Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Company Town No More...

On our recent road trip up the coast of northern California, Gary and I stopped in a small town called Scotia, just south of Eureka. Until very recently, Scotia was a "company town". Founded in 1863 as Forestville, and re-named Scotia in 1888, the town was built by the Pacific Lumber Company  (PALCO) as a complete community for its employees who numbered over 1,500 in 1920.

According to Wikipedia:
"A company town is a town or city in which much of all of the real estate, buildings (both residential and commercial), utilities, hospitals, small business such as grocery stores and gas stations, and other necessities or luxuries of life within its borders are owned by a single company."
Company towns in the USA are a curious contradiction.  In a country where the concept of free will and self determination reign supreme, why were people happy to have their existence organized and subsidized by their employers? For some companies it was a an issue of practicality. Vital resources like coal and water and lumber were located in distant locales and workers needed to be housed and fed. For others, the creation of the town was a utopian vision, and many had benevolent paternalistic leaders providing workers and their families with good affordable housing, healthcare and schools.
Scotia's Cinema, beautifully rendered in first growth redwood

The town of Scotia probably fits into the benevolent utopian category. The company built and subsidized everything. Company crews came out to fix anything that broke down. They had a post office, two churches, a school, a market, a cinema, a museum and even a large country inn. And there was the ever present "company". The mill whistle called everyone to work at 7:30 am, announced lunch at noon, and the close of business at 4:30 pm. There was no poverty, no homelessness. Rents were reasonable and there were no taxes.  Life was good.

The Greek Revival Museum
Doric Columns interpreted in Redwood
Church for all on Sundays
Company housing - several different models - five color choices
The company and the town survived floods, earthquakes and the Great Depression (when many other company towns built on lumber closed down) and unlike many other lumber companies of that era who clear cut the forests, they developed a "selective cut" system of logging and a "sustainable yield" policy. Business was good and the company went public in 1975. Unfortunately it fell prey to a hostile takeover in 1988, and then filed for bankruptcy protection in 2006.

The Company, ever present, looms overhead

Bio mass power generation plant, which uses landscape clippings,
wood waste and logging slash to produce energy,
was sold to Greenleaf Power in 2010

The largest redwood mill ever constructed,
the Scotia mill gave tours of its operations to tourists. 
Today, Scotia sits on the cusp of massive change. According to Alana Semuels, reporting in the Los Angeles Times on September 2011:
"Scotia, California's last company town, has voted to become independent, according to preliminary election results released Wednesday. With 147 ballots cast — less than half of the eligible voters — 136 were to make the town an independent community services district, essentially severing the town from the New York hedge fund that owns it."
Stockpiled logs and lumber
While many changes are afoot for the residents, visitors who stop to explore still have a small window of opportunity to catch a glimpse of life as it was for resident Scotians during much of the last century. 

All of the images posted here are available for purchase as 8x10 and 5x7 fine art prints and A2 size greeting cards (all printed on archival water color paper) at http://DigitalYak.etsy.com/.  Be sure to send me a message if there is something you'd like that you don't see listed, or if you'd like a custom size or item, as I truly enjoy creating one of a kind items that hold special meaning. Thanks!!

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