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Mendocino County Snapshot, 1950

One of the astonishing aspects of our internet-connected world is the ability to discover – and buy – stuff we never knew we wanted. Amazon and eBay have become great enablers, but almost every commercial website offers something that someone, somewhere, can’t live without, even if they have for decades. 

My latest “can’t live without” (even though I have and likely will again) purchase was the October 1953 edition of California Journal of Mines and Geology, devoted to the “Mines and Mineral Resources of Mendocino County, California.” Yes, mines and minerals in Mendocino: few then and almost none now, but enough to fill a periodical 60 years ago. 

So where was the big money in Mendocino’s mineral resources? In the years leading up to 1950 (the last year in which data and values were recorded in this periodical), carbon dioxide (for dry ice production), natural gas, chromite, sand and gravel, and quarried stone were the county’s prime mineral earners. Going back to the period between 1880 and World War II, mineral water and bricks were big around the turn of the 20th century, while manganese, coal and chromite (again) saw heydays around 1920. Here and there were mentions of more coveted stuff, most in limited quantities and most eventually found not to be commercially viable: gold, silver, platinum, quicksilver and copper.

Anderson Valley received scant mention in the publication, with a few exceptions. One was mineral water. Both Ornbaun Springs (misspelled “Ornbaum”) and California Seltzer Springs were mentioned, while Singleys Soda Spring, just west of Bell Valley near Boonville, was not. Then there was copper. The Redwood Copper Queen Mine was located a few miles south of Fish Rock Road on Monahan Creek, and yielded 400 tons of ore for the manufacture of Sulfuric acid in 1906. There also was a passing reference to nickel – though not in commercial quantities – in Bell Valley. There was no mention of natural gas (evident in a few water wells around Boonville). 

The lack of minerals in Anderson Valley proved no deterrent to the sale of mineral rights on local properties, according to rumors that have circulated here for decades. Assuming they happened (there are indications they did), most of those sales likely took place during the first half of the 20th century. With mergers and bankruptcies over the intervening years, most local property owners whose mineral rights were sold have no idea who owns them today. Indeed, many property owners probably have no idea they don’t own the mineral rights to their land.

Today, according to various sources, there remain several hundred mining claims in Mendocino County, most of which are inactive. Of that total, 128 are in Boonville, of which three (a total of 61 acres) are active – most likely gravel operations.

The publication’s information on Mendocino County itself offers a glimpse into the recent past and a comparison to today shows how much has changed. County population in 1950 was 40,854. The 2015 population was 87,649, but the percentage increase in Mendocino County looks small compared to the population explosion (a near quadrupling) in California over the same period. Ukiah was the county’s biggest city, with a 1950 population of 6,134 versus a 2015 population of 15,977.

In 1950, commercial fishing was economically significant in Fort Bragg, as were dairy production and cattle in Point Arena, cattle and sheep in Covelo, apples and sheep in Anderson Valley, hops in Hopland, livestock and dairy production in Willits, and pears, prunes and grapes in Ukiah and Potter Valley. All were insignificant compared to logging and milling; in 1948, there were 124 active lumber mills in Mendocino County, which produced 367,000,000 board feet of lumber: today there are perhaps ten, few of which handle raw logs.

In 1950, 7,400 acres of Mendocino County were planted to wine grapes: in 2017 the total was 17,250 acres. The publication made no mention regarding the number of Mendocino County wineries but in 1950 there were (I believe) only two: Parducci Wine Cellars and Mendocino Growers Cooperative. Today there are approximately 90 wineries in Mendocino County. 

“The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past,” wrote William Faulkner. His words ring truer in Anderson Valley than most places; the pace is slower here and change comes gradually. But even here change is a fact of life, inexorably pushing us towards the future. How – and how much – will Anderson Valley change in the next 65 years? Difficult to say, but it could be a crazy trip.


  1. Todd Lesser January 1, 2019

    I always enjoy reading your articles. Especially about El Rancho Navarro.
    I hope all is well.

    Todd Lesser

  2. Ryan FarPorte January 21, 2022

    Very interesting blast from the past.

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