Eureka, the principal city and county seat of Humboldt County, California, is located adjacent to Humboldt Bay north of San Francisco and south of the Oregon border on U.S. Route 101. At the 2010 census, the population of the city was 27,191 and the population of Greater Eureka was 45,034.
Eureka's Pacific coastal location on Humboldt Bay adjacent to abundant Redwood forests provided a rich environment for the birth of this 19th-century seaport town. Beginning more than 150 years ago, miners, loggers, and fishermen began making their mark in this pristine wilderness of the California North Coast. Before that time the area was already occupied by indigenous peoples.
The Wiyot people lived in Jaroujiji (Wiyot: "where you sit and rest"), the area now known as Eureka, for thousands of years prior to 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 highly evolved basketry of the areas indigenous groups exists in the Clarke Historical Museum in Old Town Eureka.
For nearly 300 years after 1579, European exploration of the coast of what would become northern California repeatedly missed definitively locating Humboldt Bay due to 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 would lead to the 13 May 1850 founding of the settlement of Eureka on its shore by the Union and Mendocino Exploring (development) companies.
Gold Rush era
Secondarily to the California Gold Rush in the Sierras, prospectors discovered gold in the nearby Trinity region (along the Trinity, Klamath, and Salmon Rivers). Because miners needed a convenient alternate to the tedious overland route from Sacramento, schooners and other vessels soon arrived at the recently discovered Humboldt Bay. 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" got its name from a Greek word meaning "I have found it!" This exuberant statement of successful (or hopeful) California Gold Rush miners is also the official Motto of the State of California. Eureka may be the only city in the country to use the exact design of an official State seal as its official City seal. In the United States the City of Eureka, California is the largest of about a dozen towns and cities that have the name Eureka dating from the mid-nineteenth century.
Europeans in conflict with indigenous Native Americans
The first Europeans venturing into Humboldt Bay encountered the indigenous Wiyot. Records of early forays into the bay reported that the violence of the local indigenous people made it nearly impossible for landing parties to survey the area. 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 taking of the land despite efforts of some US Government and military officials to assist the native peoples or at least maintain peace. A massacre took place on Indian Island in the spring of 1860, committed by a group of locals, primarily Eureka businessmen. The chronicle of the behavior of European settlers toward the indigenous cultures locally and throughout America is presented in detail in the Fort Humboldt State Historic Park museum, on the southern edge of the city.
Lumber and developing economy
The soon to be center of commerce opened its first post office in 1853 just as the town began to carve its grid pattern 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 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 Humboldt Bay, supplying lumber to other booming cities along the Pacific coast. Rapid growth of the lumber industry, removal of forests located in close proximity to Humboldt Bay and technological advances led to the development of dozens of local, narrow gauge railroads to move the giant trees to dozens of lumber mills on Humboldt Bay. These factors and others made Eureka a significant city in early California state history.
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. This nexus of culture behind the redwood curtain still contains much of its Victorian architecture, which, if not maintained as 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
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 50,000 pounds of smoked salmon were processed and shipped out of Humboldt Bay annually, primarily from processing plants on Eureka's waterfront, which exist to this day. By 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. The Bay remains the home port to more than 200 fishing boats in two modern marinas which can berth at least 400 boats within the city limits of Eureka.
Rising immigration from China in the late 1800s sparked conflict between white settlers and immigrants, which ultimately led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Economic downturns resulting in competition for jobs led some white people to commit violent actions against Chinese immigrants, especially on the Pacific coast, despite the fact that Chinese immigrants provided the backbreaking labor to build the railroad making it possible for the railroad to connect the coasts of the nation. In February 1885, the racial tension in Eureka broke 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 Eurekans and resulted in the forcible permanent expulsion of all 480 Chinese residents of Eureka's Chinatown. The expelled Chinese unsuccessfully attempted to sue for damages. In the U.S. Circuit Court case Wing Hing v. Eureka, the court noted that the Chinese owned no land and held that their other property was worthless. A citizen's committee then drafted an unofficial law decreeing:
1) That all Chinamen be expelled from the city and that none be allowed to return.
Among those who guarded the city jail during the height of the Sinophobic tension was (then) future Governor of California James Gillett, himself a recent resident of the city. The anti-Chinese ordinance was not repealed until 1959.
Queen City of the Ultimate West
Completion of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in 1914 provided the booming 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 major, safe land route between San Francisco and Eureka for people to venture to the Redwood Empire without risking their lives on ships. As a direct 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 uncomfortable stage rides (which could take weeks in winter) or treacherous steamship passage through the infamous Humboldt Bar and on the rarely pacified Pacific Ocean to San Francisco. The greatest symbol of this advance was the opening of the Eureka Inn (see photo, right), the building of which coincided with the opening of the new road to San Francisco. The inn's history of providing quality accommodations and amenities for travelers in a style unsurpassed for its day and for decades to come is well documented. The hotel, recently reopened, is the third largest lodging property in the region. 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. The United States Navy operated a Naval Auxiliary Air Facility for blimps at Eureka during World War II.
Post World War II
In Eureka, both the timber industry and commercial fishing declined after the Second World War.
The timber economy of Eureka is part of the Pacific Northwest timber economy which rises and falls with boom and bust economic times.
The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 downed trees and flooded the domestic timber market. A log export trade began to remove this surplus material. After 1962, 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 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. Species composition changes during this time with groundfish going down and whiting and crab catches increasing.
In 1991, the Woodley Island marina opened, providing docking facilities for much of Eureka's commercial and recreational fleet.
After 1990 regulatory, economic and other events led to a contraction of the local commercial 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 producted an average of 7.6 million pounds of oyster from 1956 to 1965. In 2004, only 600,000 pounds 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 a 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.
At 16:27:38 (local time), January 9, 2010, a Richter magnitude 6.5 earthquake occurred about offshore of Eureka. The quake occurred within a subduction fault associated with the interaction of three tectonic plates (Pacific, North American, and Juan de Fuca). After 2 seconds, it became a "jumper" (or became violent, making objects fly) i.e., imposing mostly vertical shocks from the ground, leading to broken windows in shops, overturned shelving in homes and stores, and loss of architectural detail on a number of historic buildings. As darkness fell over the region, local hospitals were seeing mostly minor related injuries and electrical power was out over a large area, including large parts of Eureka, Arcata, site of Humboldt State University, and other more remote communities, like Ferndale. Numerous natural gas leaks were a cause for some concern, but no fires resulted. This was the largest recent earthquake since the April 25–26, 1992 event series of magnitudes 7.2, 6.5, and 6.7, over an 18 hour period, which severely damaged some buildings and roads.
Another earthquake hit on February 4, 2010. The U.S. Geological Survey reported a magnitude 6.0 quake struck at 12:20 p.m. about northwest of the community of Petrolia and nearly west of Eureka. The shaking was felt within a radius, as far north as southern Oregon and as far south as Sonoma County, according to the USGS Web site.