Little River was built as a mill town in 1864 by Ruel Stickney, Silas Coombs and Tapping Reeves after the property, formally called Kents Cove, was purchased from W. H. Kent in 1862. Before long it had attained fame not only as a lumber port, but also as a shipyard. Unfortunately a stand of timber, if logged, does not last forever and by the end of the century, even though logging was periodically moved back into the headwaters of the dammed Little River, the mill was forced to close in 1893. Picture 1 shows that logging was mostly done by hand with oxen pulling the cut trees to the mill.
Little River was a town that had a mill built around 1875 [see picture 2] and a second mill built in 1885 [see picture 7], a shipyard, a wharf [see picture 3], several chutes [see picture 5] for loading lumber. Activity at the port, which once hummed with activity, declined rapidly once the mill closed. Little River’s school, once attended by close to 100 students, closed; its weekly steamship service ended, and a shipyard where, in 1874, Captain Thomas Peterson turned out full-size lumber schooners for the coast wide trade, phased out. The Thomas Peterson shipyards were located on the north beach. Picture 4 shows the schooner “Electra” being launched. Only the schooner Little River returned, to be wrecked on the very beach from which it originally departed.
Little River became the Van Damme State Park. The state park was named for Charles Van Damme who was born at Little River in 1881, son of John and Louise Van Damme, early settlers of the region. John Van Damme and his wife were a Flemish couple. The patriarch of the family was born in Ostend, Belgium on May 22, 1832. “Following the sea” for some years, Van Damme, upon his arrival in Mendocino County, later worked in the lumber mill at Little River. In this settlement all of his children were born, including Charles, whose love for the area prompted his acquiring, after some years as a successful operator of the Richmond-San Rafael ferry line, a plot of ground along the redwood coast. Upon his demise this area became a part of the State Park System in 1934.
Down the road from Little River is the Heritage House. This was built in 1877 for the Pullen family. At one time it was a base for smuggling operations (liquor and Orientals). It was also a hideout for “Baby Face” Nelson (a notorious gangster in his day). Picture 6 shows the cove where the smuggling took place. The movie, “Same Time Next Year” starring Alan Alda (the only movie EVER in which a CPA is the lead character) was shot here.
A very informative book about Little River. The first third is about the area, the mills and ships that were built there. The last two-thirds are family histories of the those who came to Little River in the early days of logging on the Mendocino Coast.
Property of Club Member Tony Phillips