Mendocino Mill Closes

November 30, 1938 – The Mendocino mill shut down for the last time. This was the third sawmill built at Mendocino. 

Mendocino Lumber Mill Panorama, c. 1907 – 1915. Panoramic photograph of the Mendocino Lumber Company mill. Lumber crews are casually standing in the foreground. From left to right are rails, water tanks, operations buildings and the log pond on Big River. (Schuyler U. Bunnell (photographer), Kelley House Collection, Kelley House Photographs)

The equipment for the first mill had been purchased on the east coast and shipped around the Horn of South America to San Francisco. From there, it arrived via the brig Ontario, landing July 19, 1852. Construction of the first mill began on the Point in the fall of 1852, with production starting the following spring. The mill workers soon learned that their plan to drive logs out of the mouth of Big River into Mendocino Bay, and then draw them up to the mill was impractical. A railroad was constructed from the flat on the river bank, and logs were hauled up the grade to the mill.

In 1853, a second mill was constructed on the river flat. The machinery for this mill was made in San Francisco. Both mills were run sporadically until 1858, when the mill on the Point was shutdown and later dismantled. On October 17, 1863, the second mill was totally destroyed by fire.

Construction of the third, and final, mill commenced immediately on the same site as the second mill. This mill operated, with occasional temporary shutdowns, from 1865 until the Great Depression. There was a 3-year shutdown from 1931 to 1934, and from 1934 to 1936, the mill operated only intermittently before being shuttered.

In August of 1938, the mill reopened one last time. A large raft of logs being towed from Washington State to San Diego had broken in half off the coast of Mendocino. The logs were a hazard to ships, so the broken raft was towed to Mendocino Bay. The mill sawed the logs salvaged from the raft and the few logs left in the Boom, before their final shutdown.

Harrah Brothers of Willits purchased the mill in January 1945. In “Early Portuguese Families of Mendocino,” Eleanor Sverko describes the fate of the last mill, “In December 1945, what remained of the Mendocino lumber mill on the river flat burned. Joe Harrah of Willits had been dismantling the mill for the past year and was very cautious about fire… however, what remained went up in flames. A quantity of new parts in the old storehouse were lost, the southside band mill with several new saws burned, the big engine with fly wheel was destroyed, and the fire room collapsed over the boilers.”

Join us on Saturday, December 4th from 5-7 pm for our Holiday Open House. We’re decking the halls with a Victorian Christmas theme and serving light refreshments from Fog Eater Café. Spirits courtesy of Mendocino Spirits, Seebass Winery, and Husch Winery. Caroling by MHS Chamber Singers, and hammer dulcimer by Victor Simon. Vaccination required to enter. Free. The Kelley House Museum is located at 45007 Albion Street, Mendocino.