The two adobe brick kilns, built on the west side of Owens Lake by Col. Sherman Stevens in January 1877, produced charcoal to fuel the smelters used to process silver-lead ore from the Cerro Gordo mines in the Inyo Mountains east of the lake. Stevens first constructed a steam powered sawmill in in the Sierra Nevada. Lumber and logs were transported down to the valley via a 13-milelong wooden flume. The logs were burned in the kilns to produce charcoal, which was then loaded onto scows that were towed by the steamboat Mollie Stevens across Owens Lake to the smelters on the opposite shore. In September 1877, a fire destroyed part of Stevens’ flume as well as a large stockpile of logs and lumber. The output of silver and lead from Cerro Gordo and Darwin faltered that same year, as did the demand for charcoal. In 1878, miners left for new strikes at Mammoth City and Bodie, and Stevens’ short-lived empire collapsed.
The Cottonwood charcoal kilns, designated California Historical Landmark No. 537 in 1955, have suffered from the ravages of time and vandalism. FECM has partnered with the County of Inyo, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), and the Coso Operating Company to protect the kilns from further damage.
Construction of a protective shelter has commenced. FECM volunteers were on the ground during Phase I of the construction project to hand dig postholes on the north side of the kilns and monitor ground disturbance to ensure archaeological resources were not impacted.
A big thanks to FECM volunteers Rich White, Dave Wagner, Linda Hubbs, Tina Bjorn, Mark Basgall, Mary Roper, Pat Woods, Raul Hidalgo, and Lynn Johnson. Ashley Helms, Assistant Engineer, Inyo County Public Works Department, assisted FECM volunteers. The crew from LADWP did an excellent job installing the ten support posts. A report on Phase II of the Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns Project will appear in the Spring 2018 Newsletter.
FECM is planning to install a kiosk telling the story of the Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns. The project will be completed in 2018.