Settlers Begin To Transform The Landscape
Regional mining and lumber operations depended on transporting their product or resource to market in order to see industrial growth. Railroads provided that link In Arcata, where construction of the Dolly Varden Mill began in 1872 in the vicinity of the present St. Louis Road/Spear Avenue intersection. In 1875, the Jolly Giant Mill was built in the vicinity of what is now Granite Avenue and L.K. Wood Blvd. Efforts were soon made to link these two mills to the Arcata Wharf by railroad.
Unlike Eureka, Union/Arcata was located on the shallow north end of the bay, and inaccessible to larger ships. To alleviate this problem, from 1854 to 1855, the Union Plank Walk and Rail Track Company constructed a railroad, the oldest in California, which ran from the southwest corner of Arcata Plaza to Union Warf, leading one mile out into Humboldt Bay. (California Historic Landmark No. 842).
The wooden rail line and wharf extended 11,000 feet into the bay and provided easy access from deep water, through the wide mudflats and directly to Arcata, also providing hourly passenger and freight traffic. The railroad used a horse drawn tram with grooved wheels to fit over the wooden pole rails, the first of its kind in all of California. In 1858, the railroad built a warehouse at the northeast corner of Block 159 in Arcata, now known as Jacoby’s Building, which is also recognized as a (California Historic Landmark No. 783).
The 1870s were known as California’s Railway Era. All along the West Coast, railroads opened up new markets and regional railroad companies sprang up throughout the state. On the North Coast, rail lines were established by logging companies in order to gain access to forest resources in the interior. The Union Plank Walk and Rail Track Company, in 1875, switched from horse power to a steam engine, and the wooden rails were replaced with iron. To facilitate more lumber-related commerce to Arcata, the rail track extended three quarters of a mile from Arcata to the Dolly Varden Mill.
The Plaza was the focal point of business activity, as a staging area for pack trains and the terminus of the short rail line to the Arcata Wharf. The Union Town post office opened in 1852 and Augustus Jacoby constructed his fireproof store at the corner of Eighth and H streets in 1857. Even in its earlier rough condition the Plaza was the site of numerous public gatherings and the center of the town around which trade, commerce and civic life focused. New commercial buildings were being constructed on G and H Streets, and Seventh Street was the link to the road to Eureka which we know today as Bayside-Old Arcata Road Founded as Union Town or Union, the name was formally changed to Arcata in 1860.
Major neighborhoods in Arcata were beginning to take shape, including North Arcata and Bayview-East Arcata. Logging of what is now the Community Forest and Bayview-East Arcata had provided lumber for the construction of many buildings in the town. During the first few decades Arcata had suffered several fires which caused major damage to the downtown area, which still relied on a pump and bucket brigade. A major fire in 1875 had destroyed the entire block on the north side of the Arcata Plaza and damaged adjacent buildings.
A number of adjacent small communities were established during this period that are now part of the City, including Alliance Corners and Bayside. Though largely surviving today as a street name, Alliance Corners had been an important staging area-one of the last stops enroute to the interior via West End Road. It became an important agricultural community when the Arcata Bottom was diked. Bayside was the site of William Carson’s first logging claim, as well as Augustus Jacoby’s stone quarry, with two mills and a growing dairy industry on the marshlands that were soon to be drained. Carson had recruited workers from his home in New Brunswick to work in his operations on Washington and Jacoby creeks, many of whom brought their families. Some of the houses they constructed remain along Old Arcata and Graham roads. Major changes were underway in the coming decades that would reshape the cultural landscape of Arcata.
This is the fourth of a series on the history of Arcata, excerpted from a 137 page report prepared by Guerra & McBane, LLC, for the City of Arcata, Department of Planning and Community Development. The title of the report is City of Arcata, Historic Context Statement dated March 2012. Those individuals and organizations that assisted in the preparation of this report include: Suzanne Guerra, Susie Van Kirk, Joan Berman and Edie Butler of the HSU Library Humboldt Room, Historical Sites Society of Arcata, Susan Doniger, Alex Stillman, Humboldt County Historical Society, staff of the City of Arcata Department of Planning and Community Development.
These articles will provide a foundation upon which residents can understand and appreciate the historical development of our city. This article continues to describe the coming of Euro-Americans in April 1850 following the discovery of gold on the Trinity River and the tremendous impact on the Wiyot Indians.