Saturday, December 10, 2011


It was a typical overcast day when Patty and I visited Fort Humboldt State Historic Park in the Northern California town of Eureka. Sitting on a bluff overlooking the rugged Humboldt Bay, (California's second largest bay port,) Fort Humboldt is two parks in one, a historic fort, and a logging and railroad museum .

The original fort was estab-lished in 1853 to assist in conflict resolution between Native Americans and the increasing number of gold miners flooding into the area.

We visited the Railroad portion first. It was August Steam-Up Day at the park and free train rides were being given by the volunteers. Ft. Humboldt's two small operating gypsy loco-motives are the only remaining examples of locomotives manufactured by Marshutz and Cantrell. We hopped aboard and were taken for a short ride, fifty yards at the most. But the crew was jolly and the riders were having a genuinely enjoyable time.

When the gold rush went bust, logging and timber became the primary industry in Humboldt County. The non-profit organization The Timber Heritage Association (THA) has been collecting artifacts for the logging exhibit and working to preserve the local logging history since 1977.

The most notable of these artifacts is the steam donkey. Invented in 1881 by John Dolbeer, a founding partner in the Dolbeer and Carson Lumber Company in Eureka, the steam donkey got it's name from "donkey" engines used in sailing ships to load and unload cargo.

In the simplest setting, a line-horse carried a cable to the felled timber. The cable was attached to the log and on signal, the steam donkey's engi-neer would open the regulator, allowing the steam donkey to drag the log towards it. It was then taken either to a mill or to a landing where the log would be shipped by rail or river. If a donkey was to be moved, one of its cables was attached to a tree, stump or other strong anchor, and the machine would drag itself overland to the next yarding location.

There was to have been a steam donkey demonstration at the park today, but it didn't happen due to a mixup with volunteers. Nontheless there was plenty of interesting equipment and logs to view before heading over to the abandoned fort. One of the THA's concerns about the state park budget cutbacks is the lack of funds for proper maintenance for many of the already deteriorating museum pieces.

I won't deny that my "inner tree-hugger" didn't gasp at some of the early photos of the downed majestic, old-growth giants. But, my own little house was built in 1945 with redwood. I won't even pretend that I have any ideas as to acheiving some sort of balance between homes, jobs and the environment. I hope someone smarter than me figures it out though, and leaves us with some old-growth forests for posterity.

The hospital is the only remaining structure from the original fourteen buildings at the Fort. For some time is has been a historical museum dedicated to telling the story of the Fort and the Native American groups, including the Wiyot, Hoopa and Yurok of this region. In the 1980's the Surgeon’s Quarters was reconstructed and there are plans for its establishment as a period house museum. In 2001 an historic herb and vegetable garden was recreated adjacent to the Hospital.

Unfortunately, the hospital museum was damaged extensively by an earthquake in January 2010. Signs on the building indicated closure for an indefinite period.

Peering through the windows we could see much plaster and debris from the earthquake.

Behind the building a piece of chimney lay on the ground. A ladder lying on the roof seemed to indicate that some repair had been attempted, but the amount of moss growing on the ladder lead us to believe it had been awhile since any efforts had been made. No doubt with the park on the closure list, there is hesitation to continue with repair.

The remainder of the park was an open field with an empty flagpole. Signposts marked the sites where buildings once stood, although some of the signposts had deteriorated to a point of illegibility.

The most notable of Fort Humboldt's occupants was the young General Ulysses S. Grant. After being decorated for bravery in the Mexican-American war, he was posted to Fort Humboldt for about five months in 1854. He found his post at the fort boring and isolating and felt his Army career was going nowhere. The Fort Commander was his bitter rival Lt. Col. Robert Buchannon. Buchannon accused Grant of being drunk on duty, contributing to the myth of Grant as a hard-drinking man. Grant was forced to either resign his post or be court martialed. He returned to his home in Missouri to farm until the Civil War returned him to his military status in 1861. Fort Humboldt was formally abandoned in 1870 and rapidly fell into decay.

A park worker in a golf cart buzzed by us to remind us that she would be locking the gate promptly in 30 minutes and that we'd best prepare to leave unless we wanted to spend the night.

At this writing the Fort Humboldt website states it is open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm. However the phone number listed is no longer "monitored" as the answering machine says, I hope the information is up to date. There is much work needed at both the historic logging/train museum and the old Fort. I'm glad I made it up there for a visit before it closes.

Hope to see you at the parks.



  1. This is sad... doesn't appear this one will be saved since it is so far behind in repairs etc... compared to the other parks you have blogged about. Glad you had the opportunity to visit and share it with us.

  2. Outstanding article. I applaud your effort to draw attention to these parks. I just posted this to my Facebook page.

    Keep up the good fight.

  3. Linda - hard to say about this park. The parks in the most Northern part of the state have smaller populations to draw from for support and a lot of parks closing in their regions.

    Robb - thank you for reposting and getting the word out.


  4. A sad state of affairs. I do interpretive programs at the Fort as First Sgt. Simmons and I hope something is done to keep the Fort running. Just a little side note. The ladder pictured above is actually part of the historic structure. It was used to climb to the chimney to clean it, many of the buildings of the day had them.

  5. Thanks for the note on the ladder. There was absolutely no one to get info from.



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