A center of innovation in California’s Mother Lode country, the historic Knight Foundry actively served the needs of the mining and lumber industries for over 120 years and is believed to be the only remaining water-powered foundry and machine shop in the United States.
Knight Foundry, also known as Knight’s Foundry and Shops, is a cast iron foundry and machine shop in Sutter Creek. It was established in 1873 to supply heavy equipment and repair facilities to the gold mines and timber industry of the Mother Lode.
Samuel N. Knight developed a high speed, cast iron impulse water turbine which was a forerunner of the Pelton wheel design.
Knight Wheels were used in some of the first hydroelectric plants in California, Utah, and Oregon.
There’s a lot of history here.
Knight also invented several other types of mining equipment. The foundry had a total of eight patents for machines designed in his shop, one of them being after Knight’s death. Knight dredger pumps were used in San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, and the Willamette and Columbia Rivers.
Knight died in 1913 and left the ownership of the foundry to his employees, and it stayed in employee hands until 1970 when the last employee-owner died. At that point, it was purchased by Carl Borgh, an aerospace engineer from Southern California who was originally a customer.
The foundry stayed in business until 1996 when Borgh retired, after which it survived for a while as a museum, but there was not enough business to offset the high insurance costs of the equipment. Borgh died in 1998 and his estate sold the company to Richard and Melissa Lyman in 2000, a couple who was in the business of preserving old buildings.
Their purchase was simply to hold it until a non-profit organization founded by Andy Fahrenwald, a filmmaker who had come to create a documentary film about the foundry, had enough funds to purchase it. However, Fahrenwald’s organization could never raise enough money. In 2007 the City of Sutter Creek agreed to buy it from the Lymans, but could not come to an agreement on terms suitable to both parties, and negotiations ended in August 2010. Now it sits abandoned. The foundry is registered as a California Historical Landmark. and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also designated a Mechanical Engineering Historic Site by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and has been declared one of America’s Most Endangered Places by the Smithsonian Institution.