Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living



The San Lorenzo Paper Mill
by Barry Brown

Photograph of the San Lorenzo Paper Mill
The San Lorenzo Paper Mill
Photograph from the Lawrence & Houseworth Collection, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley

Henry Van Valkenburgh, a San Francisco capitalist, began construction of the San Lorenzo Paper Mill here on June 1, 1860. Seeing opportunity in nearby San Francisco's rapid expansion following the Gold Rush, he chose this location because of the availability of all the ingredients for the manufacture of paper: straw, lime, wood, water, water power, and easy access to shipping. Wrapping or "butcher" paper was in great demand in those days and was used to package most retail goods.

By June 1861, the Pacific Sentinel reported:

“The San Lorenzo Paper Mill is running to full extent and is doing a good share of business. A ready market is found in San Francisco for all the paper they can manufacture."

The Mill produced 150 reams of wrapping paper every twenty-four hours.

Unfortunately, the winter storms of 1861/1862 were terribly destructive, and Henry, accidently killed by a falling tree, left his wife Ellen and their three children destitute. She was a strong woman and tried valiantly to run the operation; however, the Mill had to be auctioned off by the end of 1862. It changed hands several times in the following years, eventually coming under the control of John Sime, a San Francisco banker and partner in the California Powder Works. Under his direction the Mill produced 250 reams of paper a day and employed about 60 men. When Sime died unexpectedly in 1872, the Paper Mill was sold to the California Powder Works operating just upriver.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported, October 12, 1872:

"On Friday last at 12 o’clock the San Lorenzo Paper Mill was sold at public auction for $20,026 [approximately $350,000 today] cash to John H. Baird, President of the California Powder Company."

The demise of the San Lorenzo Paper Mill heralded the expansion of the California Powder Works which would prosper here until 1914. Abandoned for 10 years, the Masons finally bought the property in 1924.


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View similarly tagged articles:

dynamite, powder works, San Lorenzo River

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