History of the Flume


 

It all started when two lumber barons in San Francisco, Hiram T. Smith and Austin D. Moore, purchased 30,000 acres in California, in the high Sierra Nevada mountains, in an area known as Millwood. Over the next few decades, this would be the stage of one of the most challenging -- albeit the most destructive -- lumbering ventures in history.

Originally, Hiram Smith planned to build a railroad to carry the lumber from the mill near Converse Basin down to the Sanger lumber yard and Railroad Depot, but in light of the impossibly uncompromising terrain of the Kings Canyon, that idea was scrapped. Hiram then proposed to build a flume that would float the lumber down. In 1888, Smith and Moore founded the Kings River Lumber Company and in 1889, construction of the flume began. By mid 1890, the Kings River Flume was ready for operation.

From 1890 to 1892, the Kings River lumber operation was in full swing. The Kings River Lumber Company employed 300 men in its deforesting operation and an extra 200 men in Sanger' box factory, door and sash factory, planning mill and drying yard. Although the future looked bright for Smith and Moore and the Kings River Lumber Company, many financial woes were coming their way.

The massive Panic and Depression of 1892 hit the whole nation and the Kings River Lumber Company went bankrupt. After two years of negotiating loans, Smith & Moore reopened for business under the new name of the Sanger Lumber Company. Shortly afterwards in the summer of 1895, the creditors foreclosed, and in 1896 they shut down the lower mill and moved the lumbering operation to the heart of Converse Basin.

It was at this time that the most destructive lumbering took place. Giant redwood trees that stood for countless centuries were at the mercy of the lumbermen. The sheer weight of the giant trees caused them to shatter into millions of unusable pieces while the portions that were too large were blasted with black powder, but this method also proved unsatisfactory. It is estimated that the total amount of redwood cut in this period equaled to 191 Million board feet of lumber but only 1/5 of the total redwood trees fallen ever made it to the mill.

In the midst of a dwindling credit base, the Sanger Lumber Company was sold to an investors group in Michigan led by Thomas Hume in 1905. It was then renamed the Hume Bennett Lumber Company. John Eastwood of the Hume Bennett Lumber Company then built another reservoir (now known as Hume Lake), plus a new mill and extended the Kings River flume another 17 miles to reach the lake. In 1917, the company suffered another bankruptcy and was then renamed back to the Sanger Lumber Company.

The operation went on for nearly another decade being hit by a multitude of setbacks, the death of Thomas Hume, a fire that destroyed the mill and a massive forest fire which destroyed 7 miles of flume in 1926. Thomas Hume's son, George, sold the physical equipment for $20,000 in 1927 and in 1935 sold a total of 20,000 acres including Converse Basin and the surrounding areas to the U.S. National Forest Service. This area is now part of the world famous Sequoia National Forest.

As a footnote, none of the lumber barons who took part in this venture during this whole period of history ever made a profit.

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