The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1978, Volume 24, Number 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

Graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley

Images from the article

WATER has been a problem of constant concern for San Diego. The development of the San Diego region from its early history to the present has been directly influenced by the ability to secure reliable and adequate water supply. During the Spanish and Mexican eras, local ground water supplies were sufficient for the small community’s needs. Thirty years after California entered the Union, however, these resources were inadequate, and the growing population in San Diego and its increased needs forced residents to look elsewhere.

The region has extensive water resources, but the people have not settled where the water is concentrated. Along the immediate coastal region where the population resides, there is an average rainfall of ten inches per year, while the mountains to the east average thirty to forty inches of rain per year. Additionally, there is a fluctuation rate in the coastal rains as high as thirty percent in forty-five out of every one hundred years, which is coupled with a highly seasonal rainfall pattern with only fifteen percent falling during the hottest six months of the year. Thus, in order for San Diego to expand, it became necessary to build numerous reservoirs in the mountains to trap excess water and bring it to the city.1

Private companies initially developed the mountain reservoirs and sold the water to the city on a contract basis. From 1887 to 1897 these companies constructed six major dams in San Diego County to supply the growing population with water, thus making the region, as Phillip R. Pryde has observed, “one of the major focal points of dam construction in the world.”2 Two large private concerns involved in water development clashed repeatedly over who could best serve the city of San Diego’s water needs during these times. The first of these disagreements which occurred in 1896 and 1897, demonstrated the political nature inherent in the development and control of water.

The two contestants were the San Diego Flume Company and the Southern California Mountain Water Company. The Flume was a remarkable project which brought water thirty-six miles from a diversion dam on the San Diego River through five tunnels and over 315 trestles to the city. Beginning in 1886 during the land boom, the company first experienced problems. A combination of financial difficulties, which precluded needed expansion and repairs, and average water losses of fifty percent due to evaporation and leakage constantly caused shortages that kept the Flume company on tenuous ground in the public’s mind. An eleven year drought between 1895 and 1905, which quickly dried up the Flume’s reservoir, forced the company to pump brackish San Diego River water to the city, thereby losing the people’s support.3

The Southern California Mountain Water Company was organized in 1895 when Elisha S. Babcock, the founder and developer of Coronado, sold half of his Otay Water Company to John D. Spreckels of San Francisco. Babcock had started the Otay company in 1887 to secure a water supply for Coronado and the developing areas at the southern end of San Diego Bay. As the boom of the late 1880s collapsed and Babcock’s many enterprises faltered under the financial crunch that followed, he induced millionaire sugar magnate Spreckels to invest in his schemes. By 1895 Spreckels owned nearly all of Babcock’s enterprises plus a good deal more in San Diego and until his death in 1926 was the pre-eminent business force in the city. Spreckels retained Babcock as his business manager and representative in San Diego.4

The development of water resources for San Diego from the beginning was, according to a contemporary historian, a “prolific source of controversy…marked by acrimonious discussion and sharp divisions in the community.”5 These divisions widened in 1895 as the drought set in and depleted the Flume company’s reservoir. The San Diego Union, which Spreckels owned and Babcock managed, attacked the Flume repeatedly for its inability to supply the city with water under drought conditions and accused the company of trying to mislead the public about its capacity to meet its contract with the city. On one occasion the paper described its position as “simply that of the people against the Flume company’s policy…to retard any and all development of water that might affect its hold on the city treasury.”6 Babcock, who earlier held minority interests in the Flume and its partner, the San Diego Water Company, was determined to replace them with the Southern California Mountain Water Company as the supplier of the city’s water.

Before Babcock could displace the Flume, however, he had to eliminate another group of potential water developers. Judge George Puterbaugh and Jesse and U.S. Grant, Jr., sons of the former President, submitted a plan to the Joint Water Committee of the Common Council in January 1895 to supply San Diego with water from Warner Ranch. Babcock also made a proposal to supply the city, and he along with Charles Hardy, who controlled the Council during this period for Spreckels, blocked the Grant plan. Babcock arranged a meeting with Grant, Jr., and persuaded him of his strong friendship and his desire that both men work for the good of the city. Because Grant was a newcomer to San Diego, he was not aware of Babcock’s political connections so he unhesitatingly agreed to his suggestion of sending a joint letter to the Council. In the letter the two men urged the Council to decide quickly which of the two proposals was best for San Diego. Both men pledged hearty support for any decision made. Meeting informally as requested, the Council voted sixteen to nine in favor of Babcock’s proposal. The public was so sufficiently upset with this kind of politics, however, that with the assistance of sympathetic newspapers in town, both propositions were finally defeated.7

The city still needed a reliable water supply, and in September the Flume company and the Mountain Water company submitted rival bids to the Council. The Mountain Water company’s bid was brief and general, offering the city free and clear title to 1,000 miner’s inches of water, its storage, and the land necessary to hold it in either their Barret or Morena reservoirs. They asked the city to build the dams and conduits large enough for the company to use extra water to develop the areas contiguous to the dam and along the conduit to the city. Essentially, they were offering water to the city in return for a dam and conduit system of their specification.8 Spreckels’ newspaper, the Union, called the bid a “liberal offer” and “an exceptionally good opportunity” for the city to end its water problems.9

The Flume company, already providing water to the city through its partner, the San Diego Water Company, offered a long and complicated set of bids. In two bids that were similar in their intent, the Flume offered to sell for $1,500,000 the water distributing system then in use in the city, a reservoir at Point Loma, the dams and reservoirs at Lake Helena and La Mesa, and 1,000 miner’s inches of water. Additionally, they offered to carry the water in their flume for $20,000 per annum as long as the city desired. The bulk of the bid, however, was filled with a defense of the company’s own position and present contract with the city. Asserting that the city was legally bound to honor the present contract, the Flume also argued that San Diego could not buy the city distribution system alone and then contract with Spreckels’ company for water. That would ruin them financially, they contended. Finally, asserting that “self-preservation is the first law of nature…,” the Flume vowed to fight to protect its property and position.10

The Union attacked the Flume company’s bids unremittingly. Charging the company with attempting to prevent progress by telling the Council that it would be illegal to obtain water from any other developer, the paper claimed that the city was not tied to the Flume company since it had failed to meet its contract. It called both the Flume’s bids potentially ruinous for the city and “sufficient to bring into question the sanity of the men making such absurd offers.” 11

Nine months later in May 1896 after a number of counteroffers and much haggling, indecision, and compromise, the Common Council came to terms with Spreckels’ Mountain Water company and put the issue before the voters in the form of a bond election. They asked the voters to approve a $1,500,000 bond which would purchase from the Southern California Mountain Water Company their Morena reservoir and dam, 1,000 miner’s inches of water rights, and a conduit system to the city; also included was the construction of a new water distributing system within the city limits. The Union, of course, supported the bond election and declared that the contract was designed to protect the city in all matters.12

By this time a new newspaper in San Diego was defending the Flume company’s cause. Like its rival, the Evening Tribune did not peddle reasonable, cautious statements on the water issue: “Mr. Babcock’s privy council has at last consummated the act it has so long contemplated, and…has delivered over the city into the hands of the boss and his irresponsible corporation.” Contracting with Babock and setting up the bond election was, the paper declared, “the most serious blow to the prosperity and growth of this city it has received in its whole history.”13

Besides attacking the opposition ad nauseam in their newspapers, the two companies organized groups of businessmen to support their positions. These groups are interesting for the general socio-economic background of their members and the interconnecting lines of business interests of those involved. The first group to emerge was the Business Men’s Association, which supported the passage of the bond issue. Two days after the Council’s action the Union reported the formation and first meeting of this group and claimed that it was the result of “a few hours work by one or two energetic business men among their associates.” The Union referred to the seventy-five men involved as the leading merchants in town.14 The Tribune’s opinion of these men was less flattering, and it claimed that the association was not a spontaneously organized group, but the result of several days’ work by Babcock’s men.15

This group is most notable for its lack of professionals and the absence of community leaders. Heavily represented by merchants and retailers, the organization’s original supporters included no doctors or lawyers. Nearly one-third of this group was involved in such businesses as dry goods, new and used furniture, wholesale and retail food sales, liquor and tobacco sales, and household goods. Another nineteen members were in the services sector of the local economy, with occupations ranging from funeral directors and hotel proprietors to bicycle repairmen and plumbers. Only three men were involved with real estate or mortgage companies. Although Babcock was not formally involved with the association, his political lieutenant, Charles Hardy, was a member, as was a business partner, W.A. Hawkins. None of these men held any traditionally significant community positions, such as appointments to city boards governing the parks, public health, streets, and port development. Nor were any of them listed as officers in the Chamber of Commerce or the numerous fraternal and service organizations in town. And finally, a large majority of these men either lived where they worked or resided nearby in a hotel or boarding house.16 This group was composed of middle class merchants and variously skilled laborers who lacked any significant political or social position in the local community and who owned very little property.

Organized to defeat the bond election, the Municipal Ownership Club included professionals as well as businessmen. According to the Tribune, the body was “composed of citizens with large property investments in this city who are vitally interested in its growth and prosperity.” Favoring municipal ownership of the water supply, the club opposed the Morena contract because apparently it did not provide for such ownership.17 The group’s one hundred members differed significantly-socially, economically, and politically-from the Business Men’s Association. Included were eleven professional men-five lawyers, three doctors, and three bank executives. Thirty percent of the members were involved in real estate, money lending, and property investment and development. Nearly 20 percent of this group were listed as retired, which probably indicated some degree of independent income. Insurance salesmen, contractors, notaries, and printers represented the services sector. A number of merchants and skilled laborers were also listed. The Flume company was indirectly represented by three club members: George K. Phillips was the secretary of the Linda Vista Irrigation District, which was a development project of the Flume; George Hannahs was vice-president of the San Diego Savings Bank, which was owned by Joseph W. Sefton, one of the original developers of the Flume, its past president, the largest local stockholder; and J.L. Dryden was affiliated with the Kimball-Beasley Company, the publishers of the Evening Tribune. The group also listed an alderman, C.C. Brandt; a member of the Board of Health, Dr. P.C. Remondino; the president and secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, John Sherman and R. H. Young; a superior court judge, William T. McNealy; and the next mayor of the city, D. C. Reed. Finally, a majority of these men lived in their own family homes outside the immediate downtown area.18 The club therefore included professionals and businessmen with a significant political, economic, and social base in the city.

The activities of these two groups were somewhat similar. Both organizations held numerous public meetings to explain their positions and condemn the opposition. The newspapers faithfully praised or belittled the gatherings, depending on which one they were covering.19 In the “public interest,” Spreckels’ Union provided free space to the Business Men’s Association “for the discussion of the water question,” and the association promised to present “nothing but the facts.” All articles and questions that appeared in the space required approval by the association.20

Heated editorials appeared daily in each paper with the Union attacking the Flume company and its officers and the Tribune defending the Flume and attacking Spreckels and Babcock. The Union repeatedly claimed that the Flume company was unable to provide sufficient water for the city’s growing needs and that what they did furnish was of poor quality.21 In response the Tribune asserted that the Flume was improving its capacity to serve the city and that stories to the contrary were lies.22 The evening paper also tried to make Babcock himself an issue in the bond election. The Tribune printed an unsigned letter from a laborer which stated that during the land boom of the 1880s, Babcock had employed Chinese labor to build Coronado’s sewers and roads, thus taking jobs from “white men.” The writer warned that the same would happen if the water bonds were approved. Babcock’s past schemes and his present connection with Spreckels were also attacked by the paper. The most revealing item they offered, but unaccountably did not pursue, was an article showing how Babcock had persuaded the Council to accept an altered version of the Morena contract that clearly reduced his risks and increased the city’s, despite the city attorney’s objections.23

When the election came the water bonds were approved by a 2,540 to 1,184 vote, a mere fifty-seven votes over the necessary two-thirds majority needed for passage.24 The Flume company had too many obstacles to overcome. They were a faltering water company in the midst of a drought and had lost the support and confidence of their customers. The middle class merchants probably viewed the Morena contract as the quickest way to spur the local economy and increase the city’s potential for growth. And finally, the Flume company could not adequately compete against Spreckels’ money. Every day during the election period “Babcock sent a tank car of his water around the Coronado Belt Line Railroad….At all the way-stations, people came with pails and even cups and helped themselves free of charge. Then Babcock left the car standing at the foot of Fifth Street until it was empty.25

This election, of course, did not settle San Diego’s water problems, but was just the first of many battles to come. Within three days of the election the San Diego Water Company, the distributor of the Flume company water to San Diego, filed a suit against the city, the Common Council, and the Southern California Mountain Water Company, seeking an injunction to halt the sale of the bonds. The company charged that as many as 400 ineligible and fraudulent voters had participated in the election, and that 300 voters were bribed to vote for the bonds. Other suits were also filed to enjoin the issuance of the bonds.26

The water issue was brought before the people again in the spring of 1897 in the mayoral election. The municipal election of 1897 was another contest between the Flume company and the Mountain Water company. Ordinarily these biannual events were quiet and harmonious affairs. Both newspapers, however, had sniped constantly at one another since the water bond election, and the result of that contest was facing numerous court challenges. The election that spring departed from the usual tradition of quietude and harmony.

Convening on February 27, the Democrats nominated for mayor C. F. Holland, an attorney and police commissioner, plus a full slate of candidates for the Common Council and the other offices.27 The Tribune, perhaps in anticipation of the upcoming Republican convention, wrote a blistering editorial comparing Babcock to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. After reminding the readers of the dual nature of the character and his lack “of the slightest vestige of honorable consistency in its dealings with mankind,” the paper said, “in many ways Mr. Babcock would have been an inspiring model for the novelist.” Apparently not satisfied with that comparison, the editorial later likened Babcock to George du Maurier’s maleficent hypnotist Svengali.28 With the mood set, the Republicans met on March 4 to choose a candidate.

Rumors of trades and deals circulated as the Republicans gathered. Joseph S. Bachman, president of the Board of Aldermen and chairman of the Joint Water Committee, and David C. Reed, an insurance salesman and former director of the Municipal Ownership Club, were the leading candidates for the mayoral nomination. On the day of the convention, the Union reported that Bachman was rumored to have reached a private agreement with Reed not to seek the nomination on the condition that he would be “well cared for by Reed after the election.” That same day the paper published a letter from Bachman dated March 3, 1897, in which he, at the request of friends, declared himself an independent candidate for mayor. In his letter he strongly endorsed the Morena contract which his joint committee had recommended the year before.29 Reed now seemed assured of an easy nomination but at the last minute Simon Levi, former president of the Common Council, was nominated against his wishes and nearly defeated Reed. Bachman, seeking permission to speak to the convention to explain his actions, was denied and departed angrily.30 The Republicans entered the campaign a somewhat divided party. A number of other men also ran for mayor in 1897 as independent candidates: William H. Carlson, the incumbent mayor, alderman A. E. Dodson, George D. Copeland, and alderman Major Henry Sweeney.

In his acceptance speech, Reed denied that he made any deals with Bachman. Although he had opposed the 1896 water bond election, Reed now supported it since the people had voted for it and he stated that he would carry out the letter and spirit of the agreements “when the courts finally declare the contract valid…” If that failed he would seek other sources of water.31 Pronouncing itself pleased, the Union described Reed as “a man of ability and business sagacity.” The Tribune, despite Reed’s new support for the water bonds, was happier than their rival with his nomination. The paper had confidence that the courts would not permit the sale of the water bonds, and it may also have seen in Reed an opportunity to exercise some control over Spreckels’ growing power in the city. The editors portrayed Reed as a man who would “command respect and confidence…of all parties in San Diego.” He was aggressive and energetic, and his term would be business-like and free from “innocuous desuetude.”32 The two Republican papers seemed to be entering the campaign in agreement over the party’s nominee.

A few days after the convention, however, the Union published a letter from Bachman in which he asserted that he had met with an “agent” of Reed’s on February 26 at their insistence to discuss his withdrawal. He stated that the agent offered him various inducements to withdraw, such as two years equivalent of the mayor’s salary, appointment as superintendent of the streets with a $100 per month salary, or an appointment as water commissioner. Bachman refused them all, he said, and pledged to go ahead with his independent candidacy.33 Neither Reed nor the Tribune responded, and other than the withdrawal of independent candidate A. E. Dodson, an alderman, the campaign remained quiet through most of the month.

The initial peace of the campaign did not keep the Union and the Tribune from their incessant mutual attacks. On March 13, Mayor Carlson, who was running for re-election, vetoed an ordinance establishing new water rates for the city because he thought them too high, arguing that it was senseless to pay the San Diego Water Company, the Flume company’s distributor, $100,000 per year for water since the city had plans to build its own distributing system for one half of that amount. The Union praised the mayor’s efforts to forestall the water company’s attempts to “plunder the city treasury”34 A few days later the Tribune leveled a blast at Spreckels and Babcock. Criticizing a price rise for Spreckels’ coal, the paper characterized him as a “millionaire trust monopolist [who] often tries to pose as the laboring man’s friend.” In reality he was a “cloven hoof and fork tail” devil, who roasted his victim over “his private grill, trying to cook him to just the right ‘turn’ in order to gratify the abnormal monopolistic appetite of the old man.” 35

During the final week in March with the election only ten days away the pace of events quickened. When a local merchants’ association endorsed Republican Reed for mayor, independent candidate Bachman complained bitterly in a strong letter published in the Union. Bachman said that the group which had supported the water bond election now endorsed “the champion of the obstructionists-D. C. Reed.” He also accused Reed of being a disloyal Republican and a tool of the Flume company.36 That same day the Tribune replied that it was the Union which was the bolter of the party and castigated them for even printing Bachman’s letter, saying that Spreckels’ paper was “trying to knife the regular Republican candidate for mayor through its news columns.”37 The tentative harmony between the two papers over the campaign was beginning to crumble.

The next day the city engineer, E. M. Capps, reported that the Morena dam was not being built according to specifications, claiming that Babcock was violating the contract by not following proper guidelines. As a result there were holes in the dam big enough for a cow to pass through, the engineer said. Capps wanted an arbitration board of engineers to meet, as provided for in the contract, and settle the matter.38 The Union remained silent on the charge and kept running its occasional articles on the wonderful progress at the dam site. The Tribune printed the Capps article with glee.

In an editorial on March 30, the Union reanalyzed the earlier withdrawal of independent candidate Dodson. The editors had originally thought that the withdrawal was a Flume company move to concentrate efforts on the Democratic Holland. The new explanation was, however, that Dodson’s retirement favored Reed, and the Reed’s friends had “paid the expenses which Mr. Dodson had incurred.” The paper saw this as an effort to concentrate the influence of the Municipal Ownership Club on Reed, whom they characterized as “once a Flume man, always a Flume man.”39 Sensing a political betrayal, a quick retort came from the Tribune that evening which claimed that the Union editorial was a true example of its brand of Republicanism. The paper defended Reed by claiming that he had no need to buy people, since “E. S. Babcock and his crowd have a monopoly in that direction.”40 Harmony and quietude had indeed gone by the wayside.

The following day the campaign broke wide open and the Union began seeing conspiracies in each turn of events. George D. Copeland, an independent Republican for mayor and one of the original developers of the Flume company, withdrew from the race in favor of Reed. Although his prospects for victory had been encouraging, they were not convincing, he said, and the possibility existed that his candidacy might split the Republican vote and cause the defeat of the party nominee. Deploring that possibility, Copeland withdrew and urged his supporters to back Reed. 41 The Union’s reaction was to portray Copeland’s candidacy as a “stalking horse campaign for Reed.” For the Union, the withdrawal proved the rumors true.42 Copeland denied the insinuations of the Union that he and Reed had agreed on some city patronage job, specifically that his son, James L. Copeland, would be appointed city attorney. In an interview Copeland said that “there is not a scintilla of truth” in the Union’s accusation. “So far as my son is concerned, he is not a resident of San Diego and couldn’t hold the office of city attorney in any event.” 43

Copeland’s withdrawal was not, however, the major concern of the Union that day. In a long article entitled “Missing Water Plank” the paper accused Reed of supressing a platform resolution at the convention that supported municipal ownership of a water system. According to the paper, the convention had avoided a pledge to the public that its nominee, if elected, would do everything possible to aid the building of the new water system provided for by the 1896 bond election. Editorially, the paper said the entire episode had a “decidedly sinister aspect.” For the Union, the Flume was behind the entire affair, and it was their influence that prompted Reed to declare in his acceptance speech that he would abide by the courts’ rulings in the legality of the water bonds.44 Apparently Babcock wanted a mayor who would give unquestioned support to the Morena contract despite the whole matter’s being in the hands of the courts awaiting a decision.

Reaction to the Union’s position came quickly: ‘The attempt of the professing morning Republican paper to impugn the motives of the Republican city convention,…is another method of seekers after a corrupt government for the accomplishment of their nefarious ends.”45 The San Diego Sun agreed, saying that “the water interests, headed by Mr. Babcock’s paper, the Union, appear to want a candidate for mayor who is committed to the Morena proposition clear up to his chin. It is submitted that this is not entirely fair.”46 Letters from Samuel F. Smith, the chairman of the convention, and from C. J. Murdock, chairman of the resolutions committee, also repudiated the Unions implication of wrongdoing by Reed. Smith, who drafted the water resolution, said that Reed unhesitatingly endorsed it before the convention and the decision to delete the plank was made by the platform committee, with the candidate’s having nothing to do with it. Finally, Smith said, since the platform was adopted by the convention as presented by the appointed committee, it was the official Republican platform and thus had no “missing plank.” Murdock corroborated Smith’s explanation, saying that the resolutions committee alone, and not Reed, was responsible for the Republican platform. Reed, he said, favored the “carrying out of the contract between the city and the Southern California Mountain Water Company, to the letter and spirit of the same.”47 Desperate concern prevented Babcock’s paper from any reasonable evaluation of the situation. Undaunted and unpersuaded, the Union pursued its course.

Arguing against Reed’s election, the paper asserted that it would not be in the city’s best interest. A mayor, the editors said, should reflect the people’s wishes, and “it would be downright folly to place a man in the mayor’s chair who takes an opposite view from that expressed by more than two-thirds of the voters, and who is moreover in close alliance with the men who are moving heaven and earth to thwart the popular will as thus expressed.” Reed was out of touch with the people because he had opposed the bond election, and he was forever a tool of the Flume interests. Also, they said, the man was unfit for office because of “his erratic disposition, excitability and general lack of balance.”48 Perhaps fearing a negative reaction by Republican voters, the paper printed an accompanying editorial which outlined the virtues of nonpartisanship in local elections.

Reed professed that he was unconcerned by the Union’s remarks and that he was confident of victory. Sensing a party revolt, the Tribune voiced stronger sentiments against the Union: ” E.S. Babcock, as agent of John D. Spreckels, says substantially that he doesn’t desire the people of this city to have an honest municipal government, because he fears that such government will protect the rights of the people against the injustice…of the corporation he represents.”49

The Union saw an ever-widening conspiracy as the election neared. The following day the paper decided that the Flume company actually wanted the Democratic candidate Holland elected mayor and that Reed’s candidacy was merely a smoke screen. At the appointed moment Reed the Republican would withdraw and support Holland, thereby concentrating the Flume’s efforts. The voters should not be deceived, it warned, because the Flume “talks Reed but means Holland.”50 It appeared to the Union that the Flume company had somehow gained control of both major parties in town and nominated their own candidates with the intention of pulling one out to insure the election of the other.

The article in the Union was a lie, said the Sun, which supported Holland and indicated the necessity of electing a man independent of the Morena interests. Reed dismissed the entire story. The Tribune maintained that Babcock’s scheme was to accuse candidates who did not support his water company of being agents of the Flume company, thereby hoping to divide the vote, while concentrating his forces on one of two independent candidates, Mayor Carlson or Major Henry Sweeney, an alderman.51 The evening paper was indeed on the right path.

Two days before the election the Union endorsed Sweeney and began a vilifying campaign against Carlson. Sweeney, the paper said, was honored and esteemed by the community and “most important of all, Maj. Sweeney is sound on the water question….He has a consistent record as an anti-Flume man.”52 The major, they emphasized during the final two days, was the “safe” candidate for San Diego. The Union turned on Carlson because he apparently reneged on an agreement he made with Babcock to bow out of the campaign “at the proper time for a…friend to the water proposition.” The paper referred to Carlson as the “mountebank mayor,” a ridiculous and “absurd spectacle” who was a “professional demogogue.” And worst of all “he evidently hoped to draw enough water votes to render substantial aid to the Flume.”53 For two days they attacked the mayor with increasingly harsh and vicious invective. Apparently, it was proper for Babcock to engage in political deals, but at the same time it was wrong for the opposition.

On the night before the election the Tribune printed a front page article incorrectly declaring the Sweeney was ineligible for office because he was receiving retirement benefits from the army. They cited as proof Article IV, Section 20 of the State Constitution, which stated that people who held a lucrative position with the federal government were not eligible to hold paid civil offices in California. The Union’s reply the following morning was to wave the bloody shirt for Sweeney. “The Flume gang, by concerted movement, started the campaign lie yesterday that Maj. Henry Sweeney was not eligible for the office of mayor of San Diego. These are the jackals who attempt to injure a man because he was a brave and faithful Union soldier, with a record of hard-fought battles for the stars and stripes.”54

Reed won easily receiving 1,400 votes to Holland’s 933; Carlson with 623 was third, Sweeney a distant fourth with 261, and Bachman received only 18 votes. With the exception of city treasurer, the Republicans won every office they sought. The Tribune was exultant, characterizing the results as an “emphatic declaration by the voters and taxpayers that they desire to have this city represented by a sensible business man.” The editors believed that “this success evidences the determination of the voters not to be longer led about by unscrupulous men who are attempting to wheedle this city out of large sums of money.”55 Conciliation and “cordial support” were half-heartedly offered to Reed by the Union. In the understatement of the campaign, the paper concluded that “now that the election is over, it is well to forget any little animosities that the contest may have engendered, and laying politics aside, strive together for the upbuilding of San Diego.”56 Babcock had overplayed Spreckels’ hand and lost for the moment. The fight went on several years with the Flume company supplying the town until 1906, when the Mountain Water company finally became the city’s supplier. In 1913 the city purchased all of Spreckels’ holdings and finally had a wholly owned municipal water system.

Since the 1880s the development of an adequate water supply has been a vital key to San Diego’s growth. Private citizens made the initial attempts to secure a reliable water supply for San Diegans. Their efforts, however, quickly became part of the public debate as the developers sought to meet the city’s needs. In order for water entrepreneurs to be successful, they needed large customers such as municipalities. The men who participated in San Diego’s early water schemes to build dams and delivery systems immediately recognized water’s political nature and involved themselves in local politics. Using both direct and indirect means, these developers attempted to influence and control the municipal government and the local electorate. While efforts to manipulate directly city government sometimes succeeded, as did Babcock’s attempt to dash the Puterbaugh and Grant plan, more often the principals concentrated on persuading the voters. The newspaper was the major vehicle for reaching the public, and in that age of personal journalism the papers not only provided information on issues but frequently revealed the motivations of the editors and publishers. The role of the Union in the 1897 mayoral election demonstrated the desperate efforts of its editor, Babcock, to control local politics for its owner, Spreckels. The battle between the San Diego Flume Company and Spreckels’ Southern California Mountain Water Company over the development and control of San Diego’s water supply was fought in the political arena.



1. Philip R. Pryde, ed., San Diego: An Introduction to the Region (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendell/Hunt Publishing Company, 1976), pp. 103-04; Clarence Alan McGrew, City of San Diego and San Diego County (Chicago: The American Historical Association, 1922), p. 234.

2. Pryde, San Diego, p. 105. Many of the dams were begun in the late 1880s in response to the rapidly increasing population drawn to San Diego by the land boom that had spread over all of southern California. From 1880 to 1890 the county population had increased four-fold from 8,618 to 34,987 and the city of San Diego nearly eight-fold from 2,637 to 16,159. Compendium of the Eleventh Census: 1890 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1892), pp. 73-74. When the land boom collapsed in the early 1890s, the population decreased by about one-half but managed to regain its former standing. In 1900 the county had 34,090 inhabitants with 17,700 residing in the city of San Diego. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900 (Washington: United States Census Office, 1901), p. 78.

3. Lloyd Charles Fowler, “A History of the Dams and Water Supply of Western San Diego County,” (M. A. Thesis, University of California, 1953), pp. 94, 97-98; Hardigain Lyman Clower, San Diego Water (San Diego: City Schools Curriculum Project, 1941), pp. 25, 27.

4. Fowler, “History of Dams and Water Supply,” pp. 47-48; Dana Alan Basney, “The Role of the Spreckels Business Interests in the Development of San Diego,” (M. A. Thesis, San Diego State University, 1975), pp. 42-44, 50-51.

5. William E. Smyth, History of San Diego (San Diego: The History Company, 1907), p. 451.

6. San Diego Union, August 27, 1895, p. 4. See also Ibid., March 23, 1895, August 28, 1895, August 29, 1895, August 31,1895.

7. Ed Fletcher, Memoirs of Ed Fletcher (San Diego: n.p., 1952), pp. 52-66.

8. Union, September 4, 1895, p. 5. A miner’s inch measured water in flow at the rate of 1.5 cubic feet per minute past a given point. The offer of 1,000 miner’s inches was made with an eye on the distant future both in terms of need and the ability to deliver.

9. Ibid., p. 4.

10. Ibid., pp. 2, 5; quote, p. 2.

11. Union, September 5, 1895, p. 4, September 7, 1895, p. 4. Hardly a day passed during the following ten months until the water bond election in June 1896 that the paper did not attack the Flume company and its officers.

12. Union, May 8, 1896, pp. 2,4. The election was set for June 27, 1896.

13. San Diego Evening Tribune, May 8, 1896, p. 2. The Tribune started publication on December 2, 1895. While the Tribune strongly defended the Flume company’s interests, it is not clear if there was any direct financial link between them as in the case of the Union and the Mountain Water company.

14. Union, May 9, 1896, p. 2.

15. Tribune, May 9, 1896, p. 2, May 13, 1896, p. 2.

16. San Diego City and County Directory (San Diego: The Olmsted Co., 1895), passim.

17. Tribune, May 15, 1896, pp. 2, 4; quote, p. 2.

18. San Diego Directory, passim.

19. See, for example: Union, May 9, 1896, May 13, 1896, June 19-27, 1896; Tribune, May 9, 1896, May 13, 1896, May 19, 1896, June 23, 1896.

20. Union, May 15, 1896, p. 2.

21. Union, May 16-20, 1896, p. 4, June 12-17, 1896, p. 4.

22. Tribune, May 7, 1896, p. 4, May 12, 1896, p. 2.

23. Tribune, May 4, 1896, p. 1, May 7, 1896, pp. 2, 4, May 11, 1896, pp. 1, 4.

24. Union, June 30, 1896, p. 2.

25. Barbara Tuthill, “Elisha S. Babcock: San Diego’s Gentleman from Indiana,” Typescript, San Diego History Center, Library and Manuscripts Collection.

26. Union, July 1, 1896, p. 5, August 9, 1896, p. 5, August 28, 1896, p. 2. The 1896 bonds were never issued due in part to the suits filed by the San Diego Water Company and others. The city did not receive Spreckels’ water until 1906. See Richard F. Pourade, The History of San Diego, 6 vols. (San Diego: The Union-Tribune Publishing Company, 1965), 5: 15, 36, 85.

27. San Diego Sun, February 28, 1897, p. 5.

28. Tribune, March 1, 1897, p. 2.

29. Union, March 4, 1897, pp. 2, 5; quote, p. 2.

30. Union, March 5, 1897, pp. 3, 4; Tribune, March 4, 1897, p. 4, March 5, 1897, p. 2.

31. Union, March 5, 1897, p. 3.

32. Ibid., p. 4; Tribune, March 5, 1897, p. 2.

33. Union, March 10, 1897, p. 2.

34. Union, March 13, 1897, pp. 2, 4; quote, p. 4.

35. Tribune, March 18, 1897, p. 2.

36. Union, March 25, 1897, p. 2.

37. Tribune, March 25, 1897, p. 2.

38. Sun, March 26, 1897, p. 5. See also, Tribune, March 29, 1897, p. 4.

39. Union, March 30, 1897, p. 4.

40. Tribune, March 30, 1897, p. 2.

41. Tribune, March 31, 1897, p. 1.

42. Union, March 31,1897, p. 2.

43. Sun, March 31, 1897, p. 5.

44. Union, March 31, 1897, pp. 2, 4; quote, p. 4.

45. Tribune, March 31, 1897, p. 2.

46. Sun, April 1, 1897, p. 2.

47. Tribune, April 1, 1897, p. 4; Sun, April 1, 1897, p. 5.

48. Union, April 1, 1897, p. 4.

49. Tribune, April 1, 1897, pp. 1, 2; quote, p. 2.

50. Union, April 2, 1897, pp. 2, 4; quote, p. 2.

51. Sun, April 2, 1897, p. 2; Tribune, April 2, 1897, p. 1.

52. Union, April 4, 1897, p. 4.

53. Ibid., pp. 4, 5.

54. Tribune, April 5, 1897, p. 1; Union, April 6, 1897, p. 5.

55. Tribune, April 7, 1897, p. 2.

56. Union, April 7, 1897, p. 4.