John Dolbeer


John Dolbeer (1827-1902)
John Dolbeer was born in Epsom March 12, 1827, the son of Nicholas Dolbeer and Esther Chase of New Rye. The Dolbeer's were important citizens in Epsom right through the turn of the century, including his uncle Jonathan, who left a diary listing the deaths in Epsom from 1819 to 1854, which was carried on by Calvin, brother to the John Dolbeer of this sketch. A product of Epsom schools, he left the family farm in 1850 at the age of 23 and set out to the California gold rush to make his fortune. By 1853 he had made connections in the Humboldt Bay area to establish the Bay Mill. Through failure and fires he survives and by 1864 teams with William Carson to form the Dolbeer and Carson Lumber Company. The company grows, and John Dolbeer becomes one of the most famous and influential personages in the Redwood industry in the State of California. His several patents showed his ingenuity in problem solving, and he had an impact in all facets of the industry, from the actual lumbering operation itself, to transporting and exporting - even owning the barks and brigs to bring the lumber to worldwide markets. Among his most useful and successful patents was that for the spool or steam donkey. This machine simply was a steam engine mounted on a wooden skid which would enable loggers to move giant longs across long distances to adjacent railways.In 1872, late in life, he married Harriet Schander, and in 1873 his son, Chase Dolbeer was born. He established his home on Lombard Street in San Francisco. Four years later, in 1877, the Dolbeers had their daughter, Bertha. Business continued to thrive, despite the fact that the Dolbeer & Carson Bay Mill burned down twice. It is about the time of the second fire that the personal life of Jonathan Dolbeer turns tragic. In 1879, Harriet commits suicide, and was called by the San Francisco Call "a suffering invalid" and in 1886, his son Chase was thrown from a wagon and died at the age of 13. John Dolbeer died in San Francisco from a heart ailment on August 17, 1902. The bulk of his estate went to his lone surviving daughter Bertha, and was worth nearly one million dollars. Additional sums were given to several charities, and relatives in Epsom, including his niece Ellen Dolbeer Hall (daughter of his brother Calvin) and her husband, Charles Sumner Hall. His family endured yet a final tragedy when on July 9, 1904, his daughter Bertha committed suicide at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, putting the battle for the estate in the California Courts through 1908
Despite all the personal troubles, John Dolbeer left a lasting legacy in the redwood industry of California which continues to this day. His legacy in Epsom comes from a visit to his home in 1900. At the time, Epsom was searching for a new library building, and J.H. Dolbeer was on the library committee, which met during John Dolbeer's visit, and at which he was in attendance for a meeting. He offered, if the town would build, to furnish all the redwood lumber they would need to complete a building, inside and out. Well, the land was donated by Charles Sumner Hall, and Mr. Dolbeer was true to his word, and the current Epsom Public Library became a legacy to the town in which this respected and much admired person was born.
Picture top right - John Dolbeer from San Francisco Call 8/18/ 1902 from photocopy provided by David B. Harrison.
Picture bottom right - Dolbeer Steam Donkey, horizontal spool design, currently on display Fort. Humboldt, Eureka, CA. Photo taken by and courtesy of David B. Harrison, Belmont, CA.
Sources: David B. Harrison and "History of the Epsom Library: The One Hundred Years" by Peg Daniels.