Charles Camden is one of the pioneers of California and one of the prominent citizens of the State who are justly entitled to the honor of having founded the great commonwealth in which its citizens and the nation take such pride. Charles Camden is not a man who desires notoriety, -- indeed, he shrinks from anything that would appear like it; and it was with great difficulty that he could be induced to give the modest statement on which this brief story of his life is founded. Having been one of the pioneer miners and early settlers of Shasta County, and having taken a prominent part in the development of the county and its rich mines, a history of Shasta County and her citizens would be incomplete without a few ungarnished facts in regard to him, and on that basis he has been persuaded to give them.
Mr. Camden is a native of England, born January 29, 1817, of English parents. He was educated in England, and in 1834, when seventeen years of age, emigrated to New York, remained there for some time and vibrated between there and Louisiana up to 1845, when he came to the Pacific Coast. He was one year at Valparaiso, and three years in Peru, and a large portion of the time at Cerro Pasco silver mines, where he, with associates under contract with owners, successfully drained mines still rich, but abandoned for fifty years or more through lack of local energy and machinery to do it. From there he went to San Francisco, arriving on the 2d day of October, 1849. In the following March, he left San Francisco in search of the mouth of the Trinity River. From the first to the last of March there were thirteen vessels that left with passengers with that object in view. His vessel, the Jacob M. Ryerson, was the first to enter Eel River. Discovering that they were wrong, they came out of the river and passed into Humboldt Bay. His company joined the Sonoma Company that came overland, and located the town of Unionville (now called Arcata). He, in company with Levi H. Tower and two others, left the bay to go to the Trinity Mines, some ninety miles distant, after ascertaining the direction to take, from one of the Sonoma party who had come through in the fall. Mr. Camden set his compass for their course and the party started, being the first white men that went from the coast to the mines, although four others had crossed to the coast the previous fall. They were some five days in crossing and fifteen miles out of course when they got across. They established a ferry at the junction of the south fork and the main Trinity, and left John Hindman, who had crossed with them, in charge of the ferry, who afterward was driven away by hostile Indians, escaping in the dark after fighting them several hours with rifle and gun from his puncheon cabin; and Messrs. Camden and Tower mined on the Trinity and the Salmon rivers until the fall. In November, 1850, he came to Shasta County, where the Tower House now is, built by Mr. Tower, within a few yards of where the Tower House now stands, and in the avenue a little north of it they made their first camp and slept in their blankets, a few rods to the southwest of this spot. Mr. Camden, in 1852, built his house where he has since resided, with his family, but for the last twenty years they have spent their winters in their home at Oakland, where he has large property interests. Their home near the Tower House is a beautiful and ornamental spot, surrounded with all kinds of fruit and nut trees grown in the sub-tropical zone. (The orchards were planted mostly by Levi H. Tower, now deceased, who was Mrs. Camden’s brother.) For years this orchard was the principal one north of Marysville. They also have many nice flowering plants, and such a home makes a delightful retreat. The creek where Mr. Camden did placer mining for several years runs in front of the house, and only a short distance from it. It was in this creek and bars adjoining that he made his first permanent start in California. It was not as rich as some of the mines, but its yield was very uniform, his average work being from $10 to $30 per day to the man, and his richest pan of dirt $650 in fine gold. He mined that creek for nearly a mile, and followed the business there until 1866, taking out over $80,000; and, unlike most ‘49er’s, he has kept it and added to it greatly. He has been engaged in many other enterprises, such as orcharding, water-ditching, saw-mill, the turnpike road and later quartz-mining. In 1861, he built the Camden turnpike from Shasta to Tower House, a distance of twelve miles. Previous to that time the traffic of the country was carried on with pack mules, there being no wagon roads further than Shasta.
Mr. Camden conceived the idea to build this road over a very rough, mountainous country. It was a great undertaking, but proved beneficial to himself and the community. It winds its way through and over the mountains, in some places cut out of solid rock, and forms many loops and abrupt turns. The whole road is an easy grade, is kept in good condition and affords its far-seeing and wise projector and builder a nice income in tolls; and it has greatly aided in the settlement and development of the county. He also maintains a good covered bridge on this road. He owns one-third interest in the Iron Mountain of Shasta County, containing vast quantities of iron, silver and copper. The complete silver reduction works here built cost $80,000. The mine is 130 feet wide and three-fourths of a mile in length. Here they are taking out large quantities of silver and give employment to fifty men. The iron ore in this mountain is of the finest quality known.
Mr. Camden was married in 1852, to Miss Philena Tower, a native of Rhode Island, and a daughter of Jason and Philena (Howard) Tower, her mother being a native of Massachusetts. Their union has been blessed with three daughters, all born in Shasta County, namely: Ada H., Grace and Mary Electa, who is now the wife of Clarence Wetmore, of Oakland.
Mr. Camden is not a politician, but is a Republican and holds himself independent. His parents in England were Episcopalians, and he was raised in that faith. There is not a particle of ostentation or display about him, -- just a plain, substantial gentleman, -- and those who know him best will not attribute any vanity to him for having furnished the facts for the story of his successful life to be placed in a history of Northern California, -- a country in which he cast his lot and with which he has been identified for the last forty-one years, during its settlement and prosperity.
This sketch would not be complete without a further account of the Tower House and of its original founder and former proprietor, who was one of those most energetic and enterprising men known to all in that day and highly esteemed. Among his early doings was the building of the Globe Hotel in Shasta, in 1851. In 1852 was the building of the present commodious Tower House and planting of the orchards, the trees being procured, some over the Isthmus of Panama and some from nurseries in Oregon, at extremely high cost. A few years later, mostly through his energy, the wagon road over the Trinity and Scott mountains was commenced and built; also the first preliminary free wagon road from Tower House to Shasta and a bridge over Clear Creek by his means and efforts, where before nothing but mule trails existed. Many other enterprises of the early history of Shasta County he aided by his energy and means.
Of the Tower House and its surroundings -- and it is a delightful place -- perhaps we can not do better to describe it and show the material and taste possessed by some of the early pioneers of California, who could then make an Eden like this out of a wilderness, than to copy in part from a description written some ten years ago by the then proprietor of a Colusa County paper, and headed “The Home of the Camdens.”.
“It was our pleasure to visit during the fall months the home of Mr. Camden. It was somewhere in 1850 that he settled in Shasta County on or about the site of his present home; but in those days Mr. Tower, a brother-in-law of Mr. Camden, owned the Tower House property, which included the present comfortable retreat of Mr. Camden. There is perhaps sixty acres of land which might properly be called valley. *** Mr. Tower, who was a practical sort of man, seems to have discovered and mapped out, very early, the beauties of the place which bears and will continue to bear, through ages to come, the name of the projector and founder. *** In this glen in the mountains thirty years ago, Mr. Tower laid the foundation of the present beautiful and magnificent property, and to-day the great, broad avenue of walnut trees leading up from Clear Creek to the Tower House is one of the most magnificent sights to be seen in the country. Mr. Tower died in 1865, when the property passed into the hands of Mr. Charles Camden, since which time he has continued to improve it. *** It is in this place that Mr. Camden now passes the meridian of life, surrounded by the cultured and amiable members of his family, seven months of the year, and the other five being spent in Oakland, where he owns a residence.”
Mr. Tower sailed early in 1849 from Boston
around Cape Horn in the ship Edward Everett, which he and about forty associates
partly owned. Their company, formed on starting, was intended to
be joint and mutual in all their undertakings here; but, like scores of
other community partnerships, in less than a month their company was scattered
in every direction, -- some to the mining regions, some to business in
San Francisco and other towns, according to inclination or taste -- all
bent upon making a fortune individually instead of through association
as first intended. Mr. Tower’s first venture was a machine shop,
for which he was fully competent, having been engaged before starting in
the United States armory in Springfield, Massachusetts; but the mines were
the great attraction above all others, and as before noticed, he left San
Francisco in March 1850, for the Trinity mines.
Memorial & Biographical History of Northern California
The Lewis Publishing Co., 1891 Pages 643-645
Transcribed by: Christine Helmick