You wouldn't think that getting a little angry would lead to the creation of what is now California's oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods near Santa Cruz.

But that is just what happened when San Jose photographer and artist Andrew P. Hill took photographs of the coastal redwood forest about 65 miles south of San Francisco.

His portrait-painting business hadn't been doing well, so he added to his income by taking pictures. World Wide Magazine hired him to take photographs of the Santa Cruz-area redwoods after a fire, reportedly doused by wine from a local winery. The property landowner confronted Hill, accused him of trespassing and demanded his glass negatives.

"I was a little angry and somewhat disgusted with my reception at the Santa Cruz Big Trees. It made me think. There were still 15 minutes until the train time. Just as the gate closed, 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 the place,' " he recalled in his memoirs.

And that is just what Hill did.

He lobbied some prominent people, and on May 18, 1900, Hill and his fellow activists founded the Sempervirens Club. The club members agreed that Big Basin, then owned by a lumber company, should be preserved as a public park.


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For two years, the club lobbied legislators and the governor to come up with $250,000 to buy 5,000 acres of the forest. Opponents, including the San Francisco Call, argued that the price was higher than the land was worth. Then it turned out that the $250,000 would buy only 2,500 acres.

Hill persuaded San Francisco Mayor James Phelan to guarantee $50,000 to pay the lumber company directly with the proviso that if the state didn't come up with the rest, the money would still go to the lumber company.

The legislators voted unanimously for the project, and the governor signed the bill.

It was said that if Hill and the Sempervirens Club hadn't acted when they did, the coastal redwoods would have disappeared within six months.

While Big Basin is California's oldest state park, it wasn't exactly the first one. In 1864, Congress and President Abraham Lincoln granted Yosemite Valley to California to establish a state park. The action made California the first state in the country to have a state park.

California didn't take good care of the valley, which worried people like naturalist John Muir. So in 1906, Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove became a national park.

Hill kept active working to preserve his beloved redwoods. He spent his summers at Big Basin; he took pictures of the trees and had a photography store there.

He never made a lot of money. When he died, he left his family $900, but his legacy to the people of California remains priceless.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.