HISTORY OF SANTA CLARA COUNTY CALIFORNIA
BY EUGENE T. SAWYER, 1922, pages 149-150
The most prominent, if not the most popular, highway in the county is the Mount Hamilton road,
or Lick Avenue. It has a world-wide fame for the reason that it leads to the great Lick Observatory
and because it is one of the best mountain roads in the world. In September, 1875, James Lick
addressed the board of supervisors, saying that he would locate his observatory on Mount Hamilton if
the county would construct a first-class road to the summit, and if the county had not sufficient
funds on hand to accomplish the task he would advance the money and take the county's bonds for the
same. The proposition was accepted and on October 4, 1875, a preliminary survey was ordered. The
committee on survey reported that the construction of the road, including bridges, would cost
$43,385. Mr. Lick then deposited $25,000 in the Commercial & Savings Bank as a guaranty that he would
stand by his proposition.
A. T. Herrmann was appointed engineer for the work and on February 8, 1876,
the contract for construction was let to E. L. Derby. Up to this time the work had gone on with great
expedition, but now, the people having had time to talk the matter over, considerable doubt was expressed
as to the advisability of the enterprise. It was argued that the county might go to great expense in
building the road and that in the end Mr. Lick might change his mind in regard to the location of
the observatory. In that event the county would have a very expensive road that would be of very
little practical use. The majority of the board had very little doubt of Mr. Lick's good faith, but
in order to satisfy the popular demand they arranged matters so that Mr. Lick deposited a further sum
of $25,000, subject to warrants drawn for the construction of the road, and agreed to take county
bonds therefor, payable when the observatory was completed on the mountain.
When this point was settled an oppositon was developed from another source. W. N. Furlong, as
chairman of the board, refused to sign the contract with Derby, but finally consented under protest.
The protest claimed that there was no authority of law for building the road in this manner, as the
statute required all money levied in any road district to be expended in the district paying the same;
that there was no law compelling the county at large to pay for a road, and that the county had no
authority to enter into a contract with Mr. Lick to advance the money. The board, to satisfy the
this final objection, passed a resolution that the Legislature would be asked to pass an act
authorizing the county to issue bonds to the amount of $120,000, of which $50,000 should be applied
to the indebtedness of the several road districts in the county, and the balance used to pay the
warrants drawn for the construction of the proposed road. Thus this difficulty was disposed of.
There were numerous minor obstacles to contend with which caused much trouble and vexation to the
promoters of the enterprise, but they were finally disposed of. Up to May 22, 1876, the sum of
$45,115.34 had been paid on Derby's contract. In the meantime there was great dissatisfaction with
Derby's operations, and he had been compelled to assign his contract to his bondsmen, who had
established a trust for their objection, drawing the money on the contract and paying the contractor's
verified bills. This dissatisfaction caused the board to appoint a committee to investigate the work.
The report showed grave misconduct by the contractor. In September the contract was declared forfeited
and on October 5, 1876, the board authorized its committee to go on with the work. This the committee
did, employing Messrs. Drinkwater and Swall as superintendents.
On January 9, 1877, the Lick board of
trustees and the supervisors made an official inspection of the road. And afterwards the trustees
declared officially that the work had been done in a satisfactory manner and that the road met all
of Mr. Lick's requirements. The inspection was a general holiday throughout the county, there being
about 5,000 visitors to the summit of the mountain on that day. On January 13, 1877, the road was
declared to be fully completed, the total cost being $73,458.88. Of this amount $27,339.87 was in
outstanding warrants against the general road fund. An act was passed in the Legislature of 1878
authorizing the board of supervisors to issue bonds to pay these warrants and accrued interest, the
bonds to bear no interest, and to be payable when the observatory was practically completed.
The gentlemen composing the board of supervisors during the time the Mount Hamiltion road was in course
of construction were :
- 1875 — W. N. Furlong. chairman: ]. M. Battee, J. W. Bouhvare. A. Chew. Abram King. H. M. Leonard, William Paul.
- 1876 — H. M. Leonard, chairman; S. F. Aver. J. M. Battee. A. Chew. W. N. Furlong, Abram King, W. H. Rogers.
- 1877-78 — Same as in 1876. with the exception that J. M. Battee was chairman.