Ferndale - A Contrast in Place and Time

Aerial view of the Village of Ferndale

Even from the air, Ferndale looks like a village, and this “Victorian Village” really lives up to its name at street level. The contrast of old and new draws many visitors to see the historic houses not far from twenty-first century freeways.

Ferndale is also a place of geographic contrast. The town nestles into green hillsides, borderland to Cape Mendocino and the rugged King Range. In the upper right of the photograph a small road marks the “backdoor” out of Ferndale. It climbs out of town toward Bear River Ridge and then twists down to Cape Town. The drive crosses the cape, hedges the Mattole Road headlands, and plops into Petrolia. At the edge of wilderness, the road out of Ferndale is perfectly named -- The Wildcat.


The rest of town is surrounded by the green tranquility of dairy farms, long a part of the local scene. The pioneer cemetery at the top left of the photograph and Ferndale Fairgrounds at bottom right are two more historic parts of town. A Eureka girl concisely recorded a piece of that history in 1903 with her diary entry that included Ferndale: “Up with the birds to go to the county fair. Arrived at noon.”

In the discovered diaries of young Cecilia Johnson, simple prose recorded her daily round back then – “Helped Mama with wash.” “Ironed 12 waistcoats today!” “Fred came calling.” Her record of the trip to the Ferndale county fair was brief, too, but between the lines, the words contain a turn-of-the-century North Coast. Hitch up the horses at dawn. Pack food for a whole day or two. Drive the wagon south down the dirt road through Bucksport, kids still wrapped up in blankets against the morning fog, maybe with a bit of sun peeking over Tompkins Hill. Rest a bit near Loleta, then somewhere near what would become Fernbridge, take a ferry or ford the Eel River. On the other side, lunch and the Ferndale county fair were only one more hour away!

A century later, the photo flight from Eureka Murray Field to Ferndale takes five minutes.



Articles and photographs copyright Gary Todoroff. For licensed use, call (707) 445-8425 or contact him by email.