Until 1914, Navarro on Route 128 was called Wendling (Woods) – Navarro was the name of what is now “Navarro-by-the sea. Wendling/Navarro, is located eleven miles up river from the sea along Highway 128.
A century ago the mouth of the river was a beehive of activity. There was a sawmill, railroad and shipping wharf. It is all gone. The picture below shows the mill in operation. The current bridge is upstream from the bridge in the picture. The second picture below shows the wharf. The third picture below shows the mill adjacent to the old bridge.
On the sea side and south side of the current bridge over the Navarro River you will find Capt. Fletcher’s Inn (the old Navarro by the Sea Hotel) which is in the early stages of rehabilitation. The Inn was there when the mill was operational but, alas, it is presently closed to visitors. A permanent display board at the site of Capt. Fletcher’s Inn provides historic information and photographs to visitors. The Inn is immediately to the left of the smoke plume in the middle of the picture above. The picture below shows Captain Fletcher’s Inn today. Pilings from the old mill can be seen in the foreground.
Charles Fletcher, a sailor, ship’s carpenter, and whale boat captain, was the first settler of what became the town of Navarro near the mouth of the Navarro River. Charles was born in the China seas on his father’s Schooner “Wildcat.” He came to San Francisco in 1849 during the gold rush. By 1851, he had arrived on the north coast, apparently as captain of a whaling ship. Later he returned, with Francisco Faria, as one of the first “white” settlers in the area that became known as Cuffey’s Cove.
Capt. Fletcher, in partnership with James Kennedy and Capt. Thomas Kennedy of San Francisco, built the Inn during the 1860’s for sailors who had to wait three days while their schooners were loaded with lumber from the Navarro Mill. The Navarro Mill was built on land purchased from Fletcher for $1,200 on the Navarro Flats near Capt. Fletcher’s home.
The Fletcher family was one of the last to live in the old village of Navarro. Charles Fletcher died in 1902. His Inn has survived three major fires, the earthquake of 1906 and the devastating flood of 1907 that swept away a bridge near the mouth of the Navarro. In July, 1890, a fire destroyed the first Navarro lumber mill (the one in the picture above). A second, larger and more up-to-date mill was built about a mile up river. In 1911, a fire destroyed much of the village on the Flats. In the early 1920’s, a fire started by fishermen destroyed the Fletcher’s family home next to the Inn.
The Navarro Mill went bankrupt in the “crash” of 1893. Byxbee, the owner attempted to sell to an English firm for $1,030,000 but was unsuccessful. The company was deeply in debt, not only for the new mill building, but also for improvements such as the extensive railroad line and a new engine called the”Tichenor.” Eventually the mill was sold, but then burned down under mysterious circumstances. The fire occurred in 1902, the same year that Fletcher died.
Capt. Fletcher’s Inn and the mill manager’s house are now the only buildings remaining from the once thriving town. At its height, it had 500-600 inhabitants, with another 300 men located in camps in the woods up river.
The lumber schooners were originally loaded from shallow bottomed boats called “lighters.” Timber was cut in the dry season, piled along the creeks and floated down river by the winter freshets to be sawn at the mill. The shallow lighters can be seen in the engraving Left) of ca. 1865.
In the the background in the photo left, is the wharf originally built by Tichenor and Byxbee in ca. 1874. Destroyed by storms in 1878, it was rebuilt the same year to be 600 feet long and 24 feet wide, with a loading platform 60 feet wide at the end.
Captain Fletcher’s Inn has been the subject of a tremendous local effort to raise funds to for its renovation. To get the full story go here to get it from the horse’s mouth. The captain Fletcher Inn website has a wonderful section on the history of the people and the place – well worth a read if you are into Mendocino Coast history.
Navarro, as Wendling Woods is now called, does indeed have a number of very old buildings we have been unable to link any of them to the photos we have found – see below.