Description of the Beautiful Scenery – A Tale of Buried Treasure – Santa Ana’s Great Enterprise – A Ditch 15 miles long and ten feet wide – 20,000 acres of land to be Irrigated

(Anaheim Semi-Weekly Gazette, April 17, 1878)

            Few people, with the exception of those who are directly interested, are aware of the magnitude of the work now going on in the Santa Ana Canyon. An enterprise undertaken last autumn has been pushed steadily forward until it lacks but a few weeks of successful completion. I refer to the “big ditch,” or canal which is in process of construction by the Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Company. Having had occasion to visit the Santa Ana canyon recently, I gladly availed myself of the opportunity to obtain some information concerning this important work, and at once sought out the officials who have charge of its construction. I first fell in with Mr. C.C. Miller, the chief engineer, whom I found to be a most polished gentleman, and whose skill in surveying and engineering is only equaled by his courtesy to newspaper correspondents. Under his guidance I first inspected the tunnels, a description of which will appear in another portion of this letter.

            Having arrived at Mr. Miller’s camp, I was greeted with a hearty welcome and had the pleasure of meeting Miss Weber, a lady artist, who has been sojourning in this canyon for some time taking sketches of the magnificent scenery and lovely picturesque views, which are so frequently to be seen in this vicinity. In such pleasant society the time passed swiftly by, and after an excellent dinner, I readily accepted an invitation from Mr. G.O. Newman, the superintendent of the ditch, to accompany him on a trip to Bed Rock Canyon, where the water is to be taken from the river, and where the ditch begins. The afternoon was warm, sunshiny and pleasant. In the blue sky overheard snowy clouds drifted lazily along, and cast their light shadows on the verdant hills beneath. In our route up the canyon, we pursued the road which winds around the hills and finally leads to Riverside. This road has recently been constructed, having been finished about two weeks ago. It is smooth, hard and well built, and reflects credit upon its constructor and builder. It is said that the travel over this road will be immense in a short time, as it is destined to become the great thoroughfare between San Bernardino County and Newport Landing.

            As we advanced up the canyon, the extreme beauty of the landscape spread out before us attracted our gaze, and stopped for the time the flow of conversation. Before us lay a scene of surpassing loveliness which would excite feelings of admiration even in the breast of a stoic, and which did not fail to elicit our highest praises. On our right and above us were rolling hills, broken and diversified by deep dells and miniature valleys in which sunlight and shade were curiously blended, and both valleys and dells covered with a beautiful carpet of vivid green, bespangled with thousands of wild flowers with varied hues and rivaling in splendor the colors of the rainbow. Far ahead of us, wrapped in the purple haze of distance, the San Bernardino mountains grandly towered in the background, their snowy summits seemingly touching the clear blue sky. To our left and below us, the Santa Ana river gleamed like a huge silver snake in the brilliant sunshine, its silvery convolutions glistening in the distance as far as the eye could reach, now winding around some bold bluff, or rocky headland, and now gliding over the shining, shifting sands, its banks fringed with verdant willow and flowering elder. Above the river on the other side, rose grassy hills, and far back of these, the Sierra Madre mountains loomed up against the distant horizon, while between us and the river a fine slope of fertile land gently inclined to the river bed, its surface picturesquely diversified with adobe ruins and farm houses nestling in peach blossoms and surrounded with fields of emerald hue. And over all brooded a soft and tender light, that indescribable charm of a California atmosphere, the whole forming a picture of such exquisite beauty, that once seen cannot easily be forgotten. All nature seemed to throb with joy in the glad, bright sunshine. Even the little birds seemed to appreciate the loveliness of the scene, flitting joyously from tree to tree, filling the air with their liquid melody, and charming the air with their song.

            Half way up the canyon, my companion pointed out to me the ruins of an adobe house which had evidently at one time been a building of some pretentions. He told me that many years ago, this house was owned and dwelt in by a wealthy Spanish ranchero who lived in the lavishly hospitable style so common to all rich land owners in that period of time previous to the American occupation.

            One day, so the story goes, after having disposed of a large band of stock, he returned to his home bringing with him, as the proceeds of the sale, a large sum of money – $13,000 in gold coin, I think. On the following morning, he was violently thrown by his horse, the fall breaking his neck. After his death search was made for the $13,000, but it was missing, and not a trace of it has ever been discovered from that time to this. It was supposed that he had buried it under or near the house, and the place has been dug over many times by divers parties seeking the buried money, but the earth has kept its secret and the hiding place has never been found. The Mexicans are superstitious in regard to this affair, and do not care to visit the place after nightfall. They say that the ghost of the old Don comes back from the spirit land at midnight, and wanders uneasily about the place seeking for his buried treasure.

            We rode on past the pretty school house, nestling among handsome shade trees, and its grounds lined with stately poplars standing like rows of sentinels guarding the approaches to this temple of learning; on, past more adobe ranch houses and peach orchards in full bloom until we at length arrived at the old Spanish settlement known as Upper Santa Ana. Here there are two stores, and quite a number of dwelling houses. The road as it winds up the canyon is in close proximity to the ditch, crossing it in several places. We, therefore, had a good opportunity of viewing this work in all its details. We carefully examined the ditch throughout its entire course, but found no errors or flaw, and unhesitatingly pronounced it to be a most excellent piece of workmanship, reflecting great credit upon all those who have been concerned in its construction. About two miles from the head of the ditch, Mr. Newman directed our attention to a sandgate, which is truly a most ingenious contrivance. It is so arranged that the sand passes out of the ditch, while the water continues it course, freed of its waste material and lessened in friction. This sandgate is an invention of Mr. Newman’s and a similar one is to be seen in the Riverside ditch. Between this sandgate and the head of the ditch, are five “drops” of 2½ feet each, making a fall of 12½ feet in something less than a mile.

            But while we were passing the time in such a pleasant manner, the afternoon was rapidly wearing away, and it soon became time to return to the camp. And here let me return thanks to Mr. Newman for his kindness in showing me over the whole length of the ditch and so patiently explaining to me the details of its construction. The Board of Directors have been extremely fortunate in securing Mr. Newman as superintendent of this work. He is a very skillful engineer and thoroughly understands his business. After having been graduated at one of the best universities in Sweden, he studied his profession for some years at a scientific school, and was afterwards employed, for a considerable period of time, as engineer in the construction of government railroads in that country. He has a sister who is a very gifted lady. She has recently written a valuable treatise on entomology, and holds the position of Professor in one of the Swedish universities, being the only lady Professor in that Kingdom.

            Our ride back to the camp was delightful. A fresh sea breeze was blowing up the canyon, and mountain, hill and valley were illuminated in the glory of the declining sun. Passing bee ranches and sheep camps on our way down, we saw thousands of little busy insects extracting sweets from the wild flowers, so plentifully distributed around, and fleecy flocks grazing on the luxuriant vegetation. When we reached our stopping place for the night, the sun had already set behind a thick bank of fog in the western horizon, and the gray gloom of twilight was rapidly gathering over the surrounding hills.

            And now for the facts. They shall be stated as briefly as possible. For some years back the people of Santa Ana and vicinity have been partially supplied with water from two small ditches, known respectively as upper and lower. But the people who used the water from them were dissatisfied from various reasons, among which may be mentioned the great expense of irrigating from them and the inadequate supply of water during dry seasons. They therefore determined to build a ditch of sufficient water-carrying capacity to supply all demands for water at moderate rates. Having finally decided upon this movement, the business men and land owners of the valley met, organized themselves into a company, and proceeded to inaugurate the enterprise. At the solicitation of Mr. C.C. Miller, who was engaged as engineer, a committee was appointed to visit and examine the Riverside ditch, and report to the directors of the company. After this had been accomplished, the Santa Ana company came to the conclusion that if they could have as good a ditch as the one at Riverside they would be perfectly satisfied. Mr. Miller has promised them a better one and I think he will be able to fulfill his promise. The ditch is 15 miles long, and 10 feet wide on the bottom throughout its entire length. The grade is 45 inches to the mile and the water will have a velocity of 3½ feet per second. It is intended that the ditch shall convey to the plains below 6,000 inches of water, miners’ measurement, filling it to a depth of three feet, which is within 6 inches of its full capacity. Wherever a wash from the hills comes in contact with the ditch, a culvert has been substantially constructed, either of stone or indestructible redwood. Altogether there are 8 wooden culverts, 7 stone culverts, 7 bridges, 2 sand gates and 2 waste-gates. The ditch has been made as straight as possible, and in several instances has been blasted through solid rock. Some of this rock was so tenacious that it required 25 lbs of powder at one blast to force it asunder. The tunnels are splendid pieces of workmanship, and extort praises from all who inspect them. The short tunnel is 212 feet in length, and the long one 697, making 909 feet of tunneling altogether. The tunnels are heavily timbered overhead with redwood lumber, the walls are lined with 2-inch planking, and the bottom covered with flooring an inch in thickness. Across the bottom stretchers are placed every 3 feet, and every precaution taken to insure strength and durability. The whole cost of these tunnels amounts to $5,500. Between these two tunnels, a wash comes down the hills, from which the ditch is protected by a stone culvert, 80 feet in length. The lower end of the larger tunnel opens out near the old reservoir belonging to the former ditch company. Here there is a tract of land consisting of 27 acres, which the Santa Ana company have purchased and intend to sell for the sites of manufactories. And indeed, I know of no place in all Southern California so well adapted for manufacturing purposes as this. From the end of the tunnel to the plains below is a fall of 56 feet, and 6,000 inches of water, let down by means of “drops,” will afford a splendid water power, capable of running 6 good sized manufactories. Work was commenced on the ditch on the 19th of last October, since which time 150 white men and Chinamen, and from fifty to sixty horses and mules have been continually employed. At the present time there are about seventy-five white laborers and fifty Chinamen working for the company and about 60 horses are being used. When completed, the entire ditch, including the tunnels, will cost something over $40,000, and be capable of irrigating 20,000 acres of land. The company building this ditch is known as the Santa Ana Valley Irrigation Company. It is incorporated, and its affairs regulated by a Board of Directors elected by the stock-holders, who generally are farmers through whose lands the ditch passes, or whose lands the water carried in the ditch will irrigate. As a consequence of this no “jobs” have been put up, or shoddy contracts effected. But the work has been carefully planned and honestly executed. The Board of Directors consists of A.B. Clark, the president, J.W. Anderson, the secretary, James Huntington, Dr. E.F. Greenleaf, W.A. McClay, and Nathan Fletcher. The officers in charge of the construction of the ditch are C.C. Miller, chief engineer, and G.O. Newman, superintendent, whose names I have already had occasion to mention, J. Stine, head foreman and A.J. Saunders, chief carpenter. The stock of the company is divided into 20,000 shares, the par value of which is $5 per share. It was the intention, at first, to throw this stock on the market, but this was found to be unnecessary, as those parties who were most deeply interested in the success of the ditch could easily take all the stock themselves. Each share of stock entitles its holder to the privilege of irrigating one acre of land. It is expected that this stock will pay dividends in the future. The ditch will be completed about the first of May, at which time a barbecue and dinner will be given by the directors to the friends of this enterprise, and a jolly time is expected.

            In conclusion, allow me to add that I think the work which I have described is one of very great utility, and will greatly enhance the value of land in the Santa Ana valley. By the means of this canal, 15,000 acres of land, almost worthless in dry seasons, will be made to produce never-failing crops. Vineyards will be planted, orchards set out, and the whole valley will smile in fruitage and rejoice in plenty, as this precious stream comes down from the canyon bringing countless blessings with its flow.  [s] Croydon

["Croydon" was the pen-name of E.F. Webber, a local teacher, who wrote several features for the Gazette in the late 1870s. --P.B.]