Boca was a center of commerce for the area
Echoes From the Past
Mix one part sawdust, one part ice, one part beer, serve at the mouth of the Little Truckee River on a railroad car and you have the recipe for the town of of Boca.
Truckee’s eastern neighbor carried on a sometimes wild, sometimes dull existence from 1866 until the last house burned in 1978.
The town’s first name was Camp 17, a title given by the Central Pacific Railroad in its construction days, as the grade was built down the canyon in the late fall of 1867. In 1868, the name Boca was given to the small village. The name is Spanish for “mouth,” and was Judge Edwin Crocker’s contribution to the town’s history.
Very quickly the sawmill of the Boca Lumber Company was erected to supply ties and bridge timbers to the Central Pacific. The mill was located on the Truckee River side of the railroad tracks, just east of the confluence of the Little Truckee and Truckee Rivers.
The town of Boca itself was largely a company owned town. The Truckee Republican, in several articles in the 1870s, referred to the town not as Boca but as Doan. The Doan family was the most prominent family in the 1870s. Latimer Doan was the managing partner of the Boca Lumber Company, and was the town’s leading booster. His brother, Wallace Doan, was the postmaster. Other family members came and went over the first decade of the town’s history.
The Boca Lumber Company built the first Boca Hotel and saloon, a small affair, in 1869. It burned along with a few houses in February of 1870. A general store sold to company workers, as well as the employees of the half dozen other sawmills that were strung along the Truckee River from Prosser Creek and Pacific (Camp 16) downstream to Clinton ( Camp 18) at Juniper Creek. Boca was the center of commerce and of social activities for the upper portion of the Truckee River Canyon.
The ice and the railroad, along with the pure spring water across the Truckee River from Boca, led to the construction of the Boca Beer Brewery in 1875. Again, the Doan family was the factor behind the construction and first several years of brewing. Hops were shipped from the western U.S. and at times from Germany to brew award winning beer. Brewery specialists were imported from Germany to work in the massive complex.
Though it only lasted 18 years, the brewery was an important addition to the commerce of the area. The business was constantly improving its product and the plant was expanded several times. At its peak the brewery produced 2,500 barrels of beer month. It burned in January of 1893.
The lumber, beer and ice were all reliant upon good shipping rates from the Central, and later Southern, Pacific Railroad. By the late 1870s, Boca was shipping more tonnage of freight than any other stop along the line, except for its upstream neighbor Truckee. The town was also frequented by area cattle and dairy ranchers as well as sheepherders who ran their flocks in the nearby hills.
In 1873 a second Boca Hotel was built, this one an impressive, architecturally significant building that was both a boarding house for seasonal lumber and ice employees. It also attracted tourists. Louis Schaffer ran the hotel until 1880, and until 1885 when the Boca Brewery bought the hotel, a series of managers ran it.
Charles “Rhoddy” McLellan was operating the Boca Hotel when it burned in 1886, along with half a dozen houses. McLellan quickly rebuilt the hotel along the same lines as the old ones, then sold out to Truckee Hotel men James and John Sherritt. The hotel was the scene of many social parties for people from the immediate area, Truckee and Reno. It was also the scene of several shootings.
Fights were common on Saturday nights as the intense rivalry between French-Canadian loggers from the lumber company mixed it up with German brewers from the brewery across the river. One such fight in April of 1887, resulted in a shooting of a brewery man by a sawmill man. The feud continued into May with the shooting and murder of brewery man John Paten by a drunken brawler named Billy Keyes.
In 1903, the hotel burned in a massive blaze that lit the night sky up or miles. Rhoddy McLellan rebuilt a smaller hotel that burned again the next year. In 1904 McLellan built the fourth Boca Hotel, a small unremarkable building slightly east of the original hotel sites.
Taking advantage of the cold winter temperatures, the Boca Lumber Company added ice to its corporate name in 1870. The same Little Truckee River reservoir that held logs in the summer was flushed out in the late fall and refilled. The cold temperatures allowed ice to form, usually as thick as 12 to 16 inches.
The early years saw the ice sent mostly to San Francisco and Sacramento. By the 1890s, the ice was used in great quantities to cool the produce of California as it was being shipped east on the Southern Pacific Railroad.
By 1905, the Union Ice Company had firm control of the Boca Ice works, and was employing 300 men each harvest. Some 150,000 tons of ice were cut that December, with 60,000 tons of that stored in as many as nine icehouses at Boca. The rest was shipped to ice houses along the Southern Pacific Railroad around the west. That quantity of ice continued to be harvested until the mid-1920s, when electric refrigeration forced the natural ice works out of business.
The Boca Lumber Company operated its water and stream powered sawmill seasonally until 1908. The logs were cut from the watershed of the Little Truckee River in both summer and winter. Each spring as the snow melt swelled the river, logs were floated down to the large millpond. Most of the season’s cut of lumber would be brought in in several weeks time. Up to 34 dams were located along the Little Truckee River to store water until needed each day to raise the level of the river higher.
Dams were built at Stampede Meadows, Webber Lake and Independence Lake to store water until needed later in the summer by the sawmill. Up to 8 million board feet of lumber was cut and sold each year by the Boca Lumber Company. In 1887, the Doan family and other partners sold their interest in the mill company to Mark Hopkins and his partners. They were more interested in the ice works, but gladly bought and operated the sawmill, as well.
After the ice industry departed, Boca slowly was abandoned. In 1934, when the current Boca Dam was built, many of the remaining town buildings were demolished. A large construction camp was built on the west side of the Little Truckee River for work crews.
The remains of Boca can still be found, with the best documented areas on the U.S. Forest Service interpretive trail. The Boca Hotel site is still in private hands just between the railroad tracks and the interpretive trail. The remains of concrete foundations from many of the ice houses can still be found.
Gordon Richards is the research historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Comments and history information are always welcome. Please visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society Web site at truckeehistory.tripod.com. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You may leave a message at 582-0893.