Odd, Old News: A Trip Up the Coast to Crescent City

View from afar of Crescent City and coastline [Photo courtesy of HSU Library Humboldt Room Photograph Collections, HCC Photos]

View from afar of Crescent City and coastline [Photo courtesy of HSU Library Humboldt Room Photograph Collections, HCC Photos]

Nuggets of old news are served up by David Heller, one of our local historians.

The State Highway Act of 1910 made possible the construction of many new roads in California, including all of the highways now connecting Humboldt County to the rest of the state. For the first time, convict labor was used for much of the road building in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, a practice followed in thirty-two other states. County roads were widened, re-routed, graveled, and made ready for increased traffic as state highways.

Last week’s Odd Old News comment section brought to light the Last Chance section of US Highway 101, and prompted this week’s article about the communities along the northernmost stretch of the highway that was still under construction in 1919.

By 1922, most of the new route up the coast north of Blue Lake was drivable, but construction continued for a number of years in problem stretches. The building of the Douglas Memorial Bridge over the Klamath River at Requa began in 1924, and was finished in 1926, soon eliminating the use of the Requa ferry that was deemed “the worst single obstacle on the highway”.

Blue Lake Advocate, 1/28/1928.

After procuring the necessary right of ways, the final unfinished gap of six and a half miles was completed in 1928. It extended “from the end of the present state highway at Wilson creek to join the completed roadbed of the new highway on Hunters creek, about two miles the other side of the Douglas Memorial bridge, which section was built by convict labor a couple of years ago.”

It took about a decade of hard labor to turn the route into the Redwood Highway which “paved” the way for the coming flood of tourists travelling north to experience our magnificent redwood forests and parks, and the coastline’s scenic beauty. This week Odd Old News will travel up the North Coast’s Redwood Highway and look at the local news from towns along the way.

A TRIP UP THE COAST TO CRESCENT CITY From Blue Lake to Oregon Line, a Distance of About 125 Miles, Greatly Enjoyed MANY IMPROVEMENTS ARE NOTED Crescent City and Del Norte County Looking Forward to an Era of Great Prosperity in the Near Future
Blue Lake Advocate
September 13, 1919

A trip up the coast as far as the Oregon line in Del Norte county, a distance of about 125 miles, always creates to the traveler a desire to visit that section of country again. The scenery is simply grand. From Blue Lake to Trinidad the roads are in fine shape. Despite a few sharp turns in places between Trinidad and the mouth of the Klamath River an ordinary automobile can make good time, averaging twelve miles an hour. Such was the record made by F. E. Peaslack, the district representative of the International Correspondence Schools of Scranton. Pa., who, accompanied by A. L. George of the Portland Feed Company and Editor Gus. Perigot of the Blue Lake Advocate, made the round trip this week in his Ford. The roads were muddy in places owing to the rains of several days previous, otherwise they were found in fair condition.

Trinidad and Vicinity– At Trinidad the people there were waiting for the visit of the Pacific Fleet while on its way from San Francisco to Oregon and Washington ports, but they were somewhat disappointed as the big ships passed there too early in the morning. It is understood that on their way back some of the big ships will swing into Trinidad for a visit.

At Stone Lagoon– At Stone Lagoon Mayor John Plitsch, who owns 400 acres of fine dairy land, reports good crops all through that section this year and the dairymen and farmers are doing well. He is also acting as road foreman in that particular section and he takes pride in keeping the highway in excellent order. Mr. and Mrs. Plitsch are now driving a fine new Mitchell six car. William Graham and wife of the Stone Lagoon Inn reports as having done a good business this year there being many tourists going back and forth almost every day. The ducks in the lagoon are already coming in, which presages early rains and fine hunting there next month when the duck season opens.

Orick Is Prosperous– At Orick a crew of men are busy building a new piece of highway, about three miles long, from Freshwater Lagoon to the foot of the hill. The road follows the ocean nearly all the way, just around the bluff, and when finished it will be a great improvement, doing away with the steep Orick hill. Reddy and Wilthemherst are the contractors, receiving $37,000 for the job. Webster & Chaffey, who conduct the store and hotel, are enjoying a good business there. The cheese factory managed by A. D. Oliver is also a busy institution, making some of the finest cheese in Humboldt county. A fine new school house will soon be built there, and taking everything in consideration Orick is as flourishing a place as can be found anywhere along the coast. Some fine dairy ranches exist in that valley and along Prairie Creek.

The Ferry at Requa [Patterson Photo, courtesy of HSU Library Humboldt Room Photograph Collections, note:“Mr. & Mrs. Busch running the ferry”]

The Ferry at Requa [Patterson Photo, courtesy of HSU Library Humboldt Room Photograph Collections, note:“Mr. & Mrs. Busch running the ferry”]

(Continued…) At the Mouth of the Klamath at Requa– At Requa much activity prevailed this season. The salmon cannery in charge of Superintendent Field has been kept quite busy since the opening of the fishing season from July 1st to September 6th. It is estimated that about 6,000 cases of salmon were canned during that time. The fall season will open on September 20th, lasting until December 1st. The fishermen made good money there this year, receiving seven cents per pound. Jerome Hackteman, the secretary of the Fishermen’s Union at the Klamath, reports that more money has been paid the fishermen this year than at any time before.

The shake mill at Requa has been running steadily all summer, but it is expected that it will shut down within a few weeks. Shakes are commanding a good price at present. Del Norte county is having a new ferry boat built at the Klamath, David Ball being the contractor. The latter reports that the new boat will be finished within a few weeks. It measures fourteen feet wide and forty feet long, and it will accommodate eight small auto cars at one time. Stacy Fisher is the trusty ferryman. The ferry will be operated by an endless wire cable, which will give perfect satisfaction.

Engineer Norman R. Smith is also busy building a new boat at Requa, one which will carry 100,000 feet of lumber. When completed, the boat will ply between Requa and up the Sacramento River, via San Francisco. It will transport lumber to the Sacramento Valley and returning it will bring all kinds of freight from that section. It is built in such a shape that it will be able to cross the Klamath River bar at almost any time. The cheese factory at Requa in charge of Superintendent Tinner is also a busy institution, receiving at present close to 1500 pounds of milk daily. Some rich dairy ranches can be found in that section as far up as Terwah Creek, some six miles from Requa up the river.

Example of early biplane,

the first plane to land at Orleans, circa 1917[Photo courtesy of HSU Library Humboldt Room Photograph Collections, Palmquist collection]

The first plane to land at Orleans, circa 1917 [Photo courtesy of HSU Library Humboldt Room Photograph Collections, Palmquist collection]

(Continued…) At Crescent City– Before reaching Crescent City, Contractors Palmer and McBryde have a crew of about 25 men at work building the 8 miles of State Highway from Last Chance to Cushion Creek at the foot of the steep Ragged Hill. The handsome sum of $198,750 is the contract price paid them by the State Highway Commission to grade that distance. It is an exceptionally rough country to build a road through, following the ocean nearly all the way from where it begins on the DeMartin ranch.

Crescent City people are very anxious to see the Highway Commission continue the building of that highway to the city limits, a distance of about four miles, thus doing away with that back road along the beach, which is almost impassable six months in the year on account of shifting sands and huge logs and debris washed there by the high tides. This piece of road is a necessity and it should be constructed at once.

Last Saturday about noon the beach was lined with people who waited for the landing of the Curtis biplane of the Humboldt Aero Club of Eureka. The aeroplane arrived in time, covering the distance between Eureka and Crescent City, 100 miles, in one hour and twenty minutes. Dayton Murray of Eureka was the aviator in charge and he was accompanied on the trip by Irving Clay of the Humboldt Times. It remained here Sunday and Monday until 3:30 p. m., when it flew back to Eureka in about the same time. Walter Caltoft, the manager of the Central Creamery at Crescent City, accompanied Dayton Murray in the flight. While here Saturday afternoon and Sunday the plane made 33 “business” flights, taking one passenger each time who was more than willing to pay the sum of one dollar per minute while in the air. Each flight lasted ten minutes. Aviator Murray is an expert at the business, and he is always safe in his flights. He will give Humboldt county people some demonstrations at the Ferndale Fair next week.

It is the intention of the Humboldt Aero Club to soon purchase a 12-passenger aeroplane which will be used between San Francisco and Eureka and Portland, a distance of about 700 miles.

The Del Norte Supervisors at their meeting next week intend to pass a resolution giving the U. S. War Department power to use the $200,000 raised by the county to start the building of the 3,000-foot breakwater. The Government has agreed to appropriate $290,000 for the improvement of the Crescent City harbor. Ultimately it will cost the Government about $6,000,000 to complete the work as projected. With its harbor improved and with the advent of a railroad from Grants Pass, Oregon. Crescent City and Del Norte county will be bound to forge ahead. The natural undeveloped resources of our sister county are immense and once in the act of development its people will realize a period of genuine prosperity. The county boasts of having the finest redwood timber belt in the world, saying nothing of its mineral and other undeveloped resources.

At Smith River– Smith River Corners, as it is called, is a lively place these days. A large new creamery plant is in course of construction, expecting to be completed within a couple of months. It is owned by a San Francisco firm. A large new public hall or auditorium is also being built there, and there is some talk that the Brookings Lumber Company, nearby, may erect a shingle mill In the near future. The Owens people of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, are principal owners of the Brookings mill, and they also own 87,000 acres of fine redwood timber land in Del Norte county, including the famous redwood grove on Mill Creek and along Smith River. It has been estimated that a particular claim of 80 or 160 acres in that grove will average one million feet per acre, which is probably the largest stand of timber per acre in the world. This would be an ideal place for a redwood park and the Government may take advantage of this fact if it wishes to “save the redwoods.”

Del Norte County Road Work– On September 3rd, the California Highway Commission directed Highway Engineer Fletcher to call for proposals for the construction of a section of the State Highway in Del Norte county between Crescent City and Cushion Creek, a distance of about three miles.

Earlier Odd and Old News:

There are many, but here are the most recent:



  • What a great time to be alive. I can’t help but think how badly we managed all those nice resources. That’s just the human way I suppose.

    • Frankly, without the work, courage and creativity our ancestors put into developing science and technology and history, you would still be just as unaware of various issues as they were. There was a point not that long ago where starvation, illness and accidents made life short and brutal. Always something was needed to improve that situation. And the less urgent matters could be put off.

      Right now in the pursuit of “clean energy” to meet the current state of knowledge, electric vehicles are rapidly being developed. But what is going to be the costs, evironmental damage and resulting pollution of getting the chemicals needed in vehicle batteries or electronics in those vehicles? Just as 70 years ago, spent fuel on nuclear reactors seemed a problem to solved by the next generation. Pretty easily it was thought. Yet here we are having not resolved it at all. Here we are going full bore again on a technology whose downsides are on the fringe of our awareness but which are not going to be addressed until they are forced to our attention. Just the same as our ancestors did, we are trying to meet the problems of today and leave the mistakes to future generations. Just as we know wind turbines have limited life spans yet the issues of recycling those materials are an afterthought.

      In other words, as pogo so famously said “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I do not think blaming past generations is reasonable when we are doing exactly the same things- putting off remote complications until tomorrow to deal with more immediate concerns now. I expect that a hundred years from now, someone will be complaining about how poorly we managed our resources too. If we still have the luxury of time to waste doing that.

  • Thanks David for your columns!

    Wow that biplane sure has a meaty propeller!!!

    • That caught my attengion too. Maybe a Curtis R4 – a pre WWI army plane? http://www.woodenpropeller.com/clas16.html

      • I wonder if the prospective Crescent City passengers knew of its recent repair record? A few weeks before flying into Crescent City, it was reported:
        “With their plane in better condition than it was before it was damaged by a fall recently at Willits, Lieutenant Dayton Murray and Cecil Connick, official aviators of the Humboldt Aero Club, are expected to arrive here on their initial flight either today or Sunday, according to F. L. Platt, president of the newly organized aero club. Following the accident it was at first intended to take the plane to Mather Field, but upon arrival at San Francisco it was found that the work could be done much better and more cheaply. It was also ascertained that the plane was not as badly damaged as first believed. Upon arriving in Eureka the aviators will land the plane at the Hill tract field, which was recently leased for a year. Exhibition. flights will be inaugurated at the County Fair at Ferndale next month.” (Blue Lake Advocate, 9/30/1919).

        Two months after visiting Crescent City …”Monday the plane of the Humboldt Aero Club, which has rested on Rainbow Ridge since October 28, when Aviator Dayton Murray was forced to make a landing because of a faulty carburetor, was brought to Eureka by auto truck, it being deemed inadvisable to attempt to “take off” from the peak because of the tricky wind currents prevailing in that district. One attempt by Aviator Murray to take off resulted in slight damage to one of the wings.”(BLA, 11/15/1919)

        Can you imagine? And a time when people were happy to make 12mph over roads, and to fly early aeroplanes at the speed of a speeding modern car on a highway?

        • Nice to able to catch a ride between crashes.

          In the biplane photo, so many in the picture were wearing puttees which was standard military garb at the time. Was this a military plane? Or just former military using their training in civilian work?

          • I don’t know Aunti Ovine, I needed a photo of a plane from that era and nabbed it courtesy of HSU–I haven’t found any comfirmation of this in the news, as I would expect. Thus far it seems like club plane only went to Crescent City, and then to Ferndale where it flew without incident.

  • This postcard by Patterson shows Freshwater Lagoon, just south of Orick, pre-freeway. The red line shows approximately where the freeway runs now. The Old Highway is still there, out of view to the far left, and drivable and makes for a nice detour. It gives access to several homes and a little fishing community.

    • Angela Robinson

      Hello. Perhaps you can answer my question.

      As a small child, before the Christmas floods, we would go up north. Of course, as a kid, the golden bears on the Klamath bridge (the old one) where a fun landmark.

      Of course the floods took out that bridge and the highway was realigned (I think it had been planned anyway). My question is: Is the older (pre 64) highway now called Coastal Drive? I’m sure it must be, but it is in really bad shape, or was last time we were down there. It was closed to vehicles.

      Childhood memories sometimes play trick on me. Pleasant tricks, mind you.

      • Hi Angela, There is still a loop road west of 101 named Coastal Drive. I can’t say for sure if it is open now. There was a closure in the past. See attached photo. Ernie is correct that the bears at the bridge are still there.

        • Angela Robinson

          Thank you for the information.

          I’m half tempted to drive the 4WD down, sounds like I might need it! j/k

          • Ernie Branscomb

            When I was there a couple of years ago the loop road was still open and quite drivable, but some of it is gravel. We started up the west side, which was old hwy 101, at the top the old 101 is blocked with a gate.

            There is an overlook park high up on the bluff that is a short trip off the loop down the hill. It is a sweet park. On around the loop there is an old farm house that is part of the park. It is a must see, because it was a top-secret radar station during WW-2. Very interesting and thought provoking in how far we have come in the last 76 years since the war.

            Also, thank you for using your real name on your comments, it’s a pleasure to know who I am talking to, and I find myself frequently agreeing with you. Pride in oneself is also something that has disappeared in the last 76 years…

          • Coastal Drive is open, though a section is one way only. It’s accessible by car, no 4wd needed. That bluff park is nice; the radar installation that looks like a farmhouse is an interesting piece of history but nothing is really “cool” to see there. The bears stand proud as ever on the old bridge abutment, and actually look less gaudy in their natural state than they do on the new bridge…

  • Ernie Branscomb

    From a fellow old timer I can tell you that the abutment to the old Klamath bridge is still there with a historic designation plaque mounted.

    When we were kids we would always look forward to crossing that bridge with the bears on it. The local kids would paint the bears assholes red. (Pardon the graphic language, it just seems fitting)

    You are right that the old 101 is blocked off. I think that the park people use it though. Don’t know. Maybe some Klamath people might know….

    • Angela Robinson

      Thanks Ernie.

      I do know the old entrance to the bridge is there, with bears! I want to take a detour when we come down in August to show my niece. She isn’t from “here” and while she knows tornadoes, she has a hard time grasping just how massive the floods were.

      And the kids doing that…naughty. But I’ll confess to a chuckle.

  • Incredible to think about a $6,000,000 project and what that meant in a time when fishermen were receiving a new high price of 7¢/lb for their catch!
    I do enjoy all the stories in the Odd Old News series. Thank you

  • Tanya Christophersen Phillips

    Very informative! I too remember taking Sunday drives on the old routes. My family & I would sing songs & stop at places to take pictures. I don’t know what happened to the pics. 😔 I remember a place we met some friends & had a picnic. It seemed to me it was a little north west of Rio Dell?? I never went back & not sure how we got there but to this day I always look in that direction. Blue Slide Road was the old route to it. Any information would be delightful. It was beautiful & I always wanted to go back. Thanks for this site!

  • One of these days you may want to do a write-up about all of the ship building that was going on in Humboldt County, namely on the Samoa Peninsula. The places that once built the Age of Sail, at least for the west coast, are now mostly boat shops. There’s also the story about the name “Finnetown.” Some ship builder went over to Finland and got a bunch of shipwrights from Finland and brought them to Eureka. That also explains the preponderance of Finnish surnames in the area.

    • Thanks for the suggestion John, I will put it on my long list. I might suggest that a more in-depth article than I do here may well be available in the Humboldt Historian magazine of the Humboldt County Historical Society. Might be worth a call to them.

  • I always enjoy your historical stuff. Thanks.

    • Your welcome Pike Mortar… and thanks to Kym for taking the time to set up my story posts, (and tolerating last minute edits).

  • this photo shows the Crescent City breakwater under construction or recently finished, I believe…notice the steam locomotive at the end

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