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THE LICK OBSERVATORY – JAMES LICK

Mount Hamilton

 BIO- Pen Pictures

            The history of the great observatory on Mt. Hamilton, containing the largest telescope in the world, and biography of its founder must necessarily be both interesting and important.  James Lick was of a quiet, uncommunicative disposition, and left but little from which to write his life story.  The prominence which he achieved by his princely gift to science has caused people from all sections of the country to recall incidents of his life, and these fragments have been gathered together and woven into a connected narrative by the San Jose Mercury, from which we compile the following: --

            James Lick was born at Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania, August 25, 1796.  His ancestors were of German extraction and spelled the family name “Luk.”  His grandfather had come to America early in the century and had served in the army of Washington during the War of the Rebellion.  Nothing is known of the life of James Lick, until at the age of twenty-one years he entered himself as an apprentice to an organ-maker at Hanover, Pennsylvania.  He worked here for a short time, and in 1819 took a position in the employ of Joseph Hiskey, a prominent piano manufacturer of Baltimore, Maryland.  An incident of his experience here has been recalled.

            On day a penniless youth, named Conrad Meyer, applied at the factory for employment.  He attracted the fancy of young Lick, who took the stranger in charge, provided him with food and proper clothing, and secured him a place in the establishment.  The friendship thus formed lasted through life. The preference of James Lick for the youth was justified by his later life.  In 1854 the pianos of Conrad Meyer took the first prize in the London International Exhibition, their maker possessing an immense manufactory in Philadelphia and ranking as one of the most eminent piano-makers in the United States.

            In 1820 James Lick left the employment of Joseph Hiskey and went to New York, expecting to start in business on his own account.  This venture was restricted by his want of capital, and, if attempted at all, was brief, for in the following year he left the United States for Buenos Ayres, South America, with the intention of devoting himself there to his trade. He found the Buenos Ayreans of that period a singularly handsome and refined race of almost purely Spanish extraction, and attaining, by their mode of life in the fine climate of that region, a remarkable physical and social development.  By careful attention to business he prospered among them, accumulating a considerable competence during his first ten years of South American experience.  “In 1832,” writes his friend Conrad Meyer, in the Philadelphia Bulletin, “I was in business on my own account on Fifth Street near Prune, Philadelphia, when I was suddenly surprised one day at seeing James Lick walk in.  He had just arrived from South America, and had brought with him hides and nutria skins to the amount of $40,000, which he was then disposing of.  Nutria skins are obtained from a species of otter found along the River La Plata.  He stated that he intended settling in Philadelphia, and to this end he some days later rented a house on Eighth Street, near Arch, with the intention of manufacturing pianos, paying $400 as rental for one year in advance.  In a few days he left for New York and Boston, and, writing me from the latter city, announced that he had given up the idea of remaining permanently in Philadelphia, and requested that I should call on the house agent and make the best settlement I could with him.  I did so, and receiving from him $300 out of the $400, I returned the key.”  The sudden change of purpose which led James Lick to abandon his design of remaining in Philadelphia and return to South America seems to indicate a whimsical temper.  It may be, however, that during his ten years’ stay in Buenos Ayres he cherished, as many men do, an ideal of his youth, and dreamed out a business career in his native land which, when he returned to it, he saw to be impracticable.  He went back to Buenos Ayres, filled certain piano orders he had taken, settled his affairs there, and sailed for Valparaiso, Chili, where for four years he followed his vocation.  Occasionally his friend, Conrad Meyer, heard from him, the correspondence being limited to orders for pianos to be shipped to him, with drafts for their payment; but outside of these indications that Mr. Lick was engaged in trade, little is known of his life in Valparaiso or the business ventures he engaged in outside of his trade.  At the end of four years he quitted Valparaiso, and went to Callao, Peru.

            He lived in Peru for eleven years, occupying himself in manufacturing pianos, with occasional investments in commercial enterprises.  That he was successful is shown by the statement, made by himself, that in 1845 he was worth $59,000.  At this time he began to think seriously of coming to California.  His friend, Mr. Foster, of the house of Alsop & Co., of Lima, urged him to remain in Peru.  He told Lick that the United States would not acquire California; that the inhabitants were a set of cut-throats who would murder him for his money, and that it would be folly for him to abandon a lucrative business to go to a new country that had so bad a reputation.  To all these arguments Mr. Lick replied that he knew the character of the American Government; that it was not of a nature to let go of a country it had once acquired, and as for being assassinated, he had confidence in his own ability to protect himself.  He determined to go, but before he could go he had to fill orders for several pianos he had contracted for.  This would not have been a difficult matter had it not been for the fact that, at this juncture, all his workmen left him to go to Mexico.  As he could not replace them, he went to work himself, and after two years of hard labor finished the last of the pianos.  He determined that there should be no further delay in his departure.

            His stock, which his inventory showed him was worth $59,000, he sacrificed for $30,000.  This money, which was in Spanish doubloons, he secured in a large iron safe, which he brought with him to California.  Among the odd articles which James Lick brought to California from Peru was the work-bench which he had there used in his trade.  It was not an elaborate affair, and the object of its deportation to this land of timber hardly appears, unless Mr. Lick had acquired an affection for this companion of his daily labors.  He retained this bench through all his California experience, and it now stands in the hall of the Lick Observatory at Mt. Hamilton.

            Mr. Lick arrived in San Francisco late in 1847.   At that time there was little to indicate the future prosperity of the metropolis of the Pacific Coast.  California Street was its southern boundary, while Sansome Street was on the water front.  Sand dunes stretched out to the southern and western horizon, with occasionally a rough shanty to break the monotony of the landscape.  Mr. Lick quietly invested his money in these sand hills, paying dollars for lots that were not considered, by the inhabitants, as worth cents.  He came to Santa Clara County and purchased the property north of San Jose, on the Guadaloupe, which afterwards became famous as the Lick Mills property.  He also bought the tract of land just inside the present southern city limits, and which was afterwards known as the Lick Homestead.  All these lands were vacant and unimproved; at this time the agricultural lands were not considered of any value.  Even as prominent and intelligent a man as John B. Weller said he “would not give six bits for all the agricultural lands in California.”  It is a question with some people as to whether these purchases by Mr. Lick were the result of luck or foresight.  Although considered eccentric, Mr. Lick’s business sagacity has never been doubted, and it is fair to suppose that he foresaw the commercial importance of San Francisco, and the future agricultural importance of the fields of the Santa Clara Valley.

            During seven years after his arrival Mr. Lick engaged in no particular business other than to invest his Spanish doubloons as above stated.  The first improvement on his property made by Mr. Lick was done upon that portion of his Santa Clara County lands known as the “Lick Mill Tract.”  An old flour mill had stood upon the property when he purchased it in 1852, and this fact may have moved his mind toward the erection at that point of his own mill.  In 1853 he began to lay the plans and gather the material he intended to employ in its construction.  In 1855 work was begun, and to those who saw the structure rise, it was the wonder of the time.  The wood of which its interior finish was composed, was of the finest mahogany, finished and inlaid in the most solid, elegant, and expensive style.  The machinery imported for its works was also of a quality never before sent to the Pacific Coast.  The entire cost of the mill was estimated by Mr. Lick himself, at $200,000.  It became known by the name of the “Mahogany Mill,” or perhaps more commonly as “Lick’s Folly.” When put in operation it turned out the finest brand of flour on the Pacific Coast.  It will always be a matter of doubt whether this mill was erected by Mr. Lick as a whim of his eccentric nature or as a protest against the flimsy, cheap, and temporary style of building then common to the new State.

            There is a romantic legend preserved in the memory of the old acquaintances of Mr. Lick which goes to explain the origin of the famous mill.  The tale runs that when Lick was a boy he was apprenticed to a miller, who, besides the possession of a competency and a flourishing business, had also an exceedingly pretty daughter.  Strange as the assertion may seem to those who were acquainted only with the unlovely old age of this strange character, James Lick was a comely young man, and upon him the miller’s daughter cast approving eyes.  Lick met her more than halfway, and a warm attachment sprang up between the apprentice and the heiress.  The ancient miller, however, soon saw the drift of matters, and interposed his parental authority to break the peaceful current of true love.  Young Lick declared that he loved the girl and wished to marry her, with her father’s consent.  Thereupon Hans became indignant, and, pointing to his mill, exclaimed:  “Out, you beggar!  Dare you cast your eyes upon my daughter, who will inherit my riches?  Have you a mill like this? Have you a single penny in your purse?”  To this tirade Lick replied that he had nothing as yet, but one day he would have a mill beside which this one would be a pig-sty!

            Lick at once departed, and at length drifted to California, seeking the fortune which in one minute he had determined to possess, and which determination never afterward for a  moment left him.  Nor did he forget his last words to the miller.  When he was a rich man he built this mill, and when it was finished there had been nothing left undone which could have added to the perfection of its appointments.  Its machinery was perfect, and its walls and floors and ceilings of polished, costly woods.  Not being able to bring the miller to view the realization of his boyish declaration, Lick caused the mill to be photographed  within and without, and, although his old sweetheart had long since been married, he sent her father the pictures and recalled to him the day he boasted of his mill.

            Although the Mahogany Mill gratified Mr. Lick’s pride in its construction and in the brand of its product, and although it may have satisfied the ancient grudge against the traditional miller, it was not a financial success.  The periodical floods of the Guadaloupe River inundated the lands about it, destroyed his orchards and roads, and interfered with the operation of the mill.  In the year 1873 he surprised everybody with the gift of the whole property to the Thomas Paine Memorial Association of Boston.  For some years he had been a close student and great admirer of the writings of Paine, and he took this means of proving the faith that was in him.  On January 16, 1873, he made a formal transfer of the property to certain named trustees of the association, imposing upon these the trust to sell the same and donate one-half of the proceeds to the building of a memorial hall in Boston, and so invest the other half that a lecture course could be maintained out of its increase.  The association sent an agent out to California to look over the acquisition, with power to deal with it.  Without consulting Mr. Lick, he sold the property for about $18,000 and returned home, at which proceeding the donor was so completely disgusted that he lost all his past interest in the advancement of the theories of Thomas Paine!

            The next scheme of improvement to which Mr. Lick turned his attention after the completion of his mill was the erection of the Lick Hotel in San Francisco.  He had bought the property upon which it stands for an ounce of gold-dust, soon after his arrival in California, and until 1861 it had lain idle and unimproved.  The lot originally extended the entire length of the block, on Montgomery Street, from Sutter to Post, and the hotel would have covered this space had not Mr. Lick sold the Post Street corner to the Masonic order. The story goes that Alexander G. Abell, on behalf of the Masons, approached Mr. Lick with an offer to buy the property.  The owner, in accordance with his seldom violated custom, refused to part with the property, until Mr. Abell frankly explained that the Masons had been all over the city looking for a site and could find none that answered their requirements like this, when Mr. Lick gave way and sold them the corner.  The hotel is a familiar object to all who visit San Francisco.  At the time of its construction it was the finest hostelry on the Pacific Coast, and it still ranks well up among first-class family hotels.  Its internal finish was, in the main, designed by Mr. Lick himself, who took a special pride in the selection of fine materials and in their combination in artistic and effective forms.  The dining-room floor of the hotel is a marvel of beautiful wood-work, made out of many thousand pieces of different wood, and all polished like a table.  It was probably the early devotion of Mr. Lick to the trade of a piano-maker which caused him to take this keen delight in the use of fine woods, which manifested itself both in his Mahogany Mill and in the Lick Hotel.

            That part of the life story of James Lick which lies between the years 1861 and 1873 is full of interest to those who would form a correct estimate of the man.  The course of affairs had amply justified his early judgment of the future values of California real estate.  His sand-hill lots, bought for a song in 1848, grew to be golden islands of wealth amid the rising rivers of metropolis trade.  The investments made in Santa Clara County lands all proved profitable and yielded rich returns.  By the very bull-dog tenacity with which he hung to his acquisitions, he became, during the ‘60’s, one of the wealthiest men on the Pacific Coast.  His reputation, too, was Statewide, made so not only by his wealth, but by the rumor of his eccentricities.  He had already passed the age of sixty years, when most men begin to “glide into the lean and slippered pantaloon.”  He even attained and overstepped the prophetic boundary of three-score years and ten.  Yet he still maintained the positive, energetic, self-possessed individuality of his earlier years.

            It is very probable that the advancing age of James Lick acted upon his nature in developing into active eccentricities  the natural peculiarities of his disposition. Most of the pioneers who remember him during the first decade of his California career, describe him as a close, careful, self-contained man, cold and sometimes crabbed of disposition, going his own lonely way in business and in life.  Those who knew him between ’61 and ’73 intensify these characteristics and declare him to have been miserly, irascible, selfish, solitary, who cherished little affection for his race or kin, and whose chief delight appeared to lie in the indulgence of the whims of a thorny and unfragrant old age.  It is probable that this later estimate of Mr. Lick presents his character with too much of a shadow, and that, as our narrative develops, and combines the incidents and traditions of this period of his life, and lays them alongside the grand conceptions of his closing years, his real self will be revealed in outlines less repulsive and more consistent with the achievements of his completed career.  In fact, from these few men who held the confidence and shared in all the plans of Mr. Lick, has ever gone out the denial that he was miserly or selfish or forgetful of his duties to mankind, and the claim that beneath the ice of his outward nature flowed the warm currents of a philanthropic heart.

            The traditions of Mr. Lick’s eccentric career during  these years are numerous and amusing.  Most of his time after the completion of his hotel was spent in Santa Clara County. He lived upon his Lick Mill property and gave a great deal of attention to its improvement.  Upon it he began early to set out trees of various kinds, both for fruit and ornament.  He held some curious theories of tree-planting, and believed in the efficiency of a bone deposit about the roots of every young tree.  Many are the stories told by old residents of James Lick going along the highway in an old rattle-trap, rope-tied wagon, with a bear-skin robe for a seat cushion, and stopping every now and then to gather in the bones of some dead beast.  People used to think him crazy until they saw him among his beloved trees, planting some new and rare variety, and carefully mingling about its young roots the finest of loams with the bones he had gathered during his lonely rides.  There is a story extant, and probably well founded, which illustrates the odd means he employed to secure hired help at once trustworthy and obedient.  One day while he was planting his orchard a man applied to him for work.  Mr. Lick directed him to take the trees he indicated to a certain part of the grounds and there to plant them with the tops in the earth and the roots in the air.  The man obeyed the directions to the letter, and reported in the evening for further orders.  Mr. Lick went out, viewed his work with apparent satisfaction, and then ordered him to plant the tree the proper way and thereafter to continue in his employ!

            Another story similar to this is handed down and is entirely authentic.  Mr. Lick was at one time the owner of what is now the Knox Block corner, in San Jose.  A fire having destroyed its buildings, much debris of burned brick remained scattered over the lot.  One day, while Mr. Lick was walking about viewing his property, a young stranger applied to him for work, and was instructed to collect a certain quantity of these brick and pile them neatly in a corner.  This he did and reported, when he was told to take the same brick and pile them neatly in another corner. Without a word he executed the singular order, and was at once employed and long retained by the eccentric man, who had thus put his obedience to the test.

            Mr. Lick was as fond of flowers as of trees, and took great pains in the cultivation of rare and beautiful plants.  He was very susceptible to praise of his garden, and equally sensitive to its criticism.  One day a party of ladies visited his Mahogany Mill, and were invited to view his flowers.  They were profuse in their compliments, and he was all-courteous until one of the party remarked that she had lately seen in San Francisco much finer specimens of some of his plants.  His demeanor changed at once, and telling the company he had yet another flower garden to show them, he led them by a tortuous trail out into the midst of a field of blossoming mustard, which grew like a rank forest upon part of his property, and then slipped away and left them to criticize his “other garden,” and extricate themselves as best they could.

            After Mr. Lick had, with almost infinite exertion, improved his mill property, he found the investment an unsatisfactory and unprofitable one. The annual floods of the Guadaloupe invaded his orchard, destroyed his garden, and covered his land with a deposit of sediment and debris.  And so he resolved at last to transfer his care to the tract of land lying just south of San Jose, and now known as the Lick Homestead Addition.  Presently the people of Santa Clara County witnessed a strange spectacle.  Day after day long trains of carts and wagons passed slowly through San Jose, carrying tall trees and full-grown shrubbery, from the old to the new location.  Winter and summer alike the work went on, the old man superintending it all in his rattle-trap wagon and bear-skin robe.  His plans for this new improvement were made regardless of expense.  Tradition tells us that he had imported from Australia rare trees, and, in order to insure their growth, had brought with them whole ship-loads of their native earth.  He conceived the idea of building conservatories superior to any on the Pacific Coast, and for that purpose had imported from England the materials for two large conservatories after the model of those in the Kew Gardens in London.  His death occurred before he could have these constructed, and they remained on the hands of his trustees until a body of San Francisco gentlemen contributed funds for their purchase and donation to the use of the public in Golden Gate Park, where they now stand as the wonder and delight of all who visit that beautiful resort.

            It was in the year 1873, when James Lick was seventy-seven years old, that he began to make those donations, of the then vast estate he possessed, which culminated in his famous deeds of trust.  How long he had given to secret thought upon the subject no one can tell, but that his gifts were the outcome of mature deliberation, seems beyond a doubt.  For years preceding his bequests he had been a wide reader upon many subjects.  He held a peculiar belief, or rather want of belief, regarding the future existence, and deemed an earthly immortality of remembrance all that there was of eternal life.  He studied everything written about Thomas Paine, and made his works the text of his own opinions.  It is related that, while he was engaged in the improvement of the Lick Homestead property, he became involved in an argument on day with Adolph Pfister over some religious subject, when the latter suggested that he put to practical proof the merits of Paineism as contrasted with other moral agencies, by the erection of a grand college on his property for the education of young men in his favorite doctrine, and for their equipment as teachers and missionaries of Paine.  The old man appeared attracted with the idea, and gave it considerable thought, and it is not improbable that it found form in his gift of the Lick Mill property to the Paine Memorial Association of Boston, which was the first in time of his donations.

            It was, as we have already noted, on January 16, 1873, that Mr. Lick made his donation of the Lick Mill property to the Thomas Paine Association. On February 15, 1873, he executed two other gift deeds, one to the California Academy of Science, and the other to the Society of California Pioneers.  To the former he granted a lot of forty feet frontage on Market Street near Fourth, San Francisco, and to the latter society a lot of like dimensions on Fourth Street near Market.  These gifts he clogged with certain conditions as to the kind of buildings to be erected, etc., which were deemed irksome by the donees.  Negotiations began between Mr. Lick and the societies, which continued during most of the year 1873, when Mr. Lick finally offered to relieve his gift from all burdensome conditions.  This purpose was yet unaccomplished at the time of his death, but after some little difficulty was arranged satisfactorily to all concerned by his trustees.  Upon the valuable properties thus generously disposed of, now stand the beautiful buildings of the two societies which received his benefactions.

            The first trust deed by which Mr. Lick gave all his immense estate to charitable and educational objects was dated June 2, 1874.  Among the several provisions of this instrument was one giving to San Jose $25,000 for the purpose of establishing an orphan asylum, and one appropriating $700,000 for establishing an observatory on land belonging to Mr. Lick near Lake Tahoe, in Placer County.  An investigation of the appropriateness of this site was at once set on foot.  It was soon ascertained that the severity of the climate about the chosen location would seriously interfere both with the effective operation of the telescope and with the comfort of the visiting public.  Mr. Lick then determined upon a change of site to some spot nearer civilization, and looked towards Mount St. Helena, in Napa County, as the proper point.  He visited St. Helena and ascended part way to its summit, but before he had pursued his inquiries far enough to arrive at a conclusion, other circumstances conspired to change his mind and direct his eyes to Santa Clara County in search of a favorable site for his observatory.

            Although, out of the large amount of property distributed by Mr. Lick, San Jose received but $25,000, the people of that city were very grateful and acknowledged their gratitude in a well-worded series of resolutions prepared by Judge Belden, adopted by the mayor and common council, beautifully engrossed and officially transmitted to Mr. Lick and San Francisco.  Other recipients of Mr. Lick’s benefactions had either responded coldly, or had made no response at all, and the action of the people of San Jose presented a strong contrast which attracted Mr. Lick’s attention and caused him to think that perhaps he had not done as much as he should for the county which had so long been his home.  The resolutions reached him at the time he was in doubt as to the location of his observatory, and he consulted his then confidential agent, Mr. Thos. E. Fraser, as to the availability of the mountain summits surrounding the Santa Clara Valley for the home of the telescope. His attention was first called to Mount Bache, which rises to the height of about four thousand feet on the southwest in the Santa Cruz Range; but it was found that frequent sea fogs would interfere with the vision on that elevation.  Mr. Fraser then referred Mr. Lick to Mount Hamilton, and was by him instructed to ascend to its top and investigate its qualifications for the purpose in hand.  In August, 1875, Mr. Fraser, accompanied by Hon. B. D. Murphy, then mayor of the city of San Jose, went upon the mountain, found it free from fog, equable of climate, easy of access, and generally suitable for the location of the great observatory.  Mr. Lick then addressed a communication to the Board of Supervisors of Santa Clara County, offering to locate the observatory on Mount Hamilton, if the county would construct a road to the summit.  The matters relating to this branch of the subject will be found fully related in our chapter on “Roads and Highways.”

            In the meantime Mr. Lick had found that his deed of trust did not express his intentions as he desired.  He found, among other things, that the strict construction of its terms would postpone the carrying into effect of his benefactions until after his death.  He wanted the work to be pushed forward during his life-time.  After duly considering these matters he addressed a communication to his trustees, setting forth his conclusions and intentions, and revoking the deed and asking them to resign the trust.  The trustees consulted a lawyer, and upon his advice declined to resign, for the alleged reason that they had already converted about a million of dollars of the real estate into money and could not be absolved from responsibility by Mr. Lick’s will alone.  This involved Mr. Lick in a controversy with his trustees which, at first, threatened disaster to the beneficiaries.  Jno. B. Felton was Mr. Lick’s attorney, and instead of precipitating his client into a lawsuit, he used the columns of the newspapers so vigorously that the trustees became disgusted and made up an agreed case, by which the courts relieved them of responsibility and annulled the deed.

            On September 21, 1875, a new and final deed was executed by Mr. Lick, with Richard S. Floyd, Bernard D. Murphy, Foxan D. Atherton, John H. Lick, and John Nightingale as trustees.  The clause in the deed in reference to the observatory is as follows: --

            “Third – To expend the sum of seven hundred thousand dollars ($700,000) for the purpose of purchasing land, and constructing and putting up on such land as shall be designed by the party of the first part, a powerful telescope, superior to and more powerful than any telescope yet made, with all the machinery appertaining thereto and appropriately connected therewith, or that is necessary and convenient to the most powerful telescope now in use, or suited to one more powerful than any yet constructed; and also a suitable observatory connected therewith.  The parties of the second part hereto, and their successors, shall, as soon as said telescope and observatory are constructed, convey the land whereupon the same may be situated, and the telescope and the observatory, and all machinery and apparatus connected therewith, to the corporation known as ‘Regents of the University of California;’ and if, after the construction of said telescope and observatory, there shall remain of said seven hundred thousand dollars in gold coin any surplus, the said parties of the second part shall turn over such surplus to said corporation, to be invested by it in bonds of the United States, or of the city and county of San Francisco, or other good and safe interest-bearing bonds, and the income thereof shall be devoted to the maintenance of said telescope and the observatory connected therewith, and shall be made useful in promoting science; and the said telescope and observatory are to be known as the ‘Lick Astronomical Department of the University of California.’”

            On making of the new deed Mr. Lick selected Mount Hamilton as the site for the University, and the trustees, acting with the regents of the State University, secured an act of Congress setting apart the public land at the summit for this purpose.  This tract contains about five hundred acres, and is so situated as to prevent settlement in the immediate vicinity of the observatory, or the inauguration of any enterprise in the immediate neighborhood that would be inimical to the interests of the institution.

            John B. Felton charged $100,000 for his services in annulling the first deed, and presented the bill to the new trustees.  They refused to allow the claim unless Mr. Lick would sign a written authorization.  Mr. Felton, with Mr. Murphy, one of the trustees, called on Mr. Lick for this purpose.

            “Mr. Felton,” said the old philanthropist, “when we made the contract upon which that claim is based, we supposed that to cancel my first trust deed would be an exceedingly arduous matter, involving much expense, a long delay and years of the most elaborate and annoying litigation.  The whole entanglement, however, has been adjusted in a few months without any difficulty, but little outlay, and with only a formal litigation; I think, under the changed circumstances, you ought to diminish the amount of your fee.”

            “Your proposition, Mr. Lick,” responded Felton, “reminds me of a story I once heard about a countryman who had a bad toothache and went to a rustic dentist to have the offender extracted.  The dentist produced a rusty set of instruments, seated him in a rickety chair, and went to work.  After some hours of hard labor to himself, and the most extreme agony to the countryman, the tooth was extracted, and he charged him a dollar.  A few months later the same countryman had another attack of toothache, and this time thought best to procure a metropolitan dentist.  He went to the city, found the best dentist in it, and offered his swollen jaw for operation. The expert dentist passed his hand soothingly over his face, located the tooth with painless delicacy, produced a splendid set of instruments, and before the countryman knew it, had the tooth out.  His charge was five dollars.  ‘Five dollars!’ said the countryman, ‘why, when Jones, down at the village, pulled my last tooth it took him three hours, during which he broke his chair, broke my jaw, broke his tools, and mopped the whole floor with me several times, and he only charged me a dollar.  You ought to diminish your bill!’”

            Mr. Lick signed the authorization and Mr. Felton received his money.

            In 1876 Mr. Lick had trouble with his trustees.  One of the duties Mr. Lick wished first performed was the erection of his family monument in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania. It was during the arrangement for this work that the causes attending the retirement of the second Board arose, and in this wise. [sentence ended]  It will be noticed that among the members of this Board of Trustees was John H. Lick.  Although James Lick is reputed to have never been married, this man was his son.  He was born in Pennsylvania on June 30, 1818, just about the time, it will be noticed, of James Lick’s somewhat hurried departure for New York, and thence to South America.  Who was the mother of this boy does not appear, unless, perhaps, it was the miller’s comely daughter.  Long after Mr. Lick came to California he sent for his son, then grown to manhood, and kept him for some years at work in the Mahogany Mill.  Here he remained until August, 1871, when he returned to his Eastern home.  When Mr. Lick made his first deed of trust, he directed the payment to his son of $3,000.  With this pittance John H. Lick was naturally dissatisfied, and hence in the second deed he was given the sum of $150,000, and made one of the trustees of the rest.  To him, as trustee, the power was delegated to contract for the Fredericksburg monument, but for some reason he failed or refused to sign the contract.  When this fact was made known to James Lick, in the summer of 1876, he became very much incensed against John H. Lick, and began to suspect that he had still further designs upon his property, and in the weakness of his old age he included the whole Board in his ill-humor, and suddenly required the resignation of the whole body.  In this the trustees, except John H. Lick, concurred, and a new Board was appointed by Mr. Lick. Captain Floyd having been in Europe during this last entanglement, was not included in the old man’s wrath, but was re-appointed on the new Board.

            Mr. Lick died October 1, 1876, and before the new Board was fully organized.  He was eighty years of age.  His body lay in state at Pioneer Hall, San Francisco, and was followed by an immense procession to Long Mountain Cemetery, there to rest until a more fitting resting place might be ready for its reception.  Some months before his death, in a conversation with B. D. Murphy upon the subject of the probability of his death, Mr. Lick expressed the desire that he might be buried on Mount Hamilton, either within or to one side of the proposed observatory, after the manner of Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul’s cathedral, who was buried in the crypt in 1723. 

            Immediately on the death of his father, John H. Lick returned from the East and secured letters of administration upon the estate.  This was understood to be the beginning of an attempt to nullify the trust deed; after testing several points in the courts, the trustees finally effected a compromise by which they were to pay Lick $535,000 in full of all claims against the estate.  The Society of Pioneers and the Academy of Sciences had been made residuary legatees by the deed, and they insisted that this payment to John Lick should be made pro rata from each of the bequests.  The Academy of Sciences was particularly active in the courts to compel the payment to be made in this manner.  After nearly a year of litigation, the courts decided that the special bequests could not be disturbed, and the compromise money must come from the share of the residuary legatees.

            As soon as possible after the completion of the road to the summit, work was commenced on the buildings.  About two million six hundred thousand bricks were used, all of which were manufactured in the immediate vicinity.  Early in 1887, the work had progressed sufficiently to permit the request of Mr. Lick in regard to his burial-place to be complied with, and on the ninth day of January his remains were brought to San Jose, whence, followed by a large procession of officials and prominent citizens, they were conveyed to the mountain.  A tomb had been prepared in the foundation of the pier, which was to support the great telescope, and in this, with imposing ceremonies, were the remains deposited.  The following document, signed by the trustees and representatives of the State University, the Academy of Sciences, Pioneers, and the mayor of San Jose, was sealed up with the casket:

            “This is the body of James Lick, who was born in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania, August 25, 1796, and who died in San Francisco, California, October 1 1876.

            “It has been identified by us, and in our presence has been sealed up and deposited in this foundation pier of the great equatorial telescope, this ninth day of January, 1887.

            “In the year 1875 he executed a deed of trust of his entire estate, by which he provided for the comfort and culture of the citizens of California, for the advancement of handcraft and rede-draft among the youth of San Francisco and of the State; for the development of scientific research and the diffusion of knowledge among men, and for founding in the State of California an astronomical observatory, to surpass all others existing in the world at this epoch.

            “This observatory has been erected by the trustees of his estate, and has been named the Lick Astronomical Department of the University of California, in memory of the founder.

            “This refracting telescope is the largest which has ever been constructed, and the astronomers who have tested it declare that its performance surpasses that of all other telescopes.

            “The two disks of glass for the objective were cast by Ch. Feil, of France, and were brought to a true figure by Alvan Clark & Sons, of Massachusetts.

            “Their diameter is thirty-six inches, and their focal length is fifty-six feet two inches.

            “Upon the completion of this structure the regents of the University of California became the trustees of this astronomical observatory.”

            The contract for the great lens was made with Alvan Clark & Sons, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, for $51,000.  They employed M. Feil & Sons, of Paris, to cast the glass.  The contract was made in 1880.  In 1882 the flint-glass was cast and sent to Messrs. Clark, but it was not until 1885 that a perfect crown-glass could be obtained.  The Clarks succeeded in obtaining a true figure in 1886, and on the twenty-ninth of December, of that year, the great lens reached Mount Hamilton.  The mounting of the instrument and other details of construction occupied eighteen months’ more time, and in June, 1888, the whole work was completed.  The transfer of the observatory from the trustees to the regents of the university took place June 1, 1888, being fourteen years from the date of Mr. Lick’s first deed.

Pen Pictures From The Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, Illustrated. - Edited by H. S. Foote.- Chicago:  The Lewis Publishing Company, 1888. p. 126-133

Transcribed by Kathy Sedler

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