Fits the Bill: A Bill of Lading from Kohler & Frohling to William Workman, 17 August 1860

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As with many artifacts in the Homestead’s collection, the featured one for this post, a 17 August 1860 bill of lading issued to William Workman, is, at first glance, a rather non-descript looking object lacking in great import. There are associations, however, with some very prominent figures in greater Los Angeles and California, including titans of the nascent Golden State wine industry, so let’s dive deeper into the interesting associations this document has.

Firstly, a bill of lading is a document issued by a carrier of goods, identifying the shippers, recipient, place of shipment, destination and the material being sent. While it is not necessarily very notable that Workman was receiving three barrels of sugar, one of rice, a bag of coffee and what appears to read “four Mats,” whatever that may be (does anyone out there have an idea of what that phrase means?), it is of some significant that the items were sent to him “care T & Co.”

John J. Tomlinson, enumerated in line 15 of this sheet from the 1860 census at San Pedro, where he was a forwarding and commission merchant.

This appears to refer to the newly established firm of Tomlinson and Company, which began advertising in the Los Angeles News in late September 1860, noting that it had “a permanent house” at San Pedro and Los Angeles for the forwarding of goods. John J. Tomlinson was born in 1826 in Cumberland, in the Maryland panhandle bordering West Virginia, northwest of Washington, D.C.. and migrated to the area near Peoria, Illinois while young. At about 20, he headed west to Oregon, but, with the onset of the Gold Rush in 1849, he relocated to Shasta County.

The Los Angeles Star of 16 May 1857 reported that the Red Bluff resident was on his way to Arizona with a series of mule teams and twenty-five teamsters to engage in shipping copper ore for a San Francisco firm from mines in territory recently acquired by the United States from México in the Gadsden Purchase to Fort Yuma on the Colorado River. After an overnight stay, Tomlinson pressed on, but apparently was very impressed by what he saw in the Angel City, because, as was later stated by the Los Angeles News, “in the spring of 1858 he settled in this place, and founded the forwarding and commission house of Tomlinson & Co.”

Los Angeles Southern News, 28 September 1860.

When the 1860 federal census was taken, eighteen days before the bill of lading was issued, Tomlinson was listed as a merchant with a decent-sized self-reported estate of $23,000, while John D. Dunlap, a New Hampshire native, was his forwarding agent. There was some heavy competition in the business from Phineas Banning, who came to the area about five years before Tomlinson, set up his forwarding and commission firm and established “New San Pedro,” which became Wilmington.

Stories were told of the contests between the two businesses as they ferried freight and passengers up to Los Angeles and it was said that Tomlinson and Banning had an arrangement by which they could both operate, including having one discharge people and material at the Bella Union Hotel on the east side of Main Street and the other do so across the main drag at the Lafayette. After a short time, Tomlinson and his brother-in-law, John M. Griffith, became partners, including with a lumber yard on property owned Jonathan Temple at the northeast corner of New High and Temple streets.

News, 11 June 1867.

The massive gate beam for the yard proved to be too enticing for vigilantes to use in lynching suspected criminals and this continued even after Tomlinson died in 1867 at age 41. The News paid tribute to the merchant by stating that “Mr. T. was ever distinguished for his energy and integrity; a man of liberal education, large and varied experience, genial manners, liberal in mind and in purse . . . [and had] a large circle of friends, who truly mourn the loss of a good man.” It even added that it was to Tomlinson “due in a great measure the substantial prosperity of this county for the past few years” because he was “inseparably connected with every movement that has aided in the development of the resources of this county for the past ten years.”

The steamship that brought these goods to Workman was the Senator, which was constructed at a Manhattan shipyard in 1848 and possessed a pair of sails, though it relied largely on its 450-horsepower engine driving side-mounted paddlewheels. It had staterooms, a salon, a ladies’ lounge and a steerage section with a kitchen for passengers there to make their meals and it plied the New England coast up to Nova Scotia for about half a year before the craft was bought by a trio of men who wanted to use it on the Sacramento River as the Gold Rush came into full flower.

News, 10 August 1860.

It took eight months to get to California around the horn of South America (by contrast, F.P.F. Temple’s migration on the same route in a bark called the Tasso, eight years earlier, took about six) and it made its first trip to Sacramento from San Francisco early in November 1849. The pioneer of steamship travel on this route, the Senator, which was refitted about halfway through, plied the route for five years until it was purchased in 1854 by the California Steam Navigation Company, which dominated steamship travel for some years. After two more years sailing between the Bay Area and the state capital, the ship was reassigned to handle a coastal route between San Francisco and San Diego.

Generally, there were two monthly round-trips with stops at San Pedro and there were additional repairs and improvements made in late 1857 and a great many of the products from greater Los Angeles, including hides, wool, grapes, wheat and other items, were shipped to San Francisco, while the incoming trips from San Francisco delivered many imported goods, as well as mail, including newspapers and magazines avidly awaited by Angelenos.

News, 22 August 1860. The freight mentioned included the items sent to Workman by Kohler and Frohling.

Just a few months after this bill of lading accompanied the goods on the Senator, the vessel brought news of the victory of Republican Abraham Lincoln in the multi-candidate presidential election, even as Los Angeles, a Democratic stronghold filled with Southern sympathizers, voted overwhelming against him. As the Civil War erupted, the Senator was a Union troop ship bringing soldiers to the area, including at Camp Drum, which was built after heavy lobbying by Banning.

Because the ship could not actually dock in the shallow waters at the underwhelming port, a smaller steam lighter called the Ada Hancock took passengers between the Senator and the shore, but when there was movement on the little craft and water got into the boiler, it exploded, killing around 26 persons, including the Senator‘s captain, Thomas W. Seeley, whose name is on the bill of lading, and Workman’s nephew, Thomas, who was Banning’s chief clerk.

Mention of a Germania Concert Society concert mounted by Frohling and Kohler in Los Angeles, El Clamor Público, 16 October 1855.

Two years later, the steamship carried the first oil shipments from Pico Canyon in modern Santa Clarita north to San Francisco and, soon after, the Orizaba was added to the Pacific route. There were three other owners of the Senator through 1882 when it was converted to a barge and then sold to a company in New Zealand and it remained in service in that region of the world for about three decades.

The 22 August 1860 edition of the News did offer a brief report that “the steamer Senator arrived at the port of San Pedro yesterday; she brought quite a number of passengers and a large freight list.” Though sometimes, Los Angeles newspapers provided some detail of what was exported as well as what was imported, this did not happen in this case, though we can at least connect the bill of lading with this snippet of news from the News.

Reference to Kohler and Frohling as founders of Anaheim, Los Angeles Star, 19 September 1857.

Finally, there are the shippers who became vital in the California wine industry: John Frohling and Charles Kohler. Hailing from parts of what, in 1870, because a united Germany, the two men (Kohler from Grabow, about halfway between Berlin and Hamburg, and Frohling from Westphalia near Belgium and The Netherlands) came to Gold Rush California and were better known as musicians with the Germania Concert Society in San Francisco. It has been stated that the pair were at a picnic in 1853 and, tasting California grapes, decided that they would get involved in the nascent winemaking business, though they apparently had no experience whatsoever in the field—this hardly being an auspicious way to enter any industry.

Within just a few years, however, Kohler & Frohling, as their firm was known for some thirty years and which briefly included John Scholler as a Los Angeles partner in its infancy, did well enough to earn a second place finish for best wine in the California State Agricultural Society’s fourth annual fair and exhibition, held at Stockton and the end of September 1857. At that time, the two men, seeking a way to obtain more grapes for their burgeoning business worked with Germans in San Francisco to form the Los Angeles Vineyard Society, a joint-stock company that acquired land on the west side of the Santa Ana River in what, thirty-two years later, became Orange County, and develop the community of Anaheim. Kohler was a vice-president of the Society, while Frohling was part of an Angel City auditing committee.

Plumas Standard, 10 December 1859.

While Kohler resided in San Francisco to handle the business side of the enterprise, including the product shipped from the south, Frohling remained in Los Angeles, including service on the town’s Common (City) Council in 1857-1858, and was responsible for working with vineyards that were either directly tied to the firm, such as in Anaheim, or with growers who contracted with Kohler & Frohling for the delivery or crushing of grapes. It seems likely that Workman had the company worked with the product of his vineyards, the earliest of which dated to the 1840s, though he built his three-part winery in the middle 1860s.

A rare example of a detailed description of how the company worked in its early days was published in the San Francisco Bulletin in December 1859 by a Los Angeles correspondent, who called the firm Kohler, Frohling and Bauck and discussed what transpired at the vineyard of William Wolfskill, located with the state’s first commercial orange grove, south of town in what later became the core of the Los Angeles industrial section. The unnamed writer observed that,

They employ about forty hands, two-thirds of whom are employed in picking and hauling in the grapes; the balance are at work about the presses or in the cellars. The grapes are cut off by the stem from the vine and carried in baskets . . . and turned into tubs holding 150 to 200 pounds . . . which are hauled in one-horse carts to the press, where they are weighed and then turned into a large “hopper” . . . through which they are stemmed . . . before the grape is mashed [by being] run through a mill . . .

After being ground, the pommace runs down into a vat, on the bottom of which is a grating through which the juice of the grape runs, whence it is conveyed into tubs for white wine. The pommace is taken directly into spiral screw presses and subjected to moderate pressure, the runnings from which make pale or yellow wine, like sherry. The grape skins are then put into large tubs to ferment six or eight days for red wine, or longer, when the residue of their vinuous property is extracted in aguardiente [brandy], by distillation . . . Everything that comes in contact with the grape juice from the time the grape is bruised till it reaches the cask, is kept as pure as abundance of water and hard scrubbing can make it.

This early summary of the process of wine-making is remarkable for understanding something of the history of the enterprise in greater Los Angeles, which, for a short time longer, remained the center of California’s gradually emerging and improving industry. Many years later, Francis W. Temple, who was the winemaker for his grandfather Workman and then took over the operation under his own name for about a dozen years, wrote notes on how he manufactured wine at the Homestead.

The counting in the 1860 census, lines 4-9, of Frohling, his wife Amelia, his brother Louis, his sister Catherine, and two employees, at Los Angeles.

In 1859, Jonathan Temple, adding to his Temple Block, finished two years prior, as part of his attempt to develop a new business district along Main and Spring streets south of the Plaza, the historic center of Los Angeles, completed his Market House. Said to be inspired by Boston’s famous Faneuil Hall, the two-story brick structure, in something of an island south of the Temple Block, had a second-floor theater, the first purpose-built venue of its kind in the Angel City, stalls on the ground level with a central hallway running east to west and with these market spaces open to the north and south sides, and a large cellar.

The timing of the Market House’s completion, however, could not have been worse, as the regional economy was in a moribund state with the end of the Gold Rush followed by a national depression in 1857. Conditions would only worsen in the first half of the 1860s with a deluge of flooding followed by a devastating two-year drought. The Market House was, in 1861, rented by the city and county for a courthouse, replacing the Temple Theatre upstairs, and city administrative offices on the ground level.

Replace the “0” in “1850” with a “9” and the date is corrected, but, more importantly, this view of Jonathan Temple’s Market House, which became the city hall and county courthouse in 1861, shows at the left, the basement opening to what, the same year, became the “depot” of Kohler & Frohling and occupied by the firm for ten years until it moved to near 7th Street and Central Avenue on what is now Kohler Street.

The 22 March 1861 edition of the News briefly recorded that “we learn that the cellar of the Market building has been taken by Mr. Frohling, of this city, and will be converted into a wholesale wine depot.” Just under a month later, the Los Angeles Star informed readers that

Mr. Frohling has fitted up the basement of the Court House as a wine cellar, and is now removing his casks and pipes of the generous fluid into his vaults. he has already about 15,000 gallons in his new premises. A sales room, or sample room, will be fitted up in the front part of the cellar.

While it certainly made sense to have the cool subterranean quarters under the structure serve the purpose of wine storage (and tasting,) it is somewhat strange to remind ourselves that this was under the city hall and county court house. By late July, Kohler and Frohling were advertising for their “California Wine Bitters,” a version of a tonic passed off as medicine and touted for its “proper combination of good and wholesome herbs” that “creates appetite, and is a digestive, free from any ingredients so injurious to the health, as are contained in Vermouth, Absynthe, &c.” the location was simply “Under City Hall, Main street, Los Angeles.”

News, 31 July 1861.

The duo opened their “Depot of California Wines and Brandies” at what was merely called “City Hall,” not even referring to the basement, and which included “our oldest and choicest brands of wines and brandies, of vintages from 1853 to 1860, made by ourselves from grapes grown in Los Angeles and vicinity.” The eldest consisted of brandy, while there was also port, angelica and white wine, along with red wine from the 1860 vintage—it is generally known that local grapes produced decent distilled product and white wine, but almost uniformly reds of doubtful quality.

Moreover, Kohler and Frohling expanded into selling product in the eastern states and Europe, with the firm of Perkins and Stern as agents in New York City (Charles Stern later worked extensively with Leonard J. Rose of the Sunny Slope vineyard in the San Gabriel Valley). Readers were advised that those who wished to send local wine and brandy to the rest of the country, Canada and Europe could do so through this recently established agency.

Star, 4 May 1861.

Yet, the partnership was short-lived because, on 20 September 1862, Frohling died of tuberculosis in San Francisco at just age 35—he’d married three years before and his only child, a daughter named Laura, also passed away that year. The Star of 4 October lionized him as “among our most intelligent and enterprising” residents and added that “his loss has created a void which society will long mourn.” It quoted the Alta California of San Francisco, noting that he was “a flutist of rare merit” [Kohler was a fine violinist], and observing that, in Los Angeles, Frohling “won for himself the esteem and respect of all,” adding that “a more amiable man, firm friend, and conscientious citizen could not be taken from us.”

Kohler carried on, keeping his partner’s name as part of the enterprise, and became one of California’s great winemakers and merchants. After a decade in the City Hall/Court House basement, he built, in 1871, a large warehouse, with a stock of up to 20,000 gallons of product, at the firm’s vineyard on Kohler Lane, now Kohler Street, at Seventh Street, which was then a rural area of town not far from Wolfskill’s expansive place, run by William’s son John.

News, 12 February 1862. Note the listing of Kohler and Frohling at 50,000 gallons of wine, the same as all of Anaheim, as well as the totals on hand for Mathew Keller, the Sainsevaine brothers, Chile native Bartolo Ballerino, Benjamin D. Wilson of what became San Marino and Alhambra, and William Workman.

In early January 1887, Kohler was quoted about conditions in the wine industry and commented that the prior year an excellent one for his firm, telling the Los Angeles Herald in its edition of the 9th, “we have sold at least $150,000 worth of wine this year in excess of any previous twelve months.” Asserting that California wine and brandy “are growing in favor in the Eastern states,” the wine merchant predicted the latter would replace whisky among drinkers there, while demand from England Germany for wine was increasing and the 1886 vintage was considered to be quite good and better than anything in the last fifteen years.

Addressing the scourge that ravaged vines in France, this being phylloxera, caused by a North American insect that crossed the Atlantic (California vines grafted from French stock wound up being sent to France to rebuild the industry there), Kohler stated that the pest “has been increasing in California very slowly” and was not expanding to new areas. He did not live to see the near-total destruction wrought by a bacterium with what was called “Pierce’s disease” and which was first detected in the Anaheim vineyards that he and Frohling helped establish decades before.

On 17 April 1887, Kohler was walking on Geary Street in San Francisco when he was felled by a massive stroke. The death of the 53-year old was, the Herald of the next day lamented, “a loss which will be felt by the whole state.” It was recalled that, when he and Frohling started, they relied entirely on local grapes and the firm grew to be one of the largest in the Golden State, lauded for having “done much to preserve the purity of our wines and to introduce them to the people of the east.” Kohler was remembered as “a man of broad intelligence, of fine business capacity, of great personal magnetism, and possessed of a keen and penetrating judgment in public matters.”

Jut after Kohler’s death, the Kohler & Frohling Tract of 128 lots as developed as the great Boom of the Eighties, that began as a direct transcontinental railroad link reached Los Angeles (and revolutionized agricultural shipping as did the subsequent development of the refrigerated boxcar) and peaked while Workman’s nephew, William H., was mayor of the Angel City during 1887 and 1888, was developed as one of many subdivisions during the frenzied real estate market of the period.

Los Angeles Herald, 2 August 1887.

This modest document from more than 160 years ago, while interesting for its being a rare business artifact relating to William Workman, has important ties to regional and state shipping, transportation, and, especially, to Charles Kohler and John Frohling, who were seminal to the development of the California wine industry and the growth of Los Angeles..

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