Mendocino, a book by Dorothy Bear and Beth Stebbins published in 1973



Club member Earl Craighill brought this book to our weekly Wednesday brekkers meeting a couple of weeks ago. As the club’s historian I am always interested in books, articles, pictures etc. which amplify what we already know of the railroad and logging operations along the Mendocino Coast. Earl, generous soul that he is, soon granted me the opportunity to take it home and have a long butchers.

The book I found out is mainly about the families who first came to Mendocino and their homes – many of which still stand. Their were some new items about which I heretofore had no knowledge. One item was details of the Azorian fishermen who lived in Mendocino:

The Portugese of Mendocino

The Portuguese of Mendocino

When I first came to the Mendocino Coast in the early 1990’s I was told that you could identify the houses of the Azorian fishermen by the abalone shells decorating their houses.

The next interesting bit of history to catch my eye was this picture of the first mill in Mendocino which was perched at the end of the point:

First Mill on the PointIf you look closely at the photo you can see that the finished lumber is being loaded via a chute onto a lighter and not onto a schooner. The photo below shows the Point a little later and shows three chutes. Perched at the end of the first chute is the clapper man – his job was to stop the pieces of lumber sent down the chute to allow them to be passed onto the lighter.

Loading by chute to a lighter

Loading by chute to a lighter

Interesting snippets what! Thanks Earl for the lend.

William Heeser (born August 28, 1822 in Koblenz, Germany; died April 9, 1906) was a German-American newspaper publisher and banker in Mendocino County, California

Roger Thornburn, our webmaster thinks that the author of the plan and costing sheets for the bridge in Mendocino that I blogged a little while back could well be William Heeser.

In 1843, when he was 21, William Heeser came to the United States, landing in Baltimore in November, 1843. After a stay of about a month, he went to Kentucky, merchandising for several years in Providence, Hopkins county. In the spring of 1847 he went to Germany on a visit, returning in July of the same year, and then moved to Wisconsin, merchandising for sometime at Benton, and then at Elk Grote, Lafayette county, from where he moved to Cordova, Rock Island county, Illinois, in the fall of 1848, engaging in merchandising there.

In the spring of 1850 he crossed the plains with a horse team, arriving in California about the first of August, 1850. Selling the team at Coloma, he came to San Francisco, where he was engaged in merchandising till 1854, when he went to Sierra county. He returned to San Francisco the following year, and after a short stay moved on to a ranch in Napa county, residing there about two years, when he sold his lands, returned to San Francisco.

From San Francisco he went in the steamer Goliath to Mendocino, in Mendocino county, arriving there on September 11, 1857. Upon arrival he purchased a lot, built a store, and engaged in merchandising for several years. In the spring of 1858 he, together with his brother, purchased a farm adjacent to the town. He purchased his brother’s interest in 1865, and continued farming on the land. He developed a plan for Mendocino on his land and gradually opened streets and sold town lots as the demand required. He chose the names for many of Mendocino’s streets.

Mendocino in William Heeser's day

Mendocino in William Heeser’s day

In the fall of 1858 he was elected Justice of the Township, and subsequently appointed a Notary Public, the first office he held for six consecutive years, after which he served three years as Supervisor of the county, succeeding which he served four years more as Justice, serving another term of three years as Supervisor in 1877, ’78, and ’79.

The office of Notary he held, with the exception of an interval of one or two terms, up to the present time. By force of circumstances he was thrown into the conveyancing and office business. In 1870 he organized the Bank of Mendocino as a Mutual Savings Bank, and in 1871 the Mendocino Discount Bank, to supply the business not within the legitimate sphere of the former. He first acted as President and subsequently as Secretary of both banks.

As a United States deputy surveyor, Heeser constructed Little Lake road (a wagon road from Mendocino to Willits), and another road from Mendocino to Ukiah.

Deed for purchase of land by William Heeser

Deed for purchase of land by William Heeser (courtesy of Kelley House Museum)

Back of Deed

Back of Deed (courtesy of Kelley House Museum)

Heeser founded the Mendocino Beacon in Mendocino, California with W. H. Meacham in 1877 and the Fort Bragg Advocate-News in Fort Bragg, California in 1887; he also founded newspapers in the Mendocino County communities of Kibesillah, Rockport, and Westport. In 1892, he purchased the Point Arena Record.

On the 18th day of December, 1865, he married Laura A. Nelson, a native of Bangor, Maine. They had one child, August Alfred, born February 5, 1877 who continued his father’s business.

Building a Bridge Across Big River in Mendocino about 1900

Club member Earl Craighill has been foraging in the Kelley House files in Mendocino looking for documents/maps/materials that show the history of his property in Mendocino. In the course of his search he came across three documents which he copied and forwarded to me.

The documents, which are William Heeser’s original notes, are a plan for a bridge and the costing sheets for building the bridge. I persuaded webmaster Roger Thornburn to accompany Earl back to the Kelley House Museum with his camera. This he kindly did and you can see the photos of the documents below.

The bridge (I think) is the one that collapsed in the 1906 earthquake. According to the cost sheet the total for the construction was $8,929.10. Me, being the accountant, immediately wanted to know how much this would be in today’s dollars. Well, what’s your guess? I guessed $250,00o which, it turned out, was not too bad. The answer is $236,705.47.

Plan of the Bridge

Plan of the Bridge

Cost Estiimate Page 1

Cost Estiimate Page 1

Cost Estimate page 2

Cost Estimate page 2

The bridge in the plan and cost estimate - I think

The bridge in the plan and cost estimate – I think

Once upon a time there were two Mendocinos in Mendocino County, California…..

You think I jest? If you do, alas, you are wrong.

Cover of Post Office Book

Cover of Post Office Book

I bought this book, Post Offices of California by H.E. Salley a while back. I have many, many unread books and this one languished in the pile for quite some time. It surfaced because I was invited to the Fort Bragg Philatelic Society meeting. To try to not look like an unknowing fool at the meeting (easy to do) I dug it out and took it along as camouflage.

Whilst at the meeting I learned that my book contained the info that there were indeed two Mendocinos. The one I knew about is located seven miles south of Fort Bragg. According to my book there has been a post office there since December 1st, 1858.

The second Mendocino was named after Cape Mendocino and 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 the 12th of March 1853. Mendocino #2 later became known as Capetown. The post office didn’t last very long – it closed on the 20th of December 1853.

How about that for a piece of totally useless local history trivia?

The Fords who first occupied the Ford House in Mendocino, California

Jerome B. Ford

Jerome B. Ford

When I was in Mendocino recently visiting the Gallery Bookshop wife Sarah was walking our 114 pounds of drooling canine stupidity on the headlands. As they were not in sight I decided to go into the Ford house to see if I could get a “snapshot” of the family that first lived there. As you’ll see below I did quite well.

The headlands were the site of the first mill built under the direction of J.B. Ford in what became Mendocino. The second mill, also built under the direction of J.B. Ford, was built on the flats to the east of the road bridge that crosses Big River which empties into the sea below Mendocino. The first mill was abandoned. These mills were owned by a man named Meigs. After Meigs suffered severe financial difficulties (and fled to South America) the mill was taken over by Jerome B. Ford, E.C. Williams, A. Goddefroy, W. Sillem and Henry Bowie.

Martha Hayes

Martha Hayes

In 1854 Jerome Ford decided to go back east to marry Martha Hayes. He arranged with E.C. Williams to have a house built on the headlands in his absence. It was the second house built with lumber from the mill in Mendocino. Jerome Ford returned to Mendocino with his bride on July 4th, 1854.

Martha was surprised to find that she was one of just three women in Mendocino. She had a another surprise ….. Now I had heard the next piece several times and wondered if it was just a story. Apparently not. Martha was aghast to find that E.C. Williams had built the kitchen and dining room in the basement!!!

The home on the ground and upper floor was flooded with light and had magnificent views of Mendocino Bay. The basement kitchen and dining room with just half windows had to be lit by candles day and night. Needless to say a new dining room and kitchen was soon added on the east side of the house. Mrs. Ford surrounded the house with beautiful flowers and a hothouse where grapes were grown.

The Ford Family

The Ford Family

The Fords had six children and they lived in the house until 1872 when J. B. moved to Oakland to provide better education for his children. The eldest son, Jerome Chester, returned to Mendocino in 1874 to become at age 18, the youngest superintendent of the mill. Jerome Chester lived in the family home until the early 1900’s when the mill was sold.

J.B. died in Oakland in October 1889. Martha died five months later in April 1890.

Ford House

Ford House

Ford House circa 1863

Ford House circa 1863

Brief History of Mendocino

Thanks to a website visitor I found a very good, concise history of Mendocino tucked into the “back” of a website called, “real Mendocino”.

It added another squib to our knowledge of the Pomo: “Buldam, the Northern Pomo community at the mouth of Big River thrived for millennia before the European settlers arrived. Various bands of inland Pomo visited each year to harvest abundant ocean resources and to trade and socialize with their coastal neighbors. The people of Buldam lived in peace, prospering in this bountiful land.” The piece was written by Robert Lorentzen.

The page contains one of the best pictures of the Mendocino chutes that I have seen. The photo was taken by John P. Soule.

Chutes at Mendocino

Chutes at Mendocino

Auto Racing at Mendocino in the 1920’s ….. or was it at Pine Grove?

Auto Racing at Mendocino? True? Well, I have been told a couple of times that there was an auto racing track on the northwest side of the road bridge over Big River where all the hippies lived in the 1950’s. Allegedly the track was made of redwood. Alas, I have nothing in writing/photos to attest to this.

These two photos turned up whilst I was dredging the ‘net:

Racing Car on Mendocino Headlands

Racing Car on Mendocino Headlands

Two racing Cars on Mendocino Headlands

Two racing Cars on Mendocino Headlands

The info accompanying the photos said that the track was on the “on the Mendocino Headlands”.

If you turn to our website page on Pine Grove you will see that we believe that there was a race track there. The photo we have is below:

Racing Car at the Pine Grove Race Track

Racing Car at the Pine Grove Race Track

Look at the number on the bonnets/hoods of the cars in all three photos – the number 17 appears in all three. Pine Grove is definitely on headlands and it is near Mendocino…………

I’m plumping for Pine Grove for all three pics …… Anybody got any light to throw on the subject?


Camp Food at Boyle’s Camp of the Mendocino Lumber Company

I really enjoy researching and “publishing” the history of the Mendocino Coast. The number of hits this website gets totally amazes me …… I can’t believe that that many people are interested in our neck of the woods. Even more amazing to me is the incredible info we get from readers which help “join the dots” of the info we have unearthed.

Today I received an e-mail from Alexa Laffen about her grandfather. She is more eloquent than I so I will first let you read what she sent to me ………

“My grandfather was born in 1922 in Fort Bragg. His father and mother ran a cookhouse at Boyles Camp [of the Mendocino Lumber Compay] for 35 Italian loggers. He grew up watching/helping his parents cook three meals a day for the loggers. His parents would feed the loggers roast beef, vegetables (peas etc.) and soup with bread for a dinner, for example. He said his dad and uncle would drop the platter of roast beef on the table and get out of the way because the loggers would start stabbing for the beef as soon as the plate was on the table. They baked bread every day.

Every once in a while they would give each logger a half of chicken for dinner. His father would buy around 60 chickens, fatten them up for a little and then kill them for dinner. Other dinners included polenta, big spaghetti feasts, beans (side dish). Lunches consisted of 2 sandwiches and fruit. He can’t remember specifically but he said they used to have a lot of lunch meat for the sandwiches. They had a root cellar to keep the meat cool. Breakfasts consisted of a lot of eggs (scrambled), bacon, ham and pancakes. After dinner the loggers would save a slice of bread and his father would sell them a “canone” (big glass) of red wine to dip their bread in. The loggers used to get their rooster drunk off of red wine. He was a nice rooster but after getting drunk so many times he became mean and pecked a 5 year old girl in the face. His father shot the rooster and they made a big pot of rooster broth and added pasta to the broth for dinner for the loggers.

My grandfather’s stories about growing up on the camp are endless. So we took a family vacation up here to check it all out. After his parents ran the cookhouse they moved to downtown Fort Bragg and opened an Italian restaurant called “Amelia’s Cafe” on Franklin Street. Amelia was his mother’s name. It was very popular and used to have lines out the door of people waiting to eat. “Amelia’s Cafe” had two locations, first in the current “Fort Bragg Bakery” next to Sears and second in the store down the street named “Poor Richard’s Antique Store”.

We tried to find Boyles Camp today but were unsuccessful. Do you have any maps or information about Boyles Camp or if it still exists? We know that the train tracks for a Shea engine ran right near the Italian cookhouse in Boyles Camp. Thanks so much and let me know if there is anything else you would like to know about his time growing up in a logging camp!”

Let me see if I can answer the questions Alexa posed.

The following item appeared in the Mendocino Beacon on October 13, 1903 ….” Boyle & Ross logging camp received a wagon load of car trucks for what eventually became the largest logging tramway system in the river. (C. Edward Boyle and William Ross camp was located at the upper Hatch Gulch)”

I have asked Roger Thornburn (our webmaster) for access to a 1943 USGS map he downloaded to see if we can get a “real” fix on the location mentioned in the Mendocino Beacon . If you look at the sketch map on page two of Issue 436 of the Western Railroader magazine (click here to see) it indicates that there were in fact two Boyle’s Camps.

Alexa says that a Shay locomotive ran by/to Boyle’s Camp. If you read from the bottom of page six of Issue 436 of the Western Railroader magazine (click here to see) it describes “Excelsior”, Mendocino Lumber Company’s #2 engine which was a geared locomotive but was a Climax. If you go to this page in the website you can see several photos of “Excelsior” in the gallery. If you turn to page 11 of Issue 436 of the Western Railroader magazine you can see Mendocino Lumber Company’s #1 engine at Boyle’s Camp!!!!!

We do have a copy of a photo taken at Boyle’s Camp ….. in 1921 ……..

Boyles Camp April, 1921.

Hope this helps Alexa and thank you so much for the info. If you, or anyone else “out there” has something to add to our website we would be delighted to receive it.