History of the Area

This land was home to the Kashia Tribe of the Pomo Indians for thousands of years before white settlers found the river and the trees. The Kashia lived along the ridge lines and came down to the river to fish and gather salt. They called the river “The water coming down place.” The name, “ Wa-la-la” describes where the mouth of the river gives way to the crashing waves of the ocean.

As early as 1836, General Rafael Gracie received a land grant of 62.5 square miles that included parts of the Gualala River. Gracie used the land to graze cattle. He sold the land in 1861 to Cyrus Robinson and the following year, Cyrus sold most of the land to the Gualala Lumber Company, which was formed when the Bodega Saw Mill and the Timber Cove Saw Mill consolidated.[1] By 1863, The Gualala Lumber Company owned thousands of acres of prime timberland. It owned the mill along the river, associated buildings needed to operate the mill, the railroad that brought the timber out of the forests and to company-owned landings, where company ships waited to take the precious cargo to San Francisco and other ports of call. The Lumber Company also owned the general store and the hotel. 

By 1861, it wasn’t only loggers who came to Gualala. Tourists from the San Francisco area found a getaway from the crowded cities and a place to hunt and fish. Gualala had a post office, a stagecoach stop, the Wells Fargo Express, a dance school, The Gualala Municipal Brass Band and an Opera House. Gualala was a thriving hub attracting families to settle here as well, many of whom established farms on the clear-cut lands.

As the supply of wood from the east coast dwindled, the forests of the west coast become more important. Wood from the forests of Mendocino County built San Francisco as it boomed after the gold rush. It was the redwoods that rebuilt San Francisco after the earthquake and fire of 1906. Timber from this area was shipped all over the country and abroad. 

The mill was sold in 1903 to lumbermen from Arkansas and Louisiana and the company changed its name to Empire Redwood. That same year, the mill mysteriously burned down. In 1905, a new site was chosen on the North Fork of the Gualala River, easily accessed by a recent extension of the railroad. Production was operating at full speed when another fire hit in 1906. At the time, the mill and related property was in escrow to E.K. Wood Lumber Company of Puget Sound, including a reported 24,000 acres of timberland and 18 miles of logging road. [2]

The loss of the mill was an economic disaster for the small town of Gualala. Tourism and farming became the mainstay of the area. 

In 1948, Gualala Redwoods, Inc. was founded by three partners, including J. Ollie Edmunds, Sr. They acquired thousands of acres of prime timberland. For the next 67 years, the company remained in family ownership, and for the Edmunds, it has been a family-run operation ever since. 

In 2015, GRI sold approximately 29,000 acres to the Burch family, representing the core timberland holdings of the company. GRI retained ownership of select “higher and better use” parcels, including the Gualala Village (Lower Mill) and Mill Bend parcels at the mouth of the Gualala River. [3] This is the majority of the land currently being offered for sale by Kennedy & Associates. 

The Redwood Tree

It was the redwood trees that made this area desirable to the loggers. Redwood, particularly old growth redwood, is resistant to decay and insects throughout the lumber. Redwoods are so immense that they live in three climatic zones at once. The base of each tree is in one set of climatic conditions, the stem in another, and the crown in yet another. [4]

It is estimated a mature redwood tree needs hundreds of gallons of water a day. Much of this is collected through the root system of the trees, but the canopy plays a major role as well. The needles at the top of the trees are different from the needles lower down the trunk. The upper needles are shaped in such a way to reduce evaporation. They catch moisture from the coastal fog and allow to drip down to the root zone. 

Early settlers were attracted by the potential of these trees, but actually logging them was daunting. It could take a team a fallers days to cut one down and several days more to prepare a single tree to be moved to the mill. Another team would remove the limbs and cut the tree into manageable sections so the tree could be moved to the mill. The last task before transporting the tree was to remove the heavy bark to allow the tree to slid more easily on the skid tracks. [4]

Timber from these giants was used for house framing and beams, roof shingles, interior walls and trim, furniture, fence posts, decking and railroad ties. The wood is still highly prized today.

Geography of the Area

Since 1859, the last several miles of the Gualala River have been the border between Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. The Gualala river has three forks: the South Fork, Wheatfield Fork and the North Fork. The South Fork is the longest and travels approximately 40 miles from its source high in the Coast Range. The Wheatfield Fork begins west of Lake Sonoma and combines with the South Fork just east of The Sea Ranch. The North Fork is the only part of the river in Mendocino County. It travels roughly southwest towards the coast along the San Andreas Fault rift zone and meets the South Fork at the border between the counties, a few miles before the river flows into the ocean. [5]

The Gualala River is a wildlife habitat and a cold freshwater habitat for fish migration and spawning. The northern spotted owl and the red-legged frog make this area home. Steelhead trout are abundant and occasional coho salmon have been seen. Plant life is extensive, including the harebell and mapleleaf checkerbloom. [6]

Deer, mountain lions, bobcats, bears, eagles and osprey are among hundreds of wildlife species that thrive in this area. 

  1. The Land Report, The Magazine of the American Landowner, http://www.landreport.com/2014/12/the-gualala-redwoods-story/
  2. Mendocino Coast Model Railroad & Historical Society
  3. Independent Coast Observer, April 17, 2015, J. Stephen McLaughlin
  4. Annapolis and The Gualala River by Tammy Durston and Steve Oliff
  5. Wikipedia
  6. http://www.gualalaredwoods.com/wildlife.html