An interesting and colorful history of the mountain section of Colusa County is revealed in a review of the transposition of the town of Smithville to what later developed into a prosperous center known as Stonyford, which witnessed all the spirit and glamour of the pioneer days, a spirit which only Mark Twain and Bret Harte could put into writing.
Smithville was situated on Stony Creek about where the Stonyford School stands today. John L. Smith, a pioneer of the county to whim little recognition has been given, settled there erecting a three-story hotel, a lively stable, a grist mill; the latter on the bank of the creek, from which power was derived. The mill operated by Ernest Seidel, Smith’s son-in-law.
In 1890 h. C. Stilwell, said to be a promoter, who had been backing a boom in Sutter City, made his entrance into Smithville, proceeding to move the town to its present site and changing to name to Stonyford. The town was “bodily moved,” as Stilwell laid out the new town and paid the expenses of moving the buildings. Many of the building were moved as they stood, while others were torn down and rebuilt.
The old Smithville hotel, and the store which was operated by W. J. King and Ragain, were moved and torn apart. A horse pulled the building after they had been places on rollers. Business was continued as usual while the moving process was underway. Fire destroyed the historic hotel in 1892.
QUITE A LITTLE BUSINESS CENTER
In addition to the hostelry the streets of Stonyford were marked by two saloons, two stores, a restaurant, a livery, and feed stable, and a blacksmith shop.
P. D. O’Connor was the blacksmith. George Howard and Silas Tatum were proprietors of the saloons.
Stilwell began his boom activities with a flourish, spending $20,000 to construct a flour mill at the start. For a ditch to bring water power to the flour mill, he spent $8,000. A brisk market in Colusa and the great amount of wheat raised in that section kept the mill busy almost continuously.
Stilwell’s activities apparently were great, for the spent $70,000 in developing the community.
In those days Henry Engraham held the United States mail contract, giving resident of the community twice a week delivery service. Mail was brought to Stonyford by stage, and often in web weather two weeks elapse before a stage could get either in or out of the town.
W. J. King was the teacher of the school which 90 pupils were enrolled, children coming from every section of the hills. The large number of children journeyed to the school even as early as “eighty-nine.”
A. T. Welton, one of the oldest of Colusa county pioneers, connects those vivid days with the present time. Welton arrived in the mountainous country of Smithville in 1869, watched its development into Stonyford, the rise of that town to its height and its subsequent decline as people moved to the larger cities.
STONYFORD A BUSY THOUGHT TINY TOWN
Stonyford is far from dead today. Activity still thrives in the tiny town, consisting of a post office, two stores, telephone exchange, and two restaurants. Charles A. butler is postmaster and is in charge of the telephone exchange located in his general store. Frederick C. Roos is proprietor of the other store, know as Shell station. The building is an old landmark, being formerly occupied by Silas Tatuam’s saloon. Mrs. Murray McGaham operates one restaurant and Mrs. Patrick McDaniel, the other.
There are two churches in the little town. The Union community church was erected in 1894. The next year John Durham, who died in 1927, and his family moved to Stonyford from Maxwell and Durham was elected Sunday school superintendent of the church, a post which he held for thirty years.
The Catholic Church which was known as Mt. St. Mary’s was moved to Stonyford from the old town Zackary, the site of which is now under water in the East Park Dam. Father Wallrath of Colusa was in charge of the services at the church and was instrumental in having the church moved to Stonyford.
F. M. Kesselring and William Wells are the largest land holders in this section.
FOREST SERVICE ON EDGE OF TOWN
Latest improvements to Stonyford are the United States Forest Service buildings at the northern outskirts of the community. The properties consist of a warehouse, and office building and two homes. Keith MacDonald, district ranger and his family occupied one of the homes, and S. E. Stites, forest service dispatcher, occupies the other home.
The Stonyford district is a haven for the deer hunters during the deer season, statistics showing that more deer are kill each year in that section than in any other particular locality in the state.
STONYFORD COMMUNITY HISTORY
John L. Smith was born in Adams County Illinois in 1829. His father’s family consisted of six children, three sons and three daughters. In 1852 he married Elizabeth C. Laird.
His first job was farming at the head of Echo Canyon. He had a mail station and tool bridge at East Weber. In 1853 he joined the Mormon Church. The next year all citizens of Salt Lake City moved to Provo River fifty miles away. Through fear of General A. S. Johnson’s army, which was about to enter the city. They left a number of men behind to destroy the whole city at a moment’s notice. At last an agreement was made thought Governor Cummings, Colonel Kane, and a number of others on one side, and Brigham Young and his counselors on the other. Harmony began and the people returned to their homes.
In the spring of 1863 he started with his family to California with nice yoke of cattle and three wagons. On the way he met other emigrants; they traveled together. He soon was dissatisfied with their guard duty (he did not think it was needed) so he left the company and traveled on his own. Late in the summer of 1863 he arrived in Sacramento and started hauling freight.
In the winter of the same year he started in search of a home. He traveled north, and finally located on Stony Creek. His first job in Stony Creek was a sawmill. In 1869 the mill had about 25,000 feet of lumber. It was all burned down by fire, after this he rebuilt the mill with John Fouts, and later sold it to Mr. Fouts. In 1876 he bought the mill back again. In 1878 he built a flour mill; it had a wheel 20 feet diameter.
John Smith could not read or write, yet he established a hotel, blacksmith shop, the first lumber mill and flour mill in this area.
The first flour mill stood just north of the present school house. A small pool of water is still where the big over shot water wheel stood.
John Smith bought this mill in Red Bluff and moved it to Smithville in the early 1880s the auger that forced the wheat along the troughs in the mill was made of wood. Mails were driven close together in a spiral shape to form the auger. The water that ran this mill was brought by ditch from Stony creek back of A. T. Welton Ranch down to the Rancheria along the north side of the Rancheria to where the ground dropped down to the creek. There it was flumed from this high ground to the mill wheel. This flume was nearly a quarter mile long. The water running down over the cups on the wheel caused the wheel to turn around and this in turn ran the machinery. After Stillwell bought Smith out, he abandoned the first flour mill. Then he built a large modern mill one half mile west of Stonyford and Indian Cemetery.
This was run with a turbine wheel. But this mill was too large for the locality and only operated a few years.
The first sawmill was located above the Trough Spring at a place now called the Old Mill Camp Ground.
When John Smith sold to Stillwell, he kept ten acres of land in the Stonyford Township.
He started to build another three story hotel on the property. He was crushed between two logs at his sawmill before the building was entirely completed. He was trying to chock a log but the log rolled on over the chock and crushed him from his hip down. This happened in August 1893. He died in his home a few days later. After his death the building was never finished and remained the same until it was torn down in the summer of 1945. This building was known as the grand hotel.
John L. Smith built the Smithville Hotel from lumber from his sawmill. He moved the hotel in 1890. Mrs. Cheney was cooking inside of the hotel when they moved it. They moved the hotel with rollers of logs and capstans. They moved it with a team of horses. The hotel was a two story hotel. The hotel was moved to where Schimmel now lives. A fire started inside the hotel and jumped across the street and caught Burgett’s Store on fire, the ice house and Toppy’s Saloon also burned. The fire was in 1898.
The grand hotel was built in 1892 by John L. Smith. The lumber was brought down from his lumber mill at Cedar Camp. John and his wife owned it for a long time. It was run my Mrs. Farley and John L. Smith later traded land in Marysville with Bruce Sutliff.