by Susan Couso
Long before European emigrants arrived in what is Lassen County, the local Native People were finding and using copper in the area around Mountain Meadows.
It didn’t take long for the new emigrants to the area to discover that the mountains abounded with the essential metal, and miners began working to uncover new wealth.
By 1860, there was quite a bit of travel between Susanville and the Sacramento Valley, and a stage road was established along the north edge of Mountain Meadows, and down to Chico. A stage station and hotel at Coppervale (originally Copper Vale) made the 100-mile trip a bit easier.
In 1866, the stage would leave Susanville at 3:00a.m., and the return trip from Chico left at 8:00p.m. To Oroville, the trip was 125-miles of bumpy, dusty and sometimes perilous travel.
Coppervale, named for the copper mines in the area, continued to grow, and its beautiful surroundings must have been a lure to many, as the unclaimed land was soon snatched up by those trying to make a living raising cattle, dairy farming and hay farming, among other ventures. The thriving iron and copper mines promised a prosperous future for those willing to settle in now and wait for the ‘boom.’
It was an expanding community, and with the growth in population, cries went out to get a proper road to the area. Not only was a road needed for supplies to get in and produce to get out, but an essential mail route was needed.
Coppervale officially opened a post office in May of 1864, less than a month before Lassen County was formed. With Lassen County’s formation, Coppervale was no longer in Plumas County, but in the newly-created county, which was forced into being by the results of the Sagebrush War.
The area around Coppervale continued to be the center of the region until 1909, when a fateful decision was made by Minnesota millionaire timber king, Thomas Barlow Walker.
Walker purchased 12,000 acres of land near Mountain Meadows. It was a strategic location. The stage road from Susanville to the valley ran right through the property. It wasn’t until later, with negotiations complete, that Walker revealed his plans for a lumber town, which would be, most importantly, connected by the railroad.
This decision moved most attention from Coppervale to the newly-created possibilities in Walker’s Westwood.
By 1913, the Red River Lumber Company, with its new town surrounding it and the railroad connecting it to the rest of the world, took over, and Coppervale began to fade. The copper mines had waned due to the high cost of labor and materials and the declining market for copper. Now, there was not much left.
In 1914, the Coppervale post office closed for the last time, and mail was diverted to Westwood.
The old town of Coppervale slowly faded away, and what was left sat idle. Then, in the 1930’s, ski enthusiasts from Westwood and Susanville got together to create a recreational mecca from Coppervale’s ruins. These industrious skiers managed to get an old car to the top of the mountain and create a rope-tow, using the rear wheels as a pulley. It is said that the first person to arrive in the morning would hike up the mountain with gasoline and start the engine.
In the 1960’s, Lassen Junior College took over the operations of the site, and offered skiing classes. They also made other major improvements, which were added to as the years passed. Today, skiers have a beautiful little place to ski, with almost 740 feet of vertical drop.
Coppervale Ski Area, currently overseen by Lassen Community College, is another Lassen County asset.
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