Category Archives: History

Westwood’s Big Store

The Big Store, Westwood.
By far one of the Westwood’s largest attractions was its company store. This was not your typical company store. Westwood would not have a so-called Main Street complete with a business district, but Fletcher was intrigued with the development of department stores in major cities. Adaptations, of course, were made for what worked in San Francisco or Minneapolis would not apply to Westwood.
Of course the building needed to be conveniently located. What better location than near the mill entrance and adjacent to the railroad depot. This store was dubbed the Big Store and during its evolution kept getting, bigger and bigger.
On Christmas Eve 1913, the Big Store opened its doors for business. The Plumas National provided the following description: “A complete butcher shop, a drug store, grocery department, men’s furnishings, women’s goods, hardware and shoe departments are all under special heads, each of whom is a specialist in his line. Nineteen men are employed in the store at the present time.”
In time, certain features in the original store would be relocated elsewhere such as offices, thus providing the Big Store with even more room to expand its merchandise. In February 1916, the Big Store got even bigger with another forty-foot addition. The facility could boast 73,125 square feet of retail space, with an additional 8,800 square feet utilized for offices and other purposes. It was the largest department store north of Sacramento.


Christian Science Society

Christian Science Society building, 1946.
In 1920 the Christian Scientists organized locally and held their meetings in the hall of the Knoch building. On August 26, 1931, they purchased property at the northwest corner of Mill and Lassen Streets from Gladys Burroughs and Iva Raker. In the fall of 1937 they announced plans to build a church. The following spring, Enoch Strom began construction of the church. The first services were held in the new church on June 12, 1938. During the Thanksgiving Services of 1938 the building was dedicated. At the same the congregation was pleased to announce that is was debt free. In 1999, with a dwindling attendance, the local church disbanded.


Susanville Hotel Company

Hotel Mount Lassen
On April 7, 1925 a group of local and outside business interests formed a company to raise $300,000 in stock to build a hotel on the vacant site of the former Emerson Hotel on the corner of Main and Lassen Streets. Construction began that summer for the three-story reinforced concrete structure. The new hotel opened with little fanfare on April 27, 1926.

In the meantime, during construction a contest was held for a name of the new hotel, the winner to receive $25. To be creative, the names Susanville and Lassen were barred. On November 25, 1925 a name was selected. Frank Coffin, who had secured a ten year lease to operate the hotel, asked the Susanville Hotel Company that it be named “Hotel Mount Lassen.” Coffin told the board that the name had better advertising appeal. The board was reluctant, but adopted the request.


Susanville – Riverside Drive

Riverside Drive
While it is officially the first day of winter, some in the meteorological field considered the seasonal change on the first of the month, as the weather conditions have already changed. Anyhow, remember last year’s flooding. Today’s photograph is of the flood of 1955 of Susan River on Riverside Drive. You will note back then there was not a bridge but culverts. After the flood, the culverts were replaced with a bridge. Of note, in the background is the log deck of Fruit Growers Supply Company.



Ben Neuhaus. Courtesy of Philip S. Hall
An item that I always find intriguing is what prompted a person to locate here whether they arrived five years ago or one hundred fifty years ago. Take for instance long time Willow Creek Valley rancher, Ben Neuhaus. A German immigrant, for Neuhaus it was the gold fields of Australia that lured him away from his native soil. Like others before and after him, the elusive riches were not to be found. In 1860, he left Australia for California, locating in Yolo County and returned to farming as his father had done. For reasons unknown, in 1864, he relocated to Honey Lake Valley. In the fall of 1865, Neuhaus found a permanent home in Willow Creek Valley. He remained there until 1902, when he retired from ranching and moved to Susanville where he passed away in 1915.


The Fernley & Lassen Railroad Dismantled

The abandoned line at Pyramid Lake.
In 1912, when an agreement between the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Red River Lumber Company was reached to build the Fernley & Lassen Railroad from Fernley, Nevada to Westwood time was important consideration. The Southern Pacific had two years to construct the line.

The demise of the railroad was a slow, lingering process. In 1963, a 60 mile segment from Fernley to Flanigan was abandoned. In 1978, the segment between Mason Station and Susanville experienced the same fate, though it would be rehabilitated into the Bizz Johnson Trail. It should be noted this segment had not been in use since 1955 due to extensive flood damage and the Westwood mill closure, Southern Pacific deemed it was not in its best interest to make costly repairs. In 2006, the tracks between Susanville and Wendel were removed.


Red River’s Winter Logging Experience

A winter logging crew, 1916. Courtesy of Hank Martinez
When the Red River Lumber Company moved its operation from Minnesota to Westwood, California it would become quite the learning experience for the company. In addition, the company’s founder, T.B. Walker, desired that the California operation be under the full responsibility of his five sons, which was easier said than done.
One of the sons, Fletcher Walker, was the resident manager of Westwood and had more or less full control of the operations. However, it was necessary for Fletcher to keep his father and brothers informed of the company’s activities, especially since it cost $3,5 million to construct the company town of Westwood during the 1912-1914 era. In addition, another $3.7 million was spent on the purchase of 800,000 acres of timberland in Northern California.
One of the many early family disputes was where to locate the company’s first mill, (there were plans for several small mills throughout Northern California) which would eventually be the location of Westwood. One of the biggest concerns of the Westwood site was that it was located in a snow-belt region. This would have a ripple effect on operations because more kilns would be needed to dry the lumber to hindering logging operations.
Whatever the case may be, it was Fletcher’s goal to operate Red River year round, much to the chagrin of his father. On February 25, 1915, T.B. wrote to Fletcher criticizing him for running the mill during winter storms, and that he should just shut it down. T.B. commented: “I have never expected that we could run all year in the mountains of California. I had in mind when I was securing the millsite where you built, that this would likely be about a nine or ten month’s milling job.” T.B. then chastised Fletcher’s decision to cut white fir and second-class pine trees. Again, T.B. commented, “If we get a mixed lot of lumber cut, considerable of which will pay us no more than the milling and marketing will cost, it will leave us behind in meeting our obligations. I have never figured on cutting timber in California, clean.” T.B. continued to stress in only cutting the best timber to turn it into money to meet its many obligations, especially taxes and bond payments. In addition, Fletcher stated he needed at least a half million dollars to finish the plant. In conclusion, T.B. was sympathetic when he wrote, “I realize the disadvantages and drawbacks that you work under in trying to build a milling plant out in the open woods, with everything to contend with, and where logging, sawing, handling, cutting up and shipping are all at a serious disadvantage, and where you have more or less bad weather, in the winter at least, that naturally makes it an up-hill battle.”
Finally, Fletcher questioned his father’s judgment on the ease of operating a winter mill in Minnesota, and remarked, “I never discovered that it was an easy operation to get through four months of cold and snow.”
The following year T.B. again requested Fletcher to shut down the logging operations in the winter as it was just plain too costly. Fletcher agreed the winter operations operated at a loss. However, his justification was that outfits such as McCloud River Lumber Company that called it “quits” in the sawmill operation on November 1 placed Red River at an advantage by having a ready supply of lumber. In summation, Fletcher wrote, “In place of our figuring from this end on closing down, we have been figuring carefully the pros and cons of taking advantage of the bulging market to produce a bunch of timber of lumber this summer and make a real killing.”
Whatever the case may be, it was a lesson learned and not repeated, so in 1918 Red River discontinued its attempt at year-round logging. One practice that Red River implemented like other large lumber concerns of Northern California of the era was to harvest addition logs during the fair weather season, to have a stockpile to keep the sawmill in operation during the winter months.

Before Standish

Members of the Honey Lake Valley Colonial Club assembled in front of the Honey Lake School, at Datura, 1897. Courtesy of Betty Barry Deal.
Just a mile east of Standish was a wide spot in the road known as Four Corners and some times referred to as Cain’s Corners. It was a stage stop in the 1890s, known as Datura. In 1886, William Henry Harrison Fuller went to work as a blacksmith for Otto P. Ranker, whose property adjoined the intersection. Fuller injured his right hand while employed by Ranker and forced Fuller to retire. Fuller purchased fifteen acres at the intersection from Ranker for $150. Fuller then went into the apiary business and did quite well, producing two tons of honey each year. Fuller also opened a general store. Also at Datura, George Cain opened a livery stable for stagecoaches to change horses. On May 11, 1895, the Datura Post Office was established with Fuller as the first and only postmaster.

During 1897/1898 the Honey Lake Valley Colonial Club held their meetings in the original Honey Lake School located at Datura to formulate the plans for their utopian community of Standish. On April 21, 1899, the Datura Post Office closed and its operations moved to Standish. As Standish developed, Datura slipped into oblivion.


Susanville – 1415 North Street

1415 North Street, Susanville, 1955. Courtesy of Wendell Laughead
Lately, we have explored how old buildings were recycled such as the County Hall of Records reincarnated as the Susanville City Jail. When it comes to old homes, some times instead of being demolished to make way for a new building, they get s second life and are moved to another location. A perfect example is that of the A.J. Mathews home, originally located at 501 Main Street. Mathews father-in-law, John Cahlan had the house constructed in 1911. In 1954, it was moved to 1415 North Street to make way for a J.C. Penny store, which has a new life as Uptown Cinemas.


The Hall of Records

Lassen County Courthouse and Hall of Records, 1907. Courtesy of Gil Morrill
Various fires in Susanville’s early history, naturally shaped its image. Most of the devastating fires were located along Main Street and the town’s business district. In 1887, the County of Lassen as a preventative precaution decided to construct a small stone building on the north side of the courthouse. Known as the Hall of Records it was to store valuable county documents such as deeds. The building was torn down in 1917 to make way for the new courthouse. Yet, the building would be recycled and the City of Susanville used the native stone to build a small City Jail next to City Hall on Lassen Street. The jail remained in use until the 1950s when it was finally closed and was converted into a garage. It was torn down 2001 to make room for an addition to City Hall.