Although the road signs say “Elk” officially it is the Elk Post Office at Greenwood. The reason for the strange appellation is that when postal codes were introduced there was another Greenwood in California so the name was sort of changed to avoid confusion.
A century ago the population was 10 times as large as today’s. Schooners from the L.E. White Lumber Co. (LEWLCo) sailed regularly from San Francisco and early tourists took the 14 hour ride for $5, dinner and bunk included. The town had ten hotels each with a saloon and there five other saloons. Each of the ethnic groups which worked in the mill: Finns, Swedes, Irish, Russians and Chinese congregated in “their” saloon.
The L.E. White offices are still in Elk. Today the offices are the local museum and the museum contains a cornucopia of logging operations artifacts and exhibits. The area around the museum was the lumber drying yard.
Elk or Greenwood Main Street
The garage in Elk today was there when the mill was in operation – as were the buildings to the south in this picture taken in 1901. The building with the rounded roof in the picture is the garage.
Opposite the garage there is a path that goes down to the sea. It all looks so peaceful now. A hundred years ago it was a hive of activity.
Chuck Ross, his brother John and his sister Lorene Christiansen have both been officers in the Mendocino County Historical Society. Chuck grew up in Elk and has had a lifelong interest in the lumber industry there, and especially in the railroads. Over the decades Chuck has walked nearly every mile of the railroads in Greenwood, Elk and Alder Creeks. He has even walked some stretches where the rail is still in place. These two maps were provided by Chuck.
Map of the first railroad in Greenwood
The blue line shows the approximate rail route from Cuffey’s Cove to the Fred Helmke sawmill and camp – the first sawmill at Greenwood. The route was a nearly level run and Chuck would not be surprised to learn that horse-drawn cars had been used on it in the early days. The first destination out of town was the shingle mill in Laurel Gulch, then the tracks went on down to Greenwood Creek.
Map of the L E White railroad
The second map segment shows the location of the L.E. White sawmill near the mouth of the creek. The White addition to the trackages is shown in purple with the Helmke track now shown dashed. Sanborn maps show the connecter was abandoned between 1891 and 1894. No record exists to tell us where the first loco, “Sausalito”, came ashore.