A Little History…
Originally known as Smith’s Neck, Loyalton’s sentiment of loyalty to the Union Cause during the American Civil War led its name change in 1863. In 1901, Loyalton was incorporated, as a dry town, its size was set at 50.6 square miles. It was California’s second largest city after Los Angeles. Today, Loyalton is the only incorporated city in Sierra County.
Smith’s Neck was the town’s original name when first settled in 1854 by a group of miners called the Smith Company. The miners actually worked the rivers over the Yuba Pass in Downieville in a stream currently known as “Downie.”
The group chose five acres of land that bordered Smithneck Creek to establish ranching. Two persons in the group were sent back east to purchase and bring back cattle. Smith’s Neck ranch is thought to have been the first ranch in the valley to grow grain.
Located at the eastern end of the Sierra Valley in Sierra County, California, Loyalton is the only incorporated city and the most largely populated town in the county. Incorporated in 1901, the city hosts about 1,000 citizens and has been the economic hub of the Sierra Valley since 1890.
The group chose five acres of land that bordered Smithneck Creek to establish ranching. Two persons in the group were sent back east to purchase and bring back cattle. Smith’s Neck ranch is thought to have been the first ranch in the valley to grow grain. However, the cattle buyers never returned, and the ranch was given over to a Mr. T.S. Battelle. Rolands and Redmond relocated the lands of the Smith Company in 1857, and Redmond never returned after leaving the following spring to purchase supplies and horses. In 1859, Peter Duncan, John Schroeder, and Andrew Badenoch purchased or homesteaded sections of land at Smith’s Neck.
Duncan sold his lands to a Reverend Adam G. Doom in 1860. Revered Doom built a hotel a year later and eventually served as a doctor, preacher, hotelkeeper, justice of the peace, and schoolmaster. Duncan was a key force in building the first school in 1865, a cabin-like structure, near the present-day Catholic hall. Doom also served as postmaster when the post office was established in 1864.
Another account supports that two men, by the names of Smith and Ball, were the first permanent, non-native Americans to set up residency. In 1856, they erected a log fort to fight against Indians near the current site of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Hall or close to the old, locally known Bradley barn. The men pastured cattle and named this arm of the Valley Smith’s Neck. Between 1858 and 1859 new folks began to arrive and take up residency. Duncan, a Scotchman, bought the location in 1858. A “public-spirited man,” Dr. A.G. Doom purchased the Duncan location and built a hotel and other buildings.
In the early days all commodities and supplies had to be brought in by pack trains from Downieville, a populated town settled as a result of the California Gold Rush. Roads were not good, and the distance was only somewhat tolerable by horse and wagon. A fee of 25 cents was incurred for each letter sent or received by a private courier by way of Downieville. Homes were built mainly with local logs and timber, as local mills had not yet been erected. The valley was a common area, without fences, and meadowlands were allotted by mutual consent. Early settlers mowed their tracts with scythes, bailed their hay with screw presses, and sold it, sometimes packing it all the way to Virginia City. Squatters Rights existed until 1864, at which time the government sent in its surveyors and boundaries were clearly established.
The citizens of Loyalton strongly supported the Union cause during the American Civil war, 1861 to 1864. Their impassioned fever of support led to the town’s renaming to Loyalton in 1863. Residents of Loyalton were generous in supporting the Civil War Sanitary Fund. Mostly by Sierra Valley women, monies were raised through donations and fundraising to care for ill and wounded soldiers. According to The Mountain Messenger in December 1964, the ladies of the Sierra Valley held a fair for the benefit of the Sanitary on Thanksgiving Day. Their treasurer, Mrs. Abraham D. Church, gifted three hundred and thirty-three dollars in coin, and ten dollars in greenbacks, along with other proceeds from the fair, totaling one thousand fifty dollars, a very large sum of money for the day.
The size of a small schoolhouse, the first sawmill was built in 1868. With a capacity of about 3,500 board feet per day, the mill was operated by power by water by two men. The mill was said to have had an overshot water wheel with a very high plume. Over time, logging established itself as both vital and important. By the 1880’s, huge steam-powered tractors, some weighing 28 tons, were pulling 6,000 board feet to newly erected Sierra Valley mills and railroad shipping points. Cattle farms grew, and dairy and cheese became a popular commodity.
Today hay is the valley’s primary crop, and cattle ranches prevail. The mills have closed, but many historic buildings still remain as evidence of Loyalton’s early pioneers.