Biography of William Carson
Humboldt County, CA Biographies





WILLIAM CARSON. - It is difficult to say anything of William Carson without referring at once to the salient feature of his business career, his preeminence in the redwood lumber industry in Humboldt county. One of a little group of Canadians from the province of New Brunswick who started out together in the famous year of the exodus to California, instead of "striking it rich" in the mines he found his early training in his native woods the best possible preparation for success in his new field. He did follow mining part of the time during the first few years after his arrival, but it was as a lumberman that he acquired fame and fortune, and did most to attract attention to the resources of his adopted county. When the comforts and luxuries of the civilized world began to find their way into the settlements about Humboldt bay and the social order became established, none was more prompt to encourage the improved living conditions made possible by the numbers of enterprising tradesmen and merchants who flocked to this promising region. Eureka especially felt the impress of his interest and generosity. His heavy investments in local undertakings and property were not made entirely with the idea of personal profit, for all of them contributed to her upbuilding. He did not hesitate to show his faith in her prospects in the most substantial manner, putting his capital into buildings and public utilities as the spirit of the town warranted such expenditures, and doing more than his share in the furtherance of projects which were purely the expression of civic pride. The North Mountain Power Company, now known as the Western States Gas & Electric Company, was one of the ambitious concerns he fostered to success. Something of the man's wonderful mental and physical vigor may be understood from the fact that he remained in active connection with his large financial and lumbering operations up to the age of eighty five years. As one of the characters whose deeds stand out in the records of the early days he could never be forgotten, and he was spared to see and take part in so much of the modern development of his section that his name enters into practically all of her history from 1849 to the present.

Mr. Carson was born in Charlotte county, New Brunswick, July 15, 1825, and had his early experience in lumbering there, assisting his father, who was engaged in getting out ship timber for exportation to Liverpool. The year of the gold excitement he decided to join the adventurers flocking to California, and on September 18, 1849, embarked at The Ledge, New Brunswick, in the ship Brazilian, which was several months on her journey around the Horn, arriving at San Francisco April 1, 1850. His companions were Oliver Gilmore, Jeremiah Whitmore, Daniel Morrison and Sandy Buchanan, all like himself woodsmen from New Brunswick. They found temporary employment at San Francisco, part of the time rolling out (by hand rollers) gold bars; from which the fifty dollar slugs of those days were made. Going to Sonoma city, the party bought wild horses from the Mexicans, packed their goods and proceeded to the Trinity gold fields. When they struck the watershed of the Eel river on their journey north they mistook the stream for the Trinity and followed its downward course until their approach to the ocean told them they were on the wrong track. They eventually reached their destination and worked there during the summer of 1850. Food in that region being scarce and high priced, they decided to winter in Humboldt county, where game of all kinds was plentiful, and therefore made their way to the bay, arriving late in October. At that time Martin White was about to build a small slash sawmill with an estimated capacity of four thousand feet per day, and for this mill Mr. Carson and his companions contracted to supply logs. On the 1st of November, 1850, they started out and located their logging camp between Ryan's slough and Freshwater, at a point where spruce and similar timber of a size suitable for a small mill was available, close to the slough. It was at this camp, in November, 1850, that Mr. Carson and Jerry Whitmore cut the first tree for a saw log that was ever felled in Humboldt county. Thus began his remarkable career as a lumberman. "His history has been similar to that of many of the successful pioneers of California. He came to get gold out of the ground, but he did not get it in the shape of virgin metal, but in the form of another product of the ground, the wonderful lumber resources of this county."

After a winter of logging the party again went to the mines, starting March 1, 1851. They arrived at Big Bar, on the Trinity, about the middle of the month, and resumed work on the claims they had left the year before. During that summer they constructed the Arkansas dam across the Trinity. The following May they learned of the construction of a sawmill on Humboldt bay by Ryan & Duff, and leaving the mines they went to the Sacramento valley, where they bought oxen with which they drove to Humboldt, with the view of engaging in logging. Reaching Humboldt again in August, 1852, the original party divided, and Mr. Carson went into the lumber busi ness, with which he was thereafter permanently associated. In the summer of 1854 he operated the Muley Mill in Eureka, located at the foot of I street, and during that year worked as a sawyer, his shift being every day and every alternate night. In the fall he shipped on the Cydras the first cargo of redwood lumber which was sent out from Humboldt bay, all previous shipments having been of spruce and fir. The partnership between William Carson and John Doibeer was formed in 1863, and continued until the death of Mr. Dolbeer in 1902.

The Daily Humboldt Standard in its announcement of Mr. Carson's death mentions him as the dean of redwood manufacturers of the state, and he was survived by only one of the pioneers in that line, Noah Falk, who went into the business considerably later. But it was not merely because of his prominence as a lumber manufacturer that Mr. Carson was entitled to recognition among the leading men of the state. Financial institutions and public utilities of various kinds were among the useful enterprises he prometed, and while he was interested in most of the local undertakings of the kind his operations extended all over the state. He was one of the founders of the Humboldt County Bank, of the Bank of Eureka and of the Savings Bank of Humboldt County. As one of the incorporators of the Eel River & Eureka Railroad Company, and one of those who made possible the Bucksport & Elk River railroad and the Humboldt Northern railroad, in both of which he held interests, he deserves credit for the introduction of transportation facilities which brought new business and new life into his section, enabling, it to compete with other localities on terms of comparative equality. The first large modern brick business structure in Eureka was the Carson block, the three story building which occupies a quarter of a square at the northeast corner of Third and F streets. Mr. Carson built it in 1890;, at a cost of $100,000, besides which he put $30,000 into the part of the second and third floors devoted to theater purposes. At the time of the erection of the building a number of citizens of Eureka were clamoring for a modern playhouse, and it was to meet their wishes that Mr. Carson fitted up the theater, which is still considered the finest between Portland and San Francisco. The North Mountain Power Company, which has since become the great electric power and light distributing concern of the county, now known as the Western States Gas & Electric Company, also numbered Mr. Carson among its founders. Outside of Humboldt county, the Milford Land & Lumber Company, the San Diego Lumber Company and the West Coast Lumber Company owed their development to Mr. Carson's participation and influence, which he also exerted towards building up the shipping so important to the lumber companies. In the latter connection he was one of the powers of the Humboldt Lumber Manufacturers' Association of Eureka, which handled exclusively foreign lumber shipments from the mills represented in its organization, and operates the tugs Relief and Ranger on Humboldt bar.

It is noteworthy that Mr. Carson continued to give his personal attention to his large milling and other interests up to two years before his death, remaining in active business up to the age of eighty five years, when he turned his affairs over to his sons, whom he had trained for the purpose, J. M. and. C. Sumner taking charge of the milling and lumbering operations at Eureka, and W. M. Carson having charge of the San Francisco offices.

Except as a life member of the Humboldt Club, and a member of Humboldt Lodge No. 79, F. & A. M., Mr. Carson belonged to no social organizations. Nothing more complimentary to Mr. Carson could be cited than his popularity as an employer. It is no exaggeration to say, that in the great county of Humboldt, and probably in all California, there was none more respected and beloved by his employes. Nor was there an employer who gathered about him better men. He was a friend to them all, particularly in sickness and in trouble, although they may not always have realized it. In his own early experience he became thoroughly familiar with their side of affairs and their attitude, and he never forgot the lessons then learned, as his regard for their comfort, sympathy in all his dealings with them and kindly understanding well showed. It is significant that in the court records of Humboldt county there is no instance of a suit for damages for personal injuries to which Mr. Carson was defendant.

Mr. Carson died February 19, 1912, after several months' illness, at his home in Eureka. His modesty and unassuming disposition had always made him averse to publicity so far as his personal affairs were concerned, but just before the San Francisco fair C. P. Soule, of the Bank of Eureka, of which Mr. Carson was president, prevailed upon him to compile a brief autobiography, and the outline of his career which appeared in the Daily Standard at the time of his death was written from notes taken then and formed the basis of the present article.

In May, 1864, Mr. Carson was married to Miss Sarah Wilson, of San Francisco, whose death in 1904 terminated a union remarkable for happiness and devotion. They are survived by four children.: J. Milton and C. Sumner, of Eureka; William M., of San Francisco; and Mrs. Carlotta C. Tyson, of Piedmont, Cal.

The beautiful residence on the mill st, at the head of Second street, was one of the most significant indications of Mr. Carson's affection for Eureka. This palatial dwelling, not excelled by any other home in the state, was one of his most important contributions to the beautifying of his chosen city, the scene of the interests closest to his heart.

From:
History of Humboldt County, California
With a Biographical Sketches
History by Leigh H. Irving
Historic Record Company
Los Angeles, California 1915


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