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Early Building & Planning (1977)

by Maurice Tindall, December 11, 2012

Not too long ago the Board of Supervisors made some rulings controlling building construction in the county. There had been building restrictions in the towns for a good many years. But as time went on and people moved in, homes became scarcer. Many wanted to build homes out in the woods or in the backcountry doing the work themselves with material they could find. The cost of building a conventional homestead in town had got beyond what many could afford. The rules for buildings and materials and inspections just flatly stopped them. Many could not pay rent and eat at the same time even with assistance. Some of the restrictions were pretty far out, or so it was said: rules like no electricity in a cabin out the hills unless the foundation was right, no used lumber, a lot of stuff like that.

Some of the citizens concerned finally got together and met with the board of supervisors and many of the iron-clad restrictions were removed or relaxed.

Something we must guard against is for the pendulum to swing the other way too far. Those folks who have won a deserved victory for relaxed building rules and got some concessions must be careful not to overdo because we have more people and more problems all the time. Reason must prevail if we are to get along and have good times.

Many of us can remember back about 50 years ago in the early days of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration when the government had almost ground to a halt. Soon FDR built some commissions and agencies to get work going in a hurry to stop our economy from falling completely apart. There were no jobs except for those that were created by the government. Men and women walked the streets. Freight trains were black with riders just going someplace else. FDR’s commissions were known by their initials such as WPA, SEC, etc. The WPA was one of the better-known agencies because it was mostly widely condemned and ridiculed, but it performed work which will last for many generations.

Newspaper reporters had a field day with these agencies and they were referred to as “alphabets soup.” Indeed there was a soup with the letters in it. But it all got the job done and more. After all those years we still have most of those alphabet agencies, so much so that we need to look back and see which one is which.

Many years ago, maybe 100 more or less, people moved west and about the first thing they did when settling at their new destination was to put up some kind of shelter. Sometimes it was with a sod or bark roof, but they made it do for the time.

Here in Anderson Valley, the pioneers were very lucky because in most places they had the redwood trees which is a very versatile source of all manner of building material. Right off the bat it was fencing material and also boards could be used for cabins and sheds. Redwood bark made good roofing, especially to people who had been without a roof for many months other than brush or a piece of canvas.

The lack of crosscut saws was some hindrance at first. The only saws available were about 4 feet long and had only cutting teeth but were not good for cutting boards. With energy better grained redwood could be sawn into the right lengths. But another option involved splitting into 1×10 or 1×12 inch boards because with such good grain, the boards could be split almost as true as if they were sawn. Many of those boards are still around and are highly prized in modern decoration.

Sawmills started to appear all along the redwood belt and there were several in Anderson Valley which helped in the building of homes. The Sanders house which we finally owned was made of sawn lumber from the Henry Clow mill here in the Valley, which was process from logs dragged out of the hills by men and horses.

The boards were from 6 inches to 2 feet wide and were a full inch thick. The side rooms were built of split redwood about 8 feet long but they could have been split much longer if required. These were beautiful soft woods and I used many for side boards and for whittling.

The House on the Heryford place where we first lived on Peachland Road from 1906-1913 was rebuilt much later of sawn lumber with smooth surfaces. But a storage room nearby was constructed out of split boards. There was a long barn also but it was too small so my father built a larger one with a pole frame and more split boards. It lasted very well until the later years when it was destroyed to make room for an improved building. Roofing in those days was made of split shakes and they lasted for decades.

The Laughlin’s 40 acres which we finally owned because it adjoined our property was nearby and had a large log house with a shake roof. It lasted for many years until it was destroyed in a forest fire. In its later years before it burned down in a forest fire it was also used to shelter all kinds of livestock keeping them both warm and dry. The hogs loved it.

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