Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Plot Thickens

Google Books has the 1890 Humboldt County business directory on-line. What are the odds of that, right? Anyway, I was poking around in it and I discovered another close connection between the builder and architect, Mr. Eugene Mowry, whom I’m convinced built my house, and the young hot-shot electrician, Thomas Petch.

A few weeks back there was an article in the paper about the house that the Petch Family first lived in prior to moving in to the real Petch House. It said that the house was built by Mr. Mowry, and in fact, he owned it and lived next door. So that establishes that Mr. Petch and Mr. Mowery were neighbors and Mr. Mowry was Mr. Petch’s landlord.

I’ve always assumed Mr. Mowry built The Petch House because there is an 1893 house, 2 years before The Petch House, built by Mr. Mowry on Hillsdale, that has an almost identical front window. Of course, everyone knows this, because I’ve been over it before.

Anyway, in the article a few weeks ago it said that in the 1880s Mr. Mowry’s mill was in Old Town at 3rd & B Streets (Sort of where the new Co-op is today, for any locals reading this). Well, either that was wrong, or it was right and he had offices at The Foot of H Street as well. That’s what it said in the 1890 Business Directory. The exact line is….

Mowry, E. C.; architect and builder, foot of H st.

This sounded a little too familiar. I knew that prior to running The Eureka Lighting Company in 1898, Thomas Petch was the Superintendent of The Gas Works in town. The gas works was as coal gas plant. Before electric lights came along most homes in the country were lit with coal gas. When you sort of cook coal and it gives of a flammable gas. Before coal gas it was mostly whale oil (Eeeeew!).

So where do you think the Coal Gas Plant was in town? That’s right, The Foot of H Street. In the 1890 Business Directory it lists…

Eureka Gas Co.; Foot of H st.

In the 1893 City Directory it lists…

Petch, Thos. D., superintendent Eureka Gas Works, 117 H St, res 1025 J St.

1025 J Street is the other Petch House. Mr. Mowry lived at 1035 J St, right next door. So as it turns out, not only were they neighbors, and Mr. Mowry was his landlord, but they worked right next door to each other at the foot of H st. Hell, they probably road the trolley together on the way to work.

So here is the conversation I imagine took place one day on the trolley ride home.

Mowry: You know, Thomas, this new electric thing is going to be big, Really Big. You know your stuff when it comes to gas, but the time has come for you to learn electrical. It is the wave of the future.

Petch: You know, you’re right. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. In fact, I’ve doing a lot of reading about it. Its not that hard. I just need to get some practice with it.

Mowry: Well listen to this. I’m starting a new house next week over on California St and the gentleman has told me he wants those new gasoliers with the electric lights down stairs in the parlor. I know you can run the pipe for gas, and if you think you’re up to it, I’m willing to let you run the wiring for the electrical as well. You’ve done some nice work for me over the years and I know you can do it. Besides, if you screw up, I can always evict you!

{Hearty laugh from Mowery and a nervous chuckle from Petch}

Petch: Al right! I do it!

Mowry: Excellent! And in a few years, when you’re making a fortune on this new electric thing, I’ll build you a fine house for your family.

Petch: That’s sounds great! You know, this electrical thing is really going to take off. Its going to be bigger than the internet.

Mowry: The internet? Oh, you mean how the fisherman interconnect their nets to catch more fish in one haul.

Petch: Yea, the internet just really changed their whole world.

Mowry: Yes, the internet….

Both men grow quite as they gaze out the window of the trolley car and think about the future


HPH said...

Thanks for the laugh! Luved the dialog.
Good luck in your quest.

Kathy from NJ said...

I LOVE this post. You gave me a wonderful laugh to start off the day and I know I will smile all day whenever I think about all those fishermen with their interconnected nets!

Jennifer said...

So interesting to read all of this! I need to get busy on my own research. All I've done is figure out WHERE to go! Just waiting for a raining day, I supppose.

Alicia said...

What's the possibility that Petch got a discount on the house from the builder?

You are thinking like a trained historian.

Greg said...


A discount in exchange for gas and electric services on new construction wouldn't surprise me a bit. I imagine bartering was very big back then.