A Brief History of Fortuna

The Road to the Friendly City

A Brief History of Fortuna

Fortuna welcome sign.

The directions, "You're there when you get to the slide..." also determined the first name for the unincorporated town. Visitors to the small settlement had to traverse a large slide in the area between the Eel River and the hill at the present-day western city limits. But the name was quickly changed from Slide to Springville during the construction of the Springville Mill, named so because of the numerous local natural springs (which, of course, caused those slides).

Springville was originally a company town and the few people that resided there all worked for the mill. But there was a need for supporting services and gradually the area became more settled. By the late 1870's, Springville had grown large enough to house a post office. Residents wanted the post office to be named Springville, but there was already a town of Springville in California. The old name was adopted, and on May 24, 1876, the official post office name became Slide. This meant that even though people lived in Springville, the mail had to be addressed to the town of Slide.


The Star Hotel was a popular destination in Fortuna from the 1880's to the 1950's and was known for its fine dining and friendly service.

On the corner of 11th and Main Streets, the Star Hotel was a popular destination in Fortuna from the 1880's to the 1950's. It was known for its fine dining and friendly service.
Many more historical pictures in the Gallery.

As the town of Springville continued to thrive, visitors needed a place to stay. In 1876 William McKinney named the Star Hotel building in honor of the Starar brothersSee the related item in the right column., who owned a ranch near the Mad River. McKinney was impressed with the brothers because they kept a herd of elk in a fenced area in town, which was probably the town's source of meat at that time. The building, at the northwest corner of 11th and Main Streets, was well built and is still in use today although the hotel business has not been in operation for more than fifty years.

In 1883 Swortzel & Williams decided to light the town by electricity and a plant costing $4,000 was put in. Fortuna was the first point outside Eureka to introduce the electric light, although Scotia had provided a plant to be serviceable in mill work. 

By 1884 the Springville residents had sent a petition to the state legislature that asked that the town's name be changed once more to Fortuna. It is unsure who officially decided upon the name Fortuna, meaning fortune, but it is believed to be a strong booster of the town, a local minister and real estate agent named Gardner who made available lots at low prices. On July 3, 1888, the town and post office were officially named Fortuna. The town quickly grew into its name "fortune", due to its excellent location between the redwood forests, the mighty Pacific Ocean and the lush Eel River Valley.


View above 9th and 10th Streets. The two very large buildings in the center of the photograph are the Grammar and High Schools. At the right is the Springville Mill, located on what was then called Spring Street. The lumber mill was later renamed the Fortuna Milling Company.

1907 View of Fortuna
View above 9th and 10th Streets. The two very large buildings in the center of the photograph are the Grammar and High Schools. At the right is the Springville Lumber Company, later renamed the Fortuna Milling Company.

After Fortuna was incorporated on Feb. 20, 1906, the town established itself as a growing community with a city council, a night watchman and a fire and water committee. The town became known for its agricultural excellence in its vegetable crops, berries and fruits and fish from the Eel River, although it was the lumbering that put Fortuna on the map.

The lumber mills that had first established Fortuna as a mill town regulated Fortuna's growth, and the area became more populated as the town became more prosperous. People moved to Fortuna with the prospect of good jobs and a genuine town in which to raise their families.

Next: The Railroad and Fortuna


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from the Latin fors, "chance;" from the Indo-European bhrtis, which came from the same source as the verb bear. Consequently, fortuna, "chance/fortune," suggests "that which Fate bears upon society."

From the Redwood Empire Association Booklet, early 1940s:
"The Star Hotel is a popular hotel located in the center of Fortuna on the Redwood Highway. Steam heated and with all conveniences. A good coffee shop in connection catering to tourists and vacationists. Excellent steelhead fishing in the Eel River, nearby. Rates: $1.00 to $1.50 without bath; $1.75 to $2.50 with bath. Open all year."

The Starar Brothers

Andrew and Jacob Starar, originally of Arizona, are Fortuna's connection to the legendary Lost Dutchman's Mine, and it looks like Andrew may even have owned most of the town at one time and sold part of it to Henry Rohner. Historic documents refer to them variously as the Star, Starr, Starar and Starrar brothers from Arizona. In 1854 Andrew and Jacob signed a petition to the governor of California requesting protection from Indians in Humbolt County, and both men supposedly signed "Starar".

Eel Valley Advance, May 30, 1896:
"Among Monday's arrivals from the highlands were Will and "Bird" Barnum, of Bridgeville. They had engineered a large herd of porkers from the Dinsmore range, near that point, to be distributed among the valley creameries. Tuesday morning they turned over the remainder of the drove to the Diamond Springs Creamery at Swauger [Loleta], where they will have an opportunity to revel in fresh buttermilk at all hours of the day and night—European style."