Samoa Shops and Roundhouse Complex

John Vance, pioneer Humboldt County Lumberman, died in January of 1892. His million dollar estate included 10,000 acres of land, a sawmill in Eureka, a mill on the Mad River, the nine mile Humboldt & Mad River Railroad (connecting his Mad River mill with the northwest corner of Humboldt Bay), lumber ships, bay steamers, the Vance Hotel and controlling interest in the Eel River & Eureka Railroad. While his estate was being settled, the Eureka mill was destroyed by fire. Heirs of the John Vance Mill and Lumber Company decided not to rebuild the mill in Eureka but to purchase land in West Eureka or Samoa from the Samoa Land and Improvement Co. Additional land in Eureka would have been too expensive for the large modern sawmill they planned to build. The Samoa development was 270 acres, extending from the ocean to the bay and included one mile of waterfront. In December, 1893, the Vance Lumber Company incorporated the Eureka & Klamath River Railroad Co. to run from Eureka (by ferry) to Samoa, then by rail to Arcata, cross the Mad River and continue upstream to Vance’s timber. The new Samoa mill produced its first lumber in 1894. The mill was improved when new modern equipment was installed in 1895. The modern sawmill produced 60,000 to 70,000 board feet a day and employed 200 men in the sawmill and 120 in the woods. The railroad was extended from the north Humboldt Bay terminus to Samoa in 1896. Between 1893 and 1896 the company spent $500,000 building the sawmill, the railroad, depots at Eureka, Samoa and Arcata, a car shop, a roundhouse and a cookhouse. A.B. Hammond purchased the John Vance Mill and Lumber Co. and the Eureka & Klamath River Railroad for $1,000,000 on September 1, 1900. He continued buying timber land, expanding the production facilities and size of the operation for 56 years. Hammond Lumber Company became the largest redwood lumber mill anywhere.

The roundhouse and shop complex (including a machine shop, blacksmith shop, boiler shop, tin shop and car shop), built beginning in 1893, not only maintained and repaired railroad equipment, they repaired and built equipment for the woods operations, the sawmill, the planing mill and even made major repairs on company-owned steamships. In the 1940s it was as large or larger than any other California lumber company shop complex. The Samoa Shops facility was large enough and well equipped enough to build an entire 112 ton, consolidation type, 2-8-0 wheel arrangement steam locomotive in 1910. Most logging locomotives, until the Northwestern Pacific Railroad was completed in 1914, were small as they had to be brought in by ship. The home-built locomotive No. 11 was the largest locomotive in Humboldt County. It was even too large for the roundhouse entrance, so one of the center bays had to be heightened to accommodate the locomotive. The addition is still obvious today. In fact the roundhouse is little changed from its original configuration. The roundhouse exterior was board and bat which remains in one small section though most has been covered up with particle board siding. The upper clerestory windows have been boarded over, other windows have been replaced with modern versions but in the same openings; doors, which were unnecessary in steam days since someone had to be around to keep the locomotives warm all night, have been added. The other buildings are also intact with similar modifications.

Victorian homes and store fronts survive in many small cities like Eureka, but it is amazing that these 115 year old industrial buildings still remain with so little modification. Though in disrepair, they are treasures – monuments to our past – which tell stories that can’t really be experienced in any other way.

Samoa Shops and Roundhouse Complex

The Samoa Shops complex and roundhouse sits just below the Samoa Cookhouse. Workers ate here every morning and then walked down a wooden stairway to their shop and mill jobs. The cookhouse has been in continuous operation since 1893. Its appearance and food are much the same as it has always been. Historic photos and antique equipment surround those who eat there to emphasize the experience. Across the former lumber yard is a part of a once 1,275 foot long warehouse built in 1920 where 17 box cars could be loaded with lumber at the same time to be shipped all over the United States. More lumber was loaded off the dock outside to be exported on ships to ports around the world. The building was a landmark with huge letters on the bay side spelling out “Hammond Lumber Company.” Adjacent to the Cookhouse is a company town with original houses and a mercantile, business and office building called the “Samoa Block.” The town is owned by a developer today but for over one hundred years it was a lumber company town. Even though it is only a couple of miles from Eureka, it is very rural and scenic. The tower of the Carson House, home of a Vance and Hammond competitor, can be seen across Humboldt Bay and Woodley Island. Its not hard to imagine and almost experience . . . .

Shops Repairs Summer 2016

With the nice summer weather THA has started repairs on the last shop building in need of major restoration: the Blacksmith Shop. As shown in the photos below we are making great progress!

Old Roof of the Blacksmith Shop

Old Roof of the Blacksmith Shop

 

New Roof in Progress

New Roof in Progress

Shop Site Becomes Available For Short Term Lease

The Samoa Shops site was, until recently, under consideration for purchase by a developer who was going to trade the parcel for another property he wanted to develop. That scenario changed when the rules in regard to Tsunami danger made the residential development no longer viable at the other property. It was suggested by a member of the board of supervisors that we approach the Harbor District about leasing some of the site especially for the locomotives and artifacts that had been or needed to be stored inside. The Harbor District was willing to try to work something out. The buildings were in need of immediate stabilization. The agreement made was that the value of volunteer or donated work, at prevailing wage, and the value of donated or purchased materials could be used to offset the monthly rental fee of $0.20 per square foot per month of the boiler shop and roundhouse. The square footage of the first two buildings was 16,500 so the total yearly rent was $39,600. After meeting permit, insurance, security and other requirements, the Association got keys to the building on March 9, 2007 and began immediately moving items to the site. Since the initial lease, the area has been extended to all the historic buildings.

In 2015 THA signed an Option Agreement to purchase an eight acre site.  THA must access and pay for clean-up of any environmental hazards or contaminants and pay all costs for zoning changes, transfer of title and Coastal Commission approval.  That process has begun but will take some time.

Directions to the Shops

From Eureka:

Head northwest on CA-255 N, 0.8 mi

Turn left onto New Navy Base Rd, 0.4 mi

Turn left onto Cookhouse Rd, 0.1 mi

At the intersection of Cookhouse Road and Vance Avenue cross the train tracks straight ahead of you. Watch for traffic coming from your right around the curve, they do not have a stop sign!

Go through the gates and into the Shops Area parking

 

From Arcata:

 

Take CA-255 S to Cookhouse Rd, 8.2 mi

Turn left onto Cookhouse Rd, 0.1 mi

At the intersection of Cookhouse Road and Vance Avenue cross the train tracks straight ahead of you. Watch for traffic coming from your right around the curve, they do not have a stop sign!

Go through the gates and into the Shops Area parking

Entrance

Directions to the shops map