A Brief Overview of Loyalton’s History
The area which eventually became Loyalton was first settled in the late 1850’s, when settlers bound for the Sacramento Valley found a lush valley nestled within the Sierra Nevada mountains. The resulting settlement was originally named “Smithneck”, but after the community raised significant amounts of money for the Union cause during the Civil War, the town changed its name to reflect that they were a “loyal town” to the Union. Hence, the town of “Loyalton” came to be.
Loyalton began primarily as a farming and dairy community, and in the 1880’s was renowned for its cheese-making. The area was also a popular spot for logging operations due to the rich forests (including what is now known as the Tahoe National Forest).
Construction on the Boca & Loyalton Railroad finished in 1901, prompting the town of Loyalton to incorporate as a city to support the lumber industry. Loyalton was at one time one of California’s largest cities in land area (expanding some 50 square miles into the surrounding forests) and an early implementor of alcohol prohibition, though both of these aspects of Loyalton changed in the 1930’s when the city limits were redrawn to a more modest area (less than one square mile) and the mostly-ignored alcohol restrictions were eliminated.
Loyalton’s logging industry experienced a slump in 1915, caused by the decline of gold mining in California. Nearly all of Loyalton’s lumber mills shut down (with the exception of the Roberts mill, which relocated to another part of the Sierra Valley). The Clover Valley Lumber Company opened at the old Roberts mill in 1917, operating under various ownerships until eventually rebranding as Sierra Pacific Industries.
Loyalton’s dairy industry languished after World War II due to new regulations pertaining to pasteurization. Dairy ranches were subsequently replaced by beef ranches, beginning a tradition of beef cattle ranching that persists today.
History of the Museum
The Loyalton Museum (also known as the Milton Gottardi Museum) has been in existence for more than 30 years. It was founded by Milton Gottardi (1928 - 2006), who was a high school teacher in Loyalton for 39 years. He also served on the city council for 38 years and was mayor of Loyalton for 29 of those years.
Elda Fae Ball started under Milton Gottardi in 1998 and served as curator until 2012 at the museum’s original location on A24, next to the city park.
Jackie Mitchell took over as curator in 2012, and she oversaw the relocation of the museum to its present location in 2015.
The former middle school was built in the 1930’s and had not been in use by the school district for 12 years when a large volunteer effort brought the building back to life as the Loyalton City Center. The Loyalton Museum occupies one wing of the building, with City Hall offices and the Senior Thrift Store occupying the other wing.