A couple of weeks ago there was an article in the local paper – the Fort Bragg Advocate – that the Russian Gulch State Park was on the State Governments closure list. This I thought was very sad. Then something in the article caught my eye that I did not know. There was a shingle mill at Russian Gulch.
If you travel from Fort Bragg to Mendocino you pass a bridge over Russian Gulch and there is a spectacular view of the little bay from the bridge. Until you go down into the park you have no idea of the beauty of the bridge itself. This booklet, Bridges, Huckleberries and Robin Stew details the effect of the Depression in Mendocino County and the bridge was built as part of the New Deal.
Booklet describing the effect of the Depression and New Deal on Mendocino County
The bridge was designed by Henry E. Kuphal. It is similar in design to the more famous Bixby Creek Bridge several hundred miles south on the same highway at Big Sur. This picture shows the bridge under construction. Prior to the bridge’s opening, traffic across the gulch was carried on a wooden trestle bridge built in 1911, that was designed to support the weight of a 6 horse team!!
Russian Gulch Bridge being built – note the old wooden trestle in the background
The smaller, western portion of the park consists largely of headlands with a blowhole (great in a storm!) and picnic areas (great for wedddings), while the larger eastern portion of the park includes a campground, the park headquarters, and several trails for bicycles, hikers, and horses. A 2.5 mile hike from the trailhead at the east end of the campground to a 36-foot waterfall largely follows the old logging road along the creek.
Russian Gulch bridge from the bay
Russian Gulch State Park was acquired in 1933 through gifts of land and money by A. Johnston (of the CWR) and the County of Mendocino to match State Park funds. Russians who established Fort Ross in 1811 were probably the first white men to explore and chart this area. Later, when cartographers were sent out by U.S. Government to chart this spot, it was called Russian Gulch for want of a better name. According to a more specific local tradition, a deserter from Fort Ross lived at Russian Gulch and he was the source of the name.
Waterfall in Russian Gulch State Park
The lumber industry on the Mendocino Coast was to be found in all the little inlets, or “dog holes” as they were called, along the Mendocino Coast. Since the sea was the only means of travel in those days, these dog holes such as Russian Gulch were regular stops for the little schooners traveling along the coast. Some of the old iron rings used to hold the high lines that loaded lumber on the ships can be seen today anchored in the rocks along the headlands of the Russian Gulch Bay.
One of the first redwood shingle mills in this part of the country was built on the site where the recreation hall now stands. In 1867 L.E. Ballister & Co. had a mill here. From 1878 to 1888 Prince Grey had a shingle mill here which was taken over by Eugene Brown in 1888. From 1918 to some time in the 1920’s Gray and Johnson Lumber & Shingle Mill operated at Russian Gulch.
There are no signs of any of the mills now. They are gone and very, very nearly forgotten. Very sad.