After getting your fill of hikes, bikes, kayaks, canoes, walks, beaches and shops, consider moving indoors and checking out the Coast’s local museums.
Constructed in 1854 for Jerome and Martha Ford, this home today houses a visitor center for Mendocino Headlands State Park. The museum features models of vessels which once plied coastal waters, carrying lumber, passengers and other essentials to those who made their homes on the North Coast. It also features an elaborate model of the town of Mendocino in 1890. In 1851, Jerome Ford came to the area to search for the wreck of the Baltimore Brig Frolic, and to assess whether or not it was worth salvaging its cargo. Even though the Frolic was a loss, Ford spotted the real treasure: Coast Redwood trees. Upon his return to San Francisco, he mentioned the trees to an entrepeneur, Henry Meiggs, who ordered a sawmill from the East Coast and purchased a ship (the Ontario) to carry it north. Jerome Ford, a partner in the business venture, drove cattle overland up the Mendocino Coast, and arrived in Mendocino on 17 June 1852. Ford staked out lands around present day Mendocino, sharing the land with a shipwrecked sailor, William Kasten, who claimed squatter’s rights. Of course, you know the rest: the area’s virgin redwoods were heavily logged. The mill at Big River yielded 1 billion board-feet of timber during its 50-year tenture. almost all of which was used to first build San Francisco, and then again to rebuild it after the Great Eartquake and Fire in 1906.
The Kelley House was built by William H. Kelley in 1861. His reason for coming to California was the discovery of gold, so in 1850 he set sail for San Francisco. Not liking the sprawling, congested city, he went up the Sacramento River to Benecia, where he found work as a ship builder. William Kelley actually arrived in Mendocino on July 19, 1852, on a ship that brought the mill building and equipment to Mendocino Bay. He signed on as the ship’s carpenter of the brig Ontario. Kelley operated retail businesses in Mendocino and also became part owner in the mill operation. His dedication to local charities and drive to develop the town has earned him a title as one of the founding fathers of the village.
The Kelley House Museum has a great collection of archives, which includes an outstanding collection of 1800’s photographs of historic houses and buildings in Mendocino, family portraits and family heritage. The Kelley House also produces historical publications and stages exhibits. These exhibits are changed periodically.
The Kelley House is located at 45007 Albion Street, P.O. Box 922, Mendocino, California 95460, (707) 937-5791.
The Guest House Museum
The three-story Victorian structure that houses the Museum is itself a striking remnant of that history. Built in 1892, the house occupies what prior to the Civil War had been the site of the Fort Bragg army post hospital. The post was established in 1857 “for the convenience and protection of the Indians.”
Much of that history was shaped by ambitious lumbermen from New England and the Upper Midwest who were drawn to the Mendocino Coast by the promise of new wealth. Among them was Charles Russell Johnson (1859-1940), known familiarly as “CR,” who first arrived on the Coast as a young man in 1882. Within a decade he had become a prominent mill owner, Fort Bragg’s founding mayor (1889), and an exemplar of Victorian-era lumber barons who influenced virtually every aspect of daily life in their communities.
Johnson was the founder of the Fort Bragg Redwood Company in 1885 which became the Union Lumber Company in 1891 through a merger of his own company with the neighboring Noyo River enterprise of W.P. Plummer and C.L. White.
He had successfully established himself on the Mendocino Coast with the financial backing of his father and two of his father’s Michigan business associates. With the elder Johnson as Union Lumber’s nominal president, “CR” expanded logging and milling operations into a veritable family empire that soon dominated life in Fort Bragg and its environs.
The Guest House served as a show place for Union Lumber wood products. It was constructed from the finest old-growth redwood and Douglas fir and contained 67,000 board feet of lumber. Visitors will be struck by the ornate woodwork, notably the decorative moldings, door and window trim, and the spool spindle banisters of the staircase. Also noteworthy are the stained glass windows above the stairway’s first landing. Impressive too, is the interior spaciousness of the house created by its twelve feet high ceilings – aesthetically pleasing by Victorian standards but not very practical for housekeeping or heating.
The building is open to visitors from 11-2 most days of the week, call for days. Address: 343 North Main St., Fort Bragg, CA 95437. Phone: 707-964-4251
Dedicated to the Chinese god of war – a Taoist symbol of integrity and loyalty – the Temple of Kwan Tai offers living evidence of Mendocino’s 19th Century Chinese community.
Four generations of its founders’ descendants have preserved this original Taoist temple, a site now recognized as California Registered Historic Landmark No. 927.
The Temple of Kwan Tai was restored and rededicated in October 2001 through the efforts of the Hee Family, the Temple Trustees, Mendocino youth involved in the North Coast Rural Challenge Network, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the California Coastal Resources Agency. Its mission is to teach and celebrate community and diversity.
Visitors may view the Temple of Kwan Tai at 45160 Albion Street in the National Historic Preservation District of Mendocino. Tours are offered by appointment. Contact: Lorraine Hee-Chorley.
Triangle Tattoo Museum for “Art with a Pulse”, 356 N. Main St., Fort Bragg, 964-8814.