Simon Foorman and the MHCS Ditch Co.

Mar 5, 2012 by

Simon Foorman and the MHCS Ditch Co.

The Simon Foorman Collection:  Records of a Mokelumne Hill Entrepreneur, 1818-1908

By Natalie Hollett, for the Mokelumne Hill History Society

January 18, 2011


The state of California has always been a destination: from the Spanish missionaries, to the flood of miners during the Gold Rush, to the immigrant farm workers over the decades. Perhaps the largest reason so many sought out fame and fortune in the Golden State was the fact that stories emanated regarding those who struck it rich, particularly after the start of the Gold Rush in 1848. However, few fell into to such riches despite the fact that a tremendous amount of gold that was discovered, particularly in what is known as the Mother Lode, in the Central Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Some of the smartest businessmen took an alternate route by investing in resources such as water, necessary for both living and mining. A generous loan of a personal collection containing the documents of Simon Foorman, a San Franciscan investor and trustee heavily involved in the small town of Mokelumne Hill, allowed the Mokelumne Hill History Society to uncover a part of the early days of California.


The Simon Foorman Collection


The Simon Foorman collection contains a wide variety of primary source documents, both originals and some copies, in the possession of Dede Meyer, great great granddaughter of Simon Foorman. Loaned by Ms. Meyer to the Society, between July 2010 and January 2011, the documents were analyzed for content and scanned and entered into a database for future reference, a large addition to the history of Mokelumne Hill. Some items required multiple scans as many contained several pages or sections. Among the documents were several maps, which were too large to fit on the scanner at the Mokelumne Hill archives. These were taken to Sacramento for complete scans which were then copied into the database. Several maps were duplicate copies and these were generously donated to the Society’s Archives. A few documents were mounted in frames, and these were photographed. This project was funded by the Society and by a donation from the Foorman family.

Summary of Collection

The Simon Foorman Collection contains 252 documents, including deeds, mortgages, financial records (tax documents, receipts, and bills of sale, for example) letters, photos, maps, and personal papers. Documents of high interest include the various early land claims of Mokelumne Hill, especially in the town itself. Also, there are several official United States Patents and Deeds approved by the office of United States Presidents: Ulysses S. Grant (SF 161, 185 and 219); Rutherford B. Hayes (SF 184); Chester A. Arthur (SF 187); Grover Cleveland (SF 193); and Benjamin Harrison (SF 192, 194).[i]


Historical Context

Simon Foorman

Investing in stock during the Gold Rush, particularly water, allowed the wealth of many to accumulate quickly. One such investor, who heavily took part in Mokelumne Hill, California, was settler, Simon Foorman. Born in Diefenthal, Germany in 1818, he immigrated to the United States in 1847, settling first in Ohio, and then to California sometime between 1848 and 1850 after gold fever took hold of the world.[ii] Initially, he took up mining in Mokelumne Hill but eventually realized that more could be made as a merchant.  He later became the incorporator of The Mokelumne Canal Company in 1858. According to the Pioneer and Historical Review, “Later, in 1872, when the company was incorporated into the Mokelumne Hill and Campo Seco Canal and Mining Company, he was elected president,” a position he held until his death in 1900.[iii] While he served as president, he assisted the massive growth of the canal system to encompass a large amount of land in northern Calaveras County.

As the company grew, he spent time between his San Francisco home where he worked as an attorney and Mokelumne Hill, where he traveled at least once a year for the annual meeting of the stockholders. During last two decades of his life, Foorman focused on buying up real estate in Mokelumne Hill as well as around the entire state. As his fortune grew, so did his name. Known all over Calaveras County as “Sam” Foorman, he “was one of the best known of mining men.”[iv]

Simon Foorman married Helena Neuberger in San Francisco on December 15, 1858. Together, they had one son, Isaac, who eventually followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a trustee for the Mokelumne Hill and Campo Seco Canal and Mining Company in 1884, and Secretary in 1891. Later, after his father’s death, Isaac assumed the role of President in 1901, an office which his father had previously held. In 1907, Isaac among others, created a new water and canal company, called the Mokelumne River Power and Water Company. During January 1908, it took over “by purchase all the properties of the Mokelumne Hill and Campo Seco Canal and Mining Company.”[v]


The Mokelumne Hill and Campo Seco Canal and Mining Company

Water has always been a vital issue in California where transporting our most important resource takes skill and money. In the early days of the state, water was not only important for survival but for mining of the millions of dollars in gold. Established in 1850, the precursor to the Mokelumne Hill and Campo Seco Canal and Mining Company, The Mokelumne Hill Canal and Mining Company sought to appropriate water from the south fork of the Mokelumne River to the area for agricultural and mining purposes.[vi] Many individuals were eager to invest in the company from its infancy; however, many failed to make payments and never became stockholders. After purchasing a saw mill near Mosquito Gulch—now Glencoe—and a fleet of logging trucks, construction on a series of canals began. Water eventually reached Mokelumne Hill in the fall of 1853. In 1854, Cadwalader and Andrews, a contracting company, built a sixteen-mile-long flume and ditch system connecting Mokelumne Hill and Campo Seco “where the company had opened a lumber yard.”[vii]

Despite initial enthusiasm, the company began to fall apart: “at nearly every meeting a director would resign and a new one appointed.”[viii] Money became scarce and the company’s method of floating logs down the flume system caused damage to workers as well as the flume itself. By 1857, the company was sold by the sheriff of Calaveras County to Cadwalader and Andrews and the Mokelumne Hill and Campo Seco Canal and Mining Company was organized. Simon Fooman was elected president of the company in August, 1872 after serving a as Director from the company’s inception. The debt of the Mokelumne Hill Canal and Mining Company was finally paid off in 1874 and the flumes that had made up a majority of the system were replaced by canals which proved to be much more able to hold up to strain. While ditches were enlarged, many mining claims were purchased as hydraulic mining grew in popularity.

In 1901, Isaac S. Foorman was elected president of the company after the death of his father in 1900.[ix] A multitude of land was purchased for storage reservoirs and ditches while profit was earned by way of sales of water and power “for deep quartz mining and for gravel drift mining.”[x] In 1907, the Mokelumne River Power and Water Company was incorporated and by 1908, it had acquired all land previously held by the Mokelumne Hill and Campo Seco Canal and Mining Company. At this time, the board of directors was made up of the Foorman and Prindle families. The new company grew rapidly, covering a distance of more than 150 miles, supplying water to “the entire western portion of Calaveras County as well as San Joaquin Valley.”[xi] With the decline in mining, branches of the water system were gradually abandoned and the remaining facilities purchased by the Calaveras Public Utility District in 1934. Water still flows along many of the old routes, supplying homes and businesses of current Calaveras Country citizens.



Simon Foorman helped shape the outcome of the mining successes in Mokelumne Hill and the surrounding areas. Purchasing a tremendous amount of land for the company and his own benefit, he assisted the Mokelumne Hill and Campo Seco Canal and Mining Company in its endeavors to supply water to the area of western Calaveras County during a time period when water was not only needed for personal and agricultural use but for the boom and bust period of mining. Although the area of Mokelumne Hill was drained of most gold by the 1870s[xii] and population waned over subsequent decades, the town “owes her foundation to the many individuals—the strong, daring and determined men”,[xiii] including Simon Foorman. Without the vast availability and accessibility the water company provided, the town would not have achieved such richness, not only in minerals but in history.



Clark, William B. Gold Districts of California. Sacramento, California: California Division of       Mines and Geology, 1963.

Paul, Rodman W. The California Gold Discovery: Sources, Documents, Accounts and Memoirs   Relating to the Discovery of Gold at Sutter’s Mill. Georgetown, California: Talisman         Press, 1966.

The Simon Foorman Collection. Primary documents dating from 1848 to 1935. Mokelumne Hill   History Society and Archives, 2011.

Tuolumne County Historical Society. “Summary of Gold Mining Techniques in Western United   States, 1842 – 1996.” N.d.         (accessed January 10, 2011).

Zumwalt, Eve Starcevich. The Romance of Mokelumne Hill: A Pageant History. Fresno,   California: Pioneer

[i] Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States served from 1869-1877. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881) was the 19th President and Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) was the 21st President. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897) served as the 22nd and 24th President, with Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) serving as the 23rd President between his terms. The 20th President was James A. Garfield, who served 200 days in office before being assassinated.

[ii] The Pioneer and Historical Review, Vol XVI, no. 1, Jan 1901; SF 243.

[iii] Ibid. SF 243

[iv] Ibid. SF 243

[v] SF 220

[vi] SF 220. This document, “The History of Mokelumne River power and Water Company,” spans from 1850 to 1908, describing the three different water companies that monopolized the North-West Calaveras county water supply; Simon Foorman and his son played very important roles in the final two companies.

[vii] Ibid. Before the construction of the flume and ditch system connecting the two towns, lumber had been hauled by mule teams from the saw mill to the lumber yard, a distance of 31 miles by road.

[viii] Idib.

[ix] Ibid. Isaac Foorman had been a trustee of the Company since 1884 and was elected secretary in 1891 before assuming the role of president in 1901.

[x] Ibid. As quartz veins often house primary gold, Deep Quartz Mining often required heavy machines and very deep shafts to extract the gold, along with underground water and other debris that resulted. The gold, entrenched in quartz, was crushed in Stamping Mills and mercury was used to separate the gold from the other debris. Gravel Drift Mining, more expensive than Hydraulic Mining, resembled coal mining. This method extracted gravel particles from ancient river beds and also employed stamp mills to extract the gold. It also required extensive washing of the harvested particles. For an image of Gravel Drift Mining, see SF-207. (Summary of Gold Mining Techniques in Western United States, 1842 – 1996).

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] William B. Clark, Gold Districts of California (Sacramento, California: California Division of Mines and Geology, 1963), 91-92.

[xiii] Eve Starcevich Zumwalt, The Romance of Mokelumne Hill: A Pageant History (Fresno, California: Pioneer Publishing Co., 1990), 201.

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