Naturalist Guide: Point Arena Town History

The town of Point Arena’s story began in 1844, when the Mexican government gave Rafael Garcia a large land grant and he created a cattle ranch in the area. Garcia’s luck ran out when California became a U.S. State in 1850, and he sold the ranch to people who permanently settled.

view of the cove from the bluff trail
View of the Arena Cove from the bluff trail.

The Americans who founded Point Arena focused on farming and lumbering. They built a wharf at Arena Cove around 1866, which gave the lumber industry a way to ship old-growth redwood to markets. Although the local lumber era had plenty of booms and busts before slowing down for good around 1915, Arena Cove continued to support the town with wares, services, and transportation until the 1940s. It is the only natural harbor in more than 50 miles of rugged coastline and was the main driver behind the town of Point Arena. However, maritime safety was a significant problem, so the Federal Government built the Lighthouse in 1870 to help with navigation. Still, an average of one ship a day ran aground near Point Arena in the 1880s.

Modern roads reached Point Arena in the 1940s and replaced maritime transport as the main link to the outside world. In some ways, the town hasn’t changed much since; it has many of the same buildings and roads, the same population size, and the same independent spirit.

storm of 1983 destroyed the pier
Storm of 1983 destroyed the pier. Photo from “The Great Disaster at Arena Cove” by Nicholas King.

The Historic Point Arena-Stornetta Lands Log Ride

An elaborate system moved lumber from the Garcia River lumber mill to ships at the Arena Cove. First, lumber floated down a 6-mile-long flume from the mill to the bottom of the bluffs near Miner Hole Road. A water powered conveyer belt lifted boards up to Rollerville Junction, where they were loaded onto a steam powered train and hauled about two miles to the bluff edge behind City Hall. Finally, boards were sent down a 900-foot-long chute to Arena Cove and loaded onto ships.

Garcia River mill
Garcia River Mill
rollerville log flume
Rollerville flume
log chute to ships in the cove
Chute to ships

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