Andrew P. Hill

AP Hill

In the name of progress and big money, the mid- to-late 1800s had become a fast-moving flurry of destruction of California’s forests. Old-growth trees that had been thriving for thousands of years were disappearing, and to date, no one was willing to fight to save this vital aspect of California’s ecological heritage.

Andrew P. Hill was a San Jose, California artist and photographer, and in 1899 he was on an assignment for British magazine “Wide World.” Hill was to take photographs to accompany an article about a fire in a redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains that had been put out using wine from a local winery.

The owner of the grove that Hill was visiting, dairy farmer Joseph Welch, had purchased the magnificent forest to turn it into a tourist attraction. When Welch saw Andrew Hill snapping pictures on his property, he became incensed, ordering Hill to turn over his photographic plates immediately. In the heat of anger, Welch told Hill that his ultimate plans were to log the forest and turn it into railroad ties. Hill recorded his feelings when he heard this:

“. . .the thought flashed through my mind that these trees, because of their size and antiquity, were among the natural wonders of the world, and should be saved for posterity. I said to myself ‘I will start a campaign immediately to make a public park of this place.’”

In 1900, Hill convened a group at the Stanford University Library, which included Stanford University President David Starr Jordan, a number of scientists, and other influential people to discuss saving the redwoods. They formed a surveying committee headed by Andrew Hill and Carrie Stevens Walter of the San Jose Woman’s Club. Camping along Sempervirens Creek in the Big Basin area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the group wasted no time. Then and there, they formed the Sempervirens Club. The $32 they collected that day to finance the effort was the beginning of their fundraising campaign to save redwood trees.

Though the group had no control over the fate of Welch’s trees, in 1901 their lobbying efforts did pay off. The California legislature passed a bill that created the California Redwood Park, and in 1902, the people of California became the proud owners of that 3,800-acre virgin redwood grove (later renamed Big Basin Redwoods State Park). It was the first time that a stand of coast redwoods had ever been preserved for posterity.

Mr. Hill, the People of California thank you with all our hearts.