I discovered my local history hero while working as an interpreter at Humboldt Redwoods State Park in 2017 after finding a green plaque surrounded by stumps in an otherwise unlogged old growth forest.
Laura Perrott Mahan was born in Loleta CA on November 29, 1867 at Singley Hill on the family farm. She was an organizer and an action taker that, alongside other local women, galvanized early local support for saving the Redwoods.
In 1923, Save the Redwoods League (SRL) was slowly purchasing land adjacent to the “Redwood Highway” to protect it from logging. Conservation efforts within the California Federation of Women’s Clubs, as promoted by President Clara Bradley Burdette, were catching on throughout the state. Laura, a member of the Eureka Women’s Club and participant in the California Federation knew that bringing their yearly conference to Eureka may be just what was needed to protect a marvelous, threatened grove right alongside the Eel and the mouth of Bull Creek. Laura led the charge to bring the Federation yearly meeting to the Eureka Inn in 1923, and won the bid. Part of the conference included taking the participants on a trip to the Eel River, where Eureka club women announced their plans to save the very grove they were standing in. A dollar from each member in the state would raise enough to be matched by the state and save the grove. The campaign worked, $45,000 was raised, the grove was saved, and Julia Morgan was chosen to design the Hearthstone monument commemorating the women’s work, located within the new grove, widely known nowadays as Women’s Fed.
Only a year later, SRL was working with legislators in Sacramento to save a grove across the Eel River from Dyerville. The League made an agreement with Pacific Lumber to temporarily pause logging on the land until a deal was made. Laura caught word that logging had resumed in the Dyerville forest, and she and her husband raced to the woods. Pacific Lumber Company had started cutting trees through the forest to put in a railroad spur in order to access the Bull Creek forest. Laura, being a wealthy white woman who was relatively well known, stood in front of the logging equipment and stopped the loggers in their tracks while her husband took the news back to Eureka, filing a formal injunction against further logging in the area. The community rallied against the logging, and the grove was eventually saved and named after the founders of SRL. On the site of Laura’s protest, about a half mile into the woods from the Founder’s Grove plaque, there is a plaque commemorating the event alongside a few redwood stumps of the trees that fell before Laura’s arrived.