Los Angeles and Vicinity, History of Southern California, Secretary and Curator of the Historical Society of Southern California, Member of the American Historical Association, Washington, D. C. Also Containing Biographies of Well-Known Citizens of the Past and Present. The Chapman Publishing Co., Chicago, 1903. Copyright 1902 by the Chapman Publishing Co.[Portrait of F. A. Hihn, with his signature, faces p. 259; his is the first biography in this book.]
FREDERICK A. HIHN.
This California pioneer of 1849 was born at Holzminden, duchy of Brunswick, Germany, August 16, 1829, and was one of a family comprising seven boys and two girls, whose father was a merchant. He was educated in the Holzminden high school and at the age of fifteen became an apprentice in the mercantile house of A. Hoffman of Schoeningen. Three years later, on completing his time, he embarked in the business of collecting medicinal herbs and preparing them for market. Disliking the German form of government and yearing for political liberty, he was preparing to emigrate to Wisconsin when news of the gold discoveries in California reached Germany, and he decided to join the great throng seeking the gold lands.
With sixty or more companions, Mr. Hihn sailed from Bremen in the brig Reform, April 20, 1849, and after two months reached the harbor of Rio Janeiro. The beauties of tropical vegetation and scenery made the country seem a paradise, and the balmy air, filled with the delicious odor of orange blossoms, entranced them, but they were disenchanted by the monotonous ejaculations and dog-trot of large gangs of slaves passing by, loaded down with heavy burdens. After five days they set sail again. Opposite the La Plata river they endured a terrific storm, then they passed through the straits of La Maire and came in full sight of Cape Horn, a tall cliff jutting boldly out into the ocean. It was midwinter and the thermometer low, but all thronged the deck to view the great column and bid adieu to the Atlantic ocean. It seemed to them as if they were entering a new world. In two more weeks they landed at Valparaiso, from where, after four days, they sailed for San Francisco, and October 12, 1849, entered the Golden Gate. The harbor was full of ships, and, though the town was small, every nationality seemed to be represented. They landed near the foot of Washington street, not far from Montgomery street.
Although near the rainy season most of the passengers of the Reform at once proceeded to the mines. Mr. Hihn joined a party of six, led by Henry Gerstecker.[*] After innumerable troubles they reached the south fork of Feather river in the early part of November. They bought a mining claim and prepared to locate for the winter, but it commenced to rain, the river rose and washed away their tools, and for a time they were forced to subsist on manzanita berries. After two weeks it was decided to return to Sacramento, where they arrived about December I, and there the party disbanded. Mr. Hihn remained in Sacramento and engaged in the manufacture of candy with E. Kunitz, who was his near neighbor in Santa Cruz, but is now deceased. For a few weeks they did a good business, but about Christmas the Sacramento and American rivers overflowed their banks and the candy factory with all its contents was destroyed. In the summer of 1850 Mr. Hihn worked in the mines at Long Bar on the American river, below Auburn, with moderate success. In the fall he returned to Sacramento and became one of the proprietors of two hotels on K street, named respectively the Uncle Sam House and the Mechanics Exchange. Times getting very dull he sold out during the next winter and opened a drug store in San Francisco, on Washington street near Maguire’s opera house.
The great fire of May, 1851, took nearly all of his worldly goods and the balance was consumed in the June fire of that year. Despairing of ever again succeeding, he was passing through the burnt district on his way to take passage for his native land, when he saw one of his friends who had been burned out shoveling the burning coals out of the way. “What are you doing?” was asked. “Building a new store,” was the reply. “What! After you have been burned out twice within two months?” Said the friend, “Oh, some one will carry on business here.” “I might as well do it as any one else,” thought Mr. Hihn, and so he remained, this incident changing his mind. New courage pervaded him and he formed a partnership with Henry Hintch [Hentsch***] to open a store in some town south of San Francisco, where it was supposed, though money was not so plenty, the danger from fire was less and life more agreeable. In October, 1851, they came to Santa Cruz, where they located at the junction of Front street and Pacific avenue. Soon afterward Mr. Hintch went back to the city, but Mr. Hihn remained. Having the advantage of a good mercantile education, speaking English, German, French and Spanish fluently, besides having some knowledge of other languages, he soon succeeded in establishing a large and prosperous mercantile business. In 1853 he erected a two-story building, which was considered a fine structure in that day. Then came the trying times for Santa Cruz. Wheat, patatoes and lumber, the principal products of the neighborhood, were almost worthless. Wheat sold for a cent a pound, potatoes rotted in the fields, and lumber went down from $55 to $12 per thousand feet. Instead of despairing, this only spurred Mr. Hihn on to greater exertions. He could not afford to sell his goods on credit, so he exchanged them for the products of the country, paying part cash. The wheat was ground into flour, and large quantities of the latter, together with lumber and shingles, were shipped to Los Angeles and Monterey. Many days more than $500 worth of eggs were taken in and shipped to San Francisco. Fresh butter was put up in barrels and sold in the fall and winter in place of eastern butter. In this manner the hard times were converted into good times for the young merchant and his patrons, and in 1857 he counted himself worth $30,000, but his health had suffered by hard work and business worry, and he turned his business over to his younger brother, Hugo.
November 23, 1853, Mr. Hihn married Therese Paggen, a native of France, and of German parentage. The children of this marriage are: Katie C., formerly the wife of W. T. Cope; Louis W., deceased, who married Harriet Israel; August C., who married Grace Cooper; Fred O., who married Minnie Chace; Theresa, wife of George Ready; and Agnes, wife of C. B. Younger. The first residence of Mr. and Mrs. Hihn was in the second story of the store at the junction of Pacific avenue and Front street. This building now stands on Pacific avenue north of the store of Williamson & Garrett and the second story is occupied by the Decorative Art Society. In 1857 Mr. Hihn established his family home on Locust street and in 1872 he built the mansion on that street where he has since resided.
Soon after arriving in Santa Cruz Mr. Hihn directed his attention to real-estate operations, his general method being to buy large tracts, grade and open streets and roads, plant shade and other trees, and generally improve the land and neighborhood. Then he subdivided these tracts into lots and parcels and sold on such terms as would suit the convenience of buyers. “Homes for a thousand families” was the favorite heading of his real-estate advertisements. A novel feature was the following clause which he inserted in his contract for the sale of land: “In the event of the death of the buyer, all mature installments having been promptly paid, the heirs of such deceased buyer are entitled to a deed without further payment.” Considering that but ten per cent of the purchase price was required to be paid at the time of buying, this was certainly an inviting proposition, of which many avialed themselves in order to secure a home. The seller claimed that the losses by death were well covered by increased sales and the enhancement of values of unsold land. Mr. Hihn’s real-estate operations extended to nearly all parts of Santa Cruz county. Capitola, one of the most pleasant watering places on the coast, was founded by him, and many of the streets in Santa Cruz and adjoining towns owe their origin to this indefatigable worker. He also owns some choice corner lots in San Francisco, conspicuous among which are the headquarters of the Evening Post, and the lot on the southeast corner of Market and East.
While giving close attention to his private affairs, Mr. Hihn has always been foremost in advancing public interests. Among the works and measures of improvements in which he was a leading spirit are the construction of a wagon road across the Santa Cruz mountains, connecting Santa Cruz with the outside world by telegraph; the construction and operation of the railroad from Santa Cruz to Pajaro and the opening of the cliff road in front of Santa Cruz, extending eastward to Capitola. In 1860, when even San Francisco had to depend upon the Sausalito boats for much of its water, when there was no Spring valley and the Bensley works were in their infancy, Mr. Hihn made water pipes from redwood logs and supplied the people of Santa Cruz with water for domestic use and fire protection. Afterward he enlarged these works and built works in other parts of the county, and until lately all the water used in Santa Cruz, East Santa Cruz, Capitola, Soquel and Valencia was supplied by him. He assisted in the organization of the Society of California Pioneers of Santa Cruz county, of which he since has been the president. In 1887 he assisted in organizing the City Bank and City Savings Bank of Santa Cruz.
In public office Mr. Hihn served as school trustee of Santa Cruz when there was only one teacher in the city, and under his management a high-school class was organized and maintained by subscription. For six years he served as county supervisor. Times were dull then and money scarce, the county was in debt, and county warrants sold at sixty cents on the dollar. Through his influence these warrants were brought up to par value and the county debt was largely reduced without increasing taxation. The county court-house and a very substantial jail were erected under his careful managment. In 1869 he was elected to the state assembly, and during that term he performed a prodigious amount of work, a few of the measures he originated being the following acts of legislature: A new charger for the city of Santa Cruz; a new financial system for the county of Santa Cruz; concerning estray animals; appointment of a commission to examine and survey Santa Cruz harbor for a breakwater; concerning roads and highways; authorizing a levy of district taxes for building school houses; authorizing supervisors of counties to grant wharf franchises; providing for fees and salaries of state and township officers; authorizing supervisors to aid in the construction of railroads in their respective counties.
One of the most important measures Mr. Hihn originated was that to refund the state debt, under which act about $4,000,000 of state bonds were successfully refunded at a saving of a large amount of interest to the state. He was largely interested in the Spring Valley water-works while they were being constructed. Included among his interests were large blocks of stock owned in the San Francisco Gas Company, and he now has stock in the Visitacion Water Company, Stockton Gas Company and Donohoe-Kelly Banking Company. He is the largest stockholder in the Patent Brick Company, which is one of the principal suppliers of brick for San Francisco and other points on the bay. Near Aptos, Santa Cruz county, he built and operated a sawmill with a capacity of seventy thousand feet of lumber a day, which supplied the Salinas and San Benito valleys with redwood lumber. Telegraph and electric-light poles up to sixty feet long were manufactured in large quantities. To bring the logs to the mill and the lumber to Aptos, a railroad was built extending from Aptos into the very heart of the mountains, about eight miles long, through chasms and up steep grades. The cars were all built at the mill. Shingles, shakes and fruit boxes were also made in large quantities, and the offal of the timber was made into firewood and shipped to San José and other points.
As a crowning act of his business career, in 1890 Mr. Hihn organized a corporation under the name of the F. A. Hihn Company, a family union, which binds together his children by mutual interest. The officers are: August C. Hihn, president; F. O. Hihn, treasurer; and (until lately)** L. W. Hihn, director. This corporation has charge of all the large interests of Mr. Hihn in Santa Cruz county, and the stock is owned exclusively by him and his family. The corporate seal shows two clasped hands, intended to represent F. A. Hihn and his faithful wife; three links drop from the wrist of each hand, representing the three daughters and three sons, and a number of smaller links connected at each end with the larger links are intended to represent the descendants of his children. The corporation is in every respect a success and gives great satisfaction to the originator.
In 1880 S. J. Lynch, an old friend of Mr. Hihn’s, died, leaving large interests in Los Angeles and Santa Cruz counties. Mr. Hihn was chosen executor of the estate, which unfortunately yielded no income, while a large family was dependent on it for support. It took over twenty years to secure results, but the property, which is valued at over $200,000, is now being divided by Mr. Hihn among the heirs of his deceased friend. About seven years ago he also became the executor of the last will of Joseph S. Eastland, who during his active life was a prominent business man of San Francisco. For three years Mr. Hihn managed the extensive affairs of the estate, consisting of valuable blocks of real estate in San Francisco, also in a number of other parts of California, and vast tracts of land in Tennessee and Texas. This estate was scarcely settled and the proceeds turned over to Mrs. Alice L. Eastland, the widow, when she also died, and Mr. Hihn became executor of her estate, which is yet in course of administration, but will soon be settled. As the executor of the Eastland estate and in his own right, six years ago he became a director of the Stockton Gas and Electric Company, and very soon thereafter was made its manager, for the past two years having served as president as well as manager. This company is engaged in generating electric current, manufacturing coal gas and producing natural gas. It supplies the city of Stockton and its inhabitants with light, heat and power, only a few of the city’s manufacturing plants being run by steam power. For this purpose the lighting plant of the company has been very much enlarged. Manufactured gas is now being made from crude oil instead of coal, and a number of gas wells have been bored from two thousand to twenty-five hundred feet deep. All of this has been accomplished under the management of Mr. Hihn, in the face of threatened strong opposition, and while the people were clamoring for a municipal lighting plant; but, by careful attention to all the details and by making liberal reductions in the lighting and power rates, all of the threatened opposition has died out, and today the Stockton Gas and Electric Company stands without a rival, reaping a moderate and justly earned reward for its enterprise and fair dealings.
In 1896 Mr. Hihn organized the Lightner Mining Company and on behalf of Mrs. Eastland contracted to sell to it the Lightner mine, located at Angel’s Camp, Cal. The arrangement was that the mine was to be paid for out of one-half of the net proceeds of the same. In order to make this enterprise a success, he became himself largely interested in the mine. A deep shaft was sunk, a forty-stamp mill erected, and the mine now yields about two hundred tons of ore per day (about $1,000 in gold), and gives promise for a continuance of such yield for many years. In 1899 the F. A. Hihn Company, under the direct management of Mr. Hihn, contracted for a new sawmill at Laurel, on the line of the narrow gauge. All of the old logging and milling methods were abandoned in the operation of this mill. Instead of using ox-power, the logs are gathered in the woods and hauled to the mill by steam power. Instead of a circular saw, a band saw cuts the great redwood logs into all kinds of lumber, from electric-light poles, fifty feet long, to the smallest mouldings. The year 1902 was a disastrous one for the F. A. Hihn Company, as in that year their planing mill at Salinas was consumed by fire, destroying a large amount of lumber. A few months after this disaster the sawmill at Laurel was visited by fire, and nearly half of the large stock of lumber went up in smoke. The fire was discovered soon after midnight and before the next day dawned Mr. Hihn was on the ground and took charge of the fight against the fiery element. When the fire was finally extinguished it was found that two million feet of lumber had been saved. Nothing daunted by these losses, Mr. Hihn planned at once for a new sawmill at Laurel and a new planing mill at Santa Cruz instead of Salinas. Both mills are now in course of construction.
Mr. Hihn took great interest in the labor colony established a few years ago by the Salvation Army under the direct management of Mr. Booth-Tucker, the leader of the Salvation Army in the United States, and the latter greatly appreciated Mr. Hihn’s efforts in behalf of the movement. In the spring of 1902 Governor Gage appointed Mr. Hihn one of the trustees of the California Polytechnical School, an institution founded by the state to educate young people in the lower walks of life. There agriculture in all its branches and domestic science will be taught. A favorable location near San Luis Obispo has been selected and Mr. Hihn is now engaged in completing the arrangements for the purchase of the site, consisting of three hundred acres of land. He takes great interest in this enterprise and feels assured that its future will be of even greater interest to the public at large than the universities of the state.
Though now seventy-three years of age, Mr. Hihn does not allow advancing years to deter him from continuous and even arduous work. Very recently he headed a party to explore the Big Basin, a large timber tract in the northern end of Santa Cruz county, and selected by the state as a timber park and forest reserve. This new park is approachable by climbing the mountain from Boulder creek on the east. However, Mr. Hihn hopes to reach it by way of the coast without having to endure the mountain climb. He hopes thus to open a first-class wagon road from Santa Cruz along the shore of the ocean for twenty miles, thence seven miles up the Waddell gulch to the park. In his opinion this drive and a visit to the park and timber reserve will be far more interesting than the trip to Yosemite valley or through the Yellowstone Park.
The personality of Mr. Hihn is unique. He is a man of marked individuality, keen, aggressive, possessing decided convictions, quick to discern the points of a case, and equally quick to grasp favorable opportunities. To a man of such energy and will power death alone can terminate his activities, and even that will not bring his influence to an end, for the work he accomplished in behalf of the people of his city and county will give his name a lasting place in the annals of local history.”
* [see the first 40 pages of: Gerstaecker, Friedrich California Gold Mines Oakland, CA: Biobooks, 1946.]
** “... and (until lately) L. W. Hihn, director” — Louis William Hihn was the first son born to Therese and Frederick Augustus Hihn; born July 27, 1858, he died on October 23, 1901, of heart failure at his fruit farm in Campbell, near San Jose. [In Santa Clara Co., Oct. 23d, Louis W. Hihn, a native of Santa Cruz, aged 43 years, 2 months and 26 days.]
*** Henry Hentsch, later, was a banker and assayer in San Francisco from 1863 until 1873 when he removed to Geneva, Switzerland. He is then identified as President of the Swiss American Bank, Incorporated in Geneva, Switzerland, January 20th, 1873, with an office in San Francisco, represented by Francis Berton, Consul for Switzerland and Portugal, and Robert Watt.