Logging in the
Last week I described the dense forests of 100-foot tall Big Cone Douglas Fir trees that once covered the canyons of the San Gabriel Mountains above our valley and current efforts to replant. But now I’d like to talk about the logging operations that removed those forests in the first place.
Probably the first logging in our valley was done by Spanish in the late 1700s and early 1800s. We know that the Mission Indians were sent to the San Gabriel Mountains to cut timber for constructing both the San Gabriel Mission and the San Fernando Mission. We can assume those Spanish logging expeditions made it into the Crescenta Valley from the fact that Charles Bathey, who established an early ranch in Goss Canyon, found a hand-forged Spanish two-man saw in the canyon, the crude handles on either end fashioned from stirrups.
In the boom years of the 1880s, a fuel-hungry Los Angeles reached further afield for firewood, and the forested mountains above CV were an easy target. According to pioneers’ memories, the brick making Ladeau Brothers were the first to establish major logging operations in Pickens Canyon where there was the largest concentration of big trees. Each summer crews of Chinese were brought to the canyon to fell trees and cut them into “stove lengths” for the big kilns of the Ladeau Brickworks in downtown Los Angeles. As the crews moved up the canyon, a small railway was built to get the logs to a staging point where they could load the wood onto wagons for the trip to downtown L.A.
A big flood in 1892 washed the railway away, but it was rebuilt almost immediately by Chester and Arthur Blaine. Again the Chinese laborers were sent higher up canyon, where the big timber was cut on the almost vertical slopes of the canyon, an incredibly dangerous and physically demanding job. I would imagine there were many injuries.
The railroad itself must have been an amazing feat of engineering, snaking down the canyon to Briggs Terrace. We have a couple of very old photos taken from the railroad tracks that indicate elaborate trestles bridging the steep gullies.
The rail cars were gravity powered. After several hundred pounds of wood was loaded onto a car, a man (presumably a Chinese man for this dangerous job) was stationed at the lever of a handbrake and the car was let loose to roll down the steep rails. Once it reached the relatively flat ground of Briggs Terrace (near the current intersection of Shields and Canyonside), the car was halted and the logs offloaded to wagons. From there the load was hauled down to the many brickyards in downtown Los Angeles. How the empty car was dragged back up to the top of the railway is anyone’s guess.
The logging went on until nearly the turn of the century, when the La Cañada Water Company asserted their water rights to Pickens Canyon and evicted the timber company, which by this time was probably scraping at remnants anyway. All those beautiful trees gone – simply used as fuel for brick kilns!
Although the trees are gone and no remnants of the logging railroad exist, we still have one namesake left from those long-ago days. Mullally Canyon is a large tributary canyon of Pickens Canyon. It was in the news two years ago as the canyon that overflowed and flooded several houses at the top of Ocean View. Mullally Canyon is named for the Mullally Brick Company, which was a major producer of bricks for burgeoning L.A. from 1855 to 1896.
And as usual for me, the past touches the present. When some downtown L.A. streets were being repaired last year, I stopped and examined some of the original brick cobblestones being dug up that made up the base layer of the thick pavement at Alameda and Main. Emblazoned on the bricks was the name “Mullally Brick Company.” It gave me chills to think that those bricks I was touching had been fired by the heat from the lost forests of the Crescenta Valley.
Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the
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