Taylor's Pioneer Paper Mill
He turned out to be one of the lucky gold rushers . . . though it can certainly be said that he made his own luck. Three-plus years after young Samuel Penfield Taylor landed at San Francisco, he finally made it to the gold fields where he mined a small fortune—some say it was almost $5,700—and he used part of that gold to build the first papermill on the Pacific Coast.
Sam was just 21 when he caught the “gold fever” that was sweeping America’s East Coast in late 1848. He and some friends combined funds to purchase a schooner, which was among the 151 vessels that cleared Boston Harbor for California in early 1849. However, things didn’t go quite the way the men planned: they had to make so many stops along the way for schooner repairs that the journey to San Francisco Bay took ten long months at sea, twice the average time for a passage around Cape Horn.
Worse still, for Taylor at least, the crew and passengers left for the gold country the next day after they made port, leaving Taylor alone to sell the ship.
Well, Sam found an abandoned wooden cask of eggs near the shore, set up a crude food stand on the beach, and began selling hot meals of bacon and eggs. He made enough money from this to go into the lumber business with a partner. Their lumberyard at the corner of California and Drumm Streets in San Francisco was successful, yet Taylor’s original fortune-hunting dreams remained unfulfilled.
Taking some time off in 1853, he went to Hawkins’ Bar in Tuolumne County, working the streams until he found his pot of gold, and used these profits to expand his lumber business. Looking for more trees for his lumberyard, Taylor explored western Marin County—then mostly undeveloped headlands across the Golden Gate strait from San Francisco—stopping one day near Lagunitas Creek. Taylor’s father owned a paper mill on the Hudson River in New York, quite likely the reason Sam instantly saw this wilderness spot, with its abundance of fresh water and raw materials, as an excellent location for a paper mill.
Taylor bought 100 acres of land from the local landowner, for $505.
In 1854-55 he returned to Massachusetts, to buy industrial goods to start his paper mill. There he met and married Sarah Irving, who shared his dream of creating the first paper mill west of the Allegheny’s. The mill, which they called the Pioneer Paper Mill Company, was completed in 1856. Using water power and later steam, the mill produced a variety of paper products: common paper bags, candy bags, book paper, manilla wrapping, and newsprint. Taylor regularly delivered the newsprint, by schooner over the Bay’s tidal estuaries, to the offices of San Francisco’s three daily newspapers.
Samuel and Sarah, who lived adjacent to the mill in a community that became known as Taylorville, raised a large family and involved themselves in other commercial enterprises and civic causes. At one point Sam Taylor, who also served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, had a black powder mill, a tanbark mill, and a fur tannery, as well as supporting industries for the community: a grocery, laundry, dance hall and saloon, a riding stable, and a butcher shop. In 1870 he opened the Taylor Hotel (later re-named the Azalea Hotel), and Camp Taylor Resort, a popular place for summertime camping and picnics. When the North Pacific Coast Railroad came through in 1875, he purchased another 2,000 acres; in 1884 the mill was enlarged and converted to steam power.
Samuel Penfield Taylor died in January,1886. Afterwards, his wife lost the paper mill and land around it in the Panic of 1893. The mill burned down in 1916. The new owners of the Taylor’s property lost it themselves, in 1945, when it was taken by the State of California for non-payment of taxes.
Today the former mill site and its surrounding property is Samuel P. Taylor State Park, some 2,700 acres of grasslands and redwood forests . . . but the foundations of the Pioneer Paper Mill are still visible if you look for them along the park’s trails.