History Essays about Mendocino County Regions by Local Writers
Please feel free to send us any local history essays with permission (non-exclusive, the copyright is yours) to use on this site. We would like both non-controversial and "tell it like it is" modern and ancient histories.
Along the Pacific coast, 150 miles north of San Francisco Bay, ancient
redwood forests and coastal prairies were home to elk, bear and mountain
lion. Around 8000 years ago humans arrived, and eventually the Northern
Pomo Indians settled this region, thinly along the coast and in greater
concentrations in the inland valleys. In summer, groups of inland Pomo traveled
to the coast, camped at the mouths of the Albion River and Salmon Creek,
and gathered and dried fish, shellfish, seaweed and salt to take home.
Spotting it from their ships, English, Spanish and Russian explorers were the first Europeans to see the Albion coast. Sir Francis Drake claimed the whole west coast of North America for the English crown.
He named it Nova Albion, meaning New England, since Albion is the ancient and literary name of Drake's homeland.
Spain actually occupied what became California and deeded in 1844 a land grant to English ex-seaman William Richardson, who had settled in the San Francisco, married the presidio commander's daughter, and been
appointed Captain of the Port of San Francisco. Captain Richardson was so impressed by the similarities of his homeland and his new land grant (the coastal strip from Gualala to Mendocino) that he named it the Albion Rancho.
To profit from the Gold Rush building boom in the Sacramento-San Francisco
region, Richardson had a saw mill constructed on the Albion River in 1852,
one of the first two on the Mendocino coast. Several saw mills followed
in succession as each proceeding one was destroyed by floods or fire, and
a bustling harbor village grew up around them, with post office, stores,
saloons and hotels. A railroad ran inland, passing by Comptche,
Navarro and Floodgate to Christine in Anderson Valley.
One mile south of Albion is Salmon Creek, where a sawmill, railroad, wharf and village called Whitesboro were built in 1876. By 1900 the big redwoods were logged out and the mill and railroad were closed and shipped down the coast to Greenwood-Elk. Whitesboro was abandoned and later burned.
The Albion mill produced until 1928 when it, too, closed. Albion's giant old growth redwoods were gone, but a farming community remained and supplied area towns and Bay Area cities with dairy products, wool, mutton, beef, and agricultural produce. By 1950 a postwar building boom once again made lumber the area's top dollar earner, followed by seafoods, many processed in Albion's harbor.
Today tourism drives the local economy, and Albion supports this with its
inns, restaurants, summer camp and harbor
facilities. The proposed Albion State Park contains the historic site of the mill town Whitesboro, described above, two major dairy farms, the Palle Andersen Ranch on Albion Ridge and the Hurley place on Middle Ridge, as well as probable Pomo Indian village and camp sites.
Editor's note: If anyone would like to submit the continuing modern (1950's on) history of Albion including the "Albion Nation" era and environmental and logging corporation struggle, please send us your submissions.
(editors note: from a 6-96 draft)
The small towns of Gualala and Anchor Bay, called the Banana Belt because of the exceptionally mild climate created by the protective protrusion of the cape of Point Arena to the north, are situated on the southwest corner of Mendocino County, bordered by the Pacific on the west, mountain ridges to the east, fast-growing Sonoma County to the south and Point Arena to the north.
The original inhabitants were three Pomo Indian tribes known as the Kashia, the Yokiya and the Bokeya and several sub-tribes of the three. They led a peaceful way of life, fishing for steelhead and salmon, harvesting abalone and mussels and gathering acorns, berries, salt, seaweed and hunting wild game. They shared a network of trails that were used to visit and trade goods among themselves. The women of the tribe were skilled at basketry and today the baskets are highly valued by collectors. The name Gualala is thought to be a derivative of the Pomo word meaning "water coming down place." There is also a theory that the name comes from Valhalla, the German name for warrior's heaven. The debate goes on, as it does concerning the proper pronunciation, hard G or soft W.
By the mid-1800's the land had passed through Spanish and Mexican ownership and was in the beginning stages of the white settler invasion and control by the American government. Slave raids by the Mexicans, diseases from the whites to which the Indians had no immunity, and forced evacuations to reservations decimated the Pomo and today some members have trouble with poverty, crime and alcoholism, although many are productive citizens and there are some, such as Shirley Laiwa and Florence Silva, who are actively working to improve conditions on the reservation.
Cyrus Dwight Robinson built the first lumber mill in Gualala on a homestead grant near the Gualala River in the 1860's. This was the beginning of the intense harvesting of the vast virgin redwood forests. The mill passed through several ownerships over the years, including that of Zemri Heywood, who was well thought of because of his generosity and contributions to the town.
The enterprising Robinson and his wife Elizabeth also built the first hotel in Gualala, which housed the first saloon. Before the first bridge was built in 1892, he also operated the only ferry service across the river, which at that time was the only way to cross from Sonoma County to Mendocino unless the traveler cared to swim. The hotel, called the Gualala House, burned down in 1903 and the new Gualala Hotel was built slightly south of the first site, where it still stands today and remains the main gathering place for locals and tourists alike. The Robinsons and two of their children are buried in a small family cemetery on the hill between the two sites.
Lumber was in great demand in California as cities such as San Francisco were built, destroyed by earthquake and fire and rebuilt. Railroad ties were needed as tracks were being laid to connect the east and west coasts. Redwood was also used for fence posts and grape stakes. The huge redwood forests became a source of incredible riches despite the difficulty of harvesting and shipping the lumber. Potential workers descended on the area, coming from all over the United States and several other countries.
Logs were cut and hauled to the coast for shipping in a progression of methods; first by teams of oxen and later by steam engines. The river was a favorite means of transportation and flumes were also used, powered by the river. Workers for the Company, at that time called the American Redwood Company, either boarded at the Hotel or lived in rough lumber camps. Chinese were especially eager workers; usually coming to California to make money to send home to their families. They were often given the most difficult and dangerous jobs in the logging operations. China Gulch Flat, near the mill and bordering the present town of Gualala, was named after the workers who lived there.
The mill burned down in 1906, causing a general depression in the town and almost emptying it of residents until times got better after World War II.
At about the same time as the redwoods were being logged, the tanbark industry was also a major source of revenue. The tanoak, which grew lushly in the forest, was valued for the tannin in its resin and was used to cure leather. Not only the Company, but small landholders met the huge demand for the bark of the tree, peeling and shipping it by schooner to the San Francisco Bay area.
James McNamee, whose original homestead and general store stood north of Gualala until 1994, ran a tanbark business for several years. The store closed for business several years before, but an exhibit using the original shelves and merchandise is located in the Mendocino County Historical Museum in Willits, inland and north of Ukiah. Horse-drawn wagons piled high with bales of bark came down from the ridge on steep Fish Rock Road, where there was a loading chute on the present site of Fish Rock Ranch. Eventually the trees diminished, although the tanbark industry lasted into the late 1940's.
Stagecoach transportation was the general method of land travel, but it was an extremely difficult and rough ride. The roads were rutted and tough, muddy in the winter and dusty in the dry months, laced with steep gulches, and a trip from San Francisco to Gualala took several days. The stagecoach was held up twice by the notorious bandit known as Black Bart, known as the "Gentleman Bandit" because of his politeness and poetry as he robbed the stages. The ocean provided the most convenient mode of traveling and shipping goods to and from San Francisco. Tourists were discovering the area, too, finding the beauty of the land and the bountiful steelhead fishing a great escape from the cities.
Doghole Schooners, so called because the coves they moored in were "too small for a dog to turn around in," were the ships that made transport possible. They plied the shores from the mid-1800's to around 1912.They were small wooden ships, usually with a crew of four, and it was a dangerous and tricky job to anchor near the bluff-top chutes to receive passengers and goods. The often wild and unpredictable weather and tides resulted in several shipwrecks and deaths.
In 1892 Antone Ciapusci and Mark Pedotti came to the coast and entered into a partnership that included a large ranch on what is now known as Signal Ridge, where they developed vineyards, and ownership of the Gualala Hotel following the death of C.D. Robinson. Antone and his wife Mary and their nine daughters and three sons took over the running of the hotel while Mark saw to the ranch. Mary died soon after the last child was born and one son died of whooping cough at two years old. Antone was left raising eleven children on his own. He never remarried because he didn't want to break up his family and figured no woman would take on such a brood.
The Ciapusci family ran the Gualala Hotel, the holdings of which included about 800 acres in the future town of Gualala, for about 40 years. A daughter, Lena, was burned to death when her dress caught fire as she warmed herself in front of the fireplace. Antone died in the 1930's, and following the custom of the time the estate was divided between the two sons, George and Charles. George married Ida Gianoli but died within two years. Ida, now a wealthy widow, remarried newcomer John Bower, who was to become a powerful force in the growth and development of Gualala.
The first schoolhouse in town was built around 1883 by Mr. Heywood. Before that children were often boarded out with families in more urban areas or teachers boarded with local families.
Being a Company town, the owners of the mill built a small general store overlooking the river in roughly the same spot the Surf Supermarket stands today. Mabel Deltorchio (sp) ran the store for a time. She lived on Fish Rock Ranch until 1978, when she moved to a rest home in Sonoma County. Merchandise that wasn't carried by the store came to the coast via traveling salesman, or "drummers." One of the Ciapusci sisters, now in her mid-nineties, remembers the excitement when the drummers arrived. The women made their dresses out of bleached flour sacks, but shoes were hard to come by. She remembers the large box of leather shoes the salesmen brought and how lucky one was when he or she found a pair that fit.
Life was hard for the early settlers and working days, whether on the ranch or in the woods, were long. But there was also a lot of fun to be had. There were picnics on the beach, some sponsored by the Company, and dances in places from Plantation to Point Arena. The dances often went on all night, with midnight bidding for hampers of food and the company of the ladies who brought them. Homemade wine and possibly booze smuggled into Anchor Bay cove by the Prohibition rum-runners flowed freely, and some revelers got home just in time to begin the day's chores.
The mill had closed in the 1920's and several years of economic depression followed. There was an attempt at oil drilling near Point Arena during the 30's which met with limited success. The timber industry, with the exception of the dwindling tanbark business, was basically dead. The doghole schooners were replaced by steamships, and the roads and bridges were in poor shape, with the Gualala River bridge having been built and rebuilt a few times. Cars were scarce on the coast due to the poor road conditions. The state took over the highway in the late 30's, although the County road system did not begin until 1948. In 1958 the last wooden bridge was replaced with concrete ones and the highway was well-paved. Electricity did not reach the area until the mid 50's.
As the lumber disappeared, dairies began to be developed to the north. There were reportedly about 30 dairies in operation between 1920-1940; only a few remain today.
World War II began, and had its effect even on the isolated coast, with blackouts in effect nightly and a very real fear of invasion by the enemy. Marie Disotelle, who with her husband Roy operated a restaurant in Point Arena for decades, remembers being a coast-watcher. Women took time off from their housekeeping (they rarely held outside jobs at that time), and patrolled the coastal bluffs on the lookout for suspicious watercraft. There were reports of submarine sightings and unidentified fishing boats too near the coastline.
The post-war boom, which was felt all over America, was on. Lumber prices began to soar and conveniently, the second growth of Redwoods was ready for harvest.
Anchor Bay is a small village of shops that line both sides of Highway 1 with a scattering of homes behind it. About 4 miles north of Gualala, it started as a huge tract owned by a Michael Quinlan. William Pierce, a merchant marine from the Bay Area, bought the property in (?), which included the land from Getchel Gulch to the present hamlet, the Anchor Bay Campground, Enchanted Meadows to the east and a large tract north of town.
William built a wood-framed market and hardware store off of his home in (?), including a gas pump, and some cabins across the highway used by fishermen up from the City. Another tourist draw was the Point Arena Hot Springs, about 6 miles up the Garcia River. It had a big hotel, reached by stagecoach, and a natural hot spring that filled several tubs near the river. The hotel is long gone, but the hot springs and tubs are still there.
When William died, his son Norm tore down the wooden structures and rebuilt the village with concrete block in 1962. He developed the campground and sold off or developed the other land (?). There is a small monument in town overlooking the sea; a rusty anchor on a pedestal inscribed "Norm Pierce, he was a helluva guy." He is buried in the cemetery behind the market.
Richard McCoy bought the town in (?). (In the early 70's, he put the town up for sale for $350,000, but apparently got no takers.) He still owns it. It has had a major upgrade of the sewer system, which, much as the one in Gualala, caused a lot of consternation to the local property owners. The need for a modern system was obvious to anyone who walked along the beach; the smell of raw sewage was overpowering. Home and lot owners were forced to hook up to the system for fees. McCoy also modernized the shops on the East Side of the road. Although the market is now gourmet, rather than the old country-style and a party caterer occupies the space of the old hardware store, Anchor Bay remains a quiet, sunny spot devoid of the commercialism of Gualala.
In Gualala the post war changes were beginning. Jay Baker, an Arkansas native, arrived in 1948 and later built Bakertown, the first "mall" in town. Inspired, perhaps, by his friend Hugh Codding, who built the first mall in Sonoma County's Santa Rosa, he literally bulldozed his way over county injunctions to build his project.
John Bower became a wealthy and powerful force in the community. Among his families holdings was the water company, the only source of water for those not on wells or those whose wells were drying out, in the town and its outlying areas.
In the 1970's the south Mendocino coast experienced an influx of "back-to-the-landers," mostly young people looking for a more basic way of life than that offered in the cities. They aspired to living off their land while making a minimum impact upon it. Settling in fairly well with the old-timers, who soon got used to the "hippie" invasion, the new folks were also to have a major influence on local politics and environmental awareness as people necessarily turned away from the forests for their livelihoods and geared towards tourism and cottage industries.
Bud and Dale Miller, from the Sacramento area, built several projects, including Seacliff Center. Robert Sundstrom, son of an old-time logging family, built Sundstrom Mall behind the Gualala Post Office.
Recently developed by Bob Rose is Cypress Village, an assortment of offices, shops and condos on the site of the original Gualala House. Plans are in the works for a new "mall," developed by Gualala Redwoods, to be erected next to the Sundstrom plaza.
Many of these people are, or have been, involved in the controversial sewer project in Gualala and on the board of the GMAC, an association formed to help in the planning of the future of Gualala, as are some local realtors. The future of Gualala is in question as the ocean view is increasingly blocked by motels, strip malls and real estate agencies. Despite controls by the Coastal Commission, the ocean view is disappearing behind projects such as the "new" Surf Supermarket and the Breakers, a motel complex.
A bluff top trail along the coastline is being disputed by some property owners, and the sewer controversy continues as members of the community, some with altruistic motives and some with more mundane concerns, struggle to make a plan for the future.
Editor's note: If anyone would like to submit the continuing modern history of Gualala including the water, sewer, logging, gravel mining and development controversies with the major players' roles and histories, please send us your submissions.