An Eclectic History of Mendocino County by Katy M. Tahja

Author Katy Tahja holding her latest book An Eclectic History of Mendocino County

Whilst I have been incarcerated here at home because of the pandemic I have been trying to read at least some of the 30 plus unread books I own. My latest was this book. I was going to write a review of this fascinating history when I stumbled upon this superb review written by Grace Woelbing for the Ukiah Daily Journal.

“In Mendocino County, stories are inevitably boundless and regional history is sure to be a tale of diverse influences. In truth, perhaps the most fitting word to describe a collection of such historical accounts is “eclectic,” for an author attempting to capture the themes throughout 150 years of county history must utilize a multitude of sources.

Author Katy Tahja, with her recently self-published book “An Eclectic History of Mendocino County,” has managed to achieve the feat of simultaneously informing and entertaining readers with both brief accounts and lengthy histories that define what makes Mendocino County an interesting place to call home.

“Every area of the county has its own interesting history tidbits,” says Tahja, who has previously authored several concentrated guidebooks and histories. “An Eclectic History of Mendocino County” is the first of hers, however, to involve the entire region.

The timeframe of Tahja’s new book spans 150 years, from 1852 through 2002. She began to accumulate little-known information that sourced from the vast time period during research phases for former books she has authored. “For years, I’ve kept interesting things on file for Mendocino County. I’d write down whatever I’d find and throw it in,” says Tahja.

Her decade of experience as a museum docent at the Kelley House Museum is responsible for her valuable knowledge of what attracts a reader to historical works. She shares that [along with] what she personally looks for – an account of why people settled and what kind of lives they experienced. That was her focus as she compiled the stories that make up “An Eclectic History of Mendocino County.”

The book’s cover greets the reader with colorful photographs of characteristic sights located around Mendocino County—the Skunk Train, Leggett’s Chandelier Tree, and Bowling Ball Beach are a few highlights. One photograph features a particularly bright building in Mendocino, the Temple of Kwan Tai, which was built by the Chinese in the 1850s as a house of worship. As Tahja later divulges in the book, the building was a celebration of their survival of the long journey across the Pacific Ocean.

Tahja explores similar topics throughout her writing, such as the county’s rich history of agriculture. From the famous apples that were cultivated for years in Anderson Valley to pear trees populating Ukiah Valley to the current crop of wine grapes dominating county soil, Mendocino County has long been known for its farming.

The record of the logging industry bringing settlers to the coastline, the transition of regional governorship from Sonoma County to Mendocino County in 1859 when the population was finally large enough to elect its own public officials, and the beautiful description of native basketry are subjects also found within the pages.

“There were so many fun and interesting stories to tell,” interjects Tahja. “I thought that if I was going to take a page to talk about Winston Churchill’s 1929 visit here, I would include similarly surprising accounts.”