Historic Cistern found on Lafayette Street

Jun 7, 2018 by

Historic Cistern found on Lafayette Street

The historic cistern of the Mokelumne Hill soda works plant on Lafayette Street was found this week under blackberries while cleaning up a fallen tree.  Constructed of cement in about 1910, the irregularly shaped cover measures 13 x 11 feet and is about 15 feet deep.  The cistern received water from the uphill spring (capped by a six-sided – hexagonal – concrete structure) and gravity-fed water to the downhill bottling plant.

This fresh, strong-flowing spring on Lafayette Street was the key to Mokelumne Hill’s soda industry.  Founded in 1858 by Newman and Drake, in early 1874 the business was sold to Messrs. Werle and Albright, becoming the “Pioneer Soda Factory.”  By 1876 it was producing 50,000 bottles of soda per month. Testimony to their success, the Werles constructed a modern office and residence adjacent to their plant.  In 1909 the Werle family moved to Oakland, selling the soda works to Herman and Dorothy Maasberg. With the advent of the automobile by World War I, the Maasbergs were able to expand distribution of soda, mineral water, and ice throughout the county. They were likely responsible for constructing a new spring house and cistern – which remain today.  After several additional changes of ownership, the nearly 100-year old Mokelumne Hill production ended in 1950.

For a drive-by viewing, head west (downhill) on Lafayette Street from the horse arena.  On your left at the edge of the pavement you will see the small, white spring house marking the famous water source.  Just past this, in the cleared area, is the newly revealed concrete cistern. Continue downhill and on your left is the stately ca. 1887 home and offices of the Werle family (now a private residence). Across the street on the right — in a field where you often now see horses — was the location of the bottling plant.  Look soon, as by the end of the summer the blackberries will likely have reclaimed their treasure.


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  1. When our Mother and Father (and me) moved from Jackson to Mokelumne Hill in 1947 into a Miner’s cabin near the old old old road to Valley Springs On the flat just west of the intersection of 49 & 26. Anyway the cabin had no water and Dad would have to load the jugs into his 1937 Nash convertible, each day and head to the spring. There used to be a standpipe on the right side of the entire way near the ditch that of us kids would drink out of and people would fill jugs. 1963 or 64 the county deemed the water not safe and capped the stand pipe. All the used the spring got together and cleaned the concrete cistern. The water was retested, but still tested Bad per the county. Now the city water was coming from the mud puddle up on top the hill were Jim Gurney’s house is now. We used to get the frogs out of the water taps and parts of dead fish but the county said that water tested Ok. I always wanted to remove the cap on the stand pipe and let it flow for a couple of weeks and re test. Is the pipe still there?

  2. Now the sad story about the Soda Works It was still complete in the 1950’s so we bored Moke Hill kids would slide through the big sliding door used for loading, The office was upstairs and there were newspapers about WW2 and one of the papers had the photo of a Japanese Zero on fire going over the aft of the ship, you still see it today on some TV shows. We would get into the boxes of bottle caps and cap fights by flipping them with your fingers We would get the colored pressurized Selzer bottles and bust them open to get the stand pipes out to use them for pee shooters, really bored and dumb Moke Hill kids. Were you Tom Macbroom involved? I could tell a story about the Soda Works about myself and brother Pat and Rick Ames, but that’s another story.

    • Julia Costello

      Hi Tim. These are great stories! I’m copying them for the Archives. You are now old enough to be an “old timer informant.” There are also some comments about the finding of the cistern on the Facebook group page Mokelumne Hill News. If you don’t mind I will repost your comments there as lots of folks are interested. All my best, Julia Costello