One hundred and twenty-three years ago, Ida Miranda Burnell left on a stagecoach from Eureka at 5 a.m. under a full moon headed over the Kneeland ridge. She described parts of the road that early, dark morning as being “very rough” and with drifted snow.
“In one place on Yager Ridge, it had drifted so deep the driver had to find a road of his own to get by,” wrote the 20-year-old in her 1893 Pacific Coast Diary, purchased in Eureka for 75 cents.
Ida arrived at “the Bridge” (Bridgeville) by 6 p.m., “a small place situated in a very pretty place on the Van Duzen,” she wrote. Ida had been hired to be a new schoolteacher for the bustling town of Blocksburg, arriving to town at 3 p.m. the following day.
Today, a drive to Blocksburg from Eureka takes a little more than 90 minutes. Today, one will not see the same sight Ida saw when she jostled into town by stagecoach so long ago. Today, Blocksburg looks like just a wider stretch of pavement suddenly appearing after a twisting and turning Alderpoint Road stretch between Bridgeville to the north and Garberville to the south. A few old buildings remain in the historic town, structural ghosts of a vibrant long gone era.
In the 1880s, Blocksburg was “a thriving community … boasting three hotels, three livery stables, five saloons, a telegraph office, a meat market, blacksmith shop, saddle shop, dentist, doctor, a photographer, a drug store, millinery shop, and of course, a jail,” wrote Hazel Hill, a correspondent for the Humboldt Times in 1955 in an article “Blocksburg Life was Rough, Ready and Happy.” “The town also boasted one of the first racetracks in California … during the racing season people traveled from as far as Los Angeles to attend the races…,” according to Hill.
Indeed, Blocksburg was a main stagecoach stop on the old road between San Francisco and Eureka. Timber, cattle and sheep ranching were thriving industries keeping the town solvent. According to Hill, “When the white men came to Blocksburg, there were a great many Indians in the area and their wickiups, of bark built against trees, were scattered through the hills and valleys.”
The colorful pioneer life, the rough and tumble folks and the native Indian culture may be gone, but the breathtaking, panoramic views of the Larabee Valley remain in Blocksburg — as well as the old rehabilitated schoolhouse where Ida taught.
On March 6, 1893, a few days after arriving, Ida wrote in her diary, “Blocksburg seems to be a beautiful little place. The view is lovely. It is high up on a sort of slope, and you can see hills and dales as far as the eye can reach.”
In 2016, the view south from the rehabilitated schoolhouse supports her written description of over a century ago. The aptly named Cemetery Road and Church Road today serve as a kind of north-south bookends for the roadway going through town.
The Blocksburg schoolhouse, which Hill wrote “housed as many as 100 pupils” in 1885, can be found a few yards downhill from the town’s rehabilitated church on Church Road. The one-room school is used as a community center today, with both historic church and school buildings maintained by the Blocksburg Town Hall Association.
The church first opened its doors in the 1900s, and was the first to hold church services in Blocksburg, but it was not the first church built in town. In an article written for the Blocksburg Town Association by Georgette Mabel Ripple in 1986, she stated that, “In the late 1890s, through the efforts of a Methodist minister by the name of Jansen, a church was built in Blocksburg; a growing town along the main route from San Francisco to Eureka. This church was never to be used; before it could be dedicated it burned to the ground. However, the Rev. Jansen was not easily discouraged. He proceeded to build on another site near the schoolhouse. This church came into use in the early 1900s.”
Ripple was a ranchhand cook for several years and the postmaster for 30 years in Blocksburg. She was also was the PTA president and a lifetime member of the Blocksburg Town Hall Association.
The Blocksburg post office, sitting smack dab on the main stretch though town, is a tangible sign there is still a community present among the hardwood forests, meadows and ranch lands of the valley 30 miles northeast of Garberville. Longtime community member Beverley Windbigler was postmaster there for 29 years before retiring in 2009. She was a member of the Blocksburg Town Hall Association and served for many years as its historian.
Before her passing in May 2015, Windbigler collected, digitized and catalogued hundreds of historical photos and conducted interviews with many longtime Blocksburg residents. Windbigler is noted for conducting her own original research that often “disproved often repeated myths and legends about the area’s past,” according to her June 2015 obituary in the Times-Standard.
Windbigler produced and edited a book called “Children of Our One-Room Schools,” published by the Blocksburg Town Hall Association. The association also manages a Facebook page offering visitors image-filled and extensive historical accounts of the people, events and life in Blocksburg before paved roadways and highways. Much of the Facebook content is the fruit of Windbiglers documentation of the town.
Visiting Blocksburg stories and recollections of antiquity online is a historically rich and satisfying digital experience. But taking the drive to Blocksburg through the ranch lands of the Larabee Valley and climbing the meandering Alderpoint Road from Bridgeville is a mesmerizing experience. Considering one would see the same ridges, creeks, forests, grazing lands and spectacular views of mountain ranges that Ida Miranda Burnell gazed upon on her stagecoach rides from the coast makes history a realistic experience today. Go to the post office, check out the community board, and perhaps luck out and attend an ice cream social at the old schoolhouse. Make it a perfect stopping point for a half-day drive in rural Humboldt County along a historic stagecoach road.
Thank you to the Humboldt Historical Society for providing content from Ida Miranda Burnell’s diary, and Humboldt State University Library—Special Collections for the images.