Munson Manning finds success in quicklime

Written by Joanne Burkett from research taken from Paolo Sioli's History of El Dorado County California, from El Dorado Co. birth, marriage, death and land records and often from interviews.

The California Gold Rush was well into its second year when 31 year-old Munson Manning arrived in El Dorado County from St. Joseph County, Mich., where he farmed along the Burr Oak plains. Farming, however, could not hold the interest of the young man once he decided to seek his fortune in the gold fields.

Other gold rushes had been written into American history, but none matched the raging fever that was the California Gold Rush. By the time Manning arrived in El Dorado County in 1850, the state had been admitted to the union and its population had increased tenfold to nearly 100,000. For many, however, the fabled rush was just a flash in the pan and they soon departed. Others stayed, many taking up permanent residence. The smart ones went into business supplying goods and services to those who mined. Manning was one of those who stayed.

Munson W. Manning was born to Abraham and Sarah Manning on Aug. 27, 1819 in Tompkins County, N.Y., in the small town of Danby, near Ithaca. He was the third of the couple's seven children.

Once in California, it didn't take long for Manning to find success as a miner. From 1851 to 1855, he claimed a small fortune in gold at Murderer's Bar, which enabled him to spend a year in the Sacramento Valley, after which he returned to El Dorado County.

Apparently, Manning was a generous soul, for he began loaning money to those he thought less fortunate. Actually, Manning was the one less fortunate as those he helped welched on their debts to him. By 1858, he was broke and in debt to the tune of $12,000. His generosity seemed to be the biggest mistake of his life. In actuality, it probably was the best thing that could have happened because he turned to farming and the manufacture of quicklime, and his tenacity and hard work paid off.

During the 19th century, the most important use of limestone (calcium oxide) was in the production of quicklime, a mortar-like or plaster-like product needed in the construction of homes and commercial buildings.

Quicklime was produced when limestone was burned at an extremely high temperature in kilns. The quicklime was then mixed with sand and the resulting product was used to bind stone or bricks together in building walls or to chink between the logs of a log house. A smooth-finished wall or ceiling could be had by covering wood laths with it. Certain chemical and manufacturing processes as well as some agricultural applications also offered a lucrative market.

The limestone rock, which was of the blue variety, was practically inexhaustible and the continuous-burning kiln, which was known as the Patent Monitor, was able to turn out as many as 20,000 barrels during one good year. The average was usually about 10,000 barrels.

So, Manning's property, known as the Cave Valley lime kilns, was soon supplying a superior limestone product, and he found renewed success and a ready market.

All he needed to complete his life was a family of his own. On Feb. 25, 1861, Manning took Mrs. Sarah Mooney, of Boston, as his bride and on Aug. 27, 1868, they welcomed a son, named after him. On Aug. 10, 1872, a daughter, Ida, joined the little family.

On May 20, 1873, the General Land Office, later known as the Bureau of Land Management, granted Manning a land patent for property that eventually grew to encompass about 1,000 acres.

In 1879, he built a three-story stone residence for his family. It was considered one of the finest in the county.
Over the years, as he prospered, he invested in property in San Francisco, Oakland and Reno. The farm country of New York became just a distant memory.

Permission is granted by the author to use or republish this article, but proper attribution to the author -- Joanne Burkett -- is requested.

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