John Congleton’s Saw Mill

Several years ago, during a visit to my hometown of Healdsburg, California in Sonoma County, a dear cousin of mine shared with me an old scrapbook she had come across while clearing out her recently departed Mother’s home. In it was a newspaper article, written in the 1930s, that relayed some stories about our shared ancestor, John E. Congleton, who had arrived in California during the Gold Rush.

The article quoted his Congleton Newspaper Articledaughter, Amelia Jane (Jenny) Congleton Smith Cook, as having stated (among other things) that her father “was not so much interested in gold mining as he was in the lumber business, for he [had] established a sawmill at ‘Rough and Ready.’” I had never heard about the family owning a saw mill in my prior twenty years of researching this family. I vowed then and there that someday I would make an attempt to verify this for myself…

Just Poking Around…

In October 2016 I traveled back to Healdsburg to attend my High School reunion. I decided to extend the trip to include stops at several of the Northern California repositories I had been wanting to visit since beginning my family research in 1994. My first stop was the California Genealogical Society Library in Oakland. There I found John Kitts Index at CGS LibraryCongleton’s name in a microfiche of “Kitt’s Index to Records in the Nevada County Recorder’s Office for July 21, 1856 to January 26, 1922.” It was not abundantly clear what the notations following his name indicated, but it sure looked like it was the location of a land record to me. Unfortunately, a quick search of the Nevada County Recorder’s Office website confirmed that they no longer were in possession of records of this vintage. Bummer.

I Wonder What I Will Find Over Here…

Proceeding with the confidence in my family historian ability to find stuff out and armed with the cryptic notation, I proceeded to the Doris Foley Library in Nevada City, California. I asked the helpful volunteer there if he was familiar with Kitt’s Index. And he responded, “Of course. And we have the original records on microfilm if you would like to see them.” After a short happy dance, I found myself looking at the record of my great great grandparents, John E. and Almira Congleton, selling their property, which included their residence and their one third interest in the “Newtown Sawmill,” to Porter Gilman in 1857 for $800. The description of the property indicated it was located at the bridge on Deer Creek on the East side of the Newtown Road Bridge. Now we were getting somewhere!

Hot on the Trail…

My new best friend at the Foley Library encouraged me to head over to the Searls Historical Library, also in Nevada City, to look for additional details. Once there, the friendly volunteer informed me that, sadly, the assessor’s records went back only to 1862 because earlier ones had been destroyed in a series of courthouse fires. However, she did bring me the original book “Kitt’s Index…” In it I was able to find later transactions by the individuals named in my ancestor’s deed. Using this information I was able to locate the assessor’s record of a portion of the property in the 40-lb. Assessors Book of 1862 that the volunteer was barely able to wrangle off of the shelf. At that time the 160 acres of land improved with “house, barn, fencing, fixtures, five cows, two horses, and two mules” was valued at $450 real estate and $250 personal property. The tax assessed that year was $9.61. This was pretty cool, but I wanted to see the land for myself.

Don’t Answer Yet, You Also Get…

My next stop was on Google Maps to look for the intersection of Newtown Road and Deer Creek. Unfortunately, it showed that the current Newtown Road ends at Bitney Springs Road just a few yards before it would cross Deer Creek. Rats. Undeterred, I headed out in the pouring rain to see what I could find. The GPS on my phone guided me onto Newtown Road and I followed it as it wound around for several miles before it turned and began running parallel to Deer Creek. As I approached the end of the road I pulled my car to the side and took off on foot with camera and umbrella. As I gazed across Bitney Spring Road I suddenly realized that I was looking at the abandoned continuation of Newtown Road and the decrepit old bridge across Deer Creek! This was the place!!Newton Road Bridge over Deer Creek

After another happy dance, I ambled over and found myself standing on the land that my ancestors had owned 160 years earlier. “I found you, Grandpa,” I whispered to the wind. This is why we research genealogy. For these moments of connection with our family from the past. And it all started two weeks earlier with an obtuse microfiche at the CGS Library in Oakland.

Moral of the Story

Look everywhere. At everything. And remember, those volunteers are out there just waiting to help you solve your mysteries.


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