George Blum's Stonecutting Tools Preserved
George Blum Sr. (1861-1932), a Swiss stonecutter-turned-rancher, arrived in the United States in 1880 or 1881, came to Los Angeles via Chicago and helped build the original red-sandstone Los Angeles County Courthouse at New High (later called Spring) and Temple Streets. Upon its completion in 1891, he homesteaded land in the Aliso Canyon section of Acton where he raised bees and set out fruit trees and grapevines.
George and his wife, Magdalena, whom he married in Chicago in 1889, raised a family of six children at their Aliso Canyon ranch. George used some of the same hand-tools he used professionally to build several stone structures on the ranch that still stand more than a century later, including the original homestead house, a subsequent 2-story house with walk-in attic (under construction from 1912-1916), and various outbuildings.
It was a final wish of George's granddaughter Elizabeth M. (Blum) Billet, who continued to live on the Aliso Canyon property despite having sold it in 2017, that her grandfather's stone-cutting legacy endure through the preservation of his masonry tools. So, a few days prior to her death at home on November 5, 2019, she sold them to Leon Worden, who donated them to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society for long-term care. Instrumental to the transfer were Elizabeth's friend and neighbor Paulette Tcherkassky, Elizabeth's daughter Terry Martin (shown in some of the photos above), and local historian Sarah Brewer.
Inventory of Tools.
1. Three (3) spruce mallets.
While it might seem counterintuitive, the wooden mallets were used to split stone, and the metal tools (No. 2 below) were used to smooth it. George Blum is believed to have brought these spruce mallets with him from Switzerland in the 1880s. They are unmarked. The largest measures 6½ inches wide and 13½ inches long with handle. In a 1954 Los Angeles Times photograph (see below), George's firstborn son George John Blum (Elizabeth's father, 1889-1970) is seen holding one of these mallets at the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone for the new county courthouse. The 1891 courthouse building was destroyed in the 1933 Long Beach earthquake; replacing it took 25 years.
2. Two (2) H.H. Harvey patent bush hammers.
A pair of patent bush hammers patented by the H.H. Harvey company of Augusta, Maine, were finishing tools that were used for reducing imperfections in granite after it was split. One has four blades (and a modern handle), the other 10 blades (head only). The 4-blade hammer head is stamped "Size 3" on one side and "H.H. Harvey, Manufr. / 6935 / G Blum / 1901" on the other side. The 10-blade hammer head is marked "Size 01" on one side and "Blum / 1323 / 1902" on the other side. The latter does not bear a maker's mark but is clearly from the same source. Both heads measure 8¼ x 2¾ x 3¾ inches. "1901" and "1902" are likely dates of manufacture; some manufacturers were known to stamp both serial numbers and dates on their patent hammers. Both heads also are additionally stamped "G Blum" in smaller lettering and "1/2/3/4" on the bolts that hold the heads together. Henry H. Harvey's company was in operation from 1871 to about 1920. His plant at 108 Bangor Street in Augusta burned down in 1893 but was rebuilt.
3. Three (3) stone hammers.
Three masonry hammers with handles (one handle broken) appear to bear no markings but could also be from the H.H. Harvey company, which manufactured these types of hammers.
4. Eleven (11) chisels.
Eleven larger chisels, some of them possibly made from railroad spikes.
5. Nineteen (19) feathering tools and wedges.
Narrow metal "feathers" were driven into the grain of the stone (granite, like wood, has grain); a small metal wedge was then inserted behind the feathering tool and rocked back and forth with a wooden mallet until the stone split.
6. Five (5) trowels.
Five trowels of various types. The widest, measuring 6½ inches, is from the Ideal Tool Company, a manufacturer of masonry tools that was active in Indianapolis in the 1890s. The smallest, with a head measuring 2-15/16 inches, was patented (No. 334,125) by Malcom MacDonald of Oakland, California, on January 12, 1886. In his patent application of August 26, 1885, McDonald describes it: "My invention relates to a new and useful tool or implement for marking and dressing the joints of cement or artificial-stone surfaces or pavements; and my invention consists of a suitably-handled tool having a peculiar central cutting or indenting rib or blade and a laterally or transversely concaved surface or face on each side of said rib or blade, the whole face of the tool being rounded or convexed in the direction of its length."
7. Six (6) rock hammers.
Six rock hammers — one a small sledge, and another with a notched square head and a multipurpose axe blade (4⅞ inches).
8. One (1) field box.
While crates of peaches and pears that went to market bore a Blum Ranch label, field boxes that were actually used on the ranch to collect the fruit did not. The box measures 22½ x 15 x 9 inches.
Genealogical research assistance by Tricia Lemon Putnam.
The Blum Ranch Story by Ray and Elizabeth Billet.
George Blum & Sons' Homesteading History.
1. Family lore says he arrived in 1880; a ship's manifest shows him arriving at New York on April 1, 1881. It is possible this wasn't his first arrival; he did travel back and forth between the U.S. and Switzerland in the 1880s.
2. George Blum attained U.S. citizenship in Los Angeles in 1890. Voter rolls show him residing at 514 Vignes Street in Los Angeles in 1891 and 2616 Mattison Street in Los Angeles in 1892. It's possible the latter was a weekday residence; it took some time for the Acton property to sustain a family, so he commuted to Los Angeles for work. By 1896 he was living full-time in Acton, as was his brother Michael, a miner.
3. Caption written by Elizabeth (Blum) Billet, probably in the early 1990s, corresponding with a photograph made November 8, 1915, showing the house under construction.
4. Trowel and Masonry Tool Collector Resource, http://trowelcollector.blogspot.com, accessed January 2020.
LW3676: Download individual images here.