Calaveras County Mills
Calaveras County was home to a variety of lumber mills from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. Most were small and transportable, moving as the trees were cut in an area, and, unfortunately for us today, few records exist of their activities.
The stories of four historic Calaveras County mills, the Raggio, Blagen, McKay and Manuel mills, are known fairly well. Manuel came first, followed by McKay. The two of them dominated the mill business until the turn of the 20th century, when McKay moved south to Tuolumne County. Next, the Raggios started their mills about the time McKay moved on. Competing with the Manuels for decades, eventually the Raggio family sold their steam-driven mill to the Manuels, who operated it well into the 1950s. The mill, however, grew more outdated with every year and by the time the newer Blagen Mill arrived in 1938, there was no real competition between them.
There is a striking similarity between the stories of the Raggio and Manuel families. Both family patriarchs were immigrants who left Europe in the early 1850s, and both possessed the ability to branch out into new areas, or to find and construct new opportunities on the foundations of an original opportunity. Both families were composed of members who followed in their fathers’ footsteps and who made continual advances by hard work and the ability to place themselves in the right place at the right time. Both specialized in logging and milling in Calaveras County. Both families eventually consolidated their positions in formal and official ways, the Raggio brothers forming a corporation; the Manuels a type of partnership called Manuel Estates.
The McKays had a different story. Nathan McKay arrived in California from Nova Scotia, the son of an immigrant family already established in the New World. After working with relatives at Scotia, California, McKay headed for the Sierras where he and his teams hauled timber. He got into the mill business when a mine owner offered to buy whatever lumber he could produce. Like the Raggio family, the McKays were in competition with the Manuels, showing for how many years the Manuels were an important force in the county’s lumber mills. In the late 1800’s the McKays were the biggest lumber producers in the county with production records that stood until Frank Blagen arrived in 1938.
Unlike the Raggio, McKay and Manuel families, who were historically associated with Calaveras County, Frank Blagen Sr. brought his mill from northeastern California in 1938. The Blagen mill was the largest in Calaveras County, and the permanent heart of the town of White Pines, which the mill created. Even after Blagen sold the mill in a time of financial distress, the citizens of White Pines and Arnold never stopped calling it ‘The Blagen Mill’ — a mark of respect for the communities, jobs and stability that Frank Blagen created.