STEP BACK IN TIME
Arts & Antiques
Aesthetic Design & Photography: 707-786-4643
Antiques & More: 580 Main St.
The Blacksmith Shop Gallery: 491 Main St. 707-786-4216
Buttonwillow Studio: 1337 Lincoln St. 707-786-4285
Etter's Victorian Glass: 476 Main St. 707-786-4237
Farmer's Daughter: 352 Main St. 707-786-4247
Ferndale Arts: 580 Main St. 707-786-9634
Ferndale Art & Cultural Center: 580 Main St.
Ferndale Dance Academy: 430 Ocean Ave. 707-496-0805
Ferndale Emporium: 344 Main St. 707-786-9877
Ferndale Museum: 3rd & A Streets, 707-786-4466
Ferndale Music Company: 385 Main St. 707-786-7030
Ferndale Repertory Theatre: 447 Main St. 786-LIVE (707-786-5483)
Griggs Gallery/Red Eye Laboratories: 405 Main. 616-5783
Golden Gait Mercantile: 421 Main St. 707-786-4891
Holly Garbutt Millinery & Design: 580 Main St.
Mind's Eye Manufactory: 393 Main St.
Under the Polka Dot Umbrella: 524 Main St. 786-9494
Victorian Christmas Ornaments by Dresden Star: P.O. Box 952, Ferndale, CA 95536. (707) 215-9510
Heritage & History
In the late 1800s, during the Victorian architectural period, Ferndale blossomed as the agricultural center of Northern California. The prosperous dairy industry provided the economic base for Ferndale, and the blend of agriculture and architecture resulted in the town's splendidly ornate buildings, known as 'Butterfat Palaces.'
During this period Humboldt County was sparsely populated, allowing abundant opportunities for hard-working immigrants. Ferndale became a melting-pot of Scandinavian, Swiss-Italian and Portuguese cultures. The Portuguese Holy Ghost Celebration is an annual event to this day.
The Victorian Village of Ferndale has been able to avoid urban sprawl and pseudo 'old town' renovation to remain a thriving community, virtually unchanged since the 1800s!
August 25, 1852, two brothers, Seth and Stephen Shaw, crossed the Eel River by canoe, proceeded up its tributary (the Salt River) through a small creek (Francis Creek) to a level area at the base of the hills. It appeared a formidable area for farming, with dense thickets of alders, scattered forests of spruce and redwood, and savannahs choked with six-foot ferns.
They located two claims and, by winter, had cleared several acres of land, built a road from the river, and erected a crude cabin. The cabin sheltered them and several other settlers who went elsewhere in spring. Encouraged by the Shaws' success in clearing the land, more settlers then began to arrive.
After several years, Stephen William Shaw sold his claim to Francis Francis and moved to San Francisco, where he became an artist of some note. Seth Louis Shaw remained on his claim and, in 1854, began construction of the first large house in the area.
Shaw named his home Fern Dale and, when it became the first post office, the new settlement also adopted the name. This town showplace, a notable example of Carpenter-Gothic architecture, still stands on Main Street, now known as the Shaw House Bed & Breakfast Inn.
Like most of the original settlers, Shaw devoted his land to crops and orchards, but it soon became evident that the cleared land produced a lush, natural pasturage that made it ideally suited for dairying or cattle raising. The first settlers were principally men who had been drawn to California by the excitement of the Gold Rush, most from the northeastern Atlantic States or Nova Scotia. Others followed, many directly from Europe: Danes, Irish, Swiss, Italians, Germans and Portuguese. The 1879 census reported a population including: native born, 1,050; 90 from Denmark; 111 from Switzerland; 72 from Germany; 34 from Nova Scotia (Blue Noses); and 34 from elsewhere in Canada.
The dairy-farming Danes, arriving in the 1870s, brought practices from their homeland. Each small neighborhood of dairymen formed its own cooperative creamery. By 1890 there were eleven separate creameries operating in the immediate Ferndale area. Ferndale butter was considered the finest in the state, bringing premium prices in San Francisco. Ferndale acquired its first nickname, 'Cream City.'
Shortly after 1900 many of the small creameries consolidated into larger creameries. The Central Creamery, located on north Main Street, became the mother plant of the Golden State Creamery, one of the largest in the state. ('Challenge' brand dairy products are from the remaining cooperative creamery, the Humboldt Creamery in Fernbridge.)
Ferndale's pioneer creameries were responsible for a number of innovations in dairy processing and dairy management which helped revolutionize the dairy industry. Among these firsts were:
Dairying gave Ferndale a stable industry, but it was not the sole reason for the town's growth and prosperity. During the last half of the 19th century, Ferndale became an important transportation center and the largest city in Humboldt County. It had its own port for sea-going vessels on the Salt River and was the terminus for stagecoach lines to the Bear River and Mattole regions to the south, with other daily stages going to Eureka and towns to the north and east.
The first farm produce shipped from Ferndale was hauled by wagon to Centerville Beach, four miles west, and from there transferred to vessels anchored offshore. Through the efforts of a pioneer settler, J.G. Kenyon, docks and warehouses were built at Port Kenyon, two miles northwest on the Salt River. The Eel River had proved navigable as early as 1850 when a schooner had mistakenly crossed the Eel River bar while searching for the entrance to Humboldt Bay. The vessel Whitelaw was commissioned to make regular runs between San Francisco and Ferndale. It was followed by other ships which made Ferndale a regular port of call, carrying mail, passengers and cargo.
For many years, stagecoaches from Ferndale offered the only access to the rich farmlands and dairy country of the Bear River and Mattole areas of the south. These stages often made part of their run along the sands of the beach, coming into Ferndale by way of Centerville, a dangerous route when tides were high. Stages were occasionally overturned and wrecked in the surf.
In 1884 a better road was built inland, largely through the use of Chinese labor. Still known by its historic name, the Wildcat Road leaves the south end of Ferndale to climb into the hills at about the site of the original Shaw cabin. Today it is part of the northernmost section of State Highway No. 1.
The other stage lines which connected Ferndale with Eureka and other towns to the north and east had to cross the Eel River, principally by ferry. Singley's Ferry was most favored with Robinson's and East's ferries located farther inland and upstream. In midsummer, if the river was low, temporary bridges were set up. In 1911 Fernbridge was constructed, connecting Ferndale with the rest of the county. An engineering marvel of its day, it was the world's longest concrete arch span ever built to that date (and one of only two still in use in the world).
Isolated from the rest of the county, Ferndale developed an active social and cultural life of its own, much of it centered around its churches. Five church buildings, constructed prior to 1900, can be seen today. There were a number of fraternal organizations, local musical, dramatic, and literary societies, and several large public halls used for dances, local entertainments, and the presentations of traveling theatrical companies. (Still standing are the Masonic Hall, Odd Fellows Hall, Danish Hall and Roberts Hall, now called Portuguese Hall.) The town was justly proud of its volunteer fire department, which was adept at responding swiftly and putting out fires, and could be counted upon to appear in full dress uniform for almost every parade or civic function. Incorporated in 1893, Ferndale is the westernmost incorporated city in the continental United States.
A number of fine hotels and well-patronized saloons served the many travelers passing through town. Best known were the International, Ferndale (later called Ivanhoe), Pixley, Gilt-Edge and American. On the outskirts of town visitors found the notorious house of ill-repute, Strawberry Hill.
Like many rural towns of the late 19th century, Ferndale had its own racetrack on the northern edge of town. It was used for spirited local horse racing contests, fairs, and, on several occasions, was host to county agricultural exhibits. In 1897 it became the permanent home of the Humboldt County Fair, the longest uninterrupted county fair in California.~ Architecture ~
The substantial wealth which poured into Ferndale from its position as a dairy and trade center contributed to the building of many ornate store buildings, churches and elegant homes, called 'Butterfat Palaces.' The Victorian Village of Ferndale has been designated as a distinctive destination by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and, as one of America's Prettiest Painted Places, it remains a photographer's paradise.
Off the Beaten Path
The gradual silting of the Salt and Eel Rivers, along with the development of Humboldt Bay as the major shipping center brought about the abandonment of Port Kenyon. This, along with the completion of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad between San Rafael and Eureka in 1915, and the later completion of Highway 101 as the main arterial north, marked the end of Ferndale's importance as a transportation center. Today Ferndale is five miles off the beaten path, where it continues to be one of the county's unique, prosperous, and self-sufficient small towns, with dairying as its single largest local industry.
Attractions & Leisure Activities
Bocce: Three new courts, located centrally at Firemen's Park, all built to regulation standards by the Ferndale Bocce Club. Each court is 13 by 91 feet and built to last with concrete curbs lined with wood rails. The courts are bedded with 8 inches of compacted road base overlaid with three inches of crushed oyster shell/clay loam and one half inch of oyster shell flour for the finished rolling surface. One court also has wheelchair access. Courts are open to the general public for personal use. (Rent bocce balls from J&W Liquors.) The regular schedule usually includes Sunday afternooon bocce, open to everyone at 1 p.m.; open Bocce play Wednesday afternoons at 4 p.m.; and a bocce potluck the first Sunday of the month. Check the Bocce website calendar to confirm. Courts may be reserved periodically for tournaments. Ferndale Bocce courts, Firemen’s Park
Fern Cottage: Built in 1866 for the cattle ranching Russ family, Fern Cottage is a picturesque farm house on the National Register of Historic Places for its historic integrity. Three miles west of Ferndale at 2121 Centerville Road; from Ferndale's Main Street, take Ocean Avenue west (Ocean becomes Centerville). 707-786-4835
Ferndale Cemetery: With historic markers dating back to the last century, the pioneer cemetery is a surprisingly popular attraction. Views of the ocean to the west, overlooking Ferndale and the Eel River Valley to the east.
Ferndale Library: A Carnegie Library built in 1910. Open noon-5 pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday; noon-4:30 pm Friday; 7-9 pm Tuesday & Thursday evenings. 707-786-9559
Ferndale Museum: Victorian room settings, a working seismograph, farming and dairy equipment. Reopening in March 2010. Open hours: Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11-4; Sundays, 1-4; Tuesdays, June through September, 11-4. 707-786-4466
Ferndale Repertory Theatre: Year-round live theatre with performances at 8 pm Friday/Saturday most weekendsyear-round;Saturday and Sunday matinees, 2 pm.786-LIVE (707-786-5483)
Humboldt County Fairgrounds, home to the Humboldt County Fair & Horse Races each August, features gymkhanas, barrel racing, cattle sortings, high school rodeo and other equestrian events; call for schedule. Note the champion cow grave markers, too! Call 707-786-9511 for fairgrounds information.
Sounding Seas & Eel River Estuary Preserves Hikes: Ranger-guided tours (at no charge) of the sloughs, wetlands, dunes and beach located just north of Centerville Beach, and stretching to the south spit of the Eel River, this magnificent property is owned and managed by the state's largest non-profit land steward, the Wildlands Conservancy. Arrange a hike for your group by calling 707-672-4725.
Victorian Village Self-Guided Tours: Pick up a free souvenir newspaper from The Ferndale Enterprise office or Ferndale shops for walking and driving tour maps to historic homes, churches, and Main Street shops. (Call Ferndale Museum well in advance if you would like your group tour conducted by a local volunteer: 707-786-4466.)
STEP BACK IN TIME
PO Box 325,
Ferndale, CA 95536-0325,
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