Crescent City/Del Norte County Visitors Bureau
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The Del Norte County Historical Society Museum in downtown Crescent City highlights the colorful history of the region and the unique challenges and triumphs of life on the Northern California coast. Exhibits include intricately woven Tolowa and Yurok baskets, the massive Fresnel lens from the St. George’s Reef Lighthouse, and relics of the terrible destruction wrought by the 1964 tsunami. The museum welcomes visitors from May to September from 10am to 4pm and is closed on Sundays.
If you’re a history buff or just curious about the rich heritage of Del Norte County, its pioneering past and wild west stories, be sure to read on. And, when you visit, don’t miss the End of the Trail Museum, Battery Point Lighthouse, the Del Norte County Historical Society Museum, and the Fun Bus Tour. Or… just ask a local.
It came on March 28, 1964, caused by a violent earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale that struck Anchorage, Alaska. The tidal surge that followed destroyed 150 businesses and homes and killed 11 people. The downtown area was virtually destroyed.
The towns of Klamath and Crescent City were born from the hunger of the gold fields to the east. Treacherous bar and river conditions soon proved too hazardous for Klamath, but Crescent City flourished as a destination for ships from San Francisco. As more people arrived and the gold fields played out, agriculture and lumbering became primary pursuits. To the north, the town of Smith River (Four Corners) was established as an agricultural community providing commodities for Crescent City. Soon, lumbering and fishing became mainstays of the coastal towns. To the east, the hamlet of Gasquet served as a ferry crossing and wayside for travelers to and from points east and west.
Two separate tribes of Native Americans lived in Del Norte County prior to the arrival of the white settlers. To the south on the Klamath River lived the Yurok tribe and to the north in the Smith River plains lived the Tolowa tribe. Living on plentiful fish and acorns, both tribes thrived in their respective homelands. Both tribes lived along the rivers and on the beaches in permanent structures made of redwood planks. In modern times they adapted to the community, with many pursuing careers in fishing and lumber.
* Tolowa Tribe
* Yurok Tribe
* California Indian Food and Culture (PDF) - This booklet explains the various ways in which Native Californians collected, prepared, and stored the foods they ate. There was great variety of plant and wildlife resources available to these groups.
The first road to penetrate the county was the Crescent City Plank Road to the Illinois River in Oregon. This road was completed in May 1858 and traversed much of the Smith River Canyon. It served as the sole ground access to the county until a wagon road to Trinidad in Humboldt County was completed in 1894. Prior to this time, most freight was carried by ocean schooner docking off Crescent City.
The lure of gold brought settlers in the mid-1850's. In 1853 gold was discovered in Myrtle Creek.
Placer mining continued there and was enhanced with the completion of a ditch in 1894 which allowed year round mining. In the hills east of Smith River, copper mining began in 1860. With increased demand and production, the small town of Altaville flourished from 1862 -1867, until mining declined. More important than the mining which occurred in Del Norte County was the transportation hub which centered around the mule trains that took supplies from Crescent City to the mining camps along the Klamath River in the 1800's. Traversing the Kelsey Trail up the South Fork of the Smith River, these pack trains supplied much of the essentials needed to support these camps.
Del Norte County is blessed with two historic lighthouses. The Battery Point Lighthouse is at the north end of the harbor entrance to Crescent City. It can be reached by turning west at the corner of Front and A Streets. This lighthouse was commissioned by an act of Congress in 1855 and continued in service until 1965.
The Point St. George Lighthouse is located six miles off the coast to the west of Crescent City. This lighthouse sits on a large rock and reaches a height of 134 feet above the Pacific. It was brought into service in 1892, and was abandoned by the Coast Guard in 1975. Treacherous seas made docking with the lighthouse a very hazardous duty indeed, as several deceased lightkeepers could attest to. The lens from the lighthouse is currently on display in the Main Museum in downtown Crescent City (6th and H Street). Both the Main Museum and Battery Point Lighthouse are open to the public during summer season.
History is rampant with the occurrences of ships going down off the Del Norte Coast. In 1850 the Paragon became the first ship to sink off our coast. This was followed in 1851 by the Tarquin and the burning of America in 1855. The steamer Brother Jonathan is the most celebrated shipwreck. This steamer hit an uncharted reef and sank with 215 passengers on board and a large gold shipment; only 16 passengers survived the heavy seas. In 1941, the oil tanker Emidio was hit by torpedoes fired by a Japanese submarine. The ship drifted into Crescent City Harbor and sank. Five crewmen were killed by machine gun fire from the submarine.
The timber industry represents the backbone of the economy in Del Norte County. In 1853 the first mill was established in Crescent City. Logging was hard brutal work as hand tools and oxen moved the logs to the mill. In the 1870's the railroad was introduced to bring the logs to market. Steam donkeys yarded the logs to the waiting railroad cars. In the 1920's the Caterpillar tractor and the logging truck displaced the railroad as the most efficient method of logging. In 1871 Hobbs, Wall and Co. was formed. This company dominated the local lumber industry until 1939.
Tsunami of 1964
Battery Point Lighthouse
Member of a Native American Tribe of Del Norte County
Timber was a large part of the history of Del Norte County.
Yurok Tribe members have been working for years in support of legislation that would remove the dams from the upper Klamath River. The dams have severely damaged the river’s salmon population, which plays an integral role in the Tribe’s culture and economy.