Ghosts of the Truckee River canyon; Once bustling towns gone but not forgotten | SierraSun.com
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Ghosts of the Truckee River canyon; Once bustling towns gone but not forgotten

TOM MaCAULAY Special to the Sierra Sun

The Truckee River canyon between Truckee, California, and Verdi, Nevada, is an important link in America’s transcontinental highway.

Before 1844 it was unknown to America, but that year the Stevens-Murphy-Townsend party struggled through. They were the only ones to do so.

The steep walls and twisting course of the canyon were a nightmare for the exhausted party. Their guide, Old Caleb Greenwood, searched out a better route which became known as the Dog Valley route, still in use today. It was used by all immigrant parties on the Donner Trail until 1868 when the Central Pacific Railroad, part of the Transcontinental Railway, made regular traffic through the Truckee River canyon commonplace.

For many years the Truckee canyon was a thriving, vibrant commercial center with small towns and communities. The CPRR defined and dominated the canyon.

It carried supplies and passengers in and carried lumber, ice, and paper out. Gradually wagon roads and then motor roads, starting at Truckee and Verdi, worked their way into the canyon.

In 1925 the last stretch of the Victory Highway, later Highway 40, between Floriston and Stateline, was paved and the entire canyon was open to private vehicles.

In 1964 the last phase of freeway work on Interstate 80 was completed, and the canyon assumed its present character.

Truckee and Verdi still flourish at the upper and lower ends of the canyon. All of the others towns, except Floriston, have disappeared, leaving only scattered ruins to mark their sites. Most of the names have disappeared from modern maps, and local residents who remember the names have forgotten the locations.

GLENSHIRE DRIVE, Modern: It follows Old Highway 40 from Truckee to the new subdivision of Glenshire, three highway miles from the Glenshire Drive turn off from Highway 267 near Truckee. It follows the CPRR and Truckee river and crosses the Glenshire Bridge. A short distance beyond the bridge, Old Highway 40 turns to the left, to the Flycaster’s Club. Down the canyon, below this point, Highway 40 has been abandoned. Even farther down the canyon it has been overlaid by Interstate 80. The road continues past Glenshire to meet another short section of Old Highway 40, called Hirschdale Road, between Boca and Hirschdale. The total length is about seven and one half miles. Part of Glenshire Drive follows old mill and logging roads.

HALF DAM, local name: It sits on the river about two miles below Truckee on Glenshire Drive. Dam work began for Gem Ice Works in 1894 but was never completed. The site is hard to find unless you know just where to look.

POLARIS: On the river three and one half miles below Truckee; site of Tahoe Ice Company after 1886. It was first called Proctor’s and Winsted by the CPRR, then the name was changed to Polaris by the National Ice Company in 1901. It is known by locals as “The Pink Palace” because the old headquarters building, later demolished, had been sheathed in pink asbestos shingles. The old ice pond, the best preserved on the river, is across the river from the highway and is easily visible from the east end of Olympic Heights. The sanitary district sewer plant is just downstream.

OLD BUG STATION, Modern: It sits on the left side of Interstate 80, about one mile below Polaris. It was abandoned when the new station was built west of Truckee at the Donner interchange.

GLENSHIRE BRIDGE: This is the modern name for the concrete bridge across the Truckee River on old Highway 40. It was named after the modern subdivision.

MARTIS CREEK: The creek is five miles below Truckee. It enters the Truckee River near Glenshire Bridge. At one time it was the terminus of the Sisson-Wallace flume which served Samuel McFarland’s mill and Richardson Brothers upper mill and flume extension. It was also the site of the Truckee Ice Company after 1885. The old ice dam is still visible above the mouth of the creek, as are old stone building foundations.

Several bridges crossed the Truckee River here to provide access to CPRR side tracks and the Richardson Brothers mill. A modern campground and reservoir are two miles upstream and are accessible from Highway 267

FLYCASTER’S CLUB: This was below Martis Creek, six miles below Truckee. Located on private property, it was accessible by private road from Old Highway 40. The buildings were purchased in 1906 from Dr. Zimmer, who had a sanitarium there.

It is visible from Interstate 80 near the California Highway Patrol weigh station, in the canyon to the right.

UNION MILLS: Themill was located six miles below Truckee and was a stop on the CPRR. It sat across the Truckee River from the Flycaster’s Club. The Union Mills lumber mill was located in Union Valley, now the location of the Glenshire subdivision.

GLENSHIRE: This is the well known subdivision in Union Valley. It was the site of Union Mills, McKay Spring, and Buck Spring. Stewart McKay of Truckee developed springs, an old log pond, and three additional reservoirs as ponds for ice harvests and fish raising. Fish were caught for commercial sale, as well as for sport fishing.

Some of Glenshire’s homes are visible from Interstate 80, just below the CHP scales.

It is estimated that today more than 300 residents commute to Reno from the subdivision.

PROSSER CREEK: The creek enters the Truckee canyon on the left side, seven miles below Truckee. Terminus of lumber flumes for mills on Sage Hen and Alder Creeks, (Banner Mill, Parkhurst Flume, Nevada and California Lumber Co., Lonkey and Smith Flume), and Martin and Sweeney shingle mill. Summit Ice Company, later part of Sierra Lakes Ice Company and Union Ice Company, harvested ice one half mile above mouth and was connected to the CPRR by a rail siding. Broken concrete dam still exists. Store, lumber yard and telegraph office were at mouth of the canyon. New Bureau of Reclamation dam is three miles farther up canyon, accessible from Highway 89.

CAMP 16. One mile below Prosser Creek and eight miles below Truckee, on CPRR right of way. Named by CPRR construction crews. Site of Pacific Lumber Co., Nevada and Mountain Lakes Ice Company, Pacific Shingle Co. and terminus for some lumber flumes descending Prosser Cr. Nothing remains today.

BOCA INTERCHANGE. On Interstate 80 provides access to modern United Trails Campground, Glenshire road, Hirschdale, Boca reservoir, and Stampede reservoir.

BOCA. Nine miles below Truckee, across river on left. Most famous town in the canyon. Named Camp 17 by CPRR construction crews, it was first a mill site for Friend and Terry Lumber Co. of Sacramento, then the Boca Mill Company Natural ice harvests started in 1868 and lasted until 1927, the last plant on the river. Interstate 80 crosses the site of the Boca Brewery which operated from 1876 to 1893. Numerous broken foundations are still visible at Boca. Existing earth fill dam built in 1940 by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Residence of water tender employed by U.S. Federal Watermaster to control river flow is below the dam. Pot office from 1872 – 1945. roads beyond Boca lead to Stampede Reservoir, Prosser Reservoir, Truckee, Henness Pass Road, Highway – 89, and Loyalton.

UNITED TRAILS CAMPGROUND. Modern, at the Boca interchange. The only commercial establishment in the canyon it provides a store, gas station, and trailer space rentals.

RODDYVILLE or ROWDYVILLE. Located across the Truckee River from Boca, possibly near modern United Trails Campground. Does not show on maps and is only known from a few letters and oral references.

HINTON. Maps show Hinton eight miles below Truckee, and CPRR time tables list a stop twelve miles below Truckee. Twelve miles would place Hinton at Camp 19 and the CPRR may have used this designation before building the side track and passing track between Boca and Hirschdale. Foundations for the old Hinton bridge are visible at Hirschdale. Hinton was not a community.

HIRSCHDALE. Modern bedroom community down stream three highway miles from United Trails Campground on a short stretch of original Highway 40. Hirschdale was developed as a road stop in 1926 by Jonas Hirsch. Glenshire Drive intersects Highway 40 about one mile from United Trails.

Burkhalter and Clinton. Burkhalter is ten miles below Truckee, and Clinton is 11 miles. A concrete highway bridge on old Highway 40 below Hirschdale crosses the river and a second bridge crosses the CPRR tracks. The first bridge gives access to a small flat on the right, between the highway and the river, now private property. This is the site of Burkhalter’s Mill, used by Bragg and Folsom’s Pacific Wood and Lumber Co. The Clinton Narrow Gauge Railroad extended up Juniper Creek almost to Lake Tahoe. The town of Clinton was on the CPRR to the left of the highway after crossing the railroad bridge. The names are often used interchangeably. Post office from 1891 – 1896. The concrete bridges were built in 1926, part of Highway 40 through the canyon.

CAMP 19. One mile below Clinton and twelve miles below Truckee, Camp 19 was the site of the Marysville Mill in 1868. The actual site has not been located. CPRR timetables list Hinton as being 12 miles below Truckee.

Interstate 80 below Boca gives a view of the Truckee canyon. Across the river can be seen a county road which gives access from Hirschdale to Iceland.

ICELAND. Thirteen miles below Truckee, Camp 20, also known as Cuba, where Gray Creek enters the Truckee River. An old log crib dam can still be seen across the mouth of Gray Creek, first called Joe Gray Creek. Joe Gray, who helped found Truckee, built a lumber mill here and gave his name to the creek. In 1876 he leased his property to People’s Ice Company of which he was part owner. Also operating here were Mountain Ice Company, Union Ice Company, and Floriston Ice Company Old ice pond walls are between the CPRR and the river. Post office from 1897 – 1923.

FIRST CPRR CROSSING OF THE TRUCKEE RIVER. In Truckee the CPRR is on the highway side of the canyon and remains so until Iceland is reached. At this point it crosses the river to run for six miles on the opposite or mountain side of the river.

TUNNEL 14. This tunnel between Iceland and Bronco was part f the original CPRR construction. It was abandoned when the railroad was double-tracked in the early 1900’s. In the 1970’s the railroad dynamited the tunnel to discourage hippies from using it.

BRONCO, or WICKES. One mile below Iceland and fourteen miles below Truckee is Bronco Creek, first called Alder Cr. and then Wick’s or Wicke’s Cr. before acquiring the modern name of Bronco Creek. Alexander M. and Lucius D. Wicks, brothers, operated a wood yard here, complete with store, telegraph station and residence. Also used by Walter Hobart and, in 1892 by Kidder Brothers. Post office from 1872 – 1891.

FLORISTON. Fifteen miles below Truckee. Second most famous town on the river. First a CPRR section house, then site of the Rocky Run Ice Company. Floriston Ice Company was up river, between Floriston and Bronco. The Truckee River General Electric Company’s Farad diversion dam was built in 1899. The dam is visible on the left side of the highway, as is the upper portion of the Farad flume. In 1900 the Floriston Pulp and Paper Company completed a paper mill on the right side of the river. Modern Interstate 80 goes through the site of the mill but company houses can be seen on the hillside above the CPRR. The paper mill went through several changes in ownership. (Floriston Pulp and Paper Co., Crown Columbia Paper Co., Willamette Paper Co., Crown Zellerbach Corp.) and was finally closed in 1930. Lawsuits over pollution in the Truckee River were a constant problem for the paper mill and down stream water users. Crown Willamette Paper Co. moved its operations to Camas, Washington in 1930. Very few personnel transfers were made but some families from Floriston moved to Camas and found employment in he new mill, which still operates. The Floriston site was vacant except for a watchman until 1947 when Preston L. Wright of San Francisco purchased the property. On March 20, 1949, the Floriston hotel was destroyed by fire but the rest of the town survived. Houses were sold to private citizens and the town now has 42 homes and about 150 residents. Post office from 1891 until present.

ROCKY RUN Ice Company Located on the river at Floriston where the Interstate 80 bridge crosses the Truckee River. The old ice pond wall can be seen between Interstate 80 and the river, between the Farad diversion dam and the Interstate 80 bridge.

DUFFY CAMP. Wood camp for Floriston paper mill, on a branch of Bronco Creek, about two miles from Floriston. Wood delivered to Floriston by flume or by mule train.

FARAD. Seventeen miles below Truckee, on the right side of the highway. This is the location of the Farad generating station. The flume between the Floriston bridge and Farad is close beside the highway and is not visible. The roof of the forebay house is visible from the highway,just above the interchange. The Farad site was originally Mystic Hot Springs, a spa. During cold weather, steam from the hot springs can be seen along the road above the plant. When the Farad plant was built the CPRR built a siding across the river and this provided the only access to the outside world until Highway 40 was built in 1925. Farad is an electrical engineering term. Hydro electric generating plants were built at three places in the canyon by the Truckee River General Electric Company and are now owned by Sierra Pacific Power Co. of Reno.

MYSTIC. Eighteen miles below Truckee, one mile below Farad on the CPRR was Mystic, a section house. Charles L. Wiley had a dairy on the river to supply milk to families in Floriston. He later moved his dairy to Iceland. On Highway 40, before Interstate 80 was built, the Forest Service maintained Mystic Campground.

OLD STATE LINE. Nineteen miles below Truckee. This is the original California-Nevada State line, surveyed by Houghton-Ives in 1864. It was moved approximately three miles to the east, to its present location, by the Von Schmidt survey in 1872-73.

SECOND CPRR CROSSING OF THE TRUCKEE RIVER. Nineteen miles below Truckee. Camp 24. Below Mystic, and visible from Interstate 80, is the second crossing. This is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the site of Hamlin’s State Line Mill and was also called Linham station. Railroad is now on highway side of river.

TUNNEL 15. Nineteen miles below Truckee, this was another tunnel on the original CPRR construction route. It was removed when the line was double tracked.

FLEISH diversion. About 20 miles below Truckee, built in 1905 by Truckee River General Electric Company. A wide spot alongside Interstate 80 provides a view of the Fleish flume. The dam is out of site on the river. The flume continues for two miles along the canyon wall, with one short section of ditch, and is one of the most prominent features of the canyon. Below the dam, across the river from Interstate 80, is a high, rock cliff. It is known to local climbers as “River Rock” and was a popular climbing site. It is on private property and is not available.

BELL CR. Bell Creek enters the river twenty miles below Truckee and just below Fleish diversion dam. It was served by a suspension foot bridge from the railroad and was a watering point for the CPRR. Some records indicate that this was the site of Hamlin’s State Line Mill and old stone foundations near the railroad give credence to the claim.

CALVADA. Twenty-one miles below Truckee at the State Line surveyed by Von Schmidt in 1872. It was a CPRR side track and passing track.

STATE LINE. Twenty-one miles below Truckee on Interstate 80 is the present day boundary between California and Nevada. A prominent monument was removed when Interstate 80 was built and the site is now indicated by a highway sign.

FLEISH power house. Twenty-two miles below Truckee, the Fleish forebay, penstock and power house are visible across the canyon. Two spill-ways are often seen. One is for Fleish, the other is for the Steamboat Ditch which takes water from the river a short distance upstream. Fleish was named for the Fleishacker brothers who financed the Truckee River General Electric Company. Post office from 1908 – 1909.

THIRD CPRR CROSSING OF THE TRUCKEE RIVER. The bridge, just below the Fleish plant, is easily seen from Interstate 80. It was originally called Manassas Bridge and the narrow canyon just below was called Manassas Gap. Railroad is now on mountain side of river.

MARMOL. Twenty-three miles below Truckee on the CPRR, Marmol was the site of the Inyo Marble Company works. Marble was quarried near Keeler, Inyo County, California, shipped to Moundhouse via the Carson and Colorado Railroad, then to Reno via the V and T, and then to Marmol on the CPRR. The Marmol plant was run by water power which was cheaper than the 100 HP steam plant formerly used at Keeler. Inyo marble was used in the D.O. Mills building in San Francisco and in Golden Gate Park. Water was diverted from the Truckee river by a dam at Manassas Gap. A private residence is now near the site. Post office from 1891 – 1908.

FOULKS MILL. Across the CPRR from Marmol was the site of Foulk’s saw mill, later Essex mill and Hamlin’s mill.

VERDI DIVERSION DAM. Easily visible from Interstate 80 is the Verdi diversion dam, twenty-three and one half miles below Truckee, built by Truckee River General Electric Company in 1911. Several different diversion dams were built in this area but all have now been replaced by this one dam. Water was supplied to Coldren/Katz/Merrill Ditches, Essex Ice Company, Verdi Lumber Co., and the California Sugar and White Pine Agency. The generating plant is below Verdi and is not visible from Interstate 80.

FOULKS’ TRUCKEE RIVER COUNTRY CLUB. On the highway side of the river at river level, between Interstate 80 and the river, near the end of the Verdi diversion dam. This resort, owned by the Foulks family, was on part of the old family homestead and opened in 1901.Access was from a passenger stop on the CPRR which provided a sheltered waiting area. Abutments for the old pedestrian and carriage bridge to cross the river can still be seen. The site is now a private residence.

ESSEX. Twenty-three miles below Truckee on the CPRR was Essex, a coal ad fuel stop for the CPRR. The settlement of Essex was in the curve of hills at the lower end of the existing fields.

ESSEX, MUTUAL, AND CRYSTAL Ice Company’s. These three companies operated in the Essex-Verdi area. The Essex Ice Company was in the flat pasture to the right of the Verdi diversion dam. Mutual Ice Company was nearby. Crystal Ice Company was on the edge of existing Verdi and the only remains are known as Marsh’s pond.

ROADSIDE BUSINESS.There are several modern tourist stops in this area but they are usually considered to be a part of Verdi.

DOG VALLEY. Dog Valley and Dog Creek are to the left of Interstate 80. This is the route discovered in 1844 by Caleb Greenwood and it still provides an alternate to travel through the Truckee canyon. It leads to Boca reservoir, Stampede reservoir, Truckee, Henness Pass Road and Highway 89.

CRYSTAL PEAK. Just across the California – Nevada State Line, west of Verdi on the Dog Valley road, are the remains of Crystal Peak. It was a thriving community which served the local area and the trade over the Dog Valley grade until the advent of the CPRR. When the CPRR was built across the valley from Crystal Peak, it withered and disappeared. A few foundations can still be found in the sagebrush. Post office from 1864 to 1869.

VERDI. Twenty-five miles from Truckee, this town came into being with the construction of the CPRR in 1868. It supplanted Crystal Peak and Essex as the local trading center. Location of Verdi Mill Co. and California Sugar and White Pine Agency. Post office from 1869 to present.It is now a thriving community which is influenced by the growth of nearby Reno.

Below Verdi the canyon widens out before it reaches Reno and is not included in this report.


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