1900: Looking back at New Year’s a century ago
On Monday morning, New Years Day, 1900, Truckeeans were awakened by the sounds of ringing church bells, the cloppity-clop of horses hoofs and the jingling of sleigh bells as the Winter Ice Carnival opened for the holiday.
The thermometer stood at 6 degrees below zero and the Ice palace and toboggan slide were as hard as a rock. From sunrise to sunset, sleighs of all sizes whirled in and out over the snow covered roads. Children with home-made toboggans frolicked in the snow along commercial row, for at the time, the only traffic in town were people on skis and a few horse drawn wagons.
The traditional New Year’s Eve dinner ball had been held the previous evening at Hurd’s Hall, ushering in the 20th Century and celebrants had been entertained to the music of the Nifty Concert Band. At the stroke of midnight, every whistle in town blew loudly, continuing for half an hour, proclaiming the beginning of the new year. Pistol shots were heard going off all over town prompting constables I.F. Harvey and C.W. Long, to put a dozen or so drunken men in jail.
From its beginning, the New Year holiday in Truckee has been the focus of fun and frolic. The traditional festivity was always intensified by the idleness and isolation imposed by the strictures of winter weather. Below Hilltop, the town’s first ice skating rink had been established. As soon as the mercury hit 16 degrees, people flocked to the ice pond dressed in warm winter clothing and picnic baskets for a day of winter fun. People who didn’t skate kept themselves warm by a large bonfire.
Local attorney and writer, C.F. McGlashan supervised the annual construction of a huge ice palace in the center of town. It was made of chicken wire netting and sprayed with water which would freeze and produce a solid ice wall. The ice palace was nearly a fifth of a mile around with walls 50 feet high. Inside was an oval ice skating course. At the end of the palace was a tower from which excited tobogganers could slide down to street level.
Nobody seemed concerned that by the fact that this monstrous creation covered more than half the main street, blocking horse and sleigh traffic. The popularity of the first ice palace resulted in similar edifices being fashioned in later years, becoming a major draw for thousands of visitors who passed through town by train. The idea evolved into the earliest winter carnivals.
In Truckee, as in the rest of the country, the new century marked an era of beginnings and endings. It was a decade of transition and progress. The industrial age was in full swing. The Wright Brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk and Henry Ford provided the first affordable automobile. In 1903 the hand-cranked victrola went on the market bringing recorded music into the home. The town’s early days of opium dens, gunplay, tar and featherings, vigilantes gave way to more civilizing influences. The success of the lumber mills and growing ice industry brought forth new entrepreneurial challenges, while the solid citizens of Truckee went about building schools and churches.
By October,1900, the newly completed Southern Pacific railroad passenger depot had opened, replacing the platform located in the original Truckee Hotel, which burned in April of that year. The new building, which still stands, became the centerpiece for Truckee’s local railroad heritage as well as an important transportation resource for the town’s economic base. Presidents McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt both made brief stops at the new depot when their trains passed through town.
By 1905 the new Southern Pacific Hotel was constructed next to the depot. These two buildings would become significant in promoting Truckee as a winter playground. Within the decade, plans were made for the largest winter carnival ever held in Truckee. This event was so special that townspeople gave it the name “Fiesta of the Snows.” The goal was to pump up the local economy by bringing thousands of winter tourists to Truckee.
Within the first decade of the twentieth century many significant changes took place in Truckee. In 1901, C.F. McGlashan completed construction of his magnificent home on the hill next to Rocking Stone Tower; Meadow Lake Union High School was established; the Donner monument was erected; a second story was added to the jail to house female prisoners; the new Masonic Hall was completed in 1909, and the first town meeting was held to discuss incorporation.
As Truckee enters the twenty-first century the seeds of change which began 100 years ago remain manifested within the town’s unique visual grandeur. The romance and comfort the town reflects to the outsider offers both present day amenities combined with romantic memories from another era. The January 2000 issue of Skiing magazine names Truckee as “One of the top ten ski towns and places worth moving to.”
Appreciation of the town’s history serves to enhance its vital elegance and to remind us that Truckee stands today as a symbol of every American’s past and as a living reminder of the pioneer spirit that occupied the rest of the nation, a spirit that is the adhesive of America.
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