Planks from saw mill find new resting place in Alpine

The Alpine County Museum curators are excited about a piece of Alpine history they will now have on display in their newly renovated "carriage shed." Two of the walls are now lined with the 140-year-old planks milled on sight at the Davidson saw mill which are some of the remains of the mill itself, located within sight of present-day Highway 4 heading to Ebbetts Pass.

The mill as well as an eight-stamp quartz mill, the Buckey No. 2 Mine and other holdings, all located near Silver Mountain some 9 miles south of Monitor on Silver Creek, a tributary of the East Carson River, became the property of a Scotsman by the name of Lewis Chalmers who, in the fall of 1869, purchased the mining concerns and renamed it the Exchequer.

Chalmers was born on the east coast of Scotland in the town of Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire on March 9, 1825. He married Elizabeth Ann Gordon Cameron in 1850, and they had one son, Lewis William Chalmers. Sadly, Cameron passed away in childbirth in 1851. He remarried a year and a half later, to Ellen Miller MacEwen, who bore him four children.

In 1864 he moved to London, taking a position with the firm of Matthey & Company, "assayers and smelters to the Bank of England." Within a year he joined the Imperial Silver Quarries Company where he was bitten by the "silver bug" and soon sailed to the United States as the company agent, arriving in the town of Monitor in Alpine County, Nov. 9, 1866.

Chalmers sailed for America, leaving a wife and his five children, and hopefully enough funds to see them through until his return. But that return was long in coming.

After several failed ventures, Chalmers acquired the properties he renamed the Exchequer and built himself a fine home which has come to be known as Chalmers Mansion. His brother, Captain John Chalmers, came to America to help manage the mine. In the spring of 1870 he arrived at Silver Mountain and set about his work - erecting a building for the miners, grading a road to the mill and opening the shafts, drifts and winzes of the Exchequer. But, extracting the precious silver from the recalcitrant ore proved hard to almost impossible. Hard Alpine winters hinder progress and the Chalmers brothers could not pound a profit from the quartz they milled.

Almost from the beginning, Lewis Chalmers had maintained a housekeeper. When his current houselady, Mrs. Kelly, left for San Francisco, she recommended a friend, Antoinette Laughton, who had a baby boy. Antoinette enchanted the entire town when she stepped off the stage in Silver Mountain and Chalmers was infatuated. Antoinette, a strikingly attractive girl of 20, was disillusioned by a poor marriage and divorce, was subtly conniving and understandably suspicious of men's motives, but she charmed the then widower Chalmers. Although he was 30 years her senior, he was still considered the catch of the county.

Chalmers and Antoinette (Nettie) were eventually married in San Francisco and from that union they had a son and a daughter. They returned to their Exchequer holdings and still continued to search for the silver Chalmers doggedly maintained was there for the taking. By January 1884, with mines shut down and creditors demanding sale, Chalmers returned to England for the last time to try to raise funds to back his ventures, leaving his family in Alpine County.

In 1898, attorney Arnott got a judgment against Chalmers and bought the mill and home site at a sheriff's sale in 1900. He was good enough to deed the home and garden to Nettie Chalmers.

Nettie never heard from Lewis again and in February of 1904, living in comparative obscurity, Chalmers died of a heart attack at the age of 78. Nettie left Alpine County for a room on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, Calif. Her daughter had disappeared without a trace and she tried in vain to find her. Despondent over her vanished husband and missing daughter, on the night of Dec. 28, 1913, she locked her door, stuffed cloth and paper into the key hole and the door and window casings, turned on the gas jets of the chandelier and lay down on the bed with a photo of her daughter cradled in her arms.

Today, on a sharp curve along Highway 4, under towering pines and almost in view of Chalmers Mansion, is a small pioneer cemetery where the remains of Nettie Chalmers lay, along with Lewis and Nettie's young son who drowned in Silver Creek, the remains of her first son Henry Laughton and those of Lewis Chalmer's oldest son who had visited from Scotland and died in Silver Mountain at the age of 20. The fate of Nettie's daughter was never known.

Now some of the few remains of the Exchequer grace the walls of a new exhibit at the Alpine County Museum, that will have an unveiling of the new displays during a reception at noon, Oct. 11 at the museum, at the end of School Street in Markleeville, for the Robert Jackson Memorial dedication.

n Information courtesy of the Alpine County Museum.


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