Home > Uncategorized > Once upon a time in Arcata

Once upon a time in Arcata

Arcata-1949In 1948, lumber mills still dotted the landscape of Humboldt County.  Here’s an aerial shot looking south toward north Arcata with Six Rivers Brewery noted in the bottom left.

The photo was taken by Merle Shuster, whose aerial photography of Humboldt County’s post WWII landscapes show how much — and how quickly — the landscape can change.

UPDATE: Search for more photos at HSU’s Humboldt Room Photograph Collections.

  1. Anonymous
    May 14, 2009 at 10:37 am


    A link to the site where you can download additional photos would be nice. It’s a great resource for anyone interested in local history.

  2. exrepublican
    May 14, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Id bet that if we had a 2009 version of the same photo, it would look very much the same. The main difference would be the lack of smoke coming from the smokestacks on West End Road. Most, if not all of the mills are shut down as we speak.

  3. May 14, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Thanks for the link.

  4. May 14, 2009 at 10:41 am

    I found the same spot and angle using Google Earth but unfortunately it was a cloudy day (surprise) when the photo was taken.

  5. Ekovox
    May 14, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    In my father’s time he said there was a sawmill up every canyon where ever timber and water was available. In my time, from 1960 to 1980 between Burnt Ranch and Orleans alone there were probably 20 sawmills or plywood mills operating. That number has declined to zero these days.

    Of course, without the baby boom population and the demand for housing this probably would have never happened. It’s ok to blame your parents.

  6. Ekovox
    May 14, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Yes, the Merle Shuster collection is an incredible source. Look at the number of mills on the bay waterfront.

  7. Bob
    May 14, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    For more on Merle and his photos, read the story Heidi Walters wrote for the Journal when the collection went online. I got to meet Merle — I shot the photo of him and his camera used as an illustration. He was a humble man, a bit stressed about having to annotate all the pics he’d donated by himself. Unfortunately he died before he finished his project.

  8. plannax
    May 14, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Next time you’re in Hensel’s, take a stroll to the hardware section in the back. They have some great plan and oblique aerial photos on the walls of many of the former mill sites, including Cal Barrel, Reid and Wright, Schmidbauer, Little Lake, etc.

  9. Anonymous
    May 14, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Looks the same.

  10. Ekovox
    May 14, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    I worked with Merle Shuster for about five years.
    He was a very humble man. Just before he retired, he and I jumped into a dumpster and saved many slides, photographs, films and other locally pertinent pieces that he had filmed and photographed when he worked for KVIQ-TV. The new owners (bastards) wanted everything from the old owners thrown away. So, obedient employees followed suit. Merle was such a devout Christian man that he didn’t want to take any of it home as it may be misconstrued as stealing. I said, “Merle…it’s going to the dump!” He finally understood what that meant and we saved 1964 flood footage, his footage of President Nixon and Lady Bird Johnson dedicating the redwood grove and all manner of historical data.

    When in his ’80s and after his wife had passed away, he called me to his home and wanted to know if I wanted to take his collection. I took some of the things I felt were beneficial to the history of my era in television and suggested he donate the rest to Humboldt State. He had a fondness for Humboldt State as he had worked there as a film photographer for football games in his early years.

    The Merle Shuster Collection is as valuable to Humboldt history as the Ericson, Swanlund and Palmquist collections.

  11. Walt
    May 14, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Are you KIDDING?? “Looks the same?” NO WAY! I remember a neighbor in Glendale told me when they moved there in the 60s, there were a lot of days when you couldn’t hang your clothes on the line because they would end up covered with ash. Another guy told me that, growing up in the Elk River area, with the combination of both pulp mills and the rendering plant upwind, the kids would beg their mothers not to make them go out to play. The Golden era of laissez-faire capitalism, “the smell of prosperity.” Just think of what it did to the poor lungs that got in the way, never mind the cars, eyes and kids.

    No, we’re much, much better off without all the teepee burners and the pulp mills specifically exempted from the first Environmental Protection Act.
    My lungs and eyes thank all those commie-pinko environmentalists who made this place habitable!!

  12. businessman
    May 14, 2009 at 10:03 pm


    Interesting material–thanks.

    What is the name of the photo you published? I can’t seem to find it via the link above.

  13. May 14, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    It’s called “Arcata Bottom Long shot.”

  14. gernald
    May 14, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    Communist and enviormentalist had little to do with the decline in the local timber industry. Competition and free trade deals over the years have shrunken the market localy plus the over cutting of many areas of land in humboldt. I belive oregon at one point figured out a cheaper way of making plywood and that stole alot of the market from humboldt aswell as various other improvments in the timber market that made us less competative. I too am happy we have a smaller more sustainable amount of mills in the area today. But i do not give any credit to enviormentalist or communist for affecting any of these changes. With the exemption of the headwaters case and palco, i cannot recall any time when enviormentalist had any direct effect on the decline. I could be wrong tho, please give some examples.

  15. The Monitor
    May 14, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Thanks Heraldo! We can only know who we are by seeing who we were.

  16. McKinleyvillan
    May 14, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    it would actually look pretty different, unless you consider residential development to be the same as farm lands. And those are not mills smoking away in the photo–they are teepee burners burning the wood waste.

  17. Anonymous
    May 14, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    I guess I don’t know anyone unless, after I shake their hand, they give me their complete life history.

  18. McKinleyvillan
    May 14, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    Another pretty neat site for aerial photos is http://www.californiacoastline.org They are oblique views along the entire California coast, and you can see views from the 70s to the present (click on Time Comparison).

    is a view of the old Coast Guard station on Trinidad Head, as seen from the west.

  19. Anonymous
    May 15, 2009 at 1:12 am

    I think the arrow is actually pointing to the popular restaurant and music and dancing venue known as the Bella Vista Inn. As long as we are going to show historical photos (a wonderful idea, by the way) let’s also get those historical place names correct. Thanks, Heraldo!

  20. Anony.Miss
    May 15, 2009 at 6:21 am

    Right- the Brewery was not there- they are using the building that was originally the Bella Vista Inn, right?

  21. HumRed
    May 15, 2009 at 6:22 am

    Pete’s Bella Vista Inn.

  22. A Non A Me
    May 15, 2009 at 6:58 am

    When this photo was taken, that was the Bella Vista Inn, one of Humboldt’s best restraurants and watering hole for the timber folks who ran those mills.

  23. A Non A Me
    May 15, 2009 at 6:59 am

    At that time it was owned by the Hale family.

  24. May 15, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Sorry for the confusion. That’s currently the site of Six Rivers Brewery. It’s noted to orient modern picture viewers.

  25. Anonymous
    May 15, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    A Non A Me is a true old-time Humboldter. The Hale family did indeed operate the Bella Vista Inn for many years. They made it one of our area’s most popular restaurants. The feelings of goodwill and warmth their customers had for them lasted long after they sold the Bella Vista. Members of the Hale family (and allied families) still live here. If any of them read these words, I hope they will add their own memories of the Bella Vista.

    Heraldo? The picture was great. Thanks. Keep ’em coming!

  26. May 15, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    It has been said that in the 1950’s there were 50 sawmills in the Southern Humboldt School District. There is nothing left but a few small or portable type mills. One of the major small mills is Whitethorn Construction’s Local Hardwoods mill in Whitethorn.

  27. anonymous
    May 18, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    At one point during the 1960s Arcata rated the worst air quality in the nation.

  28. Anonymous
    May 20, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    When I started at Humboldt State College in 1967, I lived in a rented house on Sunset Avenue, about a block from the log pond. Every morning, there would be a thin layer of whitish grey ash dusted over my car. The ash more than likely came from the nearby Twin Pines Mill.

    Pretty good memory after all these years, eh?

  29. property owner
    May 22, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Teepee burners @ the mills! I grew up in Arcata–Every mill had a teepee burner that is how they got rid of the wood waste.

  30. T
    October 28, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    I worked with Merle for 5 years in the 1980’s at KVIQ. I always wondered what became of him, I’m sorry to hear he passed. He seemed so out of place around all us “kids” in our first TV job, but he was always there to lend a hand. His work ethic was inspiring!

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