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Caspar Headlands HISTORY


from a 1939 National Geographic article on the North Coast The Mill in 1938 : photo by B. Anthony Stewart © 1939 National Geographic Society {1}
The "big splash" is the result of a log hitting the millpond after sliding down the chute.

     Caspar Headlands may be looked upon as an intensely impacted industrial site abandoned to cattle nearly half a century ago. From these lands and the forest beyond, a thriving mill extracted and shipped millions of board feet of virgin redwood. In 1946, a well-developed railroad network extended 26 miles into the forest (but never connected to a main line.) Lumber was shipped via "dog hole schooners" that moored in Caspar's sheltered anchorage.

Al "Hare Creek" Johnson preparing to send a big "butt log" down the chute into the millpond - Robert J. Lee collection {2}
Caspar Creek Bridge in 1966 :  photo by Harry J. Wakerley
Caspar Creek Bridge in 1966 : photo by Harry J. Wakerley

     The scale of the operation was large, as befitted the place that reduced the largest logs ever milled to lumber, often 12 feet in diameter. Many timber industry innovations were pioneered here, including redwood water main and sewer pipe, the double-sided band saw, and the wire chute with which finished lumber was delivered to the decks of the schooners.

headlands aerial in 2000
The Headlands in 2000 : aerial photo by Sienna M Potts {3}

the Mill in 1947
The Mill in 1947 : photo courtesy Caspar Lumber Co. {2}
show explanatory overlay    restore original

     Caspar was lucky. Prior to 1955, when mill operations ceased, the logging industry was reasonably non-toxic. No virulent chemicals or solvents were spilled here, and the worst residue was bunker oil used to fire the boilers of the steam engines that drove the mill. The headlands did not escape unscathed, however. The topsoil and native flora was scraped off to create flat areas for drying lumber, and massive cement foundations and iron staples were laid and driven into the underlying rock. These remnants will remain on the land for decades, and open a window into the work of generations of woods heroes.

loading lumber via wire chute
The steamship Caspar being loaded from the headlands via the wire chute.
Passengers embarked by the same means, riding in the two-benched "Pullman" visible at right.
Photo from Richard Tooker Collection, National Maritime Museum. {2}


The mill crew in 1904 -- Miles Brothers photo from National Maritime Museum {2}

     With heroism and ingenuity, Caspar has always been about people first. By the standards of its day, Caspar's lumber operations were extremely safe, humane, and considerate of the forest and surround. The result is that the headlands today are a fascinating blend of history and nature, pride and nostalgia.


Notes on the pictures:
{1} The March 1939 National Geographic celebrated the completion of the Golden Gate bridge and the opening of the area of California north of the Golden Gate to exploration by automobile. Prior to that time, roads into the area were crude or non-existent, and most folks traveled by dog-hole schooner or, later, steamer.
{2} Caspar's logging heritage is documented in the wonderful book Mallets on the Mendocino Coast by Ted Wurm; photographs are used by his gracious permission.
{3} The aerial photographs used in this series were taken on 3 March 2000 from a Mooney piloted by Mike Dell'Ara. Thank you, Mike, for a great flight and the best landing ever.
text, layout, and explanatory overlay by Michael Potts.


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