History: Floriston Paper Mill

Judy DePuy / Truckee-Donner Historical Society
The resort hotel, general store, ice house and butcher shop burned down in 1949.
Provided/Truckee-Donner Historical Society

In the early days of the Transcontinental Railroad there were many bustling towns that focused on lumbering, ice, and even more ambitious industries. Only a few of these communities have survived with one being Floriston.  Floriston is located between Truckee and Reno and today it is a minor exit off Interstate 80 but at one time it was a lively town.

Early Floriston

Floriston was originally settled at the bottom of Bronco Creek as a railroad construction camp in 1867. The town was originally named Bronco and also as Wickes since the Wickes brothers operated a wood cutting business up Bronco Creek in the 1870’s and 1880’s (not necessarily close to now Floriston). Soon after the Central Pacific Railroad came through the settlement was renamed Floriston. In 1891 no one is sure if the name change from Bronco to Floriston came from either Mrs. Delis Fleischacker, or to a “flower-loving brakeman.”

The Paper Mill

The Floriston Pulp and Paper Company was formed by the stockholders of the Crown Paper Company with a number of people connected with the California citrus industry and the National Ice Company.

Construction began in 1899 to build a mill that had seven main buildings, company housing for the employees and superintendent, and a crib dam with a 1.5-mile of 9-foot diameter wood piping to bring water to the mill.

The first pulp was produced on May 22, 1900 with 150 men employed by the mill.

The products were driven by the need for tissue wraps for oranges and other central valley specialty fruits and brown paper for raisin trays (heavy weight brown paper used to keep the sugars in the fruit). Truckee and the surrounding areas had the ice and sawdust and could transport vegetation. What was needed were the ‘wraps’ for the vegetation.

In the early days the paper mill was run by water power from the Truckee River. The river would run high regularly and was considered a renewable source of energy for perpetuity. The paper mill went from water power to electric power in 1922 due to low flow levels on the Truckee River.

At its heyday, the town flourished with the mill employing 500 men and billed as “the second largest plant [mill]  in the world”. The town had a large hotel, post office, railroad depot and tourist trade developed for anglers and hunters.

Floriston was originally settled as a railroad construction camp in 1867.
Provided/Truckee-Donner Historical Society

Company Owned Town

Floriston was a company built and operated town. Workers got their pay in scripts and tokens which were spent at the company stores.

By 1914 there were 46 cottages, three bunkhouses, schoolhouse, hospital, recreation hall, general store, meat store and the mill. The mill hands had both good food and accommodations.

“You worked hard but life was simpler, and the company took care of you.” Quote from Ray Yurich, Floriston’s only mill worker still alive as of 1972.

It was obvious that the paper company owned everything. They owned their own flumes, railroad along Alder Creek (Tahoe Donner) and into Euer Valley in the late 1920’s and some of the water flowing from the Truckee River.

The Pulp and Paper Company wanted to run year round but found issues. As the timber came from farther and farther distances it became necessary to find other ways of transporting the wood from the high ridges to the railroad which then delivered it to Floriston. The prior method required horse and oxen teams to drive the logs down the mountain. But this required the snow to have melted enough for the animals to get through.

Instead of installing expensive wooden flumes, they installed an aerial tramway in Coldstream Valley.

According to the Floriston newsletter Makin’ Paper “The tramway line is 8,700 feet long and raises from an elevation of 6,300 feet to 7,420 feet.” L-supports or towers ranged from 30- to 50-feet high with a tension and anchorage station and two terminals.

“Wood was loaded into crates or carriages each holding one-fourth cord. This is done at the top of the mountain where at present 9,000 cords were ready for transportation.” Power of the transport was done by gravity. The heavy loads brought back up the empty crates.

The system was incredibly efficient and helped make the paper mill run year-round. As a side note it was a great early ski lift since the inspectors would ride it up and then ski down.

The End of the Mill

A by-product of paper construction was the creation of sulfuric acid. This acid was either dumped or leached into the Truckee River for 30 years. Downstream water became contaminated. Complaints arose as early as 1904 of acid and chemicals that had seeped into the Truckee River and washed downstream into Nevada.

Local authorities would periodically respond to the complaints and found that the mill was innocently discharging their acid waste to a plateau (‘acid flat’) and a wall above the river. Sometime after the inspection the pumps would be shut off and the river discharge valves re-opened, awaiting for the next fish kill to prompt another investigation.

As a last resort they took the waste ‘liquor’ and pumped it into tank cars and Southern Pacific Railroad hauled it out to the Nevada Desert where it was dumped. This too proved too expensive and on Xmas Eve, 1930 the Floriston mill shutdown.

The pulp plant was closed either due to the pollution, the Depression, the lack of economical raw materials and/or better plants up in Oregan.

The mill site remained vacant (except for a watchman) until 1947 when the entire town site was bought by Preston L. Wright of San Francisco. The town was coming back to life until the beautiful resort hotel, general store, ice house and butcher shop burned down in 1949.

Floriston Today

Floriston has a small population with several of the original 1900 company houses still in existence. The most prominent one is the Superintendent’s home. Nothing remains of either the ice or paper industries and I-80 covers the mill site.

Motorists on I-80 whizz by the small town paying little attention to the small community located half-way between Truckee and Reno. Note that Floriston, with only 42 homes retained and its post office closed in 2011, still preserve their history and sense of community.

Judy DePuy is a volunteer with the Truckee-Donner Historical Society, Donner Summit Historical Society and a Board member for the Museum of Truckee History and the Truckee Donner Railroad Society. She resides in Tahoe Donner with her husband, Dave, with their black Belgian sheepdog, Morticia.

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