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Mapping the Albion

The Albion River and its close environs bears little resemblance to its appearance when I was a boy. Then you could walk or drive unimpeded up Allan's Gulch to the southeast of this house. Just a few feet upstream from where you crossed the river at the mouth of Allan's Gulch my father and I cast a hook and line nearly any time of year and at the least a trout would take the bait. These days there aren't enough fish to bother to count.

An 1890s photo of my second oldest uncle and his little sister with their big dog show's the eastern ridge top above that same Allan's Gulch nearly shorn of trees. Though the photograph was black and white (and faded now), the sky was clear. At that point in time the Macdonalds of the Albion River were already living a rather bucolic life. The parents of those children were esteemed by their contemporaries. By the mid 1890s the father of those children had more or less retired from fifteen years as a logging contractor to life as a gentleman farmer.

There was one notable exception to the seeming retirement of my paternal grandfather, John Macdonald. When called on by the owners of the Albion Lumber Company, Miles Standish and Henry Hickey, he (John Macdonald) acted as one of the primary timber cruisers of the time. Standish and Hickey were something akin to baseball's Billy Beane in their era. They constantly had an eye out to make further acquisitions, of timber land not baseball players, though they were the primary sponsors of Albion's town nine for a generation. John Macdonald's quick study of just about any stand of timber led him to become Standish and Hickey's ace scout, that is timber cruiser. The closets of the house I live in are scattered with Government Land Office (GLO) plat maps from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for townships from southern Mendocino County on north to Humboldt County. These were John Macdonald's rough guides as he set out, usually on foot, to assess the potential worth of lands Standish and Hickey believed might be worthy of purchase.

Beyond cruising far off sections of timber, John Macdonald was also employed by Standish and Hickey and the Albion Lumber Company to draw maps. Perhaps his most thoroughly detailed map is one that was hand drawn in ink on cloth about a hundred and six years ago. This cloth map depicts the entire Albion River watershed from the Pacific east to beyond Comptche, its southern boundary touches the Navarro River and on the north merges into the Big River watershed. It can be pinpointed in time not only from the recollections of family members who watched John Macdonald construct the map here at his ranch home, but by the many named home and property ownerships of the earliest part of the twentieth century. The map depicts major and minor geographic features, including Allan's Gulch, but it does not display topographic contours that we now deem commonplace on maps derived from aerial photograhy. However, the mapmaker's attention to detail a century ago makes this document a local history treasure today.

A copy of John Macdonald's map can be found at the Held-Poage library in Ukiah, if you know where to look for it. On the other hand, the fragile original is on display at the Kelley House Museum in Mendocino through April 20th as part of the "Mendocino Maps: A Sense of Place" exhibit. Look for it under glass on one of the center tables. The Kelley House Museum is open Fridays through Mondays, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.

A final aside: Allan's Gulch was named for the son of Miles Standish, who, in turn, was a direct descendant of Miles Standish, the military advisor for the Mayflower Pilgrim's Plymouth Colony.


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