By Patricia Perry

For the Union Democrat

In January 1940, Blanche Divoll, the granddaughter of James G. Divoll, sent this photograph to her good friend, Carrie Segerstrom, in Sonora. Carrie was actively collecting photographs and stories of Sonora and its pioneer citizens.

James Divoll and his partner, Joseph Bray, built the Star Flouring Mills in 1879, with proceeds from the Bonanza Mine, which was located north of St. James Episcopal Church. Gold from the Bonanza Mine was stored at the mill until it could be sent to Stockton for further processing.

In August 1885, two men broke into the mill in an attempt to steal the gold. Jacob Bray, Joseph’s brother, was the night watchman. During the robbery a fire was set and Jacob was killed in the conflagration. The stone and brick walls of the mill survived.

Immediately after the fire, Divoll and Bray decided to turn the remaining structure into the Sonora Opera Hall. It opened on Christmas Eve 1885, with a roller skating party, a pastime enjoyed by both adults and children.

Blanche described the photograph. “Well here is my precious photo. It shows the direct pipe line coming down from the reservoir to the Flour Mill, and the raised rim of the reservoir also shows between the two trees.” Blanche is referring to the water pipe that came from Divoll’s reservoir on Knowles Hill.

The water from the reservoir was used to power the flour mill. Later, Mr. June Knowles built a dance pavilion near the reservoir. Mae Bromley McMahon remembered that, “On moonlight nights in the summer with jack-o-lanterns reflecting on the water and sweet music playing it was a very romantic place.”

Patricia Perry is the historian for the city of Sonora.

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