From adventure and connection with nature to abandoned mining camps and the lure of gold still hiding in riverbanks, there are countless treasures to be discovered in the Lost Sierra. And sometimes a discovered treasure can lead to a meaningful history lesson. A few months ago while metal detecting on the property up Slate Castle Ravine, I unearthed an old metal shovel head hiding in a tailings rock pile under a thick layer of moss. Although sporting a layer of surface rust, the semi-circular shaped shovel head looked barely used, as it had almost no dents, chips or scratches on the blade. I concluded that the shovel had hardly been used before either being lost or thrown to the wayside after the wooden handle broke.
On the neck of the shovel head was a stamp I hoped would help me date it. The stamp had the name “W. Alvord” on it. I wasn’t sure if this was the name of the miner whom the shovel belonged to, or the brand of shovel, so I took it back to the cabin and gave Google a workout. Within minutes I had not only discovered that this shovel dated back to the early 1850s, but I learned of the life of William Alvord.
Born in Albany, New York in 1833, Alvord made his way west during the Gold Rush to start his own steel and iron mining supply company named W. Alvord & Co. in Marysville in 1850, which is most likely where this shovel originated. The company was successful enough that Alvord moved his business to San Francisco and began importing wholesale hardware goods. In the process, Alvord became quite wealthy, and after selling his portion of the business in 1866, in 1871, Alvord was nominated for Mayor of San Francisco.
His campaign was successful, and from 1871 to 1873, Alvord ran one of the wealthiest cities in the United States thanks to the continuous influx of Comstock Lode silver mined in Virginia City, Nevada, and shipped over the Sierra Nevada to the ports of San Francisco. After his brief stint as Mayor, Alvord invested in more successful enterprises and was a respected figurehead both in finance and civics.
He was appointed commissioner of Golden Gate Park from 1873 until 1882, and later served as San Francisco police commissioner from 1878 until 1899. Alvord even helped organize memorial services for both Ulysses S. Grant in 1885 and William McKinley in 1901.
At the time of his death in 1904, Alvord was president of the Bank of California, a title he held for more than 25 years. Alvord’s papers from 1874 to 1904 are preserved in the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.
What started as a simple outing with the metal detector to find some miner trash turned into a history lesson, just one of the many reasons why I love the Lost Sierra and The Lure property so much.