Calendar Kelley House – Mendocino Lighthouse

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“Historical geography of Mendocino County”

Here’s another fascinating look at the county’s history from the late Dr. Richard White’s “Mendocino Medicine and Gazetteer”. In the 1990s White published this little rural health informational magazine for physicians and has always made room for writing on his scientific and natural interests. Deborah White of Ukiah has loaned bound volumes of her writings to the Kelley House Museum so that we can share them 30 years later.

White discovered a 1948 master’s thesis titled “The Historical Geography of Mendocino County” by Arthur Karenin of UC Berkeley. Karenin was born to a Finnish family in Melbourne on the Comptche-Ukiah road. Although dated now, his work is an interesting reflection of the county of 70 years ago.

The thesis covered physiography (the study of landforms), climate and vegetation, and settlement patterns of indigenous peoples, Russians, Spaniards and Americans. He looked at how people worked in agriculture and forestry, but most interesting to me he looked at the origins of our people. Karenin joked: “There was a land – to this land came man!”

I love it when you learn something new and you can say, “Well, I never thought of it before.” In a discussion of the coastal area and the terraces slowly rising from the ocean, the author noted that some of Fort Bragg’s lower terraces are 50 feet high and drop in elevation northward to Cleone, where they disappear under the sand dunes. Three miles north of the Ten Mile River, 50-foot-high cliffs and terraces reappear on the north shore of the river. He suggested the presence of a seismic fault line along the river. Rapid wave erosion of the soft rock terraces provides some of the sand from which the Cleone / Ten Mile dunes are made.

Because the Russians established Fort Ross in the south in 1812, the Spaniards were worried about their settlement plans in this area and began to establish land grants in the southern part of the county in 1844. The Americans arrived in the years 1850. White cattle ranches appeared in the valleys of the Russian River, Little Lake, and Anderson. Logging began on the coast in 1852.

The agricultural text described sheep and cattle grazing as the most important activity in this sector in 1948. Land cleared by logging was used for sheep grazing, especially around Albion. The land does not need to be flat for sheep, while cattle prefer flat land. The dairy industry was important around Point Arena. The county’s butter production was 375,445 pounds in 1890, most of it shipped to San Francisco.

Anderson Valley excelled in growing apples, and the Ukiah and Sanel valleys grew pears. In 1940, this county was the fourth in the state for pear production. The vineyards were first planted in the 1880s and the industry “is in the hands of the Italians”. Market gardening crops (vegetables) have been planted near large towns or to supply the kitchens of mills and logging camps. Logging is, of course, discussed in detail in this work.

The “Populations” section is an intriguing look at where people come from. The Scandinavians worked in logging, the Portuguese were fishermen, the Italians worked in the vineyard and Swiss dairy cows. He observed that “Booneville could grow somewhat, as a large factory is expected to employ several hundred men and is being built in 1948”. This growth never happened.

Mendocino was home to many residents of the state of Maine, Karenin’s research has shown. The people of Missouri were in Anderson Valley. From abroad, the Italians numbered 942 in the 1940 census. They worked in the sawmills, but not in the woods where the Scandinavians worked. The large Italian community of Fort Bragg was located in the southwestern quarter of the city.

The Finns were the largest coastal ethnic group with 700 listed in the 1940 census and were located on the southeast side of Fort Bragg. In 1890 there were over 400 Swedes in the county. Caspar had 2 percent of the county’s population, but 16 percent of Swedes lived there.

Danes and Norwegians settle on the coast. The English (and women) were in the county at the 1870 census. That year, Mendocino City had 6% of that county’s population, but 18% of the Irish. Mexicans were mostly non-existent in record keeping before 1948. In the 1930 census, there were 130 Portuguese fishermen from the Azores.

In 1890, the Chinese numbered 350 working in the “culinary” field, although they held a variety of jobs. They were early arrivals and were counted in the 1870 census. Karenin said they never turned to agriculture, but the “China Gardens” on the south bank of the Big River were where they grew produce for the town of Mendocino.

Graduate student Arthur Karenin became a distinguished professor of geography and taught for decades. As a researcher and author myself, I was intrigued to find his bibliography listing only 16 items. The last book I wrote, “An Eclectic History of Mendocino County,” had over 60 references. Our internet age provides access to a wealth of information that Karenin would have loved, I think.

The Kelley House Museum research office is open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Our reference library contains many special books and the archives contain hundreds of records on coastal families, local subjects and historic homes. An appointment is preferable – contact [email protected] or call 707-937-5791.

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