Fort Bragg History

Old Fort Building, 430 N. Franklin St.

In prehistoric days, the area now known as Fort Bragg was home to the native American Indians, most of whom belonged to the Pomo tribe. They were hunter-gatherers who lived close to the land and sea along the northern coast of California.

1855 - 1867

In 1855 an exploration party from the Bureau of Indian Affairs visited the area. They were looking for a site on which to establish a reservation and, in the spring of 1856, the Mendocino Indian Reservation was established at Noyo. It was 25,000 acres and extended from what is now Simpson Lane to Abalobadiah Creek and east to Bald Hill.

In the summer of 1857, First Lieutenant Horatio G. Gibson, then serving at the Presidio in San Francisco, established a military post on the Mendocino Indian Reservation approximately one and one-half miles north of the Noyo River. The camp he named for his former commanding officer Captain Braxton Bragg, who later became a General in the Army of the Confederacy. The official date of the establishment of the fort was June 11, 1857. Its purpose was to maintain order on the reservation.

During the same year, 1857, a Mr. McPherson was granted a mill site on the Noyo River, inside the reservation, to begin what was to become the major industry in Fort Bragg.

The fort was evacuated in 1859 and the troops sent north. It was reoccupied for periods during 1860-61 and records show November 23, 1861 to have been the last date on which army units occupied the fort.

The last remaining building of the Fort Bragg military post (pictured at top of this page) is located at 430 North Franklin Street. It was the Quarter- master's storehouse and commissary.

The approximate boundaries of the fort extend from the south side of Laurel, east from the railroad depot to the alley behind Franklin, down the alley to a point 100 feet south of Redwood Avenue, west on Redwood to just beyond the Georgia-Pacific Corporation company offices, then north to connect with the Laurel Street border at the railroad station.

1867 - 1892

By 1867 the reservation and military outpost at Fort Bragg were abandoned. In 1869 small lumber mills were being built at the mouth of every creek. Ranches were settled. By 1873 Fort Bragg had an established lumber port at Noyo.

Soon after the fort was abandoned, the land of the reservation was offered for sale at $1.25 per acre to settlers. This bargain did not spur development in the area until it caught the interest of C. R. Johnson. About 1885, Johnson saw what was to become the City of Fort Bragg, an ideal place for shipping mill products and for a town easily accessible to the mill.

In 1885 the Fort Bragg Railroad was founded. At first there were only 20 miles of track for the logging operation. The main line went up the Noyo River. In 1887 the Fort Bragg Railroad was extended six miles up Pudding Creek. At that time a San Francisco streetcar was purchased to carry loggers and their families on Sunday picnics on the Creek.

In 1889 Fort Bragg was incorporated as a City. Johnson’s partner, Calvin Stewart, did the platt maps for the town. He laid out the town as much of it exists today - with rows of 100 x 150 foot lots with alleys. Johnson’s company offered these lots for sale for $100 to mill hands and their families.

1893 - 1916

The Union Lumber Company was incorporated in 1893 by absorbing some of the smaller lumber companies in the area. Some of the new company lands were in the next valley east of town making removal of logs difficult by rail, unless a tunnel was built. Johnson hired experienced Chinese tunnel builders from Nevada. After completion of the tunnel, most of the Chinese settled in Fort Bragg. A six-walled Chinese town was built at Redwood and McPherson. Older residents say the town died out eventually because most of the children of the Chinese moved elsewhere. In 1901 the Union Lumber Company incorporated the National Steamship Company to carry lumber, passengers and supplies. The only link to manufactured creature comforts and staples like sugar and coffee were from delivery by steamship. In 1905 the California Western Railroad was formed and plans were pushed to get the rail line all the way to Willits, where train connections could be made for San Francisco.

The 1906 earthquake resulted in a fire at the mill which threatened the entire city. Within the town itself, all brick buildings were damaged if not destroyed completely and many frame homes were knocked off their piers. The fire downtown burned the entire block bordered by Franklin, Redwood and McPherson Streets, plus the west side of Franklin. The west Franklin block burned down to approximately one half a block beyond the intersection of Redwood and Franklin.

Within 12 months following the earthquake, all downtown reconstruction was completed. Ironically, the earthquake brought real prosperity to Fort Bragg as the mills furnished lumber to rebuild San Francisco. With the new prosperity, the rail line to Willits was completed and in 1912 the first tourists came to Fort Bragg. By 1916 Fort Bragg had become a popular place to visit—and to settle.

Since 1916

Commercial fishing has also played an important role in formation of the economic base of the community. Once a major commercial fishing port, Fort Bragg was well known for producing quality fish products which were distributed to major metropolitan markets.

The emergence of the City of Fort Bragg as a diverse residential, recreational and growing commercial area had begun and the city was on the path to becoming what it is today.

The Guest House Museum (pictured below) is the repository of artifacts and records telling the story of Fort Bragg. The Museum is owned by the City and operated by the Fort Bragg-Mendocino Coast Historical Society. An endowment fund has been established to support cultural and educational programs associated with the Museum. Donations can also be made for specific building restoration or grounds improvement projects. The Museum is open to the public on a regular schedule.