The Restoration of the Water Tank in the Año Nuevo State Reserve

The Restoration of the Water Tank in the Año Nuevo State Reserve
The water tank is located on the San Mateo County coast. It is associated with the pioneer Steele brothers dairy ranch, and is one of the oldest structures (ca. 1884) forming the ranch complex. The restoration was accomplished by inmates from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, Men's Correctional Center, under the supervision of San Mateo County Deputy Sheriff Jerry Gutierrez, Associate State Archeologist Lee Motz, and Elliot Shona, Restoration Specialist. The project was funded by the California Department of Parks and Recreation through the Statewide Resource Management Program in fiscal 1996/97.

Existing Conditions

Tank Support System
The mudsill on the east elevation suffered from extensive insect damage and dry rot, and the concrete piers were intruding into its lower surface. The mudsill and the plate supporting the posts were sliding eastward, carrying the ends of the posts with it. The mudsills and concrete piers were covered by eroded soil, and only remnants remained of the sills. The wood piers were spongy and provide little support for the posts.

Water Tank
The elements of the water tank (staves and floorboards) are structurally sound and have been only minimally damaged by rodents that have gnawed holes through some of the staves. The tank's circular configuration, however, has been altered into an ovoid shape, on the north perimeter, due to the growth of ivy. The ivy has grown between the mating surfaces of the tank's hoops, bands, and staves causing the deformation of the tank. The deformation of the symmetry of the tank was also caused by the failure, due to rust, of several of the hoop and band clamps.

Image of ivy-covered tank     Image of water tank
The structure, a post-and-beam supported redwood water tank with a shingled pyramidal roof, was completely over grown with ivy.

Roof Support System
The roof support system (posts, knee braces, railings, and rafter plates), and the roof elements (principal rafters, jack rafters, finial, skip sheathing, and shingles) have collapsed around the perimeter and into the tank, and only remnants remain.

Image of collapsed support system     Image of disintegrating posts and peirs     Image of remnants of support system     Image of tank     Image of tank


Prior to restoration, an inspection of the structure was made to list the structural members that needed to be replaced. Their dimensions and milling methods were noted in order to determine if the elements that needed replacement were available "off the shelf" from local lumberyards, or had to be resawn.

The Tank Support System

The damaged tank support elements (mudsills, posts, knee braces, beams, facia boards, and the catwalk were replaced in like-kind. The broken bands were removed for repair. The remnants of the original roof elements (rafter plates, principal and jack rafters, and the finial) were reconstructed to determine the configuration of the roof system.

The roof system was reconstructed and secured with duplex nails, the location of each element was numbered, according to its position, and dismantled and reconstructed on the tank. Remnants of the original roof support posts were used as railings and remnants of the original skip sheathing were added to the reconstructed roof. In addition, some of the cut nails securing the original skip sheathing and shingles were removed from the original elements and used to fasten the skip sheathing and shingles.

Image of the damaged tank     Image of reconstructed roof     Image of roof support system     Image of roof support system      Image of tank support system

The hoops and bands of the water tank were repositioned to their original location. The nuts, which enabled the hoops to be tightened, and secured in place, were rusted to the hoop-threads and could not be turned. In order to secure the hoops to the tank, it was necessary to "take up the slack" in the hoops and insert spacers, made from 3/4" PVC irrigation pipe, between the hoop nuts and the clamps. A 1/4" wide longitudinal cut was made in the spacers to install them on the hoop stock.

One broken hoop was repaired by inserting the parted ends of the hoop stock into a 1/2 " dia., X 3" long galvanized pipe. The pipe was secured to the hoop stock with roll pins. The bolts and nuts of the band clamps were also rusted "in place" and could not be tightened. The bolts were cut and removed, and new hardware was installed. Due to their deteriorated condition, three of the band clamps had to be replaced. The clamps were made on-site (from 1/8 X 2" steel, flat) and riveted to the bands with soft steel rivets. The tank support system and the tank were painted with white acrylic paint, diluted with water, with the exception of the roof structural elements above the rafter plates. The northeast surfaces of the ladder stiles and the lower rung were painted green.

Image of tank support system     Image of tank support system     Image of redwood tank     Image of tools used     Image of tools used

Historic Background

The Steele Brothers first began dairy operations on Rancho Punta de los Reyes in Marin County in 1857, and by 1867 they had established eleven dairies in three counties: Marin, San Mateo, and San Luis Obispo (Selby 1979:30; Le Boeuf 1975:27).

The Steele brothers--Isaac Chapmen, George, and Edgar Willis--emigrated to San Francisco from Ohio: George and Rensselaer E. Steele (a cousin) in 1855; Edgar along with his father, mother and Rensselaer's wife, Clara, and her two children in 1856; and Isaac, with his wife, daughter and two sons in 1857. Isaac and his family were met by Edgar, George, and R.E. and were taken to Two Rock Valley, near Petaluma, Sonoma County, where they were operating a small butter dairy and produce farm. It was here that the Steeles made their first cheese (Steele 1941:259-262; Angel 1883:40d). According to family tradition, Rensselaer's wife, Clara, "...persuaded an Indian to rope and milk some of the wild Spanish cattle, and from the milk so obtained, using a recipe she found in a book, had made some cheese" (Steele 1941:261). The cheese, along with other farm produce, was shipped to San Francisco and sold for thirty-five cents a pound. The demand for more cheese was responsible for the need to expand the Steele dairy herd. The arrival of Issac coincided with the desire to expand the dairy operations started by Edgar, George, and R.E. (Steele 1941:260-268).

The Steeles expanded their dairy operations by establishing a dairy on leased acreage at Rancho Puenta de los Reyes on July 4, 1857 with 155 cows. By 1861, they had over 600 head of cattle. The continuing success of the Steele Brothers dairies and the need for additional acreage for the expanding dairy herd necessitated the search for additional grazing land (Alley 1883:246; Angel 1883:40e; Steele 1941:264-265).

In 1861 Isaac Steele surveyed along the coast south of Point Reyes for additional pasturage. Arriving at Rancho Punta del Ano Nuevo, they encountered ideal grazing land. The Steele brothers leased the Rancho lands, containing 17,763 acres, and bought an additional 1100 head of cattle. They later purchased the Rancho, and in 1862, Isaac constructed his house at Green Oaks Creek, and Rensselaer Steele built on Cascade Creek (Steele 1941:266-267; Angel 1883:40e; Alley 1883:212).

Additional pasturage was once again needed by the Steele Brothers since the acreage at the Point Reyes Ranch was not for sale, and the lease would expire in 1866. In June, 1866, E.W. Steele purchased forty-five thousand acres in San Luis Obispo County, comprising portions of the lands of Corral de Piedra, Pismo, and all of the Balsa de Chemissal and Arroyo Grande Ranchos. Along with George Steele, they established another dairy containing 600 head (Steele 1941:267, 269; Angel 1883:40e,f; Selby 1979:65).

Like many other owners of Mexican land grants, the Steeles found themselves immersed in costly litigation over title to the ranch lands of Corral de Piedra. These expenses, along with various non-dairy business losses, forced them to sell much of their holdings. The court costs and business losses amounted to almost $500,000 dollars. The Steele Brothers retained sufficient land in San Luis Obispo County to continue successful dairy operations, but on a reduced scale (Steele 1941:269; Angel 1883:40f).

In addition to the financial reverses sustained previously by the Steele Brothers, the local dairies were experiencing a decline in profits. This was due to overgrazing and increased importation of diary products from other areas. The desirable native range grasses were decreased by prolonged grazing and were being replaced by inedible native plants. The close-cropped pasture grasses did not have sufficient time to mature and re-seed, allowing the undesirable grasses and plants to flourish (Watson 1897:75).

The Steele Brothers continued large-scale dairy operations at Punta del Ano Nuevo until 1880. At this time, the holdings were divided among the family. Issac Steele partitioned his holdings among his three children, Fredrick, Effie, and George. In 1878, Effie married Edwin Dickerman, who worked at Waddel's Wharf, and the couple was given the portion of the Rancho that is currently known as Ano Nuevo State Reserve. Effie and Edward were responsible for the construction of the extant buildings at the Reserve and the moving, in 1883, of Horace Steele's house (the Creamery) and his store from Waddell's Wharf to the ranch. The store was converted into a barn, and in 1951, it was dismantled. The lumber was used to build the existing garage, located northwest of the Flora Dickerman house (Alley 1883:730; Mowry 1971:10,31,32).

The wharf was constructed by William White Waddell on right-of-way granted by the Steeles. The wharf, completed in 1864, was the main shipping point for lumber produced by mills owned by Waddell, Chandler and Harrington, the Steeles, and others. The wharf extended about 700 feet seaward and was supported by hand-hewn redwood spiles. A railroad (with wooden rails) was constructed from Waddell's mill, five miles inland, to the wharf. Finished and rough sawn lumber, flooring, siding, and shingles were transported from the mill to the seaward end of the wharf by cars pulled by four-horse teams. At this point, a slide chute was used to load the material onto coastal schooners for shipment. The wharf developed into a small community that became known as Waddell's Landing. By 1867, the Landing included warehouses, storehouses for lumber, at least two residences, and a general store with a post office and a bar. Samuel Horace Steele, Rensselaer's brother, constructed the first residence and the general store on the flat above the wharf in 1869 or 1870. As much as two million feet of lumber a year were shipped from the wharf until it was destroyed by a storm about 1880 (Daily Alta California: June 23, 1867:3; May 30, 1967:5; Stanger 1966:48,49,111-113; Mowry 1971:1,16,18,31,32; Steele and Steele 1971:17).

Effie and Edwin adopted a daughter, Flora, who inherited their portion of the ranch. Flora married Jay Frank Steele, a cousin, they continued dairy operations until the 1920s, when the strict enforcement of state-wide sanitation laws, increased production of milk and cheese, and overgrazing made dairy farming unprofitable. At this time, dairy operations were suspended and one of the first and largest irrigation systems in San Mateo County was installed for the production of row crops: brussel sprouts, peas, and artichokes (Porter 1977:18).

Effie died on October 25, 1913 and Edwin on July 7, 1912 at Punta Del Ano Nuevo. Mildred was the last of the Steele family to reside at Rancho Punta del Ano Nuevo. Flora deeded the beach frontage of the ranch to the State Division of Beaches and Parks on June 28, 1957. She died on April 8, 1963. The remainder of the ranch was purchased by the State, from Mildred, in 1968 (Steele and Steele 1971:12, 31; Le Boeuf and Kaza 1981:29; Half Moon Bay Review March 9, 1972:1).


Alley, B. F.
1883 History of San Mateo County, California. B.F. Alley
Publisher, San Francisco.

Angel, Myron
1883 History of San Mateo County, California. Thompson and
West, Oakland. (Reprinted by Howell-North Books, Berkeley, 1966).

Le Boeuf, Burney J.
1975 History of Punta del Ano Nuevo. University of California
at Santa Cruz. Ms. on file, California Department of Parks and
Recreation, Sacramento.

Le Boeuf, Burney J. and Stephanie Kaza
1981 The Natural History of Ano Nuevo. The Boxwood Press,
Pacific Grove, California.

Mowry, Harvey H.
1971 The Point New Years Store, San Mateo County, California
1870-1883. Ms. on file, California Department of Parks and
Recreation, Sacramento.

Porter, Bonnie S.
1977 Cultural Resources of Ano Nuevo State Reserve. Ms. on
file, California Department of Parks and Recreation, Sacramento.

Selby, John S.
1979 The California Steeles. Senior Essay in American
Studies. University of California at Santa Cruz.

Stanger, Frank M.
1966 A History of Point Ano Nuevo. Ms. on file, California
Department of Parks and Recreation, Sacramento.

1967 Sawmills in the Redwoods: Logging on the San Francisco
Peninsula, 1849-1967. San Mateo County Historical Association.

Steele, Catherine Baumgarten
1941 The Steele Brothers, Pioneers in California's Great Dairy
Industry. California Historical Society Quarterly Vol. XX No, 3:259-268.

Steele, Catherine B. and Wilfred H. Steele
1971 The Steeles of Point Ano Nuevo: Their Ancestry and Kinships. Privately Printed.

Watson, Samuel E.
1897-98 California Dairying, San Francisco: State Board
of Trade: 74-76. H.S. Crocker Company, Printers, San Francisco.