Posted by: "HENCHMAN OF JUSTICE" | January 23, 2010

Humboldt County timber history

Below are a couple articles reflecting the history of the logging industry in Humboldt County. It is good to remember what built the towns and small cities in Humboldt’s homelands.    

Humboldt County Historical Society

Humboldt County: A Briefest of Histories

By Susie Van Kirk
Prepared for the Shades of Humboldt Project

carefully prescribed by cultural and religious mores. Humboldt’s Indian communities made and continue to make significant contributions to the history and development of the county.lifewayspracticed  Nongatland  Mattole, and the southern Athabascans, including the Whilkut, Chilula, Karok, Hupa    Humboldt County was already multi-cultural when Euro-Americans arrived in the spring of 1850. The indigenous people occupied specific territories, spoke languages of several different stocks, and had similar but different social and cultural structures. The Wiyot, Yurok,   



resources – big trees, salmon, and land. premiere of the Russian-American Company out of Sitka. But it wasn’t until rediscovery by land by the Gregg-Wood Party in December 1849, that the region’s history was forever defined. Spring 1850 brought the first ships to Humboldt and Trinidad bays, where men, generally from the States, disembarked on their way to the gold mining districts on the Klamath, Salmon and Trinity rivers. First settled as a point of arrival and as a supply center for these interior mines, Eureka, Union (Arcata), and Trinidad were hubs of activity. But as the excitement and rush for gold subsided, the prospects for economic well-being, if not wealth, shifted to the region’s employ    Ocean exploration of the northern coast of California included Spanish, Russian and British ships, with the first recorded Humboldt landing at Trinidad by the Spanish in 1775. The first entrance to Humboldt Bay was in 1806 by an American with Aleut hunters, all in the  



known as Bayside. Some of their descendants are still there, as well as the houses they built along Old Arcata and Graham roads.  to be Canadian woodsmen that came a community of the county. The Chinese came first to mine on the Klamath and Salmon rivers, work in the fish canneries on lower Eel River, and later to build railroads. They were forcibly expelled in 1885. Americans and later Italians fished commercially on lower Eel River, the Italians acting as the buyers for San Francisco firms. Canadian “Blue Noses” from the maritime provinces, particularly Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, came to work in Humboldt’s woods. William Carson, of Carson Mansion fame, developed logging and milling operations around the bay and recruited workers from his home in New Brunswick. Operations on Washington and Jacoby creeks created the settlement of    This redirection resulted in the arrival of new groups of people from foreign shores and different cultures and, very importantly, 


area trace their ancestry to these immigrants of a century ago. The Portuguese, who came to Humboldt County from the Azores, also found work on dairy ranches, but the timber industry provided employment for many.   Loleta and Ferndale valley, and on the coastal plains around the lagoons. But it didn’t take long before industry and ingenuity made these dairyman owners of both land and cows. Many residents of the Orick dairying operations in the latter part of the 19th century, Swiss-Italian immigrants came to work for others on the bottom lands of Mad and Eel rivers, in the the establishment of    With


    People of Slavic origins came at the turn-of-the-century to work in Humboldt County’s woods and mills. The homes of James Malvich, Joseph Maronich, Nick Dubrovich, Cosmo Stiglich, and others remain within a few blocks of each other in East Arcata, where these families enjoyed the social activities of a Croatian society. The French found homes in Blue Lake and Arcata, published newspapers, developed townsites, and opened French restaurants. The interior prairies of the Bald Hills, Kneeland, Showers Pass, Bridgeville and the headwaters of the Van Duzen, Mad and North Fork Eel rivers were settled by Americans who ran cattle and sheep operations.    

    Up to and through the Second World War, this demographic and occupational structure prevailed. People came and went, of course, but the population and work remained fairly stable. The natural resources of the North Coast continued to provide livelihoods for most of Humboldt County’s people. Large timber companies, such as Hammond, Northern Redwood Lumber Co., Pacific Lumber Company, and Dolbeer and Carson kept people employed. The close of the war, however, forever changed that stability. A new Doug fir/plywood industry brought woods and mill workers from Oregon and Washington. Gypo loggers and seat-of-the-pants mills appeared overnight. Workers from Arkansas and Oklahoma found ready work. On the peninsula, Manila became a settlement of these folks, many of whom brought home the scrap wood from the mill at Samoa to build their houses. In 1947, Arcata was a lumber boom town with 30 mills in operation and more to come. Railroad shipments of lumber broke records year after year.    

    Timber dominated the economic and political life of the county well into the 1970s, but times were changing. College students, back-to-the-land refugees, and environmentalists brought a new perspective to resource use. What had once been a totally resource-extractive economy became a more diverse economy which included education, health and social services, resource protection and restoration, and government. And new groups of immigrants arrived, notably Hispanic workers and their families and refugees from countries impacted by the Vietnam War.    

    An incomparable natural environment and a diversity of people and cultures have created a history for Humboldt County as rich as any in California.    

May 1999 – Humboldt County Library    

Redwood, King of Humboldt County

By George A Kellogg, Secretary, Humboldt County Chamber of Commerce
From the 1914 edition of the Davis Commercial Encyclopedia of the Pacific Southwest
George A. Kellogg, Humboldt County Chamber of commerce in 1914.George A. Kellogg, 1914.
Picture courtesy of Davis Commercial Encyclopedia.

Almost from the initial settlement of Humboldt County in 1850, its magnificent redwood forests reaching down to the very shores of Humboldt Bay, indicated by the near conjunction of exhaustless timber and navigable waters what the principal industry of this favored region was to be. Hardly had the first settlements been effected until enterprising spirits began to convert the endless forests into marketable lumber; and never since that time has the long procession of white-winged sailing vessels, of their successors, the steam schooners and the foreign tramp steamers, all laden with Humboldt redwood, ceased to dot the blue waters of the broad Pacific. Year in and year out this traffic has been maintained and increased, always holding sturdily its position as the main factor in the trade and commerce of Humboldt Bay. And for many, many years to come will this pre-eminence be maintained.    

The most prominent and interesting physical feature of Humboldt County lies in her unparalleled forest of redwood; and her people are justly proud of possessing the very heart and choicest portion of this world-famous belt of timber. Aside from their consideration as factors in the industrial or commercial world, these forests hold a weird fascination for every beholder, and the visitor who views them in their primeval majesty for the first time gazes upon the gigantic trunks and towering spires in speechless wonder and admiration. No one of Nature’s wonders can be more awe-inspiring or impressive to the visiting stranger than to rest in the midst of some choice body of redwood where the trees stand densely, reaching upward from 200 to 300 or more feet, completely shutting out the rays of the sun on the brightest day, and casting the shadows of twilight about their bases. These immense trees now stand as the most remarkable monuments of vegetable growth in the known world. Gigantic in size, symmetrical and straight as an arrow, firmly planted and strongly rooted, they appear as the unmoved, unchanging sentinels of the passing centuries – except that they grow larger, taller, more grandly majestic as the centuries flit by like shadows into the past.    

Avenue of the GiantsAvenue of the Giants.
Picture courtesy of the Fortuna Depot Museum.

The beauty and majesty of these redwood forests have long impressed upon far-seeing people the great necessity of preserving a considerable tract of this timber as a public park for the benefit of future generations. And several efforts have been made along this line, but so far without successful result. At the present time a bill is pending before Congress which authorizes the appointment of a commission to visit Humboldt and investigate the necessity and advisability of securing some tract of these trees as a public reserve and park. And recently a large timber owner, now resident here, has initiated a plan to secure a tract of some 15,000 to 20,000 acres, the plan being to obtain large subscriptions from wealthy and public-spirited citizens sufficient to cover a considerable portion of the cost, and then ask the government to make up the balance. It is sincerely to be hoped that one of these efforts, or a combination of the two of them, will bring about the desired result.    

The Sequia's Last StandThe Sequoia’s Last Stand.
Picture courtesy of the
Fortuna Depot Museum.

The redwood forest in Humboldt extends in an irregular but compact belt from the southern to the northern boundary of the county, parallel to and near the coast, for a distance of about 108 miles. It varies in width from two or three miles to ten and even fifteen miles, averaging about five miles in width. Originally there were about 538,000 acres of this remarkable timber in Humboldt, of which some 80,000 acres have been cut, leaving 458,000 acres still standing. At the commonly accepted estimate of 100,000 feet of all timber products to the acre, there is still 45,800,000,000 feet of uncut redwood in Humboldt, sufficient to last for more than a century at the present rate of cutting.    

The stumpage value of this great timber belt is an immense present and future resource of this section. Twenty years ago this value ranged from fifty cents to one dollar per thousand feet. Now the minimum price is two dollars per thousand, and as high as four dollars, and even more, has been paid for tract with especially favorable locations. And these prices will be steadily augmented as other available timber sources grow scarcer, and as the demand increases with the growth of population throughout the country. Applying the present minimum value of two dollars per thousand feet to the forty-five billion feet of standing redwood and we find that this one resource of Humboldt County is now ninety millions of dollars, and this value is constantly increasing. And it is safe; for redwood forests an their natural state will not burn. Being without resin, and protected by a thick and non-inflammable bark, and with the constant condensation of moisture from the foggy atmosphere of Humboldt due to the thick and heavy stand of these great trees, it is impossible for fire to gain any headway, or to do any serious damage to these compact standing forests.      

Redwood has no pitch, and the acid contained in it seems to resist combustion. It is difficult to ignite, and a fire of it is easily extinguished. It strongly resists decay, the lower portions of the trunk especially, being the equal is not the superior of any known wood in this respect. No known land insect will prey upon it, and only the teredo, against which marine scourge no wood is proof, will injure it. Redwood shrinks but little in drying, and none at all after that. Neither will it, when once dry, swell to any extent when wet. Its shrinkage ;lengthwise is, proportionately, much greater than across the grain. It is little affect by extremes of weather conditions, and so is especially adapted for patterns, mouldings, tanks, vats, flumes, house finishings, and railroad ties. Its color is a rich red, varying from that of light red cedar to the deepest mahogany. In general appearance and qualities it resembles red cedar more than any other wood. Quite a percentage of it is curly grained, and this variety is especially adapted for interior finishing in its natural color. The great size of the tree and ts freedom from knots render it possible to get out planks of almost any desired width without knot or flaw. Much of this lumber shipped to Australia and other foreign countries as “rough clear” is in great planks or pieces 6 or 8 inches in thickness, and from 24 to 36 inches or more in width, absolutely clear. Redwood is soft in texture, and easy to work. This, taken in connection with the extra widths that may be had, and its weather enduring qualities, make it a most convenient and serviceable wood for building purposes.    

Scotia Panorama, 1912.Scotia panorama, 1912, click to enlarge (1.2MB file).
Known in 1882 as Forestville, Scotia is one of the few company towns still in existence. By 1888 the mill was the largest producer of lumber in Humboldt County. The Pacific Lumber Company and its employees weathered economic downturns, fires, floods, supplied the lumber for rebuilding San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, and World War I. At the time this photograph was taken the mill employed about a thousand people and its new mill was hailed as the largest, most modern and best equipped sawmill on the West Coast. On the right, in the distance and across the river you can see the town of Wildwood (Rio Dell today).
Picture courtesy of the Fortuna Depot Museum.

The manufacture of lumber in Humboldt began in 1850, but was at first confined to pine, spruce and fir, as the great size and weight of redwood logs placed them beyond the primitive facilities of that early date to handle and saw. Nor were the good qualities of redwood as a lumber known to the pioneer lumberman of that day, while they were familiar with the other woods mentioned. In 1855 the first cargo of redwood lumber was sawed and shipped to San Francisco. In 1862, the introduction of the circular saw gave additional impulse to this industry. In 1886 the band saw began to replace the circular saw, and its economy of timber and other advantages soon gave it the lead, and now all the mills in the county are fully outfitted with band saws, which, perfected by time and experience, seem now to be the acme of progress in comparison with the old fashioned sash or muley saw mill which would cut from 4,000 to 8,000 feet per day. Now a single band saw mill is rated at from 60,000 to 80,000 feet per day, while a double band mill, especially if provided with a band splitter, may produce from 200,000 to 240,000 feet of lumber per day. The eleven large mills now operating in the county are rated as having an aggregate capacity of 1,500,000 feet of lumber per day, at 450,000,000 feet in a working year of 300 days.    

Ox Team Pulling Redwood Log on Skid RoadOx Team Pulling Redwood Log on Skid Road.
Picture courtesy of the Fortuna Depot Museum.

The improvement in methods and facilities in logging has fully kept pace with he advancement of the mills. Owing to the great size and weight of the trees, and their thick stand on the ground, redwood logging offers many problems not met with in other woods, but these conditions have been met and conquered, and now redwood logging moves along smoothly and systematically, conducted by men who know how. IN the beginning, the logs handled were small and comparatively light, and they were moved by means of oxen, on bob-sleds. Soon heavy trucks with solid wooden wheels replaced the sleds, but with oxen still as the motive power. In the early 70’s, the oxen were partially replaced by horse teams. About 1874, logging railways were introduced, and in 1882 the steam donkey began to be used to assemble the logs in the woods. Ten years later the heavy and powerful bull donkey came in. At first these were mostly stationery, but later on they were made removable, making changes of location readily practicable. And now the bull donkey and the logging railway have replaced all other forms of logging machinery and adjuncts, and the glory of the ox team and the horse team as essentials in redwood logging has passed away forever.   continued    

Excelsior Redwood Company.Excelsior Redwood Company lumber train and camp operating out of Freshwater, approximately 1890.
Ericson Photograph Collection, Humboldt State University Library.

Excelsior Redwood Company lumber train and camp operating out of Freshwater, approximately 1890.
Ericson Photograph Collection, Humboldt State University Library.    

Prior to 1889, no attempt was made to record the output of the mills, or the shipments of lumber from the county. But by figuring from the amount of land cut over during the period, it is estimated that the total lumber production from 1855 to 1888, inclusive, was about 2,500,000,000 feet, at an approximate value of $40,000,000.    

Beginning with 1889 fairly accurate records have been kept of the shipments from the county, no attempt being made to include the amounts being used within the county, although the amount so used is considerable, as practically every building and structure in the county is built, in whole or in part, of redwood. It should be remembered that the following figures include not only what is commonly known as “lumber,” but also any and every form of manufactured timber, such as shingles, shakes, posts, bolts, ties, etc., that is capable of reduction to approximate lumber feet. The figures from 1889 to 1913, both inclusive, are then as follows:

Year Feet Value
1889 120,545,800 $2,296,135
1890 161,455,000 $3,067,645
1891 152,517,613 $2,897,834
1892 166,855,262 $2,502,828
1893 152,749,713 $2,222,610
1894 111,751,264 $1,588,570
1895 128,785,709 $1,795,410
1896 100,460,581 $1,320,005
1897 133,717,278  $1,778,085
1898 128,291,255 $1,802,330
1899 163,640,590 $2,336,000
1900 162,635,560 $2,242,520
1901 218,380,060 $3,148,060
1902 221,595,486 $3,830,410
1903 272,054,860 $4,816,600
1904 274,358,140 $4,776,920
1905 313,495,560 $5,632,300
1906 360,671,090 $7,201,000
1907 374,539,400 $7,702,205
1908 300,804,570 $6,101,820
1909 339,891,500 $6,093,000
1910 368,527,700 $6,552,560
1911 367,139,720 $6,505,460
1912 415.925.400 $7,494,560
1913 369,633,766 $6,820,800
Totals for 25 years, 1889 to 1913 5,880,422,877 $102,525,607
Totals for 34 years, 1855 to 1888 2,500,000,000 $40,000,000
Grand totals, 59 years to 1914 8,380,422,877 $142,525,607
Jeffrey Lytle – Humboldt County 5th District Supervisor candidate



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