Brewery Gulch Inn

The Brewery Gulch Inn is  tucked up on a hilltop above Smugglers Cove,  in Mendocino. In August 2019 USA Today readers voted the Inn as one of the 10 Best Readers Travel Awards – one of only two California Properties to be so awarded. When I read of this award I thought a blog was appropriate. The text that follows is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the Fort Bragg – Mendocino Packet. The author was Margi Gomez.

Brewery Gulch Inn - just south of Mendocino on Highway One

Brewery Gulch Inn – just south of Mendocino on Highway One

Margi writes …….

The history of this award-winning inn is closely tied to the history of Mendocino itself. Harry Meiggs, who built FishermanS Wharf in San Francisco, financed the first sawmill in Mendocino, at the mouth of Big River, in 1851. It was the beginning of a log and lumber boom that lasted for over a century. With the 1906 earthquake and resulting fires in San Francisco, Mendocino became a key source for much needed building materials. The Mendocino Coast became the “Redwood Empire,” with giant redwood trunks dammed up in the more than twenty-five dams along the banks of Big River. When winter rains swelled the river, the logs were released, causing a log stampede down to the river’s mouth and the Meiggs’ sawmill. Many of the largest of the logs sank deep in the river sludge. It was some of these same logs, mineralized to warm hues over the ensuing years, that would later become lumber for the Brewery Gulch Inn.

Over a hundred years later, in the late 1980s, the logging industry began to slow. Overloaded logging trucks, groaning with the weight of one or two huge chunks, had until the 1970s and early eighties been ubiquitous on the North Coast. Now they were seen less and less, and when they did travel the coast, were more often than not loaded with skinny “pecker poles” that “real” loggers disdained. A small group of intrepid men began dredging Big River in pursuit of the giant “sinker logs” that had sunk under the weight of thousands of others.

The practice came to be called “eco salvaging,” and literally cleared the rivers of logjams that were several decades old. Using portable sawmills, they harvested this bounty of prime virgin redwood, which by this time was as valuable as pirate’s gold. By the time the powers that be became fully aware of this “hidden treasure” asleep in their rivers, it was nearly gone.

Arthur (“Arky”) Ciancutti, who had purchased the original farmstead at Brewery Gulch, was in the right place at the right time one rainy winter night at Dick’s Place, the popular Mendocino watering hole, when he was pulled into a conversation about the salvage operations. He became fascinated with the potential of the sinker logs, and he began devoting himself to the salvage of these prize logs, known as “pumpkins.” Using a skiff, a winch, and old-fashioned muscle power, he and a few helpers brought up as many of the big trees as they could. During this period Arky amassed nearly a hundred thousand board feet of old growth redwood. He laughs “What I couldn’t bring up myself, I bought and traded for'” Arky still deals in redwood, and enjoys the ties to history that the work brings.

The owner of the original Brewery Gulch farmstead was Homer Barton, who chose the site for its protective mini-climate, perfect for raising produce and livestock. “They say this was perhaps the first farm in Mendocino County,” Arky asserts. “Certainly it was the first one anywhere around here.”

Homer Barton, who purchased the land with money he made dragging logs to Big River with his team of oxen, eventually established a dairy on the farm, along with a brewery. Long before grapevines covered Mendocino County hilltops, hops were king, and a workingman had to have his beer at the end of a long day in the woods. The Homer Barton farmstead, protected from coastal winds and blessed with plenty of water, catered to all the needs of Mendocino’s early settlers, with Homer ferrying his goods across Big River on a daily basis.

Arky, who bought the Brewery Gulch farmstead in 1977, brings a diverse background to Brewery Gulch Inn. His early life as a Bay Area pediatrician and emergency room doctor gave him plenty of opportunity to study human nature and the challenges of team effort. He developed his own management consultant business, and later set up The Learning Center, helping Bay Area businesses promote teamwork as a path to success. In 1984 Arky renovated the original farmhouse, running it as a small bed-and-breakfast inn. Arky, a single dad at the time, plunged into homesteading with enthusiasm. “We propagated wild iris and amaryllis and replanted rhodies we rescued from construction sites. My kids and I put in all the irrigation. It was an exciting time.” Now that the new
eleven-room Brewery Gulch Inn is open, he lives in the original farmhouse, relishing the country life on the pastoral ten-acre site.

Many area designers and craftspeople contributed to the inn’s design. Architect Caroline LaPere was responsible for the initial building plans, and local designer, Ed Powers also became involved, Arky says. “Ed added so many important touches to the Great Room. He did a beautiful job customizing and combining the redwood, the glass, and the steel.” Renowned local boat builder, Chris Van Peer, designed the enormous fireplace that gives warmth during chilly mornings at Brewery Gulch Inn. Penny LivingstonI-Stark, who runs the Permaculture Institute (of Northern California) in Marin, consulted Arky on the design of the ponds that provide bird habitat between the inn and the ocean.

Birding is spotlighted at Brewery Gulch Inn, and the Great Room is equipped with a telescope and bird-related literature. Arky explains that dead trees, called “snags,” are critical for bird habitat. “We leave every snag that we cam We’ve planted as many flowering plants as we can to attract songbirds. We restored the wetlands to attract migratory birds.”

Arky adds that early on he realized that the bull pines that had been planted as a wood lot on the original farmstead were diseased. “Beginning in 1986, we began replacing the dying trees with native species, like hemlock and white fir,” Arky points out. “We’ve been reforesting for a long time now.”

An avid gardener, Arky has planted hundreds of native rhododendrons, creating a visual feast of frilly pink within the redwood forest. Heirloom roses, which tumble off the rough-hewn fencing on the road to the inn, along with water plants in the ponds below the inn, provide colorful accents. He has also added thousands of daffodil, dahlia, and other bulbs. They combine seasonally along with other naturalized flowers such as calla lilies and foxgloves to create ever-changing highlights throughout the property.

Both the homestead property and the gardens at the inn have been certified organic since 2002, and the garden at the original farmhouse produces dozens of varieties of edible flowers, greens, herbs and spices, heritage apples, and more. Arky and his partner Francesca Campbell, also maintain the garden, where they cultivate two strains of garlic, white garlic from a family farm in Pennsylvania, and red garlic from Arky’s progenitors in Italy. Using kitchen scraps from the inn, they produce their own composting material, which in turn is used to grow all of the herbs and some of the produce used at the inn. “It’s a circular system,” Arky explains. “We support the inn and the inn takes care of us.”

In the winter months Arky and Francesca collect wild mushrooms that will later be cooked, along with eggs from their free-range chickens, in Brewery Gulch Inn’s omelettes_ “We hatch all our own eggs,” Arky says proudly. “We also create all the chick feed, since so far we’ve been unable to find organic chick feed, and I refuse to feed them what’s available—too many antibiotics”‘ Arky has also grafted numerous heritage apple varieties onto hardy rootstock, preserving heritage apples such as the King and Spitzenberg varieties that grew in the original orchard. “These apples are great,” Arky says.  “They have the true taste and aroma of a real apple.”


Mendocino Lumber Co. Loco #2 – a geared Climax

A Climax locomotive is a type of geared steam locomotive in which the two steam cylinders were attached to a transmission located under the center of the boiler. This transmits power to driveshafts running to the front and rear trucks.

Rush S. Battles patented the basic design in 1891. Battles’ design had horizontal cylinders connected to the drive shaft through a 2-speed transmission. The drive shaft passed just above the axle centers, requiring the use of hypoid bevel gears to transfer power to each axle. Unlike the later and somewhat similar Heisler design, there were no side rods on the trucks and all gearing was open, exposed to the elements. Battles’ patent describes the core design that became the Class B Climax, and as his patent illustrations show the name Climax emblazoned on the locomotive cab.

Charles D. Scott, an inventor who had previously proposed a less successful geared steam locomotive, patented improved versions of Battles’ trucks in 1892 and 1893.Scott’s 1892 patent was the basis of the Class A Climax. His 1892 patent included gear-case enclosures.

Many loggers considered the Climax superior to the Shay in hauling capability and stability, particularly in a smaller locomotive, although the ride was characteristically rough for the crew. Mendocino Lumber Co. owned one of the two Climaxes along the Mendocino Coast – Caspar Lumber Co, owned the other.

Mendocino Lumber Co, #2 Climax loco

Mendocino Lumber Co, #2 Climax loco


The Big RiverMaru – a stern driven paddle wheeler operated by the Mendocino Lumber Company on Big River

Sadly I can’t find out too much about her. Here’s what I know:

The first Maru was built by John Peterson. He named her the ”Maru” after seeing the word on Japanese boats thinking it was a pretty name. The Maru’s job was to bring rafts of logs to the mill from the boom. On social occasions in summer, picnickers would ride the Maru up Big River, courtesy of the lumber company.

The Big River Maru was launched at the Mendocino Lumber Company mill on June 13, 1900 without fanfare. The stern wheeler was 40 feet long, 16 feet wide and approximately 3 feet high, with a flat bottom. A stern driven paddle wheel was its motive power. A licensed engineer was required to run the Maru. The Big River Maru was used to drive log rafts, break up logjams and ferry workers and logging camp residents up and down river. She had a licensed captain and first engineer. The engineer was George Jarvis and Phil Goodhart was the fireman.

On December 6, 1919 The new Maru, Big River #2 was launched at the mill. Its designer and builder was, again, John Peterson. The principal difference between the new craft and the old one was the shed roof over the paddle wheel. On December 29, 1919 The new Big River Maru #2, made a fast run to the Boom, taking 25 minutes on a slack tide. Some of its remains still rest in the north bank mudflat, across the river from Iron Pin Hole.

Here are the pics I have found [Click on the pics to see full size]:


Hell’s Gate Dam on Big River

Dams were used by the Mendocino mill on Big River to bring the cut logs to the mill. The Mendocino Lumber Company was “famous” for damming Big River. With rare exceptions, dams along Big River were used only during the winter season. Logs were stored in the stream beds. Winter rains furnished the freshet (body of water) for floating the logs down river, but in most cases, did not. Dams were then used to build up a reservoir of water. When the dams were tripped (blown up), a flood was created along with a “head.” A head is similar to the shore side of an ocean wave. Near the dam, a head might begin as high as 10 feet dropping to three-foot height 15 miles down river. A higher head, which would result in being able to float more logs a greater distance, would be obtained by tripping/blowing up more than one dam in succession. This, for sure, was in the days before environmentalists were invented.

We have modeled Hell’s Gate dam on our layout without much help in the form of old photos. Hence these three photos will be very valuable when we work on our Big River diorama in the coming winter. Click on the photos to enlarge them

Hell's Gate dam being built

Hell’s Gate dam being built

Hell's Gate Dam.

Hell’s Gate Dam.

Hell's Gate Dam

Hell’s Gate Dam


Once upon a time there were TWO Mendocino’s


How do I know this? Well, the book, “History of California Post Offices by H.E. Salley” says so. The book says there were two Mendocinos. One, the one we know, is seven miles south of Fort Bragg. There has been a post office there since December 1st, 1858.

The second Mendocino was named after Cape Mendocino and was located 36 miles south of Eureka. The post office was established there on the 19th of October 1852. Cape Mendocino was then part of Mendocino County and later became part of Humboldt County when it was created on 12th of March 1853. Mendocino #2 later became known as Capetown. The post office didn’t last too long – it closed on the 20th of December 1853.

Post Offices of California

Post Offices of California

How about that then!!!!!!!

Five and a half inch freshet in Mendocino on February 28th, 1917

I had never heard of the word “freshet” when we moved here (Fort Bragg, CA.) in 2000. It wasn’t part of my lexicon. It turns out that a freshet is, “the flood of a river from heavy rain or melted snow.” In the early years we lived here was a relatively dry spell. There was a fair amount of discussion among club members as to whether the weather was normal or abnormal.

Across the California Western Railroad’s (CWR) – the Skunk Train – tracks alongside our club’s layout (The Mendocino Railroad & Navigation Co.) is the Guest House Museum. In front of the Guest House is a slice of a tree:

Guest House Tree, Fort Bragg CA.

Guest House Tree

In order to settle the discussion I and another club member decided to measure the width of the 911 tree rings in the slice of trunk. The more rain the wider the tree ring. I sent our tabulation to a Professor friend at Columbia University in NYC for analysis. The result of the analysis was that there were no regular cycles of more/less rain. There were years when the rainfall must have been horrendous. There were years when the rainfall was minimal. Which means that this year’s very heavy rainfall is not out of the ordinary.

To prove my “point” check out this snippet from the local rag of February 28th, 1917:

“Mendocino was visited by a very severe storm Friday and Saturday, it being that 5 and a half inches of rain fell in 24 hours. As a result, Big River had the largest freshet in several years. About 25,00 logs came into the boom from the camp of Mallory and Johnston. The new chopper’s camp on Big River lost part of its cookhouse and a large fill on the new railroad was washed away. Aside from this, no material damage was done.”