Portrait of Andrew P. HillThumbing though my copy of the The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book this morning, I stopped on a page devoted to Andrew P. Hill, a San Jose painter and photographer responsible for securing protection of the stand of old-growth redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

This page from a book on the history of Santa Clara County recounts Hill’s efforts. While I was dimly aware that some guys formed the Sempervirens Club to save the trees at Big Basin, I never really knew what was at stake, and Hill’s singular role in saving the old trees.

This was vaguely terrifying to learn: Lumber companies owned all the land now occupied by Big Basin, and the only thing keeping them alive — till Hill came along — was the landowners’ best guesses on lumber demand: presumably they’d never cut more than the market would bear.

And there was the timing: Hill did the deed in 1901. In 1906, the San Francisco earthquake caused a fire that burned the city to the ground. Massive logging operations clear-cut vast swaths of the coastal mountain ranges to rebuild San Francisco. If the quake had happened seven years earlier, there’d most likely be nothing left of the ancient trees at Big Basin.

Hill was a canny operator, well-connected networker and master of the mass media of his time. When he took it upon himself to save the redwoods, he wasn’t even aware of the stand at Big Basin. A botanist had surveyed them all; once the botanist took Hill to see the trees in person, a Cause was born.

Majestic ancient redwoodHill bent the ears of everybody who was anybody in the South Bay at that time. He raised money, cajoled legislators, even convinced a San Jose Mercury editor to pen an editorial in the middle of the night to help sway the governor to pass the $250,000 appropriation required to buy the land from the lumbermen. Then he orchestrated a statewide telegram campaign to swamp the governor with electronic demands to save the redwoods.

Hill wasn’t the only guy trying to save the ancient redwoods — the article linked above alludes to a competing save-the-trees bill in the state legislature that might’ve been passed. So maybe he wasn’t the trees’ last hope. But he definitely was their best hope.

The Victorian Preservation Association has another nice summary of Hill’s efforts.