Once Booming But Long In Decline Trona Moving Toward Ghost Town Status

The population of Trona is diminishing.
Situated at San Bernardino County’s extreme northwest corner, Trona is one of the county’s most obscure communities and is growing ever more obscure.
Adjacent to the dry Searles Lake bed, Trona came into existence as a remote mining outpost in the 1880s where borax was mined. Subsequently, the mining of the mineral trona, either in the form trisodium hydrogendicarbonate dihydrate or sodium sesquicarbonate dihydrate, became more predominant, and the town’s name was in this way derived. Trona is the primary source of sodium carbonate, also known as soda ash, produced in the United States. Soda ash is used in the fabrication of glass, detergents and dyes. Potash was also a major mineral mined in the Trona area.
In 1913, the American Trona Corporation, a mineral mining company, undertook to establish a company town at Trona, and planned and designed a community in which the workforce employed at the mines and in the chemical plant built there could live. As a self-contained company town, Trona became something of a world unto itself. Company employees were not paid in greenbacks or with checks but by company scrip, which was tender in the company-owned stores and shops in the town. The American Trona Corporation built a library, a school, a dance hall, recreation facilities, including a bowling alley and other amenities in the town. Several bars flourished both prior to, during and after Prohibition. The Trona Railway was built in 1913–14 to provide the town with a rail connection to what was then the Southern Pacific line at Searles.
The American Trona Corporation’s timing was excellent. An economic boom in Trona accompanied World War I, when Trona was the only reliable American source of potash, an important element used in the production of gunpowder.
The town’s population grew, peaking at around 7,000, making it what was at the time the eighth or ninth largest community in the county. There was talk of incorporating, but that never really got off the ground, since it was not in the American Trona Corporation’s interest to surrender control over the townsite.
Indeed, as the company went, so did the town.
The American Trona Corporation became the American Potash & Chemical Corporation in 1926, at which time its major products were borax, soda ash and sodium sulfate. Productions of these chemicals continued to expand throughout the 20th Century.
After World War II, the company was damaged by allegations that Latino workers were paid lower wages than whites.
In 1962 the company received nationwide recognition and an award for its innovative solvent extraction process to recover boric acid and potassium sulfate from weak brines.
In 1967, Kerr-McGee Corporation (now a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation) acquired American Potash and Chemical Corporation and they held operations of the Searles Valley facilities until 1990. That year the operations were purchased from capital investors D. George Harris and Associates, resulting in the formation of the North American Chemical Company. Ownership changed yet again in 1998 when IMC Global Incorporation acquired the North American Chemical Company.
In 2004 Sun Capital Partners purchased IMC Global Incorporation and renamed it Searles Valley Minerals, Inc. In November 2007, Nirma, based in Ahmedabad, India purchased the company from Sun Capital Partners.
While the population of Trona in 2000 stood at 2,742, it has been steadily declining ever since.
The Trona Unified School District boasts two schools, an elementary school and a seventh through 12th grade high school. The district currently has an enrollment of 262. In 2016, 18 seniors graduated from the high school.
Several years ago, an arsonist began his destructive work, and as many as two dozen homes all over the community have been destroyed.
Today, Trona boasts a post office, a sheriff’s substation, a fire station, a store and a single restaurant, called Esparza.

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