The History of Rohnerville

The Town Named After Henry Rohner

Rohnerville's commercial district about 1891.

Rohnerville's commercial district about 1891. Fire destroyed the buildings on the right in 1895. - Peter Fassold, photographer.

The Humboldt Bay region of northern California, about 300 miles north of San Francisco, was first settled in the spring of 1850 as a supply center for gold mining camps on the Trinity, Klamath and Salmon rivers. Ships from San Francisco called at the Humboldt Bay ports of Eureka and Union (Arcata) bringing passengers, mail and supplies for the fledgling wilderness settlements. Pack trains, laden with provisions and mail, crossed the mountain trails leading from the Bay to the interior mining camps. One such trail passed through the little trading center first known as Eel River but later to become Rohner's or Rohnerville.

The rolling prairie lands surrounding "Eel River" were settled in the early 1850's, but apparently there was no commercial development until Henry Rohner, a Swiss immigrant, built the first store there in 1856. A correspondent for the Humboldt Times wrote in 1859:

"At Rohner's there has been but little improvement since my last visit to that place (a year before) in the way of building. A neat hotel has been erected there which is kept by Brower and Woodruff. There is considerable business done there, in the way of selling and exchanging goods for produce. Rohner and Feiganbaum are the only traders there and seem to be doing well."
(Humboldt Times, Nov. 12, 1859).

Ox team and redwood log, Rohnerville Main Street about 1876.

Ox team and redwood log, Rohnerville Main Street about 1876. - Robert Blum, photographer.

Many Eel River Valley settlers were originally drawn to California by the prospects of gold, but they soon returned to the farming life they had known in the East, settling the rich lands of the Rohnerville area to raise livestock, grains, and a variety of fruits. In 1862 major land holdings in Section 12 (2N;lW), where Rohnerville is located, belonged to six men: A.P. Campton, a farmer from Ohio; Joseph Feiganbaum, a merchant from Bavaria; Jacob 0. Showers, a farmer from Ohio; William McNamara, a Eureka resident whose holdings eventually passed into the hands of Showers; Benjamin F. Jameson, a farmer from Kentucky; and Walter Van Dyke, a future state senator who sold his land in 1863 to James Degnan. During the late 1860's and the 1870's when building lots were sold west of Main Street, almost all the transactions involved either Jacob Showers, James Degnan or the nine-acre Coates and Walsh Addition, subdivided in the mid-1870's.


1912 Rohnerville panorama.

Rohnerville in 1912. Photograph courtesy of Jim Woodcock.

By 1860 there was sufficient population in the community to build a schoolhouse on Walter Van Dyke's land near the Rohner and Feiganbaum Store. Rapid settlement and commercial development during the next ten years brought Rohnerville some distinction as the third largest population in Humboldt County by 1870, with 250 people in the "village" and an additional 450 in the voting precinct. Served by a daily stage between neighboring Hydesville and the county seat at Eureka, the growing community included two stores, two hotels, a drug store, three blacksmith shops, a saloon, cabinet maker's shop, saddle and harness shop, cooper's shop, carriage maker's shop, a barber and a physician. A steam-run mill, used in summer to produce lumber and in winter to process locally produced grain, served as the only industry. Rohnerville's spiritual and social needs were met by three religious congregations - the Methodist, Congregationalist, and United Brethren - and active lodges of Masons and Good Templars. Horse races and fairs were held at the Eel River Jockey Club's mile long track at the north edge of town (Humboldt Times, Feb. 19, 1870).   Continued




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-- Humboldt Times, February 11, 1871 --
"Mr. J.O. Showers has laid out a nice addition in the shape of a dozen half-acre lots, all of which have been purchased by prominent citizens and are designed for residences, and some of the buildings are now being constructed."


-- West Coast Signal, January 10, 1872 --
"Rohnerville Mills - We learn from A. Martin, proprietor, that during the past year the above named mills sawed something over one million feet of lumber. Sawing is usually suspended during the winter season, and the grist mill attached is set to work. Ordinarily about 500 tons of wheat and barley are ground each year. The Rohnerville Mill supplies most of the lumber used in Eel River Valley, and the balance is shipped to San Francisco by way of Hookton."


-- West Coast Signal, July 27, 1874 --
"New buildings are going up on Trinity Avenue which thoroughfare promises to become the "flower" of Rohnerville."


-- West Coast Signal, July 27, 1875 --
"The Rohnerville Brass Band has purchased a 65 by 110 foot lot on the elevation immediately above the site of the Crabtree Building and will build thereon a band room 25 by 25 octagonal in form. They have sold all old instruments and ordered new."


-- Daily Standard, February 29, 1876 --
"HAVE SOLD — It is stated on reliable authority that J.P. Coates and John Coates, have disposed of their interest in the merchandising firm of Coates & Van Sickle, in Rohnerville, to M.H. Robinson and A.M. Gill, possession to be given on the 1st of next June."


-- West Coast Signal, January 17, 1877 --
"Rohnerville Brewery - That go ahead valley town is to have a full fledged lager beer brewery soon. Resser and Olsen are the projectors, and their brewery will be erected on a lot adjoining Strong's Hall. Our old friend Olsen believes that there is abundant room for such an enterprise, and that when the inter-county road is opened next summer the demand for a good, refreshing beverage along the elevated and scorching route which the road traverses, together with the requirements of the home market will warrant the enterprise in which they are about to engage."

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