Biographical Sketch of F.A. Hihn Compiled by Stanley D. Stevens


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Frederick Augustus Hihn, was just 19-years-old when he left his native Germany for California in 1849 at the outset of the “rush” for California’s newly discovered gold — which had been found on January 24, 1848.

Born in Holzminden (Federal Republic of Germany), his family was comprised of nine children, he had six brothers and two sisters. The family name was spelled Hühn. His brother Hugo who also lived in Santa Cruz was occasionally known by that name.

F.A. Hihn arrived in San Francisco in October (12, 1849) and proceeded to the Gold Country. A series of bad-luck episodes shortened his gold seeking: “... [he] joined a party of six [in San Francisco], led by [Friedrich Gerstäcker]. After innumerable troubles they reached the south fork of [the] 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 [leave their camp for] Sacramento, where they arrived about December 1, and there the party disbanded.”

In Sacramento, F.A. Hihn and John Ernest Kunitz (another 20-year-old German immigrant) manufactured candy. [Kunitz, like Hihn, later moved to Santa Cruz. In Santa Cruz he manufactured glue and soap.] After enjoying successful business for about two weeks, the Sacramento and American Rivers overflowed and the candy factory and all its contents were destroyed.

In the summer of 1850 Hihn had enough luck in the gold mines at Long Bar on the American River that he was able to enter the hotel business in Sacramento. He became one of the two proprietors of two hotels: the Uncle Sam House, and the Mechanics Exchange. Business was not that good, however; in the winter of 1850-51 he sold his interest and moved to San Francisco.

In San Francisco he returned to a profession that he had learned in Germany — druggist. According to a biography published in 1897, Hihn had, in 1847, “embarked [on] the business of collecting medicinal herbs and preparing them for market.” He opened a drug store on Washington Street near Maguire’s opera house, but on May 4, 1851, one of the many San Francisco fires destroyed almost the entire city and “nearly all of his worldly goods....” Then the fire on June 22 consumed what had been left.

Having suffered from two floods, poor business results in Sacramento, and two fires in San Francisco, it was no wonder that he wanted to return home. He told his biographer that as he was on his way to board a ship for Germany he met one of his friends whose premises had also been destroyed by fire. “What are you doing?”, Hihn asked when he saw the friend shoveling the ashes; “Building a new store,” was the reply. Hihn questioned why anyone would want to continue, having been burned out twice. His friend pointed out that someone would eventually build another business there. Hihn thought that made good sense.

Still cautious of the threat of disaster but encouraged enough to begin again, Hihn, together with Henry Hentsch, arrived in Santa Cruz in October 1851 Here, one of California’s major commercial centers of the day, they began a grocery business at the hub of the business district: the Lower Plaza (where today’s Front and Pacific streets join at the main Post Office).

Frederick Hihn died in 1913 at the age of 84. For many, many years before his death, he was considered Central California’s “most important citizen.” He had a lengthy list of accomplishments:

  • In 1851, with Henry Hentsch, started a grocery business in Santa Cruz.
  • With Elihu Anthony developed (1856) Santa Cruz water system
  • Proprietor, Soquel Water Works
  • Investor (1858) in Santa Clara Turnpike Company — first wagon road between Santa Cruz (Soquel) and Santa Clara Valley [San Jose]
  • Had extensive real estate holdings in both the city and county of Santa Cruz; owned large portion of the former Rancho Soquel Augmentation
  • Land developer and sub-divider
  • Founder, Camp Capitola (1869)
  • One of the organizers of San Lorenzo Valley Railroad (1861), California Coast Railroad (1867); member Railroad Committee of Santa Cruz (1869); helped organize and was President, Santa Cruz & Watsonville Railroad Co., 1872; one of organizers of Santa Cruz Railroad, President 1873-1881
  • Helped organize Santa Cruz City Bank and City Savings Bank of Santa Cruz
  • Owned sawmills at Aptos, Valencia, Glenwood, Gold Gulch, Laurel, Boulder Creek, and Kings Creek
  • President of Society of California Pioneers of Santa Cruz County, which he helped organize
  • Santa Cruz County Supervisor
  • State Assemblyman from Santa Cruz 1870-72
  • Santa Cruz school trustee
  • President, Santa Cruz Fair Building Association
  • Organized F. A. Hihn Company

[from Donald T. Clark Santa Cruz County Place Names, pp. 153-154]

I have seen several biographies of F. A. Hihn — two of them sound as if they were written by the same author, perhaps Hihn himself.

An extensive biography appeared in J. M. Guinn’s History of California and Biographical Record of Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties. Chicago, Chapman Publishing Company, 1903. Another biography appeared in Edward Sanford Harrison’s History of Santa Cruz County, California. San Francisco: printed for the author by Pacific Press Publishing Co., 1892. Guinn’s biography included Hihn’s portrait, on the page facing his biography (p. 259); on-the-other-hand, Harrison’s portrait of Hihn appears as the Frontispiece of the book. I interpret this placement in two ways: first, Hihn was considered by Harrison as the “the most important man in the history of Santa Cruz County,” at that time (1892); or, second, Hihn was one of the greatest financial supporters of Harrison’s publishing venture on Santa Cruz County.

A couple of years before Harrison’s more extensive History was published, he issued a 64-page pamphlet entitled “Santa Cruz County” “Published For The Board of Supervisors by E. S. Harrison.” 1890. On page 4, Harrison announced his forthcoming History of Santa Cruz County, and stated his hope for a “cordial reception,” and that “such a testimonial from [the citizenry would] increase the number of copies issued.”

On February 4th, 1890, F. A. Hihn made an Agreement with E. S. Harrison (in consideration of $200.) as follows:

E. S. Harrison:-

Please publish our advertisement, engraved news photo process in the Illustrated Pamphlet of Santa Cruz County, to occupy last page of cover space, for which we agree to pay two hundred dollars upon completion of work and surrender of this contract, and delivery [unspecified number of] Copies, pamphlet, Engraving to belong to F. A. Hihn Co. Not more than 20 advertising pages.

The History of Santa Cruz County will be carefully compiled, profusely illustrated, printed on fine paper and bound in morocco, gilt edges and gold leaf title. The pam-phlet will comprise 20,000 copies, descriptive of the county, with engraved title page, symbolic of the county’s attractions and resources. To be issued not later than June 1st.

[Source: F. A. Hihn Co. Deeds, Leases & Agreements, Vol. 5, p. 373.]

While this is not the place to present an analysis of the 64-page pamphlet, it should be noted that a painting by Frank Heath of “Capitola & Surroundings” graces the rear cover, and an illustration of “Capitola …” with “Glimpses of Capitola” is on page 63,

Because of the detail provided in the Hihn biographies, particularly in the Elliott and Harrison books, it is reasonable to assume that F. A. Hihn wrote or dictated the information to a reporter or wrote it for the use of a biography editor.

However, we have the voices of others who valued Hihn as friend and associate.

One of Hihn’s associates in Santa Cruz, Titus Hale, who built the Santa Cruz Railroad with Hihn, wrote his autobiography [see Bios], and compliments Hihn with the highest praise.

Another associate, Frederick Douglass Baldwin, President of the City Savings Bank, of which F. A. Hihn was his Vice-President, wrote a history of the bank. Baldwin sets the context of Hihn’s financial and personal influence that is consistent with Hale’s attitude.

Finally, upon Hihn’s death, Arthur A. Taylor, editor-publisher of the Santa Cruz Surf, wrote a glowing tribute -- tempered by his differences with Hihn over issues of policy -- and his respect for Hihn. [Surf, Aug. 25, 1913]. ###