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Tesla Plaza beforeTesla Plaza after

At the head of Corral Hollow Canyon, 12 miles southeast of Livermore, once stood the coal mining town of Tesla. It's hard to believe that this pastoral scene once supported over 200 buildings and 1,500 inhabitants. The large mine tailings and foundations scars are all that remains. A casual observer would not have a clue that this historic spot had any significance in California history. But if one were to look closely and carefully study the grounds, the significance of Tesla would emerge.

Coal was discovered here in 1855 by men working on a railroad survey through the canyon. A year later, the Coast Range coal mine was opened and shipped coal to fuel-hungry factories in Stockton, 36 miles away. This was the first commercial coal mine in California. Over 60 tons of coal was sold in Stockton in 1856. A year later, the Coast Range mine closed when the miners found that they could not make it a profitable operation.

In 1868, the Commercial coal mine was opened by a group of Welsh miners. The coal was of better quality and thicker than the one found in the Coast Range mine. It was of the subbituminous variety, suitable for running steam locomotives. This interested the Central Pacific Railroad into extending a spur line from Ellis to the mouth of Corral Hollow to tap the fuel. The Central Pacific then began to convert many of its wood-burning locomotives to coal-burning locomotives. Corral Hollow coal made it easier for the Central Pacific to pull their trains over the Altamont Pass. The Commercial mine provided them with about 3,000 tons of coal before the mine caught fire in 1870 and was forced to close.

It wasn't until 1890, when John Treadwell, a millionare gold miner, opened the Tesla coal mines. After five years of development work and building a railroad to Stockton, Treadwell organized the San Francisco and San Joaquin Coal Company. Two years later, the first trainload of Tesla coal rolled into Stockton. The mine produced over 80,000 tons of coal per year over the next ten years, during which time Tesla became the leading coal producer in California.

Coal Washing Plant
This is a view of the large Tesla coal washing plant, c. 1907, which
stood just below the main shaft. On the left can be seen the large
coal bunkers and the four stacks of the boiler plant behind it.

Treadwell built a company town for over 800 miners of many nationalities. They lived in large residential neighborhoods named Treadwell Row, Jimtown, Frytown Harrietville, Darktown, and Chinatown. The residents were well supplied with stores, shops, churches, post office, library, saloon, dance hall, school, hotel, hospital, and two stage lines. A bandstand with a tall flagpole marked the center of the plaza. The coal company issued coupons and tokens which were used to purchase merchandise and food in town.

In 1897, John Treadwell named the town for Nikola Tesla, a famous electrical inventor, who was first to harness the use of alternating currents. Treadwell planned to use Tesla's invention to send electricity to Bay Area cities from a coal-burning power plant at Tesla. However, this plan never materialized for fear of competing with the new hydroelectric power plants.

Residential Sections
Three main residential sections are shown in this view in 1898. On the
right was Frytown, on the left Jimtown, and the row of homes in the
background was Treadwell Row. Beyond the row was the Tesla plaza.

Instead, Treadwell built the first successful coal briquetting plant in the United States. This plant was located in Stockton and operated from 1901 to 1905. The briquetting process greatly improved the quality of Tesla coal, which made it a popular household heating and cooking fuel. The coal briquette was a new commodity to Americans, and it brought national attention to the Tesla coal mines, especially after its debut at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in 1901. A fire in 1905 destroyed the plant and eventually forced coal mining to permanently shut down at Tesla. Thanks to Tesla, American briquette plants were soon springing up across the United States.

Adjacent to the coal seams were rich sand and clay deposits. These were also mined at Tesla. Sand was shipped to the Pacific Window Glass Company in Stockton and made into window panes. This glass plant, which was a subsidiary of the Tesla coal company, was the only window pane factory west of the Mississippi River. Tesla clay was originally shipped to the Stockton Art Pottery Works in Stockton, which was also owned by the Tesla people. Beautiful Rekston pottery ware were produced from this plant until it burned in 1902. Clay was later shipped to Carnegie, where it was molded into brick and architectural terra cotta. Sewer pipes, pottery, and figurines were made at the Pottery plant near Tesla.

The Alameda and San Joaquin Railroad was built from Stockton to Tesla in 1895 to ship Tesla products to the Stockton Channel, where they were distributed by rail and barges. The same folks who built and managed this railroad started the Western Pacific Railway Company in 1903. Led by Walter J. Bartnett and John Treadwell, the coal line was extended to the Oakland waterfront. This was begun in 1902 and completed in 1909. With financial help from George Gould, this railroad became part of a transcontinental railroad.

After the Tesla mines closed in 1911, Tesla became a ghost town. Eventually, all of the buildings disappeared and it was reduced to a town site, where only cattle grazed. In 1998, Tesla become part of the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreational Area. The site of Carnegie is currently being used for off-road motorcycle recreation and plans are to extend it into the Tesla property.

I'm continuing to study and compile materials on Tesla, its mines, its people, and its industries. If you or someone you know had ancestors who once lived or worked there, I would be happy to hear from you. For more information about Tesla, please see my book History of Tesla - A California Coal Mining Town published by Mines Road Books, which is the source for the information on these pages. - Dan L. Mosier

History of Tesla is also available on Amazon.com. To go now, click on the following link:

History of Tesla, A California Coal Mining Town


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Email Dan L. Mosier: danmosier@earthlink.net.

Copyright 2003 Dan L. Mosier

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