The Gold Rush and subsequent years brought Americans and international immigrants to Humboldt County, establishing a culturally diverse region. Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedes, Irish, Italian and Canadian immigrants lived and worked in Humboldt County, concentrated in certain industries and areas, allowing for micro-communities of individuals from similar backgrounds to share cultural practices and language. Many immigrants resumed trades they had learned in their home countries which frequently existed in climates very similar to Humboldt County. Part of the draw was also the novelty of settling in a new, ‘unexplored and wild’ place, with the chance to reap wealth from the area and make a living to support one’s family.
Natural Resource Extractions covers industries that made their money from raw materials- mining, logging, and fishing. These industries were typically what brought people to Humboldt County in the first place. Early settlers sent word back to friends and family of the ‘untapped’ bounty of resources in Humboldt County, which attracted more people to settle the area. The Gold Rush in California brought people to the West Coast in droves in 1849 and 1850 and, when the mining claims didn’t work out, some left while others settled and got into other industries to make a living. Logging prospects brought a number of people from Canada and the northeastern United States to work in logging industries and bountiful fishing opportunities brought in more settlers from Scandinavian countries.
Agriculture includes farming and raising livestock, which have long been staples in Humboldt County’s industrial history. Farming communities established in this period exist in the present, in places like Ferndale, although preferred, money making crops have changed over time due to cultural shifts and blights. Raising cattle and sheep specifically have been longstanding industries in certain parts of the county.
Commerce is an industry that is frequently overlooked- in the early days of Humboldt County and California commerce was where the rags to riches stories often took place. Commercial leaders would got their start by buying goods from San Francisco and bringing them into Humboldt County to sell to miners and other residents at a high markup. This wasn’t unique to Humboldt County, and this practice was common around mining areas across California. Commerce also includes the transportation of goods into and around the county, a feat that was not for the faint of heart. Prior to 1914, transportation in and out of the county was via ship or overland routes, both of which had the possibility of being incredibly dangerous due to weather.
The exhibit explores the three industries through presentations of work processes and tools, and the stories of local individuals who worked in the industries. They are a small sample of those that made a life in Humboldt County’s early days and those that navigated the booms- and busts- of the local economy all those years ago.
This is part 1 of a series on early industries of Humboldt County, stay tuned for part two, where we'll be looking closer at natural resource extraction industries including mining, fishing, logging, and oil.
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