Eureka's Pacific coastal location on Humboldt Bay, adjacent to abundant redwood forests, provided the reason for settlement of this 19th-century seaport town. Before the arrival of Euro-American settlers, including farmers, miners, fishermen, and loggers, the area was occupied by indigenous peoples.
The Wiyot people lived in Jaroujiji (Wiyot: "where you sit and rest"), now known as Eureka, for thousands of years before European arrival. They are the farthest-southwest people whose language has Algonquian roots. Their traditional coastal homeland ranged from the lower Mad River through Humboldt Bay and south along the lower basin of the Eel River. The Wiyot are particularly known for their basketry and fishery management. An extensive collection of intricate basketry of the area's indigenous groups exists in the Clarke Historical Museum in Old Town Eureka.
, Eureka High School has the largest Yurok language program in California.
Founding on Humboldt Bay
A Humboldt Bay (Woodley Island) view of Indian Island (both within the city limits) and the memorial to fishermen
For nearly 300 years after 1579, European exploration of the coast of what would become northern California repeatedly missed definitively locating Humboldt Bay because of a combination of geographic features and weather conditions which concealed the narrow bay entrance from view. Despite a well-documented 1806 sighting by Russian explorers, the bay was not definitively known by Europeans until an 1849 overland exploration provided a reliable accounting of the exact location of what is the second largest bay in California. The timing of this discovery led to the May 13, 1850, founding of the settlement of Eureka on its shore by the Union and Mendocino Exploring (development) companies.
Gold Rush era
After the primary California Gold Rush in the Sierras, Humboldt Bay was settled with the intent of providing a convenient alternative to the long overland route from Sacramento to supply miners on the Trinity, Klamath and Salmon Rivers where gold had been discovered. Though the ideal location on Humboldt Bay adjacent to naturally deeper shipping channels ultimately guaranteed Eureka's development as the primary city on the bay, Arcata's proximity to developing supply lines to inland gold mines ensured supremacy over Eureka through 1856.
"Eureka" received its name from a Greek word meaning "I have found it!" This exuberant statement of successful (or hopeful) gold rush miners is also the official motto of the State of California. Eureka is the only U.S. location to use the same seal as the state for its seal.
The first Europeans venturing into Humboldt Bay encountered the indigenous Wiyot. After 1850, Europeans ultimately overwhelmed the Wiyot, whose maximum population before the Europeans was in the hundreds in the area of what would become the county's primary city. But in almost every case, settlers ultimately cut off access to ancestral sources of food in addition to the outright theft of land, despite efforts of some U.S. Government and military officials to assist the native peoples or at least maintain peace. Fort Humboldt was established on January 30, 1853, by the U.S. Army as a buffer between Native Americans, gold-seekers and settlers, commanded by Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Robert C. Buchanan of the U.S. 4th Infantry Regiment. The 1860 Wiyot Massacre took place on Indian Island in the spring of 1860, committed by a group of locals, thought to be primarily Eureka businessmen. Major Gabriel J. Rains, Commanding Officer of Fort Humboldt at the time, reported to his commanding officer that a local group of vigilantes had resolved to "kill every peaceable Indian - man, woman, and child."
Mill yard across the bay from Eureka
Eureka's first post office opened in 1853 just as the town began to carve its grid plan into the edge of a forest it would ultimately consume to feed the building of San Francisco and beyond. Many of the first immigrants who arrived as prospectors were also lumbermen, and the vast potential for industry on the bay was soon realized, especially as many hopeful gold miners realized the difficulty and infrequency of striking it rich in the mines. By 1854, after only four years since the founding, seven of nine mills processing timber into marketable lumber on Humboldt Bay were within Eureka. A year later 140 lumber schooners operated in and out of Humboldt Bay moving lumber from the mills to booming cities along the Pacific coast. By the time the charter for Eureka was granted in 1856, busy mills inside the city had a daily production capacity of 220,000 board feet. This level of production, which would grow significantly and continue for more than a century, secured Eureka as the "timber capital" of California. Eureka was at the apex of rapid growth of the lumber industry because of its location between huge coast redwood forests and its control of the primary port facilities. Loggers brought the enormous redwood trees down. Dozens of movable narrow gauge railroads brought trainloads of logs and finished lumber products to the main rail line, which led directly to Eureka's wharf and waiting schooners. By the 1880s, railroads eventually brought the production of hundreds of mills throughout the region to Eureka, primarily for shipment through its port. After the early 1900s, shipment of products occurred by trucks, trains, and ships from Eureka, Humboldt Bay, and other points in the region, but Eureka remained the busy center of all this activity for over 120 years. These factors and others made Eureka a significant city in early California state history.
The Carson Mansion (1886) in Eureka's Old Town
A bustling commercial district and ornate Victorians rose in proximity to the waterfront, reflecting the great prosperity experienced during this era. Hundreds of these Victorian homes remain today, of which many are totally restored and a few have always remained in their original elegance and splendor. The representation of these homes in Eureka grouped with those in nearby Arcata and the Victorian village of Ferndale are of considerable importance to the overall development of Victorian architecture built in the nation. The magnificent Carson Mansion on 2nd and M Streets, is perhaps the most spectacular Victorian in the nation. The home was built between 1884–1886 by renowned 19th Century architects Newsom and Newsom for lumber baron William M. Carson. This project was designed to keep mill workers and expert craftsman busy during a slow period in the industry. Old Town Eureka, the original downtown center of this busy city in the 19th Century, has been restored and has become a lively arts center. The Old Town area has been declared an Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places. The district is made up of over 150 buildings, which in total represents much of Eureka's original 19th-century core commercial center. This nexus of culture behind the redwood curtain still contains much of its Victorian architecture, which, if not maintained for original use as commercial buildings or homes, have been transformed into scores of unique lodgings, restaurants, and small shops featuring a burgeoning cottage industry of hand-made creations from glass ware to wood burning stoves and a large variety of art created locally.
Fishing, shipping, and boating
Illustrated Map of Eureka (1902)
Eureka's founding and livelihood was and remains linked to Humboldt Bay, the Pacific Ocean, and related industries, especially fishing. Salmon fisheries sprang up along the Eel River as early as 1851, and within seven years 2,000 barrels of cured fish and 50000lb of smoked salmon were processed and shipped out of Humboldt Bay annually from processing plants on Eureka's wharf. In 1858 the first of many ships built in Eureka was launched beginning an industry that spanned scores of years. The bay is also the site of the west coast's largest oyster farming operations, which began its commercial status in the nineteenth century. Eureka is the home port to more than 100 fishing vessels (with an all-time high of over 400 in 1981) in two modern marinas which can berth approximately 400 boats within the city limits and at least 50 more in nearby Fields Landing, which is part of Greater Eureka. Area catches historically include, among other species, salmon, tuna, Dungeness crab, and shrimp, with historic annual total fishing landings totaling about 36000000lb in 1981
Rising emigration from China in the late 19th century sparked conflict between white settlers and immigrants, which ultimately led to the Chinese Exclusion Act. Economic downturns resulting in competition for jobs led to violent actions against Chinese immigrants, especially on the Pacific coast. In February 1885, the racial tension in Eureka intensified when Eureka City Councilman David Kendall was caught in the crossfire of two rival Chinese gangs and killed. This led to the convening of 600 Eureka men and resulted in the forcible permanent expulsion of all 480 Chinese residents of Eureka's Chinatown.
Among those who guarded the city jail during the height of the sinophobic tension was James Gillett, who went on to become Governor of California. The anti-Chinese ordinance was repealed in 1959.
Queen City of the Ultimate West
The Tudor Revival style Eureka Inn (1922)
Completion of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in 1914 provided the local lumber industry with an alternative to ships for transport of its millions of board feet of lumber to reach markets in San Francisco and beyond. It also provided the first safe land route between San Francisco and Eureka for people to venture to the Redwood Empire. As a result, Eureka's population of 7,300 swelled to 15,000 within ten years. By 1922 the Redwood Highway was completed, providing for the first reliable, direct overland route for automobiles from San Francisco. By 1931 the Eureka Street Railway operated fifteen streetcars over twelve miles of track. Eureka's transportation connection to the "outside" world had changed dramatically after more than half a century of stage rides or treacherous steamship passage through the Humboldt Bar and on the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco. The building of the Eureka Inn coincided with the opening of the new road to San Francisco. As a result of immense civic pride during this early 20th Century era of expansion, Eureka officially nicknamed itself "Queen City of the Ultimate West." The tourism industry, lodging to support it, and related marketing had been born.
Post-World War II
The timber economy of Eureka is part of the Pacific Northwest timber economy which rises and falls with boom and bust economic times. In Eureka, both the timber industry and commercial fishing declined after the Second World War.
The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 downed trees and caused a surplus in the domestic timber market, which caused increased shipping to foreign markets. The log trade with Japan and other Pacific Rim nations increased. Despite many rumors to the contrary, little of this wood returned to U.S. markets. In 1989, the U.S. changed log export laws permitting lower cost timber from public lands to be exported as raw logs overseas to help balance the federal budget.
After 1990, the global log market declined, and exports fell at the same time as Pacific Northwest log prices increased; leading buyers to seek less expensive logs from Canada and the southern United States. However, debate continues between four stakeholders: timber owners, domestic processors, consumers and communities on the impact of log export on the local economy.
During the span 1991 to 2001, timber harvest peaked in 1997. The local timber market was also affected by the Pacific Lumber Company hostile takeover and ultimate bankruptcy.
Local fisheries expanded through the 1970s and early 1980s. During the 1970s, Eureka fishermen landed more than half of the fish and shellfish produced and consumed in California. In 2010 between 100 and 120 commercial fishing vessels listed Eureka as homeport. The highest landings of all species were 36.9 million pounds in 1981 while the lowest were in 2001 with 9.4 million pounds.
After 1990 regulatory, economic, and other events led to a contraction of the local commercial fleet. In 1991, the Woodley Island marina opened, providing docking facilities for much of Eureka's commercial and recreational fleet. Many species are considered to be overfished. Recreational fishing has increased over time. Fifty percent of recreational fishermen using local boats are tourists from outside the area.
Commercial Pacific oyster aquaculture in Humboldt Bay produced an average of 7600000lb of oysters from 1956 to 1965 an average of 844444lb per year. In 2004, only 600000lb were harvested. Oysters and oyster seed continue to be exported from Humboldt Bay. The value of the oysters and spawn is more than $6 million per year. Consolidation of buyers and landing facilities resulted in local vulnerability to unexpected events, leading the City to obtain grant funding for and complete the Fishermen's Terminal on the waterfront which will provide fish handling, marketing, and public spaces.
The area regularly experiences large earthquakes as it is situated on the southern end the Cascadia subduction zone and near the San Andreas Fault, which interface around the Mendocino Triple Junction. On January 9, 2010, a 6.5 magnitude earthquake occurred about 33mi off shore from Eureka. After two seconds, it became a violent "jumper", making objects fly; the mostly vertical shocks from the ground led to broken windows in shops, overturned shelving in homes and stores, and damage to architectural detail on a number of historic buildings. Local hospitals treated mostly minor related injuries, and electrical power was out over a large area. Numerous natural gas leaks occurred, but no fires resulted. This was the largest recent earthquake since the April 25–26, 1992 sequence. It was followed on February 4, 2010, by a magnitude 5.9 earthquake which struck about 35mi northwest of the community of Petrolia and nearly 50mi west of Eureka. The shaking was felt within a 150mi radius, as far north as southern Oregon and as far south as Sonoma County. The largest recorded in the area was the 7.2 event on November 8, 1980. The larger earthquakes can pose a tsunami threat to coastal areas.