Incline Village, circa 1800: Land of lumber and fertile soil | SierraSun.com
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Incline Village, circa 1800: Land of lumber and fertile soil

The Sierra Nevada Wood & Lumber Company was Lake Tahoes second largest lumber operation, operating at Incline Village on Crystal Bay from 1880 to 1895. The story of Walter Hobarts empire continues, picking the story up in the mid 1880s.The village of Incline, the sole owner and business being the SNW&L, had applied for a post office upon moving to Lake Tahoe from Little Valley in 1880. It took four years for the Post Office to grant a fourth-class office with Gilman Folsom as postmaster. The village near the mill, containing a store, a boardinghouse, a stable and a few cabins, also had daily steamer service in the summer and weekly service in the winter. Now it was on the map.Winter was tough on the men and the company, with most of the work stopping and the mill closing down after the last logs were cut. Woodcutting continued through storms or blue skies. Most of the loggers and millmen spent the winter on ranches in the Nevada valleys. In the winter of 1884 a mile of V flume on a trestle some 80 feet high, was blown down up in Little Valley, but was rebuilt in the snow in only eight days.By 1884 Gilman Folsom was cutting sawlogs on the southeast shore of Lake Tahoe. These logs and others from around Lake Tahoe were rolled into the lake, cabled together to form rafts and towed by the steamboat Niagra to Sand Harbor. The log landing at Incline was too sandy and unprotected, so Sand Harbor was chosen for the log landing. There the logs were pulled by steam engine onto narrow gauge flatcars that were hauled back to the sawmill by a wood fired locomotive.

Surprisingly, the area around Incline, with its mild climate and good soil, was an excellent garden spot. SNW&L had acres of gardens that solved the problem of shipping in fresh food from the Carson and Washoe Valleys. They grew potatoes, onions, lettuce, corn, cabbage, turnips, radishes, and several acres of grain and hay for animal feed.When the grain field was first cleared, it was early in the spring, and just as they were ready to plant, Captain Joe, Chief of the Washoe, came to Gilman Folsom and told a tale of woe. Once, all this land was ours. We killed the deer and bear all over the mountains. When the white man came he took away all our land, except this one little spot, where the creek comes down the mountain. Here we came to camp and hunt rabbits and catch fish. Here we lived every summer and we buried our dead. Now you want to take this one last little resting place from us.Folsom and part owner Sam Marlette were too tender-hearted to resist the pleadings of the eloquent children of the forest and so they abandoned the field, and moved uphill a mile away where they cleared another field for grain. That pleased the Washoe it seemed, at least for that season. The following year however, Captain Joe was willing to forego his ancestral summer home for a $20 gold piece. Both fields were then planted to feed the hungry lumbermen.Another of the Truckee area lumbermen who were attracted to the quality operations being run by Hobart & Marlette was James Nat Durney. Durney sold his Truckee grocery store in 1884 so he could manage the general merchandise business in Incline. This deal was worked out because Sisson Crocker Company, who had operations all over the western forests, had contracted to run all of Hobarts woods crews, with Durney managing that operation as well. After a few years saving his money, Durney moved on to own his own sawmills and stores and was a millionaire by 1910.SNWL kept a fairly tight rein on alcohol in the company-owned town. Still, a man needed to blow off steam and Tahoe summer resorts didnt appreciate their hard-earned money. A few backwoods dives with watered down tarantula juice could quench that thirst after work, but for a real good time the men rode or walked over to Truckee, keeping that town and sometimes its jails quite lively. The biggest Truckee shindig was when the season ended, and all the workingmen descended on the dozens of saloons with the seasons wages in their pockets.

Fire was always a fear in the sawmill, as the combination of dry sawdust and kerosene lamps caused disaster when they came together. So it was no surprise that on June 21, 1886, Captain Overton received a telegram in Virginia City telling the mill was on fire. As with most sawmills, there was inadequate water supply and the mill went up in flames. Even though timber was becoming depleted, and Virginia City mining had dwindled to a trickle, the sawmill was quickly rebuilt and new machinery installed. Lumber production of about 12 million feet a year resumed in a month.Forest fires were common in the summer, either set by lightning or most often smoking woodmen or campers. When blazes ignited, the logging and mill crews dropped their work, grabbed fire tools, and responded to the fire lines. Most often these fires were ground fires and could be quickly put out with hand tools and good organization.



By the mid 1880s lumbermen all over the west were turning to narrow gauge railroads to move sawlogs through the mountains. Hobart & Marlette were no exception. In 1881 they built a 2-mile spur that ran from the mill to the west toward the California state line. They even designed a new style of flatcar axles, one that had coupling in the middle, so the log cars could go around sharp corners easier.In 1888 they started extending the rails south to Sand Harbor, completing it the following year. This allowed them to use the protected bay for unloading log rafts. The log trains rumbled along the lakeshore on a shelf carved out of the rocks above the lake, a route that would eventually become Highway 28.With Charley Blethen running the original locomotive, a second engine was added in June of 1889 to the Sand Harbor run. The new rail line and additional locomotive were the result of the depletion of timber around Crystal Bay, and Folsoms opening of new logging operations near Zephyr Cove. Folsom even named his new town Hobart to keep on the good graces of Walter Hobart.Throughout the early 90s logging and wood cutting continued full force. The steamer Niagra made frequent trips towing logs from Zephyr Cove to Sand Harbor. The incline and flume were taxed to full capacity to keep up with the demand for lumber. There were no changes upon the death of Walter Hobart Sr. in June of 1892, as his son Walter Jr. took over the management, assisted by a corps of lawyers and advisers. The $800,000 estate included the untouched timberland north of Truckee. It was only a matter of timing to start the relocation.

By the end of 1893 timber was scarce and operations began to wind down. In 1894 SNW&L sold the flume to the Carson & Tahoe Lumber Company the Bliss family lumber operation at Glenbrook, that was itself starting to see the end of logging on the horizon. The move was accelerated by a trade of 5,000 acres of timberland that SNW&L owned between Lake Tahoe and Truckee and traded to the Truckee Lumber Company. The Truckee Lumber Company gave an equal amount of land north of Truckee, adjacent to the lands that had been bought by Hobart 20 years earlier.The year 1895 was a year of preparation, as the last of lumber and firewood was shipped, and a crew of surveyors and engineers looked over the land north of Truckee for a new mill site. They soon narrowed down the sites to a flat glacial outwash just north of Prosser Creek, a few miles north of Truckee. Gilman Folsom took on the task of dismantling the railroad, the sawmill and any other salvageable parts for the new mill. The incline stayed, but just about everything else was loaded onto barges and shipped over to Agate Bay, where it was loaded onto wagons. They even created a temporary town there called Bay City.The teamsters coaxed their oxen along as they hauled the heavy wagons over the summit, through the Martis Valley, stopped to quench their thirst in Truckee, then headed north to the new lumber camp of Overton. By the end of 1897, Incline was a ghost town. The Washoe returned to claim the gardens, and the forests began to grow again. But the story wasnt finished.Look for the third installment of Gordon Richardss four-part series in two weeks. Gordon Richards is the historian for the Truckee Donner Historical Society. Visit the Truckee Donner Historical Society Web site at http://truckeehistory.tripod.com. Past articles by Gordon Richards are available at http://www.sierrasun.com in the archives. The e-mail address is tdhs@inreach.com.


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