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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


Joshua Chauvet

The name of Chauvet needs no introduction to the residents of Sonoma county, as it is firmly established in the minds of all through the lives and accomplishments of three generations, two of whom have passed away, but though dead, still live in the memory of those to whom they endeared themselves and in their accomplishments as pioneer settlers in this then new and unsettled country. As the name would indicate Mr. Chauvet was of French origin, and he was born at St. Jean, province of Champagne, France, July 20, 1822, a son of Francois Chauvet, the latter a millwright and owner of a mill near Chalons-sur-Marne, France. His parents evidently had little sympathy with the pleasures of childhood; for Mr. Chauvet was forced to face the stern realities of life at an early age, and when still a young boy had a good knowledge of the milling business. Courageous and unflinching, he accepted his lot with kindly grace, and when he had reached manhood was equipped with an invaluable experience at the miller's trade that was to stand him in good stead later on.

On reaching manhood Mr. Chauvet set sail for the United States at Havre, February 1, 1850, on a sailing vessel bound for San Francisco by way of Cape Horn. Hard work in his native land had given him little in return, and after boarding the vessel he took an inventory of his cash on hand, which proved to be no more nor less than thirteen copper sous. The vessel finally reached San Francisco September 17, 1850, and from there he proceeded at once to Calaveras county, engaging in mining for a short time, but finally gave it up to engage in a business with prospects of a more dependable income. It was then that he opened the first bakery in Mokelumne Hill, and subsequently, in 1851, opened the first baker in Jackson, Amador county. In the fall of the latter year he located at Sandy Bar on the Mokelumne river, where in partnership with Mr. Lebeaux he opened a general merchandise store and baker combined. This business association did not continue very long, for in the fall of 1852 Mr. Chauvet returned to Mokelumne Hill and resumed the baker business alone. It was no uncommon occurrence during the early days for him to pay $120 for a barrel of flour, and for his bread made from this he received $1 a pound..

Mr. Chauvet was nothing if he was not courageous, and the year 1853 found him sending to France to purchase the machinery for a two-running stone flour-mill, but on account of the great delay in its transportation, instead of setting it up in Mokelumne Hill as he had originally intended, he set it up in Oakland and ran it by wind-power. The venture did not prove a success to the owners, however, and the undertaking was abandoned. In 1855 Mr. Chauvet returned to Sandy Bar and the following year came to Sonoma county, his father having joined him in the meantime, and here they bought five hundred acres of land and a mill site from General Vallejo, on the Sonoma and Santa Rosa road, six miles north of Sonoma. This venture proved a great success, and after running it as a saw-mill for eighteen months Mr. Chauvet then converted it into a flour-mill, which was the foremost flour-mill in the county, and which was kept in constant operation until 1881. It was here that the earth life of the venerable father came to a close, after which the son sold back three hundred acres of the land to General Vallejo, still retaining possession of two hundred acres.

Mr. Chauvet had wisely conceived the idea of planting the ranch to grapes at the time he purchased it and in 1874 he branched out further in the industry by manufacturing his product into wine, and in five years his output of wine had climbed to one hundred and twenty-five thousand gallons. It was at this time, 1880, that he associated himself with the firm of Walter, Schilling & Co., of San Francisco, an amicable as well as profitable arrangement that endured about five years. In 1881 he inaugurated one of the larges wine industries in Sonoma county by the erection of a $14,000 building in the Glen Ellen district for the manufacture of wine. The building, three stores in height, had a storage capacity of over two hundred thousand gallons of wine. In the year 1888 he manufactured one hundred and seventy-five thousand gallons alone. In addition to his winery he also operated a distillery, from which he had an annual output of from five to eight thousand gallons of brandy. His ranch was equipped with an excellent water supply, not only furnishing the power for the machinery in his winery and distillery, but also furnishing water for household use to the town of Glen Ellen.

Mr. Chauvet's marriage in 1864 united him with Miss Ellen Sullivan, who though born in Ireland has been a resident of the United States from early childhood. She died in 1875. Two children blessed their marriage, Henry J. and Robert A. Fraternally Mr. Chauvet was a member of Temple Lodge No. 14, F. & A. M., and he was also a member of the Society of California Pioneers. California lost one of her noblest pioneers in his death May 22, 1903, at which time he had attained the age of eighty-five years, ten months and two days.

Mr. Chauvet came here without a cent, and in spite of the fact that others had failed in the milling business he made up his mind to forge ahead and make his milling enterprise a success. He put in a mill race and an overshot wheel. He had great difficulty in completing the flour mill, but after a while he made the venture a success. He also ran a flour mill at Giovanari, this county in the early days.

History of Sonoma County, California
Biographical Sketches of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified With Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History By: Tom Gregory
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1911)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011