In prehistoric days, the area now known as Fort Bragg was home to Native Americana, most of whom belonged to the Pomo tribe. They were hunter-gatherers who lived close to the land and sea along the northern coast of California.
In 1855 an exploration party from the Bureau of Indian Affairs visited the area looking for a site on which to establish a reservation and, in the spring of 1856, the Mendocino Indian Reservation was established at Noyo. It was 25,000 acres and extended from what is now Simpson Lane to Abalobadiah Creek and east to Bald Hill.
In the summer of 1857, First Lieutenant Horatio G. Gibson, then serving at the Presidio in San Francisco, established a military post on the Mendocino Indian Reservation approximately one and one-half miles north of the Noyo River. He named the camp for his former commanding officer Captain Braxton Bragg, who later became a General in the Army of the Confederacy. The official date of the establishment of the fort was June 11, 1857. Its purpose was to maintain order on the reservation.
Gibson and Company M, Third artillery left Fort Bragg in January 1859 to be replaced by Company D, 6th Infantry. They stayed for two years and continued to build up the post.
In 1862 a company from the 2nd California Infantry assumed command and remained until 1864. In October 1864 the Fort Bragg garrison was loaded aboard the steamer Panama and completed the evacuation and abandonment of Mendocino County’s first military post.
The Mendocino Indian reservation was discontinued in March 1886 and the land opened for settlement several years later.
The last remaining building of the Fort Bragg military post is located at 430 North Franklin Street. It was the Quartermaster’s storehouse and commissary.
The approximate boundaries of the fort extend from the south side of Laurel, east from the railroad depot to the alley behind Franklin, down the alley to a point 100 feet south of Redwood Avenue, west on Redwood to just beyond the Georgia-Pacific Corporation company offices, then north to connect with the Laurel Street border at the railroad station.
By 1867 the reservation and military outpost at Fort Bragg were abandoned. By 1869 small lumber mills were being built at the mouth of every creek. Ranches were settled. By 1873, Fort Bragg had an established lumber port at Noyo.
Soon after the fort was abandoned, the land of the reservation was offered for sale at $1.25 per acre to settlers. In 1885 C.R.Johnson who, with partners Calvin Stewart and James Hunter had been operating a sawmill in Mill Creek, moved their mill machinery to Fort Bragg to take advantage of the harbor for shipping. The company incorporated as the Fort Bragg Redwood Company. In 1893 it was renamed the Union Lumber Company. The Fort Bragg Railroad was founded to haul logs to the mill. The first rails were run up Pudding Creek and in 1887 reached Glen Blair. A San Francisco streetcar was purchased to carry loggers and their families on Sunday excursions to the woods.
Fort Bragg was incorporated in 1889 with C.R. Johnson as its first mayor. Calvin Stewart did the plat maps for the town.
The Union Lumber Company was incorporated in 1893 by absorbing some of the smaller lumber companies in the area. Some of the new company lands were in the next valley east of town making removal of logs difficult by rail, unless a tunnel was built. Johnson hired experienced Chinese tunnel builders from Nevada. After completion of the tunnel, most of the Chinese settled in Fort Bragg. A six-walled Chinese town was built at Redwood and McPherson. Older residents say the town died out eventually because most of the children of the Chinese moved elsewhere.
In 1901 the Union Lumber Company incorporated the National Steamship Company to carry lumber, passengers and supplies. The only link to manufactured creature comforts and staples like sugar and coffee were from delivery by steamship. In 1905, the California Western Railroad and Navigation Company was formed and plans were pushed to get the rail line all the way to Willits, where train connections could be made for San Francisco. The train, affectionately called the Skunk Train, continues to carry passengers after 125 years in service.
The 1906 earthquake resulted in a fire that threatened the entire city. Within the town itself, all brick buildings were damaged if not destroyed completely and many frame homes were knocked off their piers. The fire downtown burned the entire block bordered by Franklin, Redwood and McPherson Streets, plus the west side of Franklin. The west Franklin block burned down to approximately one half a block beyond the intersection of Redwood and Franklin.
Within 12 months following the earthquake, all downtown reconstruction was completed. Ironically, the earthquake brought real prosperity to Fort Bragg as the mills furnished lumber to rebuild San Francisco. With the new prosperity, the rail line to Willits was completed and in 1912 the first tourists came to Fort Bragg. By 1916 Fort Bragg had become a popular place to visit—and to settle.
Commercial fishing has also played an important role in formation of the economic base of the community. Once a major commercial fishing port, Fort Bragg was well known for producing quality fish products that were distributed to major metropolitan markets.
In 1969 the Union Lumber Company was purchased by Boise Cascade and it, in turn, became Georgia Pacific in 1973.
The emergence of the City of Fort Bragg as a diverse residential, recreational and growing commercial area had begun and the city was on the path to becoming what it is today. The Guest House Museum is the repository of artifacts and records telling the story of Fort Bragg. An endowment fund has been established to support cultural and educational programs associated with the Museum. Donations can also be made for specific building restoration or grounds improvement projects. The Museum is open to the public on a regular schedule. Call (707) 961-2840 for Museum information and (707)961-2825 for information on endowment donations.