The History of Rohnerville

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1912 Rohnerville panorama.

Rohnerville in 1912. Photograph courtesy of Jim Woodcock.

Local newspapers of the day furnish an interesting look at Rohnerville's social life in the early 1870's... to welcome May, the community held a joint celebration with Hydesville (Humboldt Times, May 6, 1871); Jake Wallace arrived in town with his banjo for a concert at Strong's Hall, and Prof. Schorcht started a singing class with 62 members (West Coast Signal, March 29, 1871); the agenda for the Masonic celebration led by the Rohnerville lodge included a procession from the Masonic Hall to the "grounds" for music and speeches, dinner at the Swan Hotel, and a grand ball in the evening at Strong's Skating Pavilion (Humboldt Times, July 1, 1871); Fourth of July celebrations meant picnics, music, speeches, and dances, all planned well in advance (West Coast Signal, June 7, 1871); the annual fair of the Humboldt Agricultural Society was highlighted by the sulky races at the Eel River Jockey Club's track (West Coast Signal, August 16, 1871); church festivals and performances of the Rohnerville Brass Band were happy occasions (Humboldt Times, May 13, 1871); and the Grant and Wilson Republican Club gave men a forum for political debate (Humboldt Times, August 17, 1872).

The West Coast Signal, May 10, 1871, noted the changes brought about by a new skating rink in Rohnerville:

"Our town presents a more lively appearance as the season advances. The skating rink alone has made times remarkably lively for the masculines, compelling us to study and practice the culinary art. Our wives and sisters display a mania for skating heretofore unprecedented. The first week after the opening of the rink, we had our dinners alternately over cooked, half cooked and not cooked at all. Thinking that in a fortnight the excitement would abate, we for that length of time "endured all things" and "suffered all things" but still the castors went on..."

A continued influx of new residents caused the Rohnerville correspondent to lament in 1875 that the "greatest trouble experienced is to supply the demand for dwellings, although new ones are constantly going up" (West Coast Signal, March 24, 1875). No better picture of the tremendous growth of Rohner's community, and the optimism of its citizens, can be found than in an article entitled "Rohnerville and Neighborhood" in the West Coast Signal of July 19, 1876. The correspondent began by saying that only ten years had passed since Rohnerville was a mere "hamlet with a half dozen houses," but today (1876) it was a thriving town. There were now four general merchandise establishments, a livery stable was under construction, and the town had added a furniture store, two meat and vegetable markets, two more blacksmith shops, a cigar store, two millinery shops and three boot and shoe shops. Rohnerville would soon have a brewery to supply its three saloons, and the drug store had added a job printing press.

The professional community consisted of three physicians, a lawyer, three public school teachers serving the two schools, and nine ministers. Three of the four religious denominations had buildings, as did the Masons, Odd Fellows and Sons of Temperance. The Rohnerville Mills, owned by Martin and Kellogg, employed 23 men, producing 12,000 to 15,000 board feet every ten hours during the summer months, while the grist mill ground flour and feed during the winter.

The correspondent made it known that Rohnerville aspired to become the county seat, because "the location is central and good, and the fogs which are so common nearer the coast do not prevail there. Its proximity to the valuable belt of redwood on one side and fine farming lands on the other, assure its permanence, and today the Eel River Valley and Eureka should be in railroad connection."

With a decline in the packing trade and a shift to the lumber industry, the shipping points on Humboldt Bay assumed the political and economic power in the county. In 1884 the Eel River and Eureka Railroad was completed from Eureka to Burnell's Station (located where the tracks cross River Bar Road between Alton and Hydesville), bypassing Rohnerville. Initially the snub had little impact on the community, but with the completion of rail connections to San Francisco in 1914, the nearby railroad town of Fortuna emerged as the leading commercial center in the Eel River Valley.

Rohnerville survived, however, as a residential community, and although some of its individuality has been lost by recent annexation to Fortuna, its identity remains intact. A post World War II housing tract known as Campton Heights abuts the town on the west, but modern intrusions have not occurred within Rohnerville proper. Visually, its historic character has been preserved and, as will be seen, its unique contributions to local and national history are worthy of recognition.

Considering the remoteness and still rural character of California's north coast, the stories of Rohnerville's history are rather amazing. One involves the family of abolitionist John Brown. Another concerns a young scientist who made significant contributions in the field of aerodynamics. Three stories - the Eel River Jockey Club, Mount St. Joseph's College, and the Rohnerville Herald - are mainly of local interest. Two other incidents are mentioned, not because of any lasting importance, but because when viewed with some perspective as to the time and place, they give some insight into this unique community.

NEXT: John Brown, Abolitionist



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-- Daily Times, October 10, 1877 --
"In the Times yesterday, mention was made of the fact that diphtheria was very prevalent in the vicinity of Rohnerville. Miss Tennie C. Young and a little daughter of Mr. Henry Rohner is dangerously ill, and the latter is not expected to recover. Among the number now down with the disease are: George Cummings, Harvey Dale, Willie A. Beasley, and Eddie Kellogg. The Rohnerville public schools have closed for two weeks on account of the prevailing epidemic. A little daughter of Mr. J.W. Henderson, died yesterday of diphtheria, and three other children in the same family are suffering from the same disease. It is said that there are now a number of cases in Eureka. If such is the case, and the epidemic appears to be in the increase, would it not be a good idea for our schools to close for a couple of weeks?
Certainly it is better to lose that much schooling than to expose our children to the ravages if this terrible disease."