Mill Towns

Link list of Mill towns on Mendocino coast

Map of the Mendocino Redwood Coast 

Today’s 106 miles of Shoreline Highway along the Mendocino Coast passes fern covered canyons, quaint bed-and-breakfasts and art centred villages. A century ago, all of these towns had a lumber mill, a logging railroad and/or a shipping point. Each sawmill had a shipping point, since no inland roads or railroads connected to the coast. The early loggers had no idea that each tree they looked at was 500, 1,000 and occasionally 2,000 years old. The loggers thought the forest were so huge, that logging could last forever. It did not. The last mill on the Mendocino Coast closed in 2005.

One hundred years ago the Mendocino Coast was a working industrial landscape. Everything revolved around the timber industry. If a person was not chopping down a tree, he was hunting for a logging camp cookhouse. A man could grow hay to feed the oxen that pulled the logs through the woods or later be the engineer behind the controls of a logging loco. Mechanical contrivances sprouted off the headlands the headlands to get the lumber from the sawmill onto ships for transit. Human ingenuity and hard work took a standing tree with enough lumber for five houses and turned it into piles of boards bound together for shipment.

As with any settlement pattern, the native people, the Pomo got shoved aside as thousands of young men arrived to fell trees and work on the mills. These men were followed by wives, families and women of ill-repute. Farms were established on logged over lands as crossroads villages and towns appeared.

Many old places, once full of life and commerce, have vanished. Visitors might see a sign on a fence post or a road name but nothing remains of the town. Boom and bust cycles in timber products caused places to appear and then vanish. It took decades for residents to realize that the forest was not coming back after a second or third cutting. The visitors who did come did not want to look at a cut over forest. They wanted to look at the big trees which, like the Pomo, were gone forever.

The ports along the coast were called “dogholes”. Why? They were often so small that a dog would have trouble turning around in them. These tiny ports led to the creation of short, shallow lumber schooners with crews of four. Because there were so many creeks and rivers, all transport went by sea.

A decent coastal road system was decades in the future and inland routes were nothing but horse trails. But, every little town had something to make it special. Fish Rock had a farmer who exhibited 42 potatoes weighing 140 pounds. Point Arena had an asphalt leak in a bluff that was scooped up and used to pave the streets. Greenwood (or Elk) was proud of the fact that it kept 500 men working for 20 years in its sawmill. Manchester produced tons of butter.

It took years to get roads into the Redwood Empire. There was no road from Gualala to Ukiah 100 years ago. It took until 1925 to get a highway from Westport to Leggett and Highway 101. In the 1930’s the roads were gravel and dirt. It was not until the 1950’s that there were a pavement between Mendocino and Point Arena.

Our objective with this website is to tell the story of the mill towns and logging industry depicted in our model railroad, the Mendocino Coast Railroad and Navigation Company. Our research on each of the towns listed above has contributed to a diorama or an event in our model. There were 80 places where people lived which had a name along the Mendocino Coast. There is so much information available, that some of the towns (e.g. Fort Bragg) have several pages of information.

In order to gain a perspective of the woodlands logged and lumber shipped from the doghole ports along the Mendocino coast we have compiled a composite map using maps from the USGS. The composite map is of the area around Fort Bragg and is, believe it or not, approximately 34 mile high and 26 miles wide made up from different USGS maps. The map is compiled from 16 USGS 7.5 minute (1:62500 or roughly 1”=1mile) maps. The final composite is a 50,000 x 64,000 pixels (3,200 Megapixels). To enable it to be viewed over the internet, it’s been broken down into 16,000 individual tiles and when fully zoomed in, 1” on your screen is about 175 feet. Click here to see it. Zoom in on downtown Fort Bragg and you can see where the railroad used to be at the Union Lumber Company mill and around the depot.