Last year, the Kelley House was the lucky recipient of numerous items from the David J. Russell Estate. His generous children, Ann, David, Libby and Peter, offered us boxes of photographic prints and scanned negatives that capture their father’s fascination with the Mendocino Coast, (including the activities of the Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department), as well as maps and surveys he had made in his role as a surveyor.

Front cover of vintage news magazine BIG RIVER NEWS from May 1980, with a photo by David J. Russell. The Kelley House Museum has available many archived issues of this unique Mendocino Coast newspaper, dating from the 1970s and 1980s. They can be browsed at the Research Office, open Fridays through Sundays 11 to 3.

They also gave us many copies of “Big River News,” which was one of those Mendocino coast publications forty-five years ago that offers today a glimpse of what was important news back in the 1970s and 80s. David was a regular part of this news-packed publication, as was his wife Jane, who was the graphics and layout person.

Thanks to the Russells, the Museum now has a more complete collection from 1974 to 1985 and all are available for perusal in the Research Office. Their pages pack a wallop of nostalgia for those who were on the coast then, and for those who weren’t, it will help you gain a better understanding of that era.

Deborah Hamermesh White was Editor for Big River News for almost a decade, with Judy and Jim Tarbell later. The masthead also lists Arlene Fuller as Advertising Manager, Richard White as the Foreign Editor, Arlene Reiss as Art Director, and Les Cardiff in the role of Business Manager. Contributors varied with the issue, but you’ll see Jim Bertram’s name there, as well as George Reeves, Heidi Cusick, and Jessie Adams, to name just a very few of the many people involved.

As a monthly publication, it had contents that would inform everyone. One section was called “Alphabet Soup,” which contained the news of note from the MHRB-MCSD-MUSD (Mendocino Historical Review Board, Mendocino Community Services District, Mendocino Unified School District). There was News from Fort Bragg, the County, the Redwood Empire, and a bit of Foreign Affairs. It featured fiction, poetry, travel, local drama, art and music, sports, a kid’s activity page, and the Mervinious cartoon series, “Life in the Northwest Nowhere.”

Paging through the time-tinted newsprint, you encounter bits and pieces of our collective community past. In Mendocino, there was a place called The Well (now Luna Trattoria) and in 1976 its tall narrow space hosted musical performances, films, an anthropology lecture, meditation, chanting, chorus rehearsal, yoga, ethnic dinners, and a community Thanksgiving Potluck Dinner. Many other venues, such as Toad Hall out the Comptche Road, and the Mendocino Art Center, advertised their schedules, workshops, and classes.

Of particular interest are the businesses that advertised in those pages, and which have survived these many years. Mendosa’s, Thanksgiving Coffee, Coast Theatre, Albion Grocery, Down Home Foods, Circa, Cafe Beaujolais, Hare Creek Nursery, Gallery Bookshop, Fort Bragg Travel, David’s Deli, Racines, and Catch-A-Canoe – they’re all still with us.

In Big River News, a man named Crow provided New Leaf gardening tips. There were in-depth discussion of such topics as offshore oil drilling, save the whales, Class K buildings, Back to Basics and alternative education, Historical Review Board decisions, stories about logging, elections, marijuana, and the establishment of a College of the Redwoods campus. Mendocino was a very happening place.

If you have any extra issues of Big River News, they might be just the ones that would fill the gaps in our collection. Contact us at