About the Hihn Letters


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Letters of F. A. Hihn & F. A. Hihn Company

November 25, 1901 - March 14, 1902
Transcribed and Indexed by
Stanley D. Stevens

Letter Books : An early form of copying

The Letter Books, of which Book 46 is an example, also referred to as Impression Books, were used extensively by the F. A. Hihn Co. to record letters for future reference. All five of the F. A. Hihn Co. Letter Books that are in the Hihn-Younger Archive are of this type, and several of the twenty-five volumes of Deeds and Agreements are impression books. The method is best described by a contemporary label from a copy book:

Parchment Copying Paper

This Parchment Paper is MUCH STRONGER, and shows a CLEARER COPY, than any other ever made for the purpose. The ink is LESS LIABLE TO SPREAD, and can be written upon with a pen.


Place a piece of blotting-board under the leaf of Copying Paper; then, with a soft brush, wet the leaf. Brush in the surplus water with the hand; then place the written letter on the leaf, (leaving the blotting-paper under the leaf, to take up any excess of water that may yet remain,) place it in the Press, and in ten or fifteen seconds a perfect copy will be secured.

The leaves WILL DRY AS SMOOTH AS SILK by placing the book in the Press after Copying. Place the oil sheets between the copies just made, to prevent bleeding or setting off.

While the results pretty much lived up to the claim of the advertisement, the practice obviously left much to be desired. Many of the impressions are highly distorted.

The Transcriber used his best pair of eyes to study the impressions. The context and reference to other letters to the same person provided many clues for interpretation, fortunately.

Wherever text or manuscript annotations were unreadable omissions are indicated by ellipsis.


Historians do their best when they use original documentation (compared to secondary sources; e.g., newspaper accounts) of the events and the people who created our past. When it comes to writing about Frederick Augustus Hihn, one of Santa Cruz County's most influential pioneers, there are a few, but hardly enough, documentary sources available.

In 1922, nearly a decade after the death of F. A. Hihn, at a time when the Company bearing his name had been dissolved and his Estate had been distributed, someone decided to close the Company offices and dispose of business records that were no longer useful. In 1992, when Sara A. Bunnett, my colleague in Researchers Anonymous, passed along the following newspaper account, I was shocked to read and speculate about its content:


Returned checks from banks totaling millions of dollars and six great auto truck loads of records, bookkeeping books, maps, old papers, dating back to 1868, were hauled to the city incinerator today from the offices of the former F. A. Hihn Company, on Park Street, to be consumed in the city's great furnaces as a final wind up of the affairs of this once all-powerful company in the city and county.

The offices were visited by a News man today and several rooms on the lower floor where half a dozen bookkeepers and four or five stenographers were once kept busy, were vacant, dark, dusty and littered with all sorts of office records and old papers which were being removed by workmen to a big truck outside. Half a dozen rooms on the second floor, used for storing records, dating back over 50 years, had also been visited by the draymen and the floors of the rooms looked like a cyclone had struck them.

These offices contained the work of expert bookkeepers together with all the plans and forms as outlined by the late F. A. Hihn in conducting all the big enterprises of the former company. Many such records at one time were held almost priceless, but now are not worth the paper they are written upon.

In the room occupied by the late August Hihn as an office up to the time of his death, hangs a large picture of the pioneers of Santa Cruz, a picture of the late F. A. Hihn and also one of Fred Hihn. ...

C. L. Gibson, who worked for the Hihn Company for many years is superintending the cleanup and trucking the records to the incinerator.

Santa Cruz News January 28, 1922 p. 1 cols. 4-5

We are fortunate, therefore, that F. A. Hihn's descendants have saved as much as they could and donated it to the University of California at Santa Cruz for research; it includes letters and documents, family photographs, some F. A. Hihn Company records, and memorabilia, including his Tagebuch of 1849 (the diary of his voyage around Cape Horn from Germany to join the California Gold Rush).

The present volume, Letter Book 46, is one of five such volumes donated to the University Library in 1977 by Marion Stowell Younger, widow of Donald Younger, grandson of F. A. Hihn. These volumes reside in Special Collections at McHenry Library, University of California at Santa Cruz, along with The Hihn-Younger Archive.

  • F. A. Hihn Co. Letter Book 46: Nov. 25, 1901 through March 14, 1902 (which includes a "copy" of one earlier letter, September 14, 1901)
  • F. A. Hihn Co. Letter Book 50: December 1902 to May 1903 F. A. Hihn Co. Letter Book 57: April 1906 to September 1906 (which includes F. A. Hihn's report of the April 18, 1906 Earthquake and Fire in San Francisco, when he was at the Palace Hotel)
  • F. A. Hihn Co. Letter Book 60: May 1907 to August 1907

The content of Letter Book 46, if that is all we had, would be enough for a critical study of F. A. Hihn and his Company's businesses. There are 2,080 letters, represented in a newly created database by 2,151 records, spanning a four-month period, Nov. 25, 1901 through March 14, 1902. An average of 19 letters per day were generated by F. A. Hihn, his two sons who shared the business, August Charles Hihn (President of the F. A. Hihn Co.), and Frederick Otto Hihn (Treasurer), and their principal employees, notably J. H. Routt who handled the lumber businesses of the Hihn Company, and Walter B. Anthony who was a recently employed bookkeeper.

The letters reveal the tremendous stamina of F. A. Hihn, seventy-two years old at this time. He micro-managed the following activities, all taking place simultaneously:

  • Hihn Company's logging of Redwood lumber at its Laurel Mill, logging of Pine at its Gold Gulch property, marketing of lumber (predominated by Firewood and Telephone-Telegraph Poles) and other building materials at its yards at Aptos, Capitola, Hollister, Salinas, Santa Cruz, Soquel and Watsonville, with connections at wharves at Capitola and Moss Landing; this included F. A. Hihn's expansion of the Laurel Schoolhouse to accommodate population growth at Laurel
  • Hihn real estate, located principally at Capitola, Santa Cruz, and Valencia, including the the leasing of business concessions for the 1902 tourist season in Capitola; including the growing of agricultural produce for export to San Francisco markets
  • Hihn real estate, located at Paso Robles, San Francisco, and several other cities, including the improvements to Hihn's Paso Robles Springs Hotel Micro-management of the Stockton Gas & Electric Company, of which F. A. Hihn was its President
  • Hihn's Executorship of three Estates: Thomas Green Eastland, Alice Lander Eastland, and Sedgwick James Lynch (the latter as Executor for over twenty years)
  • Hihn's appointment by California Governor Henry T. Gage as Trustee of the soon to-be-established California Polytechnical School at San Luis Obispo; and Hihn's accounts of selecting the property for the Cal Poly's campus, drafting the Deed for its purchase, and paying $10. earnest-money out of his own pocket to secure the property
  • Hihn's continued interest in Gold Mining - 50 years after his initial, and nearly-disastrous Gold Rush experience; the successful Lightner Mine in Angel's Camp
  • Hihn's continued interest in landscape gardening and beautification: at Capitola, at Paso Robles, at his own Mansion.
  • Hihn's influence in Banking, as Vice-President of the City Bank and City Bank of Savings.
  • Hihn's membership as a Member of the 14th District Board of Agriculture for Santa Cruz County; also, his participation, with Duncan McPherson, in ownership of the Fair Pavilion in Santa Cruz
  • Hihn's membership on the Santa Cruz Public Library's Committee on
  • Library Building Sites that ultimately selected the site at Church andCenter Streets, adjacent to Hihn's Mansion

The letters also reveal many personal traits, some family relationships, and a personal sorrow in the death of Louis William Hihn, F. A. and Therese Hihn's oldest son, at the age of 43. One letter, written by F. A. Hihn, reveals that his daughter Agnes handled the Probate of her brother's Estate, the only known occasion that she practiced her profession. Agnes, the Hihns' youngest child (not yet married to Charles B. Younger Jr.), had attended and graduated from New York University's Law School in 1899.

In one apparently poignant comment, F. A. Hihn revealed his dissappointment that his daughter Agnes was married to someone not of "his" choosing - the attitude of a "protective father"? - or perhaps a father who was accustom to having his own preferences honored? ---:

-- Yes I have "lost a daughter and gained a son." That is the way it is said ^saying^, but I don't ^say so^. If my own wishes were to be consulted I would not begin to trade even, but the old must die so that the young may live and I consider I have had all my alloted share of life and must prepare to surrender to the inevitable. (Letter 635, Jan. 6, 1902, to Henry Eastland Adams)

[Transcriber's Notes: (1) Agnes Hihn married Charles Bruce Younger Jr. on January 1, 1902. (2) Corrections [strikeouts} and ^insertions^ made by F. A. Hihn in the typescript are shown in italics.]

F. A. Hihn's genius shines through these letters, although one can imagine their intimidating nature (e.g., his detailed instructions for bookkeeping; his reprimands of employees - including his own nephew, Albert Joseph Hihn - when procedures were not executed to suit him).

He was a visionary: he designed furniture for his Santa Cruz office; he designed a lumber drying kiln for the Laurel Mill; he sketched out several ideas for the design of boilers and other equipment for the Stockton Gas & Electric Company; and, perhaps the most visionary - he conceived of an underground freight railroad along the waterfront in San Francisco, a proposal made to both the Southern Pacific Company as well as the San Francisco Merchants Association - to the latter he suggested that they could "Make Market St. from the Ferry to Valencia a grand retail street well lighted up, fine show windows, the sidewalks and street in the best of order. It could be made so attractive." (Letter No. 1770)

Hihn wrote to President Theodore Roosevelt, advising him on commerce in Western Canada; to the Chief Forester of the United States, advising him that government control was probably the only way to save California's forests:

"The destruction of the oak in San Luis Obispo County is now proceeding very fast - while in our County as least fifty million feet of Redwood and ten thousand cords of oak and madrone are being cut every year. Unless protected, in twenty years all the original redwood and oak forests will be cut. ...

It may be asked why do people destroy the timber if the results are so dire. The answer is very simple, the timber lands are owned by a few people who are taxed for them and who want to realize the value of their property. Government control seems to be the only remedy." (Letter No. 198)

As one might imagine, in a book of 2,080 letters that emanate from both a private individual and "his" company (F. A. Hihn and the F. A. Hihn Company), most of the letters concern the Company's business. In working through the original letters, one sees the hand and voice of several personalities. F. A. Hihn's two sons, August Charles Hihn (as President) and Frederick Otto Hihn (as Treasurer) of the F. A. Hihn Company clearly participate in signing the letters. However, sometimes it is not clear who has written the letter. Many of the letters that concern the Laurel Mill and other lumber-logging activities are signed for the F. A. Hihn Company by J. H. Routt, the lumberman-manager. Other letters, concerning land and water contracts on the Hihn properties, are signed by Walter B. Anthony, the bookkeeper. F. A. Hihn's signature is the most distinctive, and his makes easiest the task of identification.

The content of Book 46 -- and the other four Books when they are ultimately transcribed -- are available for reading in two forms: the printed version (in a limited edition available in a few research institutions) and the electronic version (where both the full-text of the letters, as well as the 128-page Index are available for free public access):

for the electronic internet site for Special Collections, University Library, University of California at Santa Cruz, see: -

And, finally, the themes and the principal characters will probably change little for the years covered by the other Letter Books, but the 1901-1902 period of four months covered in Book 46 has set the basic structure of F. A. Hihn's life as a 72-year old senior Pioneer of California.

He is a major figure in California that has long been mentioned only as an important entrepreneur in Santa Cruz County. These letters reveal that he was much more.

Stanley D. Stevens

Project Begun: January 14, 1999

Project Completed: July 14, 1999