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Forbes Mill Annex
75 Church St
 (off E. Main St.)
Los Gatos, CA 95030

The History Museum, at what remains of Forbes Mill (built in 1854), is the front section of the old mill. The Annex was built in 1880 for additional storage. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1978), the California State Register of Historic Places No. 458, Santa Clara County Point of Historical Interest No. SCL-3784 and a Los Gatos-Saratoga Realtors Association Historical Landmark. The History Museum features rotating and traveling exhibits. Past subjects have ranged from the native Mutsun (Ohlone) to the Gold Rush to the impact of WWII on the Santa Clara Valley.

The History Museum tells the many tales of this unusual foothill town…

  • Find out how “Mountain Charlie” McKiernan, a somewhat eccentric town folk hero from Gold Rush days, tangled with a grizzly bear and lived to tell about it!
  • Romantic muslin party dresses recall past dances on balmy summer evenings on vacation in the mountains.
  • The legacy of the South Pacific Coast and Southern Pacific Railroads and the interurban trolleys surround us today, from verdant parks to downtown parking.
  • Visit the historic annex to Los Gatos’ first commercial building, James Alexander Forbes’ Santa Rosa flour mill, which was saved by local volunteers from destruction in 1982 and turned into a museum.

Current Exhibit

Los Gatos Remembered
The history of Los Gatos through the years.

2007 Event Schedule

The Los Gatos Historic Homes Tour

November 3 and November 4, 2007
Tickets are $30 for non-members – members receive a 10% discount and pay only $27.00.
Call the museum office at 395-7375 to order tickets by credit card.

Check out the
Los Gatos History Museum
featured recently on CBS’Eye On the Bayin a story about Highway 17

New for FAMILIES – The Museums of Los Gatos are pleased to introduce:

The Family’s Walking Tour of Downtown Los Gatos

The Museums of Los Gatos have produced a FREE copy of this SELF-GUIDED tour for families.
It is now available at the History Museum of Los Gatos – Forbes Mill.
The tour starts at the History Museum and takes approximately 45 minutes to complete.
The perfect complement to a delicious lunch in Los Gatos and a leisurely stroll through this historic town.

Brief History of Forbes Mill

James Alexander Forbes, who built the Santa Rosa Flour Mill (what we call “Forbes Mill” today), was born in Scotland in 1804 or 1805, educated in Argentina, and came to California in about 1831. Before 1850 he worked at the Santa Clara Mission, at the San Jose Pueblo, and for the Hudson Bay Company. He may have served as the British Vice-consul at Monterey and was an early investor in the New Almaden Quicksilver mine. During the gold rush, when there were few flour mills in California, and flour was imported from Chile at considerable expense, Forbes thought an investment in a flour mill would make great economic sense. He located a spot on Los Gatos Creek which he thought could provide sufficient water power, and arranged to buy about 2,000 acres of land from Jose Hernandez, one of the two grantees of the Rancho called “Rinconada de Los Gatos.”

Forbes spent much of 1853 trying to borrow the money to build the mill, finally obtaining it in San Francisco in November, 1853 (probably

at an interest rate of 2% per month). He started to build the mill, hiring men to quarry the stone from Los Gatos Creek south of the mill site, dig the wheel pit and foundations, and burn limestone for mortar. The mill, with three stories of stone and a fourth of wood, was built in 1854. A dam on Los Gatos Creek and an 880-foot wooden flume were also constructed to bring the water to the mill. However, due to the problems of communicating with the east coast (it took months for letters to go back and forth), the milling equipment, purchased in Rochester NY, did not actually arrive until some time in 1855. The mill started grinding flour on Dec. 1, 1855.

Forbes could not repay the loan when due in late 1856, probably for a number of reasons: operation of the mill began more than a year after he had planned; there was barely enough water power in winter to operate the mill, but not enough water in the creek in the summer and fall, restricting the months of operation; and Forbes had lost heavily from speculating in wheat and flour. The mill and associated land was taken over by the note holder, G. Touchard, in 1857. Forbes continued to operate the mill, with the hope of buying it back from Touchard. However, he could not make the first payment, due in December of 1858, and was evicted. Several others attempted to operate the mill during the following seven years, none making a success of it.

In 1866, William H. Rogers bought the mill and 60 acres of land and finally turned it into a successful operation. He raised the head to 65 feet, replaced Forbes’ 20 foot overshot wheels with “turbine” wheels, and refurbished the milling equipment.

Rogers was born in NY state, went to Michigan as a child, and worked in the Detroit City Flourmill before coming to California in 1853. He went to Placerville to mine for gold. In 1855, he built, with others, the Mountain Flourmills near Placerville. He ran that mill until 1860, when he sold his interest. He served as postmaster in Placerville, then sheriff of El Dorado County before he bought Forbes Mill and moved to Los Gatos in 1866.

By 1869 he had been joined by several others, perhaps to expand the available capital, and the company was renamed the Los Gatos Manufacturing Company. They built a reservoir in the hills above Los Gatos (still visible on street maps), giving the mill a head of 200 feet, and built reservoirs in the mountains which could store enough water to allow year-round operation. (Water from the tailrace was tapped by the San Jose Water Company.) The milling equipment was continuously updated, with a “new process,” gradual reduction grinding system, with a capacity of 200 barrels a day, installed in 1880. The storage annex, which still stands, was also built in 1880. Between 1869 and 1872 the Los Gatos Manufacturing Co. also operated a woolen mill, located about 100 yards west of the flour mill. The woolen mill burned in 1872 and was not rebuilt.

The first “telephone” in Los Gatos was installed in 1878 by Rogers to connect his home with the mill – a distance of about 500 feet. It cost less than $4 at the time, as it was constructed using fruit cans with a drumhead stretched over the ends, connected by a copper wire.   
( – 1978 newspaper article from Guy Lamar.)

Collection Highlights

The Museums of Los Gatos is a non-profit educational institution that promotes and encourages a greater understanding of our rich local history and the fine arts through its exhibitions, collections and programs for the benefit of Los Gatos residents, and visitors to Los Gatos.