History: Floriston Paper Mill | SierraSun.com

The resort hotel, general store, icehouse and butcher shop burned down in 1949.
Supplied/Truckee-Donner Historical Society

At the start of the transcontinental railroad, many bustling towns focused on logging, ice, and even more ambitious industries. Only a few of these communities have survived, one being Floriston. Floriston is located between Truckee and Reno and today is a minor exit off Interstate 80 but at one time it was a bustling town.

Beginning of Floriston

Floriston was originally settled at the bottom of Bronco Creek as a railroad construction camp in 1867. The town was originally called Bronco and also Wickes since the Wickes brothers operated a logging business until ‘at Bronco Creek in the 1870s and 1880s (not necessarily close to now Floriston). Shortly after the arrival of the Central Pacific Railroad, the settlement was renamed Floriston. In 1891, no one knows whether the name change from Bronco to Floriston came either from Mrs. Delis Fleischacker or from a “flower-loving brakeman”.


The Floriston Pulp and Paper Company was formed by the shareholders of the Crown Paper Company along 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 quarters for employees and the superintendent, and a trench dam with 1.5 miles of 9-foot-diameter wooden piping to bring the mill water.

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

The products were driven by the need for cloth wrappers for Central Valley oranges and other specialty fruits and brown paper for raisin trays (thick brown paper used to store sugars in fruit). Truckee and surrounding areas had ice and sawdust and could carry vegetation. What was needed were the “envelopes” for the vegetation.

In the beginning, the paper mill was powered by water power from the Truckee River. The river flowed steadily and was considered a source of renewable energy in perpetuity. The paper mill switched from water to electric power in 1922 due to the low flow of the Truckee River.

At its height the town prospered with the mill employing 500 men and billed as ‘the second largest factory [mill] in the world”. The city had a large hotel, a post office, a railroad depot and a developed tourist trade for fishermen and hunters.

Floriston was originally set up as a railroad construction camp in 1867.
Supplied/Truckee-Donner Historical Society

City belonging to the company

Floriston was a company built and operated town. Workers received their wages in scripts and tokens which were spent in company stores.

In 1914 there were 46 cabins, three dormitories, a school, a hospital, a recreation hall, a general store, a meat store and the mill. The mill workers had both good food and lodging.

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

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

The Pulp and Paper Company wanted to operate year-round, but ran into problems. As the timber came further and further away, it became necessary to find other means of transporting the timber from the high ridges to the railroad which then delivered it to Floriston. The earlier method required teams of horses and oxen to drive the logs down the mountain. But that required the snow to have melted enough for the animals to pass.

Instead of laying expensive wooden canals, they installed an aerial tramway in the Coldstream Valley.

According to the Floriston bulletin make paper “The streetcar line is 8,700 feet long and rises from an elevation of 6,300 feet to 7,420 feet.” L-brackets or towers ranged from 30 to 50 feet tall with a tension and anchor station and two terminals.

“The wood was loaded into crates or carts each containing a quarter of a cord. This is done at the top of the mountain where at present 9,000 ropes were ready to be transported. The power of transport was by gravity. The heavy loads went up the empty crates.

The system was incredibly efficient and allowed the paper mill to operate year-round. By the way, it was a great ski lift at first since the inspectors skied up and then down it.

The end of the mill

A byproduct of paper construction was the creation of sulfuric acid. This acid has been dumped or leached into the Truckee River for 30 years. The water downstream has been contaminated. Complaints arose as early as 1904 about acids and chemicals that had seeped into the Truckee River and washed downstream into Nevada.

Local authorities would periodically respond to complaints and find the plant innocently dumping its acidic waste onto a plateau (“acid dish”) and wall above the river. Some time after the inspection, the pumps were stopped and the river’s relief valves reopened, awaiting the next kill of fish to trigger another investigation.

As a last resort, they took the “liquor” from the waste and pumped it into tank cars and the Southern Pacific Railroad transported it to the Nevada desert where it was dumped. This too proved to be too expensive and on Christmas Eve 1930 the Floriston factory closed.

The pulp mill was closed due to pollution, depression, lack of economical raw materials and/or better mills in Oregan.

The factory site remained vacant (except for a custodian) until 1947, when the entire city site was purchased by Preston L. Wright of San Francisco. The town came alive again until the beautiful resort hotel, general store, icehouse and butcher shop burned down in 1949.

Floriston today

Floriston has a small population with many of the original 1900 company houses still in existence. The most important is the superintendent’s house. Nothing remains of the ice or paper industries, and I-80 covers the plant site.

Motorists on I-80 zip through the small town paying little attention to the small community located halfway between Truckee and Reno. Note that Floriston, with only 42 preserved residences and its post office closed in 2011, still retains its history and its sense of community.

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