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Restored cannon from Frolic Shipwreck at the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse.
Restored cannon from Frolic Shipwreck at the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse.

Fort Bragg’s California redwood story started in the summer of 1850 when a sailing brig, the Frolic, struck rocks on a foggy day and sank in a shallow cove just north of where the 1909 Point Cabrillo Lighthouse still operates today.

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse at sunset.
Point Cabrillo Lighthouse at sunset.

When lumberman Jerome Ford sailed up the coast to salvage the wreck, he discovered new treasure: vast stands of seemingly endless old growth redwoods –- lumber that would fuel the building boom in Gold Rush San Francisco and supply the massive reconstruction effort after the 1906 earthquake. This discovery also led to settlement of the Mendocino Coast and the City of Fort Bragg.

Braxton Bragg and Beyond

From 1857 (when First Lt. Horatio G. Gibson was literally holding down the fort in the future City of Fort Bragg) until 2002, when the Georgia Pacific Redwood Mill closed down, Fort Bragg’s California Redwoods were like the gold discovered at Sutter’s Mill. But trees, rather than gold, were the lure and driving force behind local history. (A history note: Lt. Gibson named the fort after Captain Braxton Bragg, who later became a General in the Army of the Confederacy).

Today, you can still see parts of the “haul road” –- once used as a highway between the mill and redwood forests –- in MacKerricher State Park, which extends for a dozen miles north from Glass Beach, a stone’s throw downtown Fort Bragg.

In the past decade, Fort Bragg has been transformed from lumber town to tourist mecca, a diverse vacation spot sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the 50,000-acre Jackson State Forest where you can still find stands of virgin California redwoods to explore.

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