In October of 1912 a crew of lumber workers arrived from California. They had been Brookings Company employees.
Among the married couples were Mr. and Mrs. J. Arthur Driskell, Mr. and Mrs. Herschel P. Weter and Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Cross. Driskell had been the company's logging and railroad superintendent. Cross had been the company's railroad engineer. Percival E. Thomas also came; he was to install the machinery for the mill and shop. The following year he brought his wife, Mary, by boat to Brookings.
The Driskell's first home was a small ranch house near the Chetco River; later the Company drew a plat for the new town. Two acres of land on its main street had been reserved for them. Thus the Driskells were the town's first individual landowners. For 10 years they were the only private owners in Brookings.
A Curry Coastal Pilot article in May, 1971, tells more of the story:
Travel in this area at that time was as primitive as it had been 50 years earlier in the east. Mr. Driskell recounts now that he and his young wife, in October 1912, left Grants Pass by horse stage. They rode all day and all night, arriving early in the morning at Crescent City. There they rested a couple of days before they left for the next community of Brookings.
The second stage of their journey took less time, but was nevertheless as arduous. They left Crescent City early in the morning and arrived at Smith River in time to eat lunch and to have a short rest. After lunch they resumed, to arrive at Ferry ranch -- crossing the Chetco River above Harbor after dark.
The immediate job to be accomplished, with the arrival of men, was to get in supplies and materials with which to build the new town, most of which were being shipped up by steamship from San Francisco.
The men made preparations for the arrival of a shipload of supplies. Their first job was felling timber suitable for shear legs that could be placed some distance off-shore in the water, from which to run a high line.
In the meantime, Brookings bought the S.S. South Coast, and outfitted it with supplies and materials for the new community. It sailed from San Francisco under Capt. Hamilton, arriving at Chetco Cove Nov. 15, 1912.
When the S.S. South Coast arrived, there were no facilities ready for unloading, so the first cargo was put over the side onto rafts made from railroad ties that the ship was carrying. The first raft to be loaded carried a gasoline engine for power ashore. The raft had no motive power. It was cast loose from the ship and the waves carried it ashore. Some of the local boys from Harbor came out in rowboats to give whatever help they could, which, it was agreed, was very little.
As the raft hit the beach, lines were made fast to it, and it was pulled ashore, and the gasoline engine was man-handled up the beach to high ground. It was set up to furnish power for the high line -- a cable stretched from the shear leg to the shore, and ships could anchor underneath the cables. Cargoes then would be attached to the cable and pulled ashore. (Passengers also came ashore that way.)
With the power for the high lines, unloading was stepped up. Among the first materials to be brought ashore was lumber to build a cook house, bunkhouse and store. The original plans for the Brookings townsite called for the store to be located at the north edge of town, (near where Lees Dragon Gate Restaurant & Lounge now stands in 2001).
The town was to develop out from the store, and a railroad was laid by high line on Chetco Point from the store. After tracks were laid, it was time to bring the first locomotive in but it was decided that the high line would not carry it, so it was floated in on a raft, too. Although this railroad was in a wilderness was probably one of the shortest in history, it was also one of the busiest.
The townsite was laid out for a population of about 1,500 people. This was to be no ordinary company town, drab and ugly. Robert Brookings was something of an idealist. To design the town, he had engaged the services of Bernard Maybeck of Berkeley, Calif., famous for his architectural planning of the Arts Building at the Pan American Exposition in San Francisco, and for his design of Golden Gate Park in that city. Maybeck was enthusiastic about the scenery and the townsite location. Rather than laying out the streets in the typical checkerboard pattern, he made them to follow the natural contours of the lands, so that gently winding avenues resulted."
W.J. Ward's 1926 Report gives a glowing picture of Brookings:
The town is not like the usual type of industrial village. The cottages are all different and very attractive. They were built for homes for the employees of the Lumber Company, and each was placed on a large lot, affording space for garden and flowers. In general, the standard floor plan consists of a living room, two bedrooms with a complete bathroom between, kitchen and a back storage room for wood. Some of the houses are smaller and a few are larger, having three bedrooms. The mild climate of the town and the excellent soil produce an abundance of flowers, vines and shrubs.
Some 40 years later, The Pilot ran a grimmer story about life in the fledgling mill town, written by Marian Chapman, the newspaper's office manager:
This was primitive country and there were no roads, no bridges and few settlements (when the Driskells came to Brookings in 1912). The nearest post office was at Harbor, and to get their mail they had to push a wheelbarrow a half mile to the river, then row across in a small boat and push another wheelbarrow to the post office where they received their mail in a gunny sack. They returned home in exactly the same manner.
It was a desolate spot and the young couple were minded to leave, but the company offered them two acres of land as an inducement to stay on ...
The Driskells were the first to settle in this isolated spot and were, therefore, the founders of the town of Brookings.
In 1915 they decided to go into business on their own and opened a "Club" in the newly built structure on the acreage they had been given. The site is now the vacant lot by the Credit Union building. The Club boasted of a pool hall, card room, barber shop and dance hall. The latter was on the second floor and many a dance was held there to the music of an oft-changing orchestra, using Hilda Driskell's piano, the very first piano brought into Curry County. (This piano was owned by Charlotte Crook, in Harbor in 1979).
Folks often stayed two or three days and had to be bedded down on mattresses laid out on the dance hall floor. These transient over-nighters became so frequent and numerous that the Club, in 1922, was converted into a hotel by adding to the original structure and building 10 one-room cottages behind the main building.
At times, when the company store was closed, so many people came to the hotel to borrow groceries which were seldom returned that the barbershop was moved to a new location and a small store was opened in the modest space it formerly occupied. The store grew and grew and eventually developed into a large general merchandise business which the Driskell's operated for a period of 27 years.
"When the Brookings Timber and Lumber Company began operations it brought here another of its top employees, Vern C. Cross, who became engineer on the logging train. His daughter, Anna, is said to have been the first child born in the town of Brookings. She recalls that John Brookings, for whom her father worked, was always called "J.R." When her mother had a piano brought here by ship it was swung ashore while many spectators held their collective breath until it was safely down.
"The Brookings area at that time was called Child's Point, or, sometimes, Arkansas Flats. Just north of where the present Bonn Motel is now located. Behind it was a hill called Moore's Butte, a good area for deer hunting then. According to longtime resident Max Brainard, Tom Moore, a one-armed half-breed teamster, had a house and a barn there. He carried the mail south, and on need sounded the triangle fire alarm, which was made of railroad rails and stationed on top of the hill.
The company soon built a large bunk house, called the St. George Hotel, to house the unmarried male employees. This stood on the south side of the present Pacific Avenue, adjoining Chetco Avenue. The St. George Annex was constructed on Pacific Avenue, across the street from the hotel. Directly west of the Hotel stood the mess hall which seated 300.
According to Leo Lucas:
"Over the years, since the closing of the mill, the building was used as a dance hall, a temporary school house, a feed store, and a restaurant.
"On the north side of Pacific Avenue, in 1979 the site of the Brookings Tire Shop, a hospital was built. It was staffed and equipped to care for the sick and injured of the area. A sobering and chilling experience for everyone, particularly those who had some member of their family working at the mill, was the sound of six short blasts of the mill whistle signaling for the hospital staff to be prepared for someone who had been injured or killed.
"The present Central Building was the company's office building. Also constructed was a commissary. The company began construction of a town sewer system in 1915. Completed in 1923, it is now referred to as Sewer District No. 1.
"The all-electric mill the company built was one of only two electric unit package mills in the world for cutting fir. The other was in Marshfield (now Coos Bay), Oregon. Built in 1913, it cost $1,250,000. This type of mill almost entirely eliminated the need for shafting and belting because nearly every machine was powered by direct drive from an individual motor. The electric power and lighting for the entire town as well as for the mill was produced at the plant by a 1,250 horsepower turbo-generator, driven by three automatically stoked boilers. An 80-foot high dam was constructed, and a 20-acre mill pond to float the logs. A standard-gauge railroad was extended from the logging camp up the Chetco River to the mill."
FIRST LOG INTO MILL
On October 6, 1914, the first log came out of the pond and into the Brookings Lumber Co. mill.
Letter from John Brookings to Dr. D.J. Brookings in Woodward, Iowa:
Harbor, Oregon, Feb. 18, 1913
Walter (John's son) has just returned to San Francisco from St. Louis after a conference there with R.S. Brookings, having incorporated the Brookings Timber and Lumber Co. and (to) issues bonds to install our plant and operate ...
We have about 80 men working now and will probably have 200 this summer. One building and a log pond at a cost of about $40,000. We will make a town called "Brookings" upon a fair amount of agricultural land ...
From the Chetco Valley Museum Archives