Distant view of a street lined with buildings

M. M. Hazeltine photograph of west Main Street in Mendocino, c.1863. J. E. Carlson’s City Hotel can be seen on the left. Right of the hotel was a livery stables and another three-story building that was probably the saloon and hotel owned by Silas Osborn and Fred Heldt. On the south side of the street is a large building that is thought to house Joel Fisher Hills store, owned by the Mendocino Lumber Company, and later rented as a Chinese boarding house and store.

February 26, 1897 – Joel Fisher Hills died at his home in San Francisco at the age of 74. “He was a man of genial disposition and displayed considerable activity in business even up to his last years.”

Born in Maine, Hills arrived in Mendocino in 1853 or 1854. He was the first Mendocino shopkeeper, opening a general merchandise store that offered goods beyond what the lumber company sold to residents. His store was originally located on the river flat near the mill site and was so successful that he was able to construct a large 2-story building on the south side of Main Street. He operated his store in this structure for several years. Look Tin Eli’s family opened their store in this building around 1869-1870.

Hills also purchased a 250-acre ranch, stretching from Lansing Street east to Gurley Street, on the north side of Little Lake Road. He and his younger brother Spencer operated a cattle farm, supplying the town with beef.

A small two-room cottage was built on this property in 1855. In 1877, he sold the ranch to Spencer, who enlarged the cottage into a sizable home, adding an east wing and a porch. Joel moved to San Diego, where he lived for a few years before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he remained until his death.

In addition to his brother Spencer, who still lived on the Hills Ranch in Mendocino, Joel’s survivors included his wife Susan, son Frank, daughter Carrie Beatty, and a brother living in Union, Maine.

Look Tin Eli: The Mendocino Visionary Who Helped Shape the Chinese-American Experience by Robert S. Becker and Jane Tillis – The life of Mendocino-born visionary Look Tin Eli was one of national significance. As a teenager returning home from China in 1884, his illegal detention instigated a court battle, culminating in the state’s legal precedent granting full citizenship for all native-born Californians. After the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, he was instrumental in establishing Chinatown as a business center and tourist destination. He founded the first Chinese-owned bank, the Canton Bank of San Francisco, and he started the China Mail steamship company. With almost fifty historic images, this first book-length profile of Look Tin Eli brings to life the cultural and commercial achievements of this remarkable trailblazer. $25.