The Eel Valley is in Coastal Northern California, a rugged land known for its earthquakes, fires and floods. It is also a land of beauty and awe. Giants abound - whales, redwood trees, eagles, mountains. This is a timeline of the Humboldt County area, and in particular, the southern mid-section of the county and the Eel River Delta. Its history begins with the Gold Rush of 1849. The influx of the "fortyniners" forever changed the area. Prior to that time it had been considered an unknown wilderness, settled by indigenous people and visited only occasionally by trappers. Included in this timeline are place names such as Fernbridge, Palmer, Springville, Slide, Fortuna, Rohnerville, Campton Heights, Alton, Metropolitan, Rio Dell, Wildwood and Scotia. It is updated as research continues. Caretaker for this timeline: email@example.com
Created by hans on Aug 8, 2008
Last updated: 03/12/10 at 02:27 AM
Eel Valley History has no followers yet. Be the first one to follow.
One of Fortuna's most well known events is its annual rodeo in July. The first rodeo-like event was held in Rohner Park in 1921. Over the years the event grew and by 1929 the sport's popularity was so widespread that the group joined the Rodeo Association of America.
The railroad came in bits and pieces. They were originally built to haul trees to the mills and the finished wood products to the boat landings, but as the area developed were also used to haul freight, farm products, and of course, passengers. The Pacific Lumber Company had built a small section from Scotia to Alton and then to its mill in Carlotta. The completion of the tunnel through Table Bluff in 1885 allowed the Eel River and Eureka Railroad to make daily scheduled runs from Eureka to Alton, where passengers and freight would switch to Pacific Lumber Company trains for the journey to Scotia and points south. Before long the track was extended to Dyerville, at the confluence of the Main Stem and South Fork of the Eel River, and local trains made stops at all the small settlements along their tracks, bringing news and mail, picking up farm produce and passengers.
By 1893 a railroad depot had been built in Fortuna. Work had been started to link the North Coast's railroads with the rest of the world, and on Dec. 1, 1914, the first regular train from out of the area passed through Fortuna at 9:20 p.m. and arrived in Eureka at 10 p.m. Fortuna became a regular stop between Eureka and San Francisco, which gave Fortuna a direct link to the rest of the world as it allowed travelers easy access to the area. Trains also became the fastest way for mail to be transported between towns.
Using a steam-powered generator, Swortzel and Williams lit up the town. Sort of, it wasn't a very powerful generator, but enough to light several hundred light bulbs. By 1896 they were powering over 600 bulbs.
Fortuna was the first point outside Eureka to introduce the electric light, although Scotia had provided a plant to be serviceable in mill work before Fortuna took the step.
It is difficult to imagine Rohnerville as a bustling community which could support a newspaper, but it has had two, a short-lived tabloid of the late 1870's and another which lasted for almost sixteen years. The Eel River Echo was published in Rohnerville by W. H. Runnels between 1878 and 1880. There are no available copies; in fact, it's not listed in the Union List of Newspapers. The second paper, the Rohnerville Herald, was published from November 2, 1881 to May, 1897. Microfilm holdings at the Bancroft Library are incomplete - October 19 and November 2, 1886 and all of1888, 1889, 1890 and 1891. Humboldt State University Library has the March 5, 1884 issue among a microfilm collection of miscellaneous California newspapers. Rohnerville residents were asked about copies of the Herald, but only one badly-torn copy, dated May 16, 1869, was found. Charles Everett Gordon established the Herald when he was nineteen after learning the trade from his editor-publisher father, David E. Gordon. The elder Gordon, a native of the New York State, was one of Northern California's distinguished pioneer journalists, starting the Trinity Journal at Weaverville in 1856 and the West Coast Signal at Eureka in 1871. Charles was a native Californian, born in Weaverville in 1863 while his father was publisher of the Journal. Coming to Eureka with his family in 1870, he served his apprenticeship in the offices of the Signal. Upon its demise in 1880, young Gordon moved to Rohnerville and established the Herald, which earned the respect of the county's newspaper fraternity. Elliott's History of Humboldt County, California (1882) contains this paragraph on the Herald: "...The people of Rohnerville demanded a newspaper, and the present publisher took advantage of the opportunity, and has found the venture a successful one. The subscription list had reached nearly 450 on the first day of March and the paper shows a very liberal advertising patronage. It is the official organ for publication of land notices in eastern and southern Humboldt and is published at $1.50 a year. The publisher declares his paper to be Independent-Republican. It is a creditable paper, and does honor to the people of Rohnerville and vicinity who are determined to have a paper of their own in which to set forth the advantages of that prosperous village." Charles Gordon was an able writer, concerned with quality journalism. The March 5, 1884 issue carried a short publisher's notice to advertisers that "the disgusting announcements of quack doctors, large cuts and electrotyped advertisements will in every instance be rejected from the columns of this paper." The format of the four-page weekly made it far more readable than Humboldt County's major paper, the Humboldt Times. During the late 1880's a supplement containing syndicated articles and stories was published with each issue. Herald readers were entertained with such exciting stories as Jennie Davis Burton's "Under a Cloud or Clearing Himself - the Thrilling and Absorbing Story of a Great Crime" which appeared in serial form complete with pictures; "A Pretty Romance - How a Modest Young Man was Shown the Error of his Ways" from the New York Press; and "An Unwelcome Caller - A woman Opens the Door of her House and Finds a Leopard There" from the Chicago Tribune (Rohnerville Herald, January 2, 1889). The Herald's pages were generously supported by Eureka advertisers, but, much to Gordon's dismay, only a few Rohnerville businesses purchased space. Social activities, musicals, traveling theatrical companies, politics and the annual fair were well publicized in the Herald, along with "local brevities," marriages, births, and deaths. Publisher Gordon expounded on such diverse subjects as the merits of the jury system and the suitability of local soils for raising sugar beets. He was Rohnerville's champion, eagerly extolling her advantages and successes on every occasion. Community improvements - a new school, or a freshly-painted hotel, or the Odd Fellows' celebration - were all noted with pride. A farm and orchard column offered advice and information on increasing yields, controlling pests, and livestock care. Track records and pedigrees of Rohnerville's fast horses were favorite topics, especially as fair time rolled around each fall. Following Gordon's death in 1893, the paper was published by Archie Look, whose advertisement in the 1895-6 Business Directory of Humboldt County called the Herald "a progressive and live journal devoted to Humboldt County" and "one of the best advertising mediums in the county." Rohnerville's declining commercial activity prompted the removal of the paper to Swauger (Loleta) in 1897, but during its sixteen years the Herald was, in Gordon's words, "a faithful exponent of the interests of Rohnerville and that portion of the county which it more particularly represented" . . .(Rohnerville Herald, Nov 6, 1889)
Springville was originally a company town and the few people that resided there all worked for the mill. But there was a need for supporting services and gradually the area became more settled. By the late 1870's, Springville had grown large enough to house a post office. Residents wanted the post office to be named Springville, but there was already a town of Springville in California. The old name was adopted, and on May 24, 1876, the official post office name became Slide. This meant that even though people lived in Springville, the mail had to be addressed to the town of Slide.
Captain S. G. Steele was the first postmaster, serving the public in the first post office in his hotel on the corner of Fortuna's Main and First Streets.
After Captain Steele came M. N. Weber, and then on April 5, 1880, W. J. Swortzel was named postmaster. He sought to have the post office name changed from Slide to Springville. But, since there was another Springville in Ventura County, the name in its stead was changed to Fortuna, adopted on June 17, 1888.
After Postmaster Swortzel came John L. Maurer, in whose term the town's name did take place. Then Bertie McNulty, or Bertie Hansen, the records appear in either manner, took over the job. She was the first lady postmaster for this part of the state, and it was Mrs. Hansen who established Fortuna's first money order business.
Charles E. Tucker and Charles S. Evers held the positions the longest in the local post office's history. Tucker was in office 18 years, while Evers followed with an equal 18 years.
William McKinney named the Star Hotel building in honor of the Starar brothers who owned a ranch near the Mad River. McKinney was impressed with the brothers because they kept a herd of elk in a fenced area in town, which was probably the town's source of meat at that time. The building, at the northwest corner of 11th and Main Streets, was well built and is still in use today although the hotel business has not been in operation for more than fifty years.
-- West Coast Signal, July 27, 1875 -- "The Rohnerville Brass Band has purchased a 65 by 110 foot lot on the elevation immediately above the site of the Crabtree Building and will build thereon a band room 25 by 25 octagonal in form. They have sold all old instruments and ordered new."
This name was used because of the many springs in the surrounding hills. On May 5, 1875, the town of Springville was filed with sixteen lots. Although the town was called Springville, the post office would be known as Slide. On April 5, 1880, Postmaster W. J. Swortzel tried to have the post office changed from Slide to Springville, but was refused because there was another Springville in Ventura County. On July 3, 1888, the post office was changed to Fortuna (fortune), and the name was also adopted for the town.
This was the first beginnings of the settlement later known as Fortuna.
Henry Rohner, Alexander Masson, M. N. Weber and G. F. Gushaw organized the Springville Mill Company, which helped to establish a permanent community. Henry Rohner was the acting superintendent. Its name was used because of the many springs in the surrounding hills.
On May 5, 1875, the town of Springville was filed with sixteen lots. Although the town was called Springville, the post office continued to be known as Slide.
St. Joseph's College opens in Rohnerville, located on the present-day site of the Rohnerville Airport. Among other subjects, the college offered foreign languages and higher mathmatics.
-- West Coast Signal, January 10, 1872 -- "Rohnerville Mills - We learn from A. Martin, proprietor, that during the past year the above named mills sawed something over one million feet of lumber. Sawing is usually suspended during the winter season, and the grist mill attached is set to work. Ordinarily about 500 tons of wheat and barley are ground each year. The Rohnerville Mill supplies most of the lumber used in Eel River Valley, and the balance is shipped to San Francisco by way of Hookton."
From Humboldt Times, Feb. 19, 1870.
Rapid settlement and commercial development during the next ten years brought Rohnerville some distinction as the third largest population in Humboldt County by 1870, with 250 people in the "village" and an additional 450 in the voting precinct. Served by a daily stage between neighboring Hydesville and the county seat at Eureka, the growing community included two stores, two hotels, a drug store, three blacksmith shops, a saloon, cabinet maker's shop, saddle and harness shop, cooper's shop, carriage maker's shop, a barber and a physician. A steam-run mill, used in summer to produce lumber and in winter to process locally produced grain, served as the only industry. Rohnerville's spiritual and social needs were met by three religious congregations - the Methodist, Congregationalist, and United Brethren - and active lodges of Masons and Good Templars. Horse races and fairs were held at the Eel River Jockey Club's mile long track at the north edge of town .
Mary E. Blackmar, M. D. who has her residence and office at Rohnerville. Miss Blackmar is a regular graduate of the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania.
Her card appears in the next eight issues of the paper, through April 30, but not after that. The July, 1870 census of the Rohnerville area does not include her name, and she is not mentioned in any local histories, although an earlier researcher lists her as the only woman among Humboldt County pioneer physicians. A woman physician in 1870 is noteworthy, especially in remote Humboldt County.
Traveling almost the width of the continent, from upper New York state to California, abolitionist John Brown's widow Mary, her three daughters, and Salmon and his family came by wagon to Red Bluff in 1864. Six years later, John Brown's family arrived in Rohnerville.
In January 1863 work began on the Central Pacific line that was to run east from Sacramento and link California with the East. On May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point, Utah, it joined its sister road extending from the East, the Union Pacific. But it would still take 45 more years (until 1914) before a connection to this railroad would reach Humboldt County and Fortuna.
The unique nature of California's wildlife, topography, and botany made Americans realize that the state contained treasures for all Americans. It was no accident that California became one of the birthplaces of the conservation movement, sparked by the work of naturalist John Muir, who had fallen in love with the Yosemite Valley when he spent the summer of 1869 in the Sierras herding sheep. Muir and his fellow conservationists in the Sierra Club recognized only too well that California's natural wonders needed protection, even from their admirers and from the hotelkeepers and guides who rushed to provide them with every convenience. As early as the Lincoln administration, a group of influential Californians had seen to it that the Federal government put the Yosemite Valley and nearby giant sequoia groves under California's protection as a park, and Muir's campaign for the creation of Yosemite National Park succeeded in 1890
The most colorful story in Rohnerville history is that of the Eel River Jockey Club's race track and fair grounds, where local horsemen and townspeople congregated for afternoons of sulky and saddle racing. Rohnerville's annual Humboldt County Fair drew hundreds of people, who came by special stages, and later by train from Eureka, to view the exhibits and cheer on their favorite horses.
Pacific Lumber or PL (as locals have known it for generations) began during the heat of the US Civil War in 1863 when A. W. McPherson and Henry Wetherbee purchased 6,000 acres (24 km²) of timberland on California's Eel River at the rate of $1.25 per acre. Over the ensuing 20 years they added more partners and began significant logging by 1882, at the present main site and town, which was originally known as Forestville. by 1888, the company became the largest in Humboldt County, with 300 employees and lumber shipments exceeding 20,000,000 board feet annually. By this time the town name was changed to Scotia and it boasted a Western Union telegraph station, church, post office, and school. In 1895, the company suffered a major setback as the entire town burned, suffering $400,000 in losses ($8,000,000 in today's terms). The Murphy family, by then the controllers of the great company chose to rebuild, despite the fact that insurance covered only 25% of losses.
The first flood of record occurred in December 1861 and January 1862. Torrential rains hammered the Humboldt Coast in late December. Devastating floods ensued
By 1860 Humboldt was the second ranking California county in production of lumber, sawing 30,000,000 feet per year. In Humboldt the principal lumber sawed was redwood, spruce, and fir, and small quantities of cedar. Most of the Humboldt lumber was shipped to the San Francisco market.
There had been a long and trying Indian war in and around Humboldt. The feeling against the red men was very bitter. It culminated in a wanton and cowardly attack on a tribe of peaceful Indians encamped on an island opposite Eureka, and men, women, and children were ruthlessly killed.
From the Humboldt Times (3 April 1858) [From the Price Current and Shipping List of San Francisco]--The Salmon fisheries of Eel River in the northern part of the state are of much importance, both in regard to home consumption and export. The present proprietors have been in possession of those fisheries for some four or five years and have been amply remunerated for their enterprise. Salmon put up at those fisheries by Jesse H. Dungan and others have been shipped to Australia, China, Sandwich Islands and New York and landed in fine order, meeting with ready sale at good prices. The proprietors, we understand, are making arrangements to extend their packing establishments and increase their business. The fish taken at the locality named are thought to be superior to any other being taken from salt or tide water and being more susceptible to preservation. The proprietors own the ground occupied and have large facilities...The quantity of salmon caught and packed last season...on Eel River, 1,200 barrels; on the Sacramento, 1,200 barrels; on the Columbia, 500 barrels; at Vancouver Island, 400 barrels; making a total of 3,300 barrels, averaging about 100 pounds weight each. ...Lumber is our principal article for export, but there are others which it would pay better to ship abroad than to send to San Francisco. It appears by statistics published by us last week that over 1,200 barrels of salmon were put up at the fisheries in this county last year--being half the amount put up in the State. These were sent to San Francisco and part of them thence to Australia, where it is said they brought a fine price. If it will pay dealers in San Francisco to buy them and send them to foreign markets, it will certainly pay those who put them up. The salmon caught here are also said to be a superior article and will bear shipment better than those taken from other waters on this coast. This branch of business might be increased...
The Humboldt Bay region of northern California, about 300 miles north of San Francisco, was first settled in the spring of 1850 as a supply center for gold mining camps on the Trinity, Klamath and Salmon rivers. Ships from San Francisco called at the Humboldt Bay ports of Eureka and Union (Arcata) bringing passengers, mail and supplies for the fledgling wilderness settlements. Pack trains, laden with provisions and mail, crossed the mountain trails leading from the Bay to the interior mining camps. One such trail passed through the little trading center first known as Eel River but later to become Rohner's or Rohnerville. The rolling prairie lands surrounding "Eel River" were settled in the early 1850's, but apparently there was no commercial development until Henry Rohner, a Swiss immigrant, built the first store there in 1856. A correspondent for the Humboldt Times wrote in 1859: "At Rohner's there has been but little improvement since my last visit to that place (a year before) in the way of building. A neat hotel has been erected there which is kept by Brower and Woodruff. There is considerable business done there, in the way of selling and exchanging goods for produce. Rohner and Feiganbaum are the only traders there and seem to be doing well." (Humboldt Times, Nov. 12, 1859).
From the Humboldt Times, (23 Sept. 1854) Salmon Fishing--Several companies are forming to catch and put up salmon on Weeott River this fall for shipment to San Francisco and other ports. The Weeott Fishery alone expect to do a large business at it. The Salmon have commenced running and shortly they will come in quantities sufficient to give employment to hundreds of men. The resources of our county are not yet developed; we look forward to the day when Humboldt Bay will furnish the markets of the South Pacific with their fish. Eel River is called by the Indians, Weeott --plenty--from the immense quantities of Salmon obtained by them every fall in that stream...
Not to protect the white settlers from the native Americans, but vice versa. Brig. Gen. Ethan Allen Hitchcock, the commander of the Department of the Pacific, determined to establish a millitary post on the Humboldt Coast. Two companies of the 4th United States Infantry, which had arrived in California in August, were designated to establish and garrison the post. In January 1853 Capt. Robert G. Buchanan and his two companies went ashore at Humboldt Bay and established a post destined to be called Fort Humboldt.
On February 24, 1852, the first "really successful mill in the county was established by James T. Ryan and James Duff." Ryan was an interesting character. Born in Ireland he had emigrated to the United States and settled in Massachusetts where he became a successful contractor. The lure of gold drew him to California, and in 1850 he reached Humboldt Bay. In 1852 Ryan bought the steamer Santa Clara and entered into partnership with Duff. The inexhaustible timber resources of the Humboldt Coast had made a lasting impression on Ryan. The little steamer was loaded with sawmill machinery at San Francisco, and she headed out the Golden Gate and up the coast. As she was crossing the bar at the entrance to Humboldt Bay, some of the machinery was washed overboard by the breakers. Undaunted, Ryan had Santa Clara anchored, while a crew was turned to digging a slip. A full head of steam was then raised, and the ship driven aground—bows on—in the slip. The ship's engines would be used to power the sawmill that Ryan & Duff constructed on the beach. Within a short time, Ryan & Duff were sawing several thousand feet of spruce, fir, and pine a day. In June, Ryan & Duff loaded their first shipment on the brig, John Clifford. Beating her way across the bar, the brig grounded and was pounded to pieces. Several days later, Ryan & Duff sent off the brig Cornwallis, only to see her meet a similar fate. Ryan then got Hans H. Buhne to take out a third shipment in the bark Home. On July 4, 1852, Home hoisted anchor and made sail, but she was doomed not to reach San Francisco and was driven ashore on the south spit. Despite these blows and the destruction of their mill by fire, Ryan & Duff continued in business.
He was originally attracted by the lure of gold mining, but soon realized the splendid possibilities which the Eel River valley offered and decided to settle there. Rather than work long hours for a few flakes of gold, he could make more money selling supplies to the miners on their way to the diggings.
The glory of the ocean discovery remained for the “Laura Virginia,” a Baltimore craft, commanded by Lieutenant Douglass Ottinger, a revenue officer on leave of absence. She left soon after the “Paragon,” and kept close in shore. Soon after leaving Cape Mendocino she reached the mouth of Eel River and came to anchor. The next day three other vessels anchored and the “General Morgan” sent a boat over the river bar. The “Laura Virginia” proceeded north and the captain soon saw the waters of a bay, but could see no entrance. He proceeded, anchoring first at Trinidad and then where Cresent City was later located. There he found the “Cameo” at anchor and the “Paragon” on the beach. Remaining in the roadstead two days, he started back, and tracing a stream of fresh-looking water discovered the mouth of the Klamath. Arriving at Trinidad, he sent five men down by land to find out if there was an entrance to the bay he had seen. On their favorable report, Second Officer Buhne was instructed to take a ship's boat and sound the entrance before the vessel should attempt it. On April 9, 1850, he crossed the bar, finding four and a half fathoms. Buhne remained in the bay till the ship dropped down. On April 14th he went out and brought her in. After much discussion the bay and the city they proposed to locate were named Humboldt, after the distinguished naturalist and traveler, for whom a member of the company had great admiration. Strange as it may seem, Humboldt Bay had not really been discovered at this time. Some years ago a searcher of the archives of far-off St. Petersburg found unquestionable proof that the discovery was made in 1806, and not in 1849-50, Early in the nineteenth century the Russian-American Company was all-powerful and especially active in the fur trade. It engaged an American captain, Jonathan Winship, who commanded an American crew on the ship “Ocean.” The outfit, accompanied by a hundred Aleut Indians, with fifty-two small boats, was sent from Alaska down the California coast in pursuit of seals. They anchored at Trinidad and spread out for the capture of sea-otter. Eighteen miles south they sighted a bay and finally found the obscure entrance. They entered with a boat and then followed with the ship, which anchored nearly opposite the location of Eureka. They found fifteen feet of water on the bar. From the large number of Indians living on its shores, they called it the Bay of the Indians. The entrance they named Resanof. Winship made a detailed sketch of the bay and its surroundings, locating the Indian villages and the small streams that enter the bay. It was sent to St. Petersburg and entered on a Russian map. The Spaniards seem never to have known anything of it, and the Americans evidently considered the incident of no importance.
The first permanent non-native settlement in Humboldt County was at Trinidad Bay. Ships had earlier anchored in Trinidad Bay to study the natives and survey the area, but no permanent settlements were ever established prior to this date. Pre 1850, there were approximately 1500 to 2000 Wiyot people living within this area. After 1860 there were an estimated population of 200 people left. By 1910 there was an estimate of less than 100 full blood Wiyot people living within Wiyot territory. This rapid decline in population was due to disease, slavery, target practice, "protection", being herded from place to place, and of course, massacres.
It hadn't really been lost, it had been misplaced. Northern California was a wild and wooley place and there wasn't much interest in it until suddenly there was lots of money to be made.
William Sutter discovers gold in his creek near Sacramento. People from all over the world flock to California to make their fortuna