One of the things that has helped us find our way in our adopted home town of McCloud is gaining a fuller understanding of the heritage on which it was built. As McCloud looks toward its future, it makes sense to honor its past .
The town of McCloud is proud of its varied and fascinating history. We welcome you to take a look back to its timber and railroad beginnings and forward to what the future may hold for this historic lumber community as we move into the 21st Century.
In 1829, a party of Hudson Bay Company trappers and explorers, led by Alexander Roderick McLeod, were the first white men to travel through the valley where McCloud now stands. In the years that followed a few hardy folks homesteaded in the beautiful Squaw Valley including Joaquin Miller, later known as the Poet of the Sierras.
In 1892, A.F. Friday George built the first mill located in what is now McCloud, but it failed because of the difficulty of hauling the lumber over the hill by oxen. In 1897, the town of McCloud was finally established by George W. Scott and William VanArsdale, founders of the McCloud River Railroad Company. The railroad made it economically feasible to transport the lumber to more populated areas. The two men also purchased many of the small failed mills including the old Friday George mill and named it the McCloud River Lumber Company. Thus began the lumber company town of McCloud.
The McCloud River Lumber Company (known as Mother McCloud) kept the town secure and prosperous. The homes were steam heated and electricity was supplied by the mill. When your faucet leaked or a light burned out, “you’d just call Mother McCloud and a crew would be over to fix it for you” recalled a third-generation McCloud native. Those days ended in 1963 when U.S. Plywood Company purchased the mill, the railroad and the town.
In 1965, U.S. Plywood transferred town properties to John W. Galbreath and Co. whose job was to help company towns make the transition to privatization. The houses were then sold to the people living in them. The McCloud Community Services District was formed and the utilities, such as water, sewer and street lighting, were turned over to the district. They also assumed responsibilities for fire and police protection, library services and some road maintenance.
U.S. Plywood promised that there would be years of employment and a good economic future for the town as there were 50 years of timber to be cut. But, after privatization the economy of the town began to deteriorate due to the diminishing timber industry. U.S. Plywood, who had since merged with Champion International Corp., tried hard to keep going, but the days of the big timber companies were gone.
Thirteen years later, in 1979, Champion International closed the mill for good because the timber industry had fallen upon hard times. They chose not to retool and adapt their WWI era machinery quickly enough to survive the changes in the timber industry. The McCloud River Railroad whose well-being is so closely tied to the timber industry hit its low point in 1985/86 when they hauled under 1000 carloads per year. In 1987 it started to recuperate and became the Shasta Sunset Dinner Train in the mid-1990s.
In 1980, P&M Cedar Products, Inc. of Stockton, California bought the McCloud mill and reopened the lumber facility. Founded in 1969 as a producer of pencil stock (used to meet 60% of the worlds pencil needs) P&M Cedar Products has evolved into a progressive multi-dimensional wood-products company with diversified, worldwide interests. The P&M McCloud mill is a state-of-the-art fully computerized operation that supplies premium commercial lumber products for custom home builders, and appearance- grade consumer products sold to do-it-yourselfers in home center stores throughout the nation. The lands once held by Champion International are today owned by the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company and managed by Campbell Timberland Management. Land management companies see their role as one of stewardship over the forests making sure that they survive in a healthy diverse way.
The mill closed for good in 2002, and many homes have been transitioned to vacation housing. Even though McCloud is once again facing an unknown future, it’s unique architecture, the beauty of the surrounding countryside, the purity and taste of the water, and the friendliness of the local townspeople, insure that McCloud will retain it’s charming and attractive atmosphere well into the 21st Century.