Russian Gulch Shingle Mill – Gone and Forgotten

The booklet describes the Depression in Mendocino County and the effects of the New Deal

If you travel from Fort Bragg to Mendocino you pass a bridge over Russian Gulch and there is a spectacular view of the little bay from the bridge. Until you go down into the park you have no idea of the beauty of the bridge itself. This booklet, Bridges, Huckleberries and Robin Stew details the effect of the Depression in Mendocino County and the bridge was built as part of the New Deal.

The Russian Gulch Bridge under construction – note the old trestle bridge in the background

The bridge was designed by Henry E. Kuphal. It is similar in design to the more famous Bixby Creek Bridge several hundred miles south on the same highway at Big Sur. The picture on left, shows the bridge under construction. Prior to the bridge’s opening, traffic across the gulch was carried on a wooden trestle bridge built in 1911, that was designed to support the weight of a 6 horse team!!

The waterfall in Russian Gulch State Park

The smaller, western portion of the park consists largely of headlands with a blowhole (great in a storm!) and picnic areas (great for weddings), while the larger eastern portion of the park includes a campground, the park headquarters, and several trails for bicycles, hikers, and horses. A 2.5 mile hike from the trailhead at the east end of the campground to a 36-foot waterfall largely follows the old logging road along the creek.

The Russian Gulch Bridge from the bay

Russian Gulch State Park was acquired in 1933 through gifts of land and money by A. Johnston (of the CWR) and the County of Mendocino to match State Park funds. Russians who established Fort Ross in 1811 were probably the first white men to explore and chart this area. Later, when cartographers were sent out by U.S. Government to chart this spot, it was called Russian Gulch for want of a better name. According to a more specific local tradition, a deserter from Fort Ross lived at Russian Gulch and he was the source of the name.

The lumber industry on the Mendocino Coast was to be found in all the little inlets, or “dog holes” as they were called, along the Mendocino Coast. Since the sea was the only means of travel in those days, these dog holes such as Russian Gulch were regular stops for the little schooners traveling along the coast. Some of the old iron rings used to hold the high lines that loaded lumber on the ships can be seen today anchored in the rocks along the headlands of the Russian Gulch Bay.

One of the first redwood shingle mills in this part of the country was built on the site where the recreation hall now stands. In 1867 L.E. Ballister & Co. had a mill here. From 1878 to 1888 Prince Grey had a shingle mill here which was taken over by Eugene Brown in 1888. From 1918 to some time in the 1920’s Gray and Johnson Lumber & Shingle Mill operated at Russian Gulch.

There are no signs of any of the mills now. They are gone and very, very nearly forgotten. Very sad.