Benjamin Franklin Leete

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Benjamin Franklin Leete

Birthdate: (95)
Birthplace: DeRuyter, Madison, New York, United States
Death: January 4, 1927 (95)
Reno, Washoe, Nevada, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Epaphras Nott Leete and Harriet Wordsworth Leete
Husband of Isabel Sarah Leete (McNeil)
Father of William McNeil “Mac” Leete; Ben “Mac” McNeil Leete and Nott McNeil Leete
Brother of Maria A. Mason; Polly Powers; Rufus T. Leete; John J. Leete; Calvin D. Leete and 7 others

Managed by: Private User
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About Benjamin Franklin Leete

     My Great Great-grandfather was an interesting fellow.  He is first noted as working as a surveyor for Theodore Judah, the chief engineer and surveyor for the Central Pacific Railroad.  He surveyed the main route of the CP from Sacramento California to Roseville California and then across the Sierra to Reno and beyond.  Recognizing Reno would soon be an important railroad town, he purchased land and at one time owned several blocks of downtown Reno.  His name appears prominently in the Reno Gazette of the late 1800’s as a business man and entrepreneur.  He also developed mines in Eastern California with his son, Nott Leete, who had graduated from the University of Nevada Reno School of Mining and Engineering.  Nott Leete worked the Eagle Salt Works (see below) as supervisor and also local postmaster.   In the December 4, 1898 issue of the Nevada State Journal it was noted that B. F. Leete was the Silver Party candidate for United States Senator for the State of Nevada.  He lost that race by a narrow margin.
    My grandmother, Gladys Leete (Johnson), relates a humorous anecdote about Nott, her husband Ben Ford Leete’s uncle.  Nott was/is an old family name.  This did not stop Nevada students from tormenting little Nott at school.  Their favorite saying of the day was, “If it’s Nott Leete, who is it?”  He showed them in the end by graduating with honors from University of Nevada - Reno.
    My grandmother also relates that Benajmin Franklin donated some prime downtown corner block Reno real estate to a church to build a meeting house.  Perhaps this was to offset his other passion.  He was apparently rather fond of gambling.  It was said by residents of Reno that you could look out your window and see him, early in the morning before the milkman showed, hoofing it for home after a night at the tables, with his swallowtail coat tails flapping.  Quite a guy!  Oh that he had held onto some of that downtown property.  Today it would be worth a small fortune…

B. F. LEETE, the president of the Eagle Salt Works and a resident of Reno, has developed an industry of the utmost importance to Nevada and the west, and in business circles has made for himself a prominent and honorable place. His diligence, foresight and perseverance have been the foundation of the gratifying prosperity which he is now enjoying, and he belongs to that class of representative American men who, while advancing individual success, also promote the welfare of the locality with which they are identified. When Nevada was still a part of the territory of Utah, Mr. Leete located within its borders, dating his residence from 1859. He was born in DeRuyter, Madison county, New York, on the 25th of February, 1831, and traced his ancestry in the paternal line back to William Leete, at one time governor of the colonies of Hartford and Branford, and the progenitor of the family in the United States. Epaphrous Nott Leete, the father of B. F. Leete, was born in Rutland County. Vermont, on the 28th of June, 1789, and died at Lockport, New York, in 1873, at the advanced age of eighty-four years. His mother, who in her maidenhood was Miss Polly Nott, belonged to a well known family of Schenectady, New York. After arriving at years of maturity Mr. E. N. Leete was united in marriage to Miss Harriet Welthy Thompson, a resident of Deruyter. They made their home at Lockport, New York. In early life E. N. Leete was a Democrat in his political views and supported Jackson, but on the organization of the new Republican party, he joined its ranks, giving his allegiance to Fremont, Lincoln and the other grand men who have been its standard-bearers. In religious faith he was a Unitarian, and his wife held membership with the Baptist church. They were the parents of thirteen children, but only three are living at the time of this writing - 1903, and B. F. Leete is the only one in Nevada. In the Empire State Mr. B. F. Leete spent the days of his boyhood and youth, and having obtained a good literary education he then took up the study of civil engineering, and in that capacity was employed in connection with the construction of the New York Central Railroad. In 1858 he took passage for California on the Moses Taylor, carrying fifteen hundred passengers. He crossed the Isthmus of Panama and completed his journey by steamer, arriving at San Francisco on the 1st of August, 1858. The railroad from Folsom to Maysville was then being built, and for some time he was employed as engineer in its construction. Later he went to Dayton, Nevada. There he was engaged in the survey and construction of the mountain wagon roads, and from Dayton he went to a district fifty miles east of Reno, where he secured a large amount of salt lands and some salt springs. In 1870 he began the erection of the Eagle Salt Works, which he has since operated, having for the past thirty-three years been engaged in the manufacture of salt. The springs from which the salt is taken are perfectly pure, and the Eagle Salt Works turn out a practically pure product, this salt being one and thirty-nine hundredths purer than the famous Liverpool salt, and as there are no freight charges to be paid, the salt produced by Mr. Leete is much cheaper for the residents of the state than that shipped from long distances. He manufactures salt for all the purposes for which salt is used, and has a large demand for his product. He also manufactures sulphurized salt, crystalizing the sulfur into the salt, to be fed to cattle and sheep, and it is found very effective in preventing annoying skin diseases, such as mange in horses and cattle and scab in sheep. He has the credit of being the first manufacturer of suphurized salt, and has given to stockraisers a very valuable article. In recent years Mr. Leete incorporated the Eagle Salt Works, his sons being his partners in the enterprise, while he is the president and manager. In connection with his plant Mr. Leete has built, owns and operates thirteen miles of standard gauge railroad, extending from the salt works to the Southern Pacific Railroad, which facilitates the shipment of the product of the salt works and also provides a convenient outlet for the traffic of that section of the state. In addition to his enterprise here, he owns mining property in Plumas and Sonoma counties in California, and he has a comfortable residence at 411 Virginia Street, in Reno, surrounded by flowers, shrubs and trees of his own planting. On the 27th of November, 1861. Mr. Leete was united in marriage to Miss Isabelle McNeal of Lockport, New York, and they now have three sons: William McNeal, born at Sacramento, California, January 1, 1863; Ben McNeal, born in Dayton, Nevada, in 1867; and Nott, born in Dayton, in 1870. They are now associated with their father in business and are enterprising young men of business habits. Mr. Leete was an active Republican until the silver question became the dominant issue before the people of this country, when he became active in the organization of the new silver party, and is now one of its stanch advocates. In 1856, while in Lockport, New York, he was raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason and has ever been an exemplary representative of the craft. An honored pioneer of Nevada, he has witnessed its development from territorial days and has been deeply interested in its welfare and progress, so directing his efforts that they have many times been of marked value in the development and improvement of the section of the state with which he is connected. His business career has been marked by integrity.

 A History of the State of Nevada: Its Resources and People 
By Thomas Wren, Lewis Publishing Company
 Published by The Lewis Publishing Company, 1904.

RENO EVENING GAZETTE: Hon. B. F. Leete will address the people of Reno at the Opera House on Saturday, October 22, 1898. Mr. Leete will discuss the money question, the Monroe doctrine, Hawaii, The Philippines and trusts and corporations. House will be open at the usual hour and Mr. Leete will commence his address at 8 o'clock.

EDITOR NEVADA STATE JOURNAL: —Sir, In your issue of the 18th of ( ), 1898, you had the honor to say: "Hon. B. F. Leete of this county has been favorably mentioned as a candidate for State Senator." Do me the kindness, please, to say that I am a candidate for Senator of the United States from the State of Nevada, also that there is at the present time no other office in the gift of the people of the State of Nevada that I will accept, and oblige. Your Obedient Servant, B. F. LEETE.


    “Conveniently located 15 miles east of Wadsworth, and only a short distance from the original main line of the Central Pacific Railroad up the Hot Springs grade, lay some salt beds, ignored and unnoticed.  It took a man named B. F. Leete to recognize their possibilities and exploit their usefulness.
    Leete had been engaged in railroad surveying in his home state of New York before coming west to join Theodore Judah on the preliminary surveys for the Central Pacific.  Other engineering activities followed until, about the year 1869, he stumbled onto the hot springs and figured their potential in the light of the need for salt in the reduction of Comstock ores.  Under the name Eagle Salt Works, Leete commenced operations in 1871 and supplied some 3,000 tons of salt to the silver mills that year at a considerable savings over the cost from previous sources.
    Production was a simple process.  Water from the springs, containing a 30% salt solution, was led to flow into a series of open air vats covering some seven acres of ground.  In the desert sun, the water evaporated, leaving pure salt crystals which were then gathered and shipped.  During the extreme hot weather cycles, an acre of vats could produce approximately 10 tons of salt in one day.
    With time the process was improved and production increased.  The greatest period of activity occurred during the years 1879-1884 when some 334,000 tons were shipped and a moderate amount of table salt was also distributed.  In the ensuing years production slackened until, in 1901-1903, when the CP relocated its main line from Wadsworth to Brown’s via Hazen, Leete’s Salt Works was left with the prospect of being without a railroad connection.
  In January 1903 the Central Pacific removed the rails from its old line.  However, during the previous August, Leete had negotiated an agreement whereby every other tie would be left in place so that a light railway could be constructed.  In  February 1903 he organized the Eagle Salt Works Railroad Company to build a standard gauge railroad line from Luva on the main line of the CP to (old) Thisbee on the former CP alignment, thence along the old main line right-of-way to the former Leete station, then onward a short distance to the Eagle Salt Works.  A small steam locomotive (the “Three Spot,” as it was familiarly called) was thoroughly overhauled in the CP shops and sent out near the end of March to assist in construction of the line.
  The 14.5 mile railroad ultimately was competed in June 1903 and was hailed as a boon to the old Nezelda silver mine, six miles to the northwest of Leete, which was staging a revival at the time.  History records the production from the Nezelda mine was disappointing, and despite the new railroad, even the salt operation had become quite inactive.  The first shipment from the works was not made until three years later in March 1906.  Over the next four years, daily shipments never exceeded two carloads (many times none), and up to September 1910 when the last car rolled over the line under Leete management, the cumulative total only amounted to a meager 171 cars.
    In financing construction of his railroad in 1903, Leete had borrowed $23,535 from the Southern Pacific, using as collateral the stock of the railroad plus that of his Eagle Salt Works Company which he had incorporated in 1896.  The agreement of July 1, 1903, stipulated that annual payments of $4,000 were to be made, but Leete could never meet those requirements.  Foreclosure action was finally filed in 1910, and the SP acquired the little road together with the salt works itself.  No reports of operations (if any) during the next two years have been found, but those for the years ended June 30, 1913 and 1914 show an investment in the road of slightly over $30,000 while the revenues (all freight) were $602 and $1,509 respectively, with net losses after expenses of $4,877 and $2,430, respectively.  Indicated total tonnage carried was a mere 583 tons and 1,032 tons, consisting of salt, a few cars of coal and a little hay.
    The coal-fired steam locomotive (there is also a report of a small gasoline engine) hauled one car at a time and apparently operated approximately 70 days out of each year.  Following a long period of inactivity, the railroad was finally abandoned in March 1916, and the rails were taken up the next month.  Evaporation (of salt) had created a business; evaporation (of traffic) had brought it to a close.”

Source: Railroads of Nevada and Eastern California, Vol. 1. David F. Myrick, Howell-North Books, San Diego, CA., c1962. Pages 50, 51.



 “LEETE, earlier Eagle Salt Works, (now a ghost town with only foundations remaining), 1/2 miles southwest of I-80 at Hot Springs exit (24 miles northwest of Fallon).  Extensive salt deposits on a marsh here were discovered in 1869 by B. F. Leete, who began operations at the Eagle Salt Works the next year.  The Central Pacific which ran just west of the marsh expeditiously shipped the product to the great Comstock silver mills as well as mills in Humboldt County.   The works acquired a post office in 1877.
    Vats covered several acres and each was fifty feet wide and about 100 feet long.  The salt solution crystallized on the sides and bottoms of the vats and on evaporation a thick layer of salt formed which was hoed into piles and shipped without refining.  During the summer months an acre of vats produced about ten tons of salt daily.  In later years salt was refined elsewhere for dairy and domestic use.  After large outputs from 1879 to 1884, production drastically declined.
    The Southern Pacific shipped salt to markets until 1903, but after that date the tracks were realigned to the east of Leete, leaving the camp desolate.  The works immediately built a railroad over the old grade, connecting with the main line near Wadsworth.  Production nevertheless declined and operations ceased after 1915 because of salt discoveries in southern California.  Several old evaporators and numerous foundations mark the site.”  

Source: Nevada Ghost Towns & Mining Camps. Stanley W. Paher, Howell-North Books, San Diego CA, c1980. Pages 111-113.


245 Epaphras Nott Leete, son of Asahel (113), m. Jan. 2, 1816, Harriet Wordsworth Thompson, born at Chatham, N. Y., June 27, 1794. He died Sept. 10, 1872. His son - 494. Benjamin Franklin, Feb. 25, 1831, m. Irene McNeil.

Source: "The Family of William Leete, One of the First Settlers of Guilford, Connecticut and Governor of New Haven and the Connecticut Colonies.” Edited by Alvin Talcot

Theodore D. Judah, a Connecticut Yankee, son of an Episcopal minister, made the very first move. He had come west in the year 1854 to act as construction engineer for L. L. and J. F. Robinson, who were engaged in building the first railroad in California, the Sacramento Valley. This was completed to Folsom on February 3, 1856, after which, and before the Overland railroad was seriously thought of, Judah had projected schemes, running lines here and there in the endeavor to arrive at something tangible. The idea of a transcontinental railroad began to take form when he called a meeting to be held at the St. George Hotel in Sacramento. It was attended by A. P. Catlin, his attorney, Charles Marsh of Nevada City, B. F. Leete, one of Judah's surveyors, Robinson brothers, and a few others whom he had urged to be present, but nothing came of it. Judah sailed from Sacramento on October 10, 1861, for the city of Washington to secure government aid for the proposed railroad, taking James Bailey with him. He spent the winter and spring actively canvassing for the support of Congress and the administration. He was successful beyond his fondest hopes and telegraphed to his associates in Sacramento, "We have drawn the elephant; now let us see if we can harness him up." He referred to the fact that on July 1, 1862, President Lincoln had signed a bill creating the Union Pacific Railroad Company, to build a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri River to the west line of the State of Nevada; and the Central Pacific Road of California, to build from the head of navigation on the Sacramento River to the eastern boundary of the State, where they were to meet, on or before the end of the year 1874. A subsidy of ten sections of land and of bonds to the amount of sixteen thousand dollars to the mile was granted. Returning to California in August, 1862, with this, as he termed it, unexpectedly favorable bill Judah went immediately to work making careful surveys for the road. And now in this year of grace, 1920, the sole survivor of this party is Benjamin Franklin Leete, whom I have known intimately for many years and who has given me free access to his library containing pamphlets and papers, maps and records of the most interesting character. For the last fifty years he has made his home in Reno, Nevada, and now at the age of ninety recalls Mr. Judah perfectly, whom he describes as a very slight man not over •five-feet-five or six and never weighing •a hundred and fifty pounds. The two men were friends in their youth, working on adjoining divisions of the New York Central Railroad. Leete specialized on bridges and has some notable structures to his credit. Epic of the Overland - The Central Pacific, by Robert Lardin Fulton, A. M. Robertson, San Francisco, 1924. Pages 12, 15, 16. (Text is in the public domain)

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Benjamin Franklin Leete's Timeline

February 25, 1831
DeRuyter, Madison, New York, United States
January 2, 1863
Age 31
Dayton, Lyon, Nevada, United States
May 23, 1867
Age 36
Dayton, Lyon County, Nevada, United States
Age 38
Nevada, United States
January 4, 1927
Age 95
Reno, Washoe, Nevada, United States