Enterprise Mill Historic Site

Mountain Home State Forest
Tulare County, California
David Dulitz, 1998


This report was written for its educational value to the general public and to preserve the record of this historic sawmill site. The location of the Enterprise Mill is well known and a highly visited location on Mt. Home State Forest. The specific locations of other sites mentioned in the text are not disclosed and are shown on map only in a general way so as to safeguard the integrity of these sites. All of the historic sites mentioned in this report are protected for their historic value. Law strictly prohibits any digging or collection of artifacts from any of these sites.

Historical Background

Lumbering has a long history in Tulare County starting back as far as the 1850's. The increasing demand for lumber for gold rush mining activity resulted in a "lumber boom" in California (Dillon 1995:147). The lack of gold mining activity in central Tulare County may have delayed the utilization of the timber resource for a few years but demand for lumber was still high for housing and construction needs of the early settlers. The first attempt at sawing pine lumber in Tulare County was in 1856 at Mill Creek (Hammon, Jenson, Wallen 1986:21). The first sawmill in the Tule River drainage started in 1865. This mill was water powered and was operated by James R. Hubbs on the North Fork of the Tule River near Jack Flat (Otter 1963:47)(see Figure #1).

In 1874, five million board feet of lumber were sold from six or seven mills in Tulare County and a need of fifteen million board feet of lumber was projected for 1875 (Otter 1963:52). This type of demand for lumber certainly spurred increased interest in sawmilling in the mountains of Tulare County.

The giant sequoia trees in the Mt. Home region attracted lumbermen because of their huge size and abundance. The first mill to operate within what is now Mt. Home Demonstration State Forest was the Wilson-Kincaid Mill. This mill was set up in the upper Rancheria Creek drainage in about 1870 (Otter 1963:49). Several mills followed the operation of the Wilson-Kincaid Mill, including the Rand and Haughton Mill, Coburn Mill, Frasier Mill, Conlee Mill, Enterprise Mill, and Elster Mill (see Figure #1). These mills progressively exploited the stands of old-growth pine and giant sequoia forests that seemed to reach forever in the Tule River watershed. Each mill has left an imprint on the landscape in the form of historical remnants and the change of the forest stands in terms of age, density, and species composition.

Enterprise Mill Survey

The Enterprise Mill location is a conspicuous feature within Mt. Home Demonstration State Forest. A large redwood sawdust pile marks the sawmill location and it is visible from a major dirt road. Floyd Otter, former State Forest Manager, did research concerning the Enterprise Mill for his book, "The Men of Mammoth Forest," published in 1963. Several Tulare County Historical Society articles mention the Enterprise Mill operation. An archaeological site record was prepared for the millsite in 1980. Floyd Otter had also done some mapping of the extent of the operation and a map drawn by Otter in 1961 shows the logged areas for all of the sawmills in the Mt. Home area. The map scale of 2 inches to the mile precludes a precise depiction of the harvesting boundaries.

In 1996 and 1997 a survey of the sawmill and harvesting area was accomplished by the State Forest staff. The objective of the survey was to accurately map the location of the remaining historical features from the sawmill operation. The location, size and falling direction of all giant sequoia stumps cut during the operation were also determined. The survey was accomplished by establishing random traverses through the logged area. The traverses were located so that all of the stumps and other features could be seen from a traverse point. The features were mapped by measuring a bearing and distance to the feature from a selected traverse point. Surveying was done with a staff compass and cloth tape. No attempt was made to close traverses to correct for surveying errors. It was felt that the accuracy of an open-ended traverse was sufficient for this project.

Stump diameter measurements were made with a diameter tape at breast height (dbh). If stumps were lower than breast height, measurements were taken at stump height. The giant sequoia stumps were in various stages of decay. Although the heartwood of giant sequoia will remain sound for many years, the sapwood is susceptible to decay. Many of the stumps were devoid of all of the sapwood and bark. Others had surprisingly intact sapwood and bark layers. Stump diameters should be considered to be conservative as no attempt was made to recreate the sapwood and bark thickness on stumps lacking those layers. It is felt that the smaller diameter readings on some stumps will be offset somewhat by the fact that some measurements were made below dbh. It was felt that measurements to try to correct for loss of sapwood, bark and difference in measurement height was not justified for the accuracy needed for this project. Also, information is lacking on bark thickness and sapwood thickness at the base of old-growth giant sequoia.

Estimated board foot volumes for the trees cut for the mill were determined by using volume equations for young-growth giant sequoia (Pillsbury 1988:C-2) (see Table #1). Volume tables for old-growth giant sequoia are not available. The young-growth volume equations give a good estimate of standing tree volume for trees under eighty inches in diameter. The equations may underestimate volume for trees larger than eighty inches. Deduction for defect and breakage is estimated to be 30%. It should be noted that only giant sequoia stumps were inventoried in this survey. There was a substantial volume of pine, fir and cedar cut during the mills' operation for lumber and also for the construction of the log chutes used in skidding. These stumps are fully decayed, indistinguishable and could not be surveyed.

The falling direction of each tree was determined by noting the location of the undercut on each stump and taking a bearing with a hand compass. It was felt that the falling direction of the trees might give a clue as to the skidding pattern and logging methods.

All other historical features such as skid roads, can dumps, cabin sites, standing trees with logging damage, and sawdust piles were inventoried and mapped (see Figure #7).

Land Ownership

The Enterprise Millsite currently lies entirely within the Mt. Home Demonstration State Forest managed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The State of California purchased the Mt. Home Tract in 1946 after a series of various private ownership's dating back to 1884. The sawmill operational area was in Section 25, Township 19 South, Range 30 East.

The first owners of this property obtained it through the Timber and Stone Act of 1878. The Timber and Stone Act provided that any citizen acting on their own behalf could obtain 160 acres of public domain at a price of $2.50 per acre if they would occupy and settle the land (Clar 1959:59). The first step in this process was that the land needed to be surveyed. W. H. Norway completed the original survey of Section 25 in 1883. The surveyors of the time made some brief general observations of the country in their original survey notes. Norway indicated that "the land was mountainous, the soil second and third rate, timber of pine, fir, cedar, oak and redwood, dense undergrowth of same, chaparral and chinquapin." He also noted two redwood line trees between Section 25 and Section 36. One was twenty feet in diameter and the other was four feet in diameter

By 1884 at least twenty-three private citizens had laid claims to land in the Mt. Home area (Otter 1963:69). The U.S. General Land Office map of 1884 shows three different landowners in the area that was later to be logged in the Enterprise operation. They were Talbot, Hilyard, and Riffe (Otter 1963:inside cover). The original owners did not necessarily keep the land for long. In 1886, Allen McFadgen bought eighty acres, where the Enterprise Mill was later to be located, from Amelia Talbot for $3,000 (Otter 1963:70). Although the $3,000 seems like a bargain today, it must be remembered that Talbot bought this parcel from the government for $200 only two years before. The $3,000 represents a sizable profit on the original investment!

Allen McFadgen later became a principal in the Enterprise Mill operation. His eighty acres were logged along with a portion of the land to the north where G.E. Guerne owned 120 acres (Otter 1963:92). Guerne is not shown on the 1884 ownership map so it is presumed that his land was that which was originally purchased by Hilyard and/or Riffe.

Mill Operation

The Enterprise Mill was reportedly built in 1897 (Otter 1963:92). The Enterprise Lumber Company was incorporated on June 4, 1988 with a capital stock of $20,000. Principals in the company were Allen McFadgen, Wm. F. Beeson, Matilda Watson Burns, Hazle Burns and Albert Brown (Otter 1963:92). The mill was located on land purchased by McFadgen in 1886. The mill operated until 1901 when it closed suddenly. The closure was reported to be in an orderly fashion and all of the employees were paid off in cash (Edwards 1986:55). The corporation ceased to exist in 1904 (Otter 1963:93). The mill machinery was moved to Dillonwood and used for fifteen more years (Edwards 1986:22).

The production of the Enterprise Mill was rated at thirty to forty thousand board feet per day and the total cut was estimated to be ten million board feet (Otter 1963:92). Approximately four million board feet of giant sequoia were harvested based on the stump inventory in this survey and deducting thirty percent for defect and breakage. A total of 283 giant sequoia trees were harvested including nine windfalls. The remainder of the volume would have been in sugar pine, fir, and incense cedar. The total area involved in the harvesting was eighty acres. Assuming the total volume of ten million board feet is correct, the pine, fir and cedar volume would have totaled six million board feet. This would have been an average of seventy five thousand board feet to the acre, not an unreasonable figure based on inventories of old-growth timber on similar parcels (Willard 1994:322-336). The mill would have operated for 300-400 working days based on the total volume cut and average daily production. The operation would have been confined to the summer months because of the heavy snowfall in the area.

It would be logical to assume that logging operations progressed from the lower areas near the mill, upslope to the far reaches of the logging area. This is typically how logging is done so that skid trails are built outward from the log landing location, progressively cutting the timber as you go. There are also some unskidded logs in the far northeast corner of the logging area including one entire tree that was felled and never skidded. This indicates that the mill may have closed sometime between the falling and skidding of this timber.

The timber cutting closely followed the property lines on the south and west. The property to the west was owned by Jessie Hoskins. With the exception of one tree, it appears that his timber rights were respected during the operation. Hoskins reportedly bought his property in 1884 to save it from the Frasier sawmill operation (Otter 1963:126). Hoskins may have closely supervised the logging near his property lines to assure that none of his trees were cut.

There is also a discernable cutting boundary along the southern property line. This southern line bisects a grove of giant sequoia. Those treed north of the line were harvested while those to the south were not. One tree just south of this line had an undercut scribed in the bark but the tree was not felled. The faller may have started to cut this tree until it was found that it was on the wrong side of the property line. The outline of the undercut can easily be seen on outside of the overgrown bark.

The average dbh of the giant sequoia trees harvested was 88 inches, relatively small for old-growth trees. Nineteen trees greater that 150 inches dbh were harvested and only two trees greater than 200 inches dbh were cut. Many giant sequoias were left standing. It is obvious that some of these trees were left uncut because they were just too big to be cut or skidded by the methods available at that time. The Adam Tree is one example of a tree left uncut. Since its dbh is 276 inches, it is easy to see why the tree was left. Another tree in the northeast portion of the logging area had an undercut placed in it but never felled. The tree is 156 inches in diameter and the fallers may have realized that they "bit off more than they could chew" and abandoned the falling operation. This tree is alive and has grown over about one-half of the undercut.

There are many trees that are not so easy to explain why they were left. The Eve Tree is one example. The undercut was placed in this tree but never felled. The tree was killed because the bark was girdled over the entire circumference. The tree is 134 inches dbh and could have been handled by the logging crew. Other trees were not felled because they would have fallen into rough or steep terrain. Some trees were left along major skid roads for no apparent reason. Some trees may have been planned to be cut but the mill closed down before the operation was completed.

It is also interesting to note that there was a law enacted in 1874 that protected giant sequoia trees over sixteen feet in diameter. The law reads; "Any person who willfully cuts down, strips of its bark, or destroys by fire, any tree over sixteen feet in diameter in the groves of big trees situated in the counties of Fresno, Tulare, or Kern, is guilty of a misdemeanor, and is punishable by fine of not less than fifty dollars nor more than three hundred dollars, or by imprisonment in the county jail of not less than 25 days nor more than 150 days, or both such fine or imprisonment" (Clar 1959:81). It is not known if this law had any influence on the Enterprise Mill operation or if the law was even known by the operators.


An operation of this size would have employed quite a few workers in the sawmill and in the woods. A photo of the mill and woods crew at the Conlee mill shows 32 people (Edwards 1986:63). Another photo of the woods operation of the Enterprise Mill shows 10 men involved in the skidding operation (Edwards 1986:69). Men reported to have worked for the Enterprise Mill included John Amick, woods boss; Eli and Jimmy Amick, fallers; Clem Simpson, chute-builder; Harry Amick, spool-tender on the donkey engine; "Kit" Carson, bull teamster; Charlie Duncan, mill and road builder; J.W. Kyle, sawyer; Lee Lindsay, book-keeper; Otis Brough, worker; Chet Ainsworth, worker; Elmer and Jack Doty, lumber haulers; and Frank Knowles, watchman (Otter 1963:92). Two photos show Charles Elster as a bullwhacker and Elam Manier with a team of horses skidding logs for the mill (Edwards 1986:69-71).

Frank Knowles, one of the first settlers in the Tule River area, may have had his last job at the Enterprise Mill. He was reportedly the winter watchman at the mill around 1900. He became ill and delirious and was discovered out in the open suffering from exposure. He later moved to Springville where he died in 1903 (Tulare County Historical Society 1955:1).

Logging Methods

  • Falling and Bucking: Falling was accomplished with axes and cross cut saws. The bark was removed by axes in a one to two foot band completely around the tree in the area where the tree was to be cut. Ax marks are plainly visible in the sapwood on many stumps where the bark was removed. The bark was also removed from the wider area of the undercut.

The undercut was cut by hand using axes. Many historical photos show two men working on an undercut together. This would be possible on larger trees where two men could swing their axes without clashing. On smaller trees, one faller could have worked alone. Falling axes are generally double-bit, weighing from 3-6 pounds, with handles 28 to 36 inches long (Forbes 1955:16.9). A razor sharp double-bit is capable of cutting out a very large chip of wood. Many of the chips remain around the undercuts of stumps. Some of these chips are eight inches long, five inches wide and two inches thick.

The back cuts and bucking cuts were made with crosscut saws as evidenced by the smooth character of the cut surface on the stumps and logs left in the woods. Two man crosscut saws were fitted with handles on both ends and could be sixteen feet long or longer in redwood country (Forbs 1955:16.13). The length of the crosscut saw may have been the most limiting factor in the maximum tree size that could be cut. Only three stumps measured in this survey are over sixteen feet in diameter.

Springboards or scaffolding was installed so that the cut could be made at a point above most of the butt swell of the tree. The average height of stumps in the Enterprise operation is 5 feet. Stumps were higher where multiple trees had grown together at the base. Two of these stumps are 12-14 feet tall. Each tree in the multiple was felled in opposite directions.

Where large volumes of timber are harvested from a small area, the timber is typically cut in two or more stages. The logs from the first stage are skidded before the next stage is cut. This reduces breakage by having clear ground for the trees to fall upon. Logs falling upon other logs will increase breakage. By mapping the stumps and falling direction of the giant sequoia trees it became evident that stage falling was not practiced to a great extent for the Enterprise Mill. In most cases, groups of trees were felled in opposite directions to avoid falling on others. In the few cases where falling directions indicate that timber would have fallen on already felled trees, the timber may have been staged or the mill accepted the extra breakage.

Falling breakage in old-growth giant sequoia was very substantial. Old-growth giant sequoia is known for its brashness and weakness in strength across the grain. The enormous weights of some of the larger trees also contributes to excessive breakage. The breakage was bucked out of the logs before skidding, leaving a large amount of short broken material in the woods. Some of this material was later used to make split products.

Hand falling and bucking production rates for these large giant sequoia trees are unknown. It may have taken several days to completely fall and buck a single large giant sequoia. Falling and bucking production using hand tools in old-growth Douglas-fir averaged between six and twelve thousand board feet per man-day (Forbes 1955:16.3). At these rates, four or five fallers could have kept up with the production of the Enterprise Mill.

Giant sequoia trees were utilized up until the logs got small and full of knots. This often coincided with the point where a lot a breakage occurred in the top logs. In cases where the top was unbroken, a bucking cut surface still exists which represents the minimum top diameter that was utilized at that time. A sample of these top diameters indicates that they averaged approximately forty-five inches in diameter. Top diameters for the other species would have been quite a bit smaller, although probably not much less than 12 inches in diameter based on the limited photos of the woods operation. Smaller material would have been used in chute construction or to fuel the steam boilers used in the operation.

  • Skidding: Skidding of the logs to the millsite was accomplished by bull-teams, horses, and steam powered donkey engines (Otter 1963:92) (Edwards 1986:71). Photos indicate that two pole chutes were utilized on the skid roads. Two logs were placed side by side and were hewn on one side to form a shallow trough for the logs to ride in (Otter 1963:77). Cross members were placed on the ground at intervals to support the logs. The inside of the log chute was typically greased to facilitate the movement of the logs. Skid roads were wide enough to accommodate the chute and a level area beside the chute for the bull-teams or horses to travel.

Steam donkeys used in the later years of the sawmill operation would have been used mainly to skid logs onto the chutes where they could be skidded to the mill with bull-teams (Otter 1963:92). A photo of the skidding operation shows a steam donkey stockpiling logs near a log chute while a bull-team awaits the next skid (Edwards 1986:69).

Some of the main skid roads are still discernable. Others have been disturbed by modern logging, road building, and the passage of time. Floyd Otter indicates that the logs from the chutes could still be seen in the late 1950s and early 1960s (see Figure #3). The logs are now completely decayed. The survey of the millsite revealed the location of a main skid road that serviced the eastern portion of the cutting area. The Tub Flats road follows this main skid for a short distance. Photos reveal numerous laterals or spurs built off of the main skid road to bring isolated logs into the main skid. The falling direction of trees indicates that many skid locations were located in the bottoms of drainages.

An excellent photo taken in 1918 shows two log chutes terminating at a log rollway located just east of the sawmill (Otter 1963:Plate 17)(see Figure #5). Logs were evidently dumped onto this rollway where they could be maneuvered into the mill. This log rollway would have been near the junction of the Tub Flats Road and the Camp Lena Road.

Photos indicate that the logs used in the two pole chutes were about twelve inches in diameter with a cross member placed at approximately eight-foot intervals. Based on the lumber scale for twelve-inch logs, each chute would contain approximately 1,200 board feet for each 100 feet of chute. The total amount of log chute built for this mill is unknown. The furthest skidding distance to the mill is approximately 3000 feet. That chute alone would have required 36,000 board feet of timber to construct. The amount of timber cut for construction of chutes and rollways for the entire operation would have been substantial. It is possible that some of the logs in the chutes were reutilized in different skid roads when the skidding was completed in certain areas.


Precise details of the actual sawmill are unknown. Since the mill machinery was moved to Dillonwood after 1901, the Dillonwood Mill after that time may have resembled the Enterprise operation. A description of the Dillonwood Mill in 1904 indicates that it was steam powered. It was a double circular mill with five or six-foot circular saws placed one above the other (Otter 1963:82). This would have allowed them to make about a five-foot sawcut. Some of the large redwood logs were undoubtedly split before they could be sawn.

Lumber was dried for at least 30 days before hauling to minimize weight. A considerable amount of area would have been utilized as a lumber drying yard. Sawdust was dumped into a large pile west of the sawmill location (see Figure #4). This feature is the most evident today because of the persistent nature of redwood sawdust.

Lumber Hauling

Lumber was hauled from the mill to the valley in wagons pulled by horses or mules. The average team was eight horses or mules hauling two wagons containing 10,000 board feet of lumber. The round trip to Porterville took four days (Otter 1963:75) The wagons may have been reloaded at Springville to carry more lumber into Porterville after they had gotten out of the steep mountainous areas (Edwards 1986:76).

The route from the Enterprise Mill would have been via the Frasier Grade to the Bear Creek Road and then into Springville. The Frasier Grade is an extremely steep route and is used only for private use today. This road was built in 1885 to serve the Mountain Home Hotel and the Frasier Mill.

Early steam traction engines were just starting to become available for hauling lumber and skidding logs at the time of the Enterprise operation. A traction engine was utilized by the Kaweah Co-operative as early as 1888. The heavy engine broke through two bridges in the Kaweah River drainage and changed hands several times until purchased by J.W. Kyle of Springville to haul lumber from the Enterprise Mill. While being driven up the Frasier Grade its brakes failed, rolled down the slope, was smashed to pieces and sold for scrap (Dillon 1995:179).

Sawmill Town

The men that worked at the mill needed food and housing. With every mill there had to be various buildings to support the crew. Some evidence of buildings exist on the flat south of the millsite. The Mt. Home Hotel was also operational during this time period and could have housed some of the mill workers.

Several can dumps occur near the millsite with refuse dating to different time periods. Most of the material is fairly recent, dating to the 1940s or 1950s. Some of the material is of earlier origin. An entire whiskey bottle found on the site in 1976 dates back the period of the Enterprise Mill. It is apparent that the site of the housing for the original mill workers has been used in more recent years by other woods workers or recreationists.

Mill and woods workers worked long hours and built up big appetites. Records from two other logging camps show that the average daily consumption of food per man was about eight pounds (Forbes 1955:16.8). Hauling this amount of food into the mountains was a major undertaking along with the preparation and serving of the meals. Cooks and kitchen workers were often women or girls (Otter 1963:80).

Adjacent and Overlapping Operations

Two other timber operations involving the cutting of giant sequoia borders the Enterprise Mill. Both of these operations post-date the Enterprise Mill. Several giant sequoia stumps along the eastern boundary of the Enterprise operation have undercuts that indicate that the trees were cut downhill onto the very steep slope which leads to the old Shake Camp Campground. These trees were most likely cut for the small sawmill that operated at Shake camp in 1940 or 1941 (Otter 1963:131).

A larger giant sequoia operation borders the Enterprise Mill on the west. At the time of the mills operation this property, known as Camp Lena, was owned by Jessie Hoskins who had no interest in cutting his giant sequoia trees. This 80 acre parcel later was owned by the Gill family and was logged by Malcolm Harris in 1956. The giant sequoia stumps from this operation adjoin the Enterprise Mill logging area along the west boundary. These stumps can be distinguished from the earlier cutting because the trees in 1956 were cut with power saws and at a lower level to the ground.

There is evidence within the Enterprise Mill of the manufacture of split redwood products from windfalls and old logging waste. Most of this activity would post-date the sawmill operation. A logger by the name of Dude Sutch started a post-cutting business in Mt. Home in 1929 (Otter 1963:130)(see Figure #6). He continued to cut posts on Mt. Home until the State purchased the property in 1946. Many trees were felled with dynamite for this split products operation. It appears that mostly windfalls or logs left after the mill shut down were utilized for posts in the area logged for the Enterprise Mill. A couple of stumps just west of the millsite were felled with dynamite at some unknown date.

The flat area south of the sawmill location may have been used as a camp location for some of this split products operation. Cans and debris in the dumps have a wide range of dates from the early 1900s to the present.

References Cited

Clar, Raymond C.
1959 California Government and Forestry, Division of Forestry, Department of Natural Resources, State of California, Sacramento.

Dillon, Brian D.
1995 Timberland Historical Archaeology Notes: 3: A brief History of Logging in California. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Archaeological Reports, #16, Sacramento.

Douglas, A. E.
1945 Survey of Sequoia Studies, Tree-Ring Bulletin, Vol. 11, No.4, University of Arizona.

Douglas, A. E.
1946 Survey of Sequoia Studies, II, Tree ring Bulletin, Vol. 12, No. 2, University of Arizona.

Edwards, Jeff
1986 100 Year History of the Tule River Mountain Country. Panorama West Books. Fresno

Forbes, Reginald D.
1955 Forestry Handbook. The Ronald Press Company. New York.

Hammon, Jenson, Wallen & Associates

1986 Tule River Indian Reservation Forest History. Unpublished, On File at the Tule River Indian Reservation.

Otter, Floyd
1963 The Men of Mammoth Forest. Edwards Brothers, Inc. Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Pillsbury, Norman H. and De Lasaux, Michael J.
1988 Young-Growth Sierra Redwood Volume Equations for Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California.

Swetnam, Thomas W.
1992 Tree-Ring reconstruction of Giant Sequoia Fire Regimes, Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.

Tulare County Historical Society
1955 Los Tulares. Number 24. Visalia, California.

Willard, Dwight
1994 Giant Sequoia Groves of the Sierra Nevada, A Reference Guide, Dwight Willard, Berkeley, California.