History & Heritage of Crescent City & Del Norte County, California
From tribal lands to gold mining to shipwrecks, this region’s heritage is rich. Wander the paths of Del Norte County’s vibrant history, where the land, the water and the people connect deeply and work harmoniously. Learn more and let the spirit of California’s heritage echo throughout your adventures.
Native American Tribal History
Until the mid-19th century, two Native American tribes inhabited the region. Fish, berries and acorns were plentiful both in the south, where the Yurok tribe lived along the Klamath River, as well as to the north where the Tolowa tribe made their home in the Smith River plains. The area became flooded with trappers, settlers and gold miners in the 1850s. Through revolts, treaties and negotiations, both nations have established tribal lands. Connect with native heritage, admiring traditional Yurok plank houses from a distance at the mouth of the Klamath River.
Gold Mining History
Stroll through the botanical bliss of the Myrtle Creek Trail while you soak up gold mining trivia. Gold was first discovered in the creek in 1853, forever-changing the region’s history. Trail signage and artifacts illuminate that story. That same year, the first lumber mill was established in Crescent City. Take a scenic drive like Old Gasquet Toll Road through the once small but thriving mining towns and logging settlements. Mule trains modernized into railroads as the gold mining industry began to die out in the late 1860s. Lumber mills flourished until 1939 when the largest mill closed. The industry was briefly revived after World War II to meet demand, though settlements and trains gave way to bulldozers, trucks, and commuting employees.
Old-Growth Redwood Trees
The land, from shoreline to ancient forests, is a pillar in Del Norte County’s heritage. The Redwood National and State Parks serve as a protector to 45 percent of California’s remaining old-growth redwoods. They are designated as California’s only World Heritage Site. Jedediah Smith State Park was named for the first white man to explore northern California’s interior. Completely disconnect in its 9,500 acres of majestic beauty. Boldly explore the crashing waves, wild rivers and hidden forests that encompass these parks, our legacy.
Crescent City Lighthouses
Lighthouses along the coast whisper the tales of historic shipwrecks. Two ships sank off into the Pacific between 1850 and 1851. Sip on a warm coffee, meander through history and perhaps catch a glimpse of migrating whales within Brother Jonathan Cemetery. With a sweeping ocean view, it is the perfect location for a memorial dedicated to the 215 who lost their lives on the Brother Jonathan mail steamer in 1865. Only 16 survived. The beginnings of World War I echo in the harbour, where in 1941 an oil tanker drifted in and sank after being struck by torpedos from a Japanese submarine.
Tsunami History & Historical Museum
Traverse through much of these moments in time at the Del Norte County Historical Museum. It captures a great deal of area history, displaying logging and mining machinery as well as artifacts from the Tolowa and Yurok tribes. Hear personal accounts of the fierce 1964 tsunami that collided with Crescent City, devastating homes and business and killing 11 people. Take the self-guided tsunami tour through downtown Crescent City to see what a a 21-foot wave can do to devastate a town. Crescent City’s 1964 tsunami still sets the record for the worst tsunami disaster recorded in U.S. history. Also on display at the museum is the powerful lens from the Point St. George Lighthouse that guided many ships safely along the shore.
All Historical Attractions in Del Norte County