History of White Pines Lake

This history was made possible by the help of CCWD’s Larry Diamond who looked up much of the information for me. We thank him for his time and willingness.

In 1938, Frank Blagen Sr. bought harvesting rights to the timber on about 21,000 acres of land from Calaveras Land and Timber. But, he also ended up owning outright, Dunbar Meadows, which included the property along San Antonio Creek where he built the Blagen Sawmill, and also the land upon which the Logging Museum now sits, and also where White Pines Lake later was built.

This drawing is of the Dunbar Ranch, later to become Dunbar Meadow, in about 1885. If you look closely, you will see that the ranch was 880 acres, 1 3/8’s sections. It is interesting to speculate how this number came about as a result of homesteading. Elsewhere, I tell you that Willis and his brother homesteaded this area in 1883, or at least the homestead was recorded in that year. This drawing is from “Calaveras County Illustrated” published in 1885 and later republished by the Calaveras County Historical Society.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Blagen acquired the land from his family’s company, Davies-Johnson Lumber Company, in August, 1939. Previously, in 1938, Davies-Johnson had purchased the land from Calaveras Land and Timber. (My thanks to Teresa Rush of First American Title Company for researching this for us.)

You can read in Frank Blagen Jr.’s autobiography that Frank Sr.’s sister had put up the money to buy Davies-Johnson in an effort to lever her son, Jack, into a positon of greater power in the family company, and perhaps, Frank Sr.’s acquiring the land from Davies-Johnson was the beginning of a move on his part to move out from under that thumb. If that was the case, it was not to be.

Mr. Blagen lost the mill due to financial difficulties soon after it opened and American Box Company, soon to change its name to American Forest Products,  acquired ownership of the Dunbar Meadows property.

When the mill was closed in 1962, the land more or less just sat until 1965 when American Forest Products (AFP) came up with a plan to subdivide along San Antonio Creek all the way from White Pines to Camp Connell. AFP evicted all the residents from their property down in Dunbar Meadows, but ended up selling lots in White Pines to at least some of the evicted.

American Forest Products dammed San Antonio Creek, creating the 26 acre White Pines Lake, as a lure to would-be buyers of lots in the subdivision. The subdivision plans ran into a snag when AFP was told that they would have to put in a sewer system and treatment plant before they could sell lots. Consequently, AFP abandoned plans for the development. In 1977, AFP sold the 95.4 acres containing the lake and a band of property around the lake to the Calaveras County Water District for $210,000. In the mid 1980’s CCWD built a sewer system serving the community of White Pines and a narrow strip of land in Arnold right along Highway 4.

CCWD owns and administers the land around the lake, leasing pieces of their property to White Pines Park and to the Friends of the Logging Museum for nominal amounts.


  1. There are 640 acres in a section, thus the Dunbar Ranch being 880 acres was almost 1.4 sections.

  2. Quite right, Jim, thank you. I’ve corrected the mistake in the text above, but now I’m trying to figure out how the 880 acres came about. In addition to homesteading, did the Dunbars acquire another piece, or did they sell part of what they had homesteaded, thus leaving the ranch at 880 acres, or was the illustration in error?


    • Jan Dunbar Says: March 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm

      Freeman Dunbar came to Murphy’s in 1849, and built a house in Douglas Flats on a large piece of property. He first raised cattle then planted a large apple orchard. The apple orchard might have been up the road in Arnold. Eventually Freeman acquired 880 acres, and it was secured by Certificates and Homestead Certificates in 6 different parcels of land. The first was dated April 18, 1873 to Freeman and his son Willis, and each signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, the next two signed by Rutherford B. Hayes Augus 6th, 1878, then two by Chester A. Arthur May 1st, 1884, and the last one by Benjamin Harrison November 26th, 1889. On this property was built a stately Victorian home, on what is now known as the Meadowmount Golf Course. This property was inhereted by his son Willis when Freeman died. Willis married Ellen Roberts of Douglas Flats, and they had 5 sons, Willis Jr., Clarence, Russell, Elmer, and Archie. The “Dunbar Ranch” later was inherited by Clarence when Willis Jr. died. Clarence (just 30 years old) and wife Violet sold the Dunbar Ranch to Mr. M. Lee Hunt of Milton on January 27, 1914, and the deed was signed by Judge Smith. It is reported that the Hunt family in turn sold the property in 1946 to Bob Romaggi. The land was enclosed by white rail fences which burned in a forest fire in 1927. The huge and beutiful Dunbar House burned in 1962. At the lower end of the meadow there was a sawmill, surrounded by natural occuring springs that fed the meadow. Potatoes and cattle and hay were raised and grown on the property.

      Freeman first ventured into sluice box gold mining but later focused on lumber as a way to make a living. There were several lumber companies in Murphys area by 1850’s, mainly HANDORD & Co (a sawmill on Mill Creek and a lumber yard in Murphys), which was later sold to KIMBALL & CUTTING of Murphys. The Union Water Co. had a mill also on Mill Creek. And then there was SLEEPER & Co with a water-powered mill on a branch of the San Antonne Creek 13 miles north of Murphys and had yards in Murphys and Altaville. This mill and lumber yards were sold to Freeman Dunbar in the early – mid 1850’s. By 1871 the mill was known as the DUNBAR & SON Lumber Company, and also as the SIERRA MILL.

      The Dunbar lumber yard in Murphys was located about where the present site of the Native Daughters Monument is. The KIMBALL mill was later sold to John Manual about 1880. Sons of both Freeman Dunbar (Willis Dunbar) and John Manual (John Jr.) became very close friends and both families stayed in touch for decades. When Willis Sr. passed away there is little information regarding what happened to the mill or lumber yards. Clarence inherited the property in Arnold, Willis Jr. and Russell inherited the Victorian Home in the town of Murphys today known as the “Dunbar House”, but there is no word who inherited the lumber side.

  3. maryincalaveras Says: May 7, 2011 at 1:17 am

    Nice history and an enjoyable read. I wanted to add CCWD lease’s a piece of the property to Courtright-Emerson Memorial Ball Park Foundation who sponsors an adult softball league at its ball park on the lake throughout the summer.

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