The Chetco country, as a farming region, may be said to be the garden spot of the county. The Chetco valley in its length and breadth is one expanse of rich, alluvial soil, which produces to perfection any crop adapted to this belt of country. Lands in the valley command a good figure, while the hills contiguous are valuable for grazing purposes. The Chetco River admits at the entrance ocean craft of respectable dimensions, which fact insures the farmers of the region a ready means of shipment of their surplus products to the best markets of the Coast. Valuable shipments of wool, hides, fish, oats, etc. are made from here, in the "Mary D. Hume," "Ester Cohos" and such other vessels as chance to call in. ? Port Orford Post, April 27, 1882
Not much is known about how people lived during the period from first settlement until the 1880s. Little documentation except memories of long-time residents is available before 1946, when the Brookings-Harbor Pilot newspaper began publication. Some of the first settlers married Indian women, and presumably white women arrived with their menfolk in the later 1850s, 1860s and afterward. ... By 1860 the Chetco area had 215 inhabitants.
Making a Living
For many years there was no town ? only individual farms, a store, and a few small, family-owned com-mercial enterprises.
Augustus F. Miller, one of the original settlers, operated a ferry service at the mouth of the Chetco River. For that he paid an annual county fee of $25 in 1857.
Miller also conducted a hotel on the north bank of the river near its mouth. The hotel was often called "the Stage Stop." Miller became the first Chetco postmaster in 1863.
In 1858, F.W. Colebrook and Clements Hazard were licensed to drive "cattle and beefsteak" from the north through to California. In 1878 Ambrose P. Tolman built a sawmill on the south side of the Chetco River at Mill Creek. During that time he also built for Tom Raythe two-story house that still stands up the Winchuck River. The earliest account is that of Albert C. Walling, writing about Chetco community activities in the early 1880s:
The Chetco River or creek is crossed by two ferries -- Miller's, nearest the mouth, and Smith's, two miles above. At the latter the stream is about 120 yards wide and is fordable in summer. For a dozen miles or so along the stream, settlers possess and are clearing the rich soil, and so making pleasant homes for themselves and their posterity. South of the creek a bench of level and rich soil begins, a mile in width, fronting on the ocean and backed by low, fern-covered, hills which lie toward the east. Here are some very fine farms, mainly devoted to wheat raising, but possessing orchards and other improve-ment.
For others, dairying was the principal source of income. Among the full-time dairymen in the early days were C.H. Cooley, milking 90-100 cows; the Pedroli brothers with 70-80 head; John White with over 60 head as well as herds of cattle on the range and on his ranches in the mountains ? along with a large number of sheep up the Winchuck and Chetco Rivers; R.M. Cooley with 60 head which supplied the towns of Harbor and later, Brookings, with milk; William L. McVay who milked some 60 head of cows. Other dairyman with fewer cows included H.C. Brown, Joe DeMartin, Dave Gilmore, Granville Goings, the Jackson brothers, T.G. McNamara, N.B. Moore, Thomas G. Ray and A. Tamba. Some of them raised and dealt in fairly large numbers of cattle. Up the Chetco River some ranchers raised hogs. A few other ranches were devoted largely to fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, and all kinds of berries.
Walling continued his account:
William Kirk keeps a store at a point a fourth of a mile south of the Blake ranch. The port of Chetco hardly deserves the name of Harbor, being only a landing where the steamer "Hume" and the schooner "Ester Cobos" occasionally call to bring merchandise and carry away wool, hides and diary products. The Chetco country has often been called Egypt since at one time it supplied nearly all of Del Norte county with wheat. In this region are to be found good roads -- very rare in the remainder of the county. There are no mills, either for lumber or flour making in Chetco, but the wheat is hauled to Smith's River six miles beyond the state line, and there ground into flour. Lumber is also purchased in Del Norte county. There are two small fisheries on Chetco creek, but the catch is transferred to Del Norte County for canning and shipment.
Dairying is quite an industry hereabouts, and an excellent article of butter is made on various ranches, particularly J.A. Cooley's "Fountain Ranch," which is well fitted up, having a stream of running water to propel the churn and also to keep the temperature of the dairy house at the right point.
In 1906, Raleigh Scott shipped from the Chetco area 20,000 pounds of wool.
During the 1870s and 1880s, travel between Chetco and Grants Pass went via Crescent City in horse-drawn stage coaches and wagons on a one-lane dirt road. When two vehicles met on the road, one or the other had to back up a distance to let the other pass.
Although some ranchers, such as the Paynes, had established homesteads up the Chetco River there were no roads along the river bank. Supplies were taken up river by boat, or were packed in over a rough trail.
The Feb. 21, 1888, issue of the Gold Beach Gazette carried two accounts of the Chetco area:
Southern Curry is perhaps the most favored part of Curry. It has wagon road connections with the interior of the State, possesses an excellent summer harbor, good shipping facilities and can boast of the largest single body of improved farms, well-filled barns, thrifty orchards and nice residents. The people here are prosperous and in the enjoyment of luxuries of life. The land of Chetco valley as well as that bordering the stream for some distance up has been settled, but a short distance back can be found many valuable places.
There are a number of points along our coast where vessels lay with perfect safety, and discharge and take on cargoes during the spring, summer and autumn months. Beginning at the southern part of the county, we find Chetco harbor, a beautiful little bay, through which the settlers of that valley and vicinity ship their produce and receive their supplies. There is no town in Chetco, the residents all being engaged in farming, dairying and stock raising. There is, however, to be found in the valley two stores, and two or three first-class stopping places for travelers.
The Ferry Stories
Leo Lucas of Harbor tells his story:
In 1904 the County Court established a ferry across the Chetco at a point about one fourth of a mile above the E.L. Miller home at the mouth of Ferry Creek. The ferry boat, large enough to carry a team of horses and wagon or an automobile, was hand operated. Needless to say, automobile traffic was never very heavy, possibly three or four cars per year.
During summer months when the tide was low, teams and horsemen could ford the river just below the ferry crossing. In 1912 John Ham got the contract for operating a free ferry across the Chetco and was allowed $100.50 to run it for three months.
The ferry was discontinued in 1915 when a bridge spanning the river just north of the present site of Hanscam's Center and Sporthaven was built.
From the north end of this bridge a road wound up the east side of Fish-House Creek and into Brookings, along the present location of Chetco Avenue.
The Town of Harbor
"No town in Chetco? Ah, there should be!"
Presumably that was the thinking behind the formation of the Chetco Harbor Land and Townsite Co., in 1891. Its directors were Thomas Van Pelt, Robert Van Pelt, Charles Van Pelt, Ai Coolidge, Ai Coolidge Jr., A.L. McLane, M. J. Adams, J.B Yeagley. The company bought 160 acres of estuary land for $8,000 and announced that the town it intended to develop there would be named "Harbor," to differentiate it from the larger and scattered community of Chetco.
The Gold Beach Gazette reported from time to time what was going on in the Chetco-Harbor area. Some examples follow:
A grand calico ball will be given at Coolidges? new store building on the evening of May 1.
It is a general impression that Frank Strain will quit ranching and put out a shingle as Attorney-at Law.
George Dell, Johnny and Sam Van Pelt brought a raft of redwood logs down the river Saturday. John had a narrow escape, coming down the river. The raft struck a rock and broke apart. He slipped down between the logs and came near being crushed, but finally managed to scramble up on a log, where the boys picked him up in a boat.
Mr. Irving Lake, who owns the fishery on the Winchuck, ran a hatchery last year, and will this year as soon as the fish come in.
We feel grateful to our efficient County Superintendent, Mrs. Emily Fitzhugh, for her prompt action in the matter of the division of the District No. 17, as it has given the citizens of the new district ample time to organize and have an early term of school. (Note: The new district was No. 25, the Chetco area. Officers elected for it were Thomas Van Pelt, Clerk; and Directors E. C. Hughes, Robert Robinson and Charles Gray). (April 22, 1893)
Two dances were enjoyed by the people in and near Chetco Sat. evening, one at Lone Ranch in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Langevin and Miss Ruby Riles and her brother. All there had a pleasant time dancing till 12, when refreshments were served, after which followed singing until about three, and the happy crowd departed, singing "God be with you till we meet again." (August 4, 1893)
This place has recently undergone a transformation which gives it the appearance of being the location of a new "White City" in miniature.
All of the buildings have received liberal application of a preparation similar to that used by the U.S. government upon its lighthouses and other public buildings. The roofs have been painted "Indian Red" and the interiors have been greatly improved by several coasts of paint of various tints and shades.
The thousand or more acres constituting the ranch contains numerous "Stamping grounds" alive with deer and other game. Grouse, quail, pheasants, etc. abound in the thickets with an occasional bear, wildcat or panther to add to the excitement of a hunt.
The mile or more of sandy beaches furnish an excellent facility for bathing and unlimited supplies of clams, mussels, etc. while sea fish of endless variety gives amusement to the angler and tempt the appetite.
The streams abound with trout and the whole place is adapted by nature for a summer resort and may yet become one of the popular watering places of the Pacific Coast. (August 18, 1893)
Mr. Ai Coolidge will make Chetco blossom like the rose this summer. He is fencing in the townsite and turning it into a garden.
The Democratic and Populist primary elections held at Chetco on the 31st were conducted in good order. The Democrats chose for delegates in the convention John Boulzer, J.D. Cooley and Justice Lake, and the Populists chose Thos. Van Pelt, E.C. Hughes and George Dell to represent them at the Populist convention.
At the Republican primary election held here on the 24th, the following persons were named as delegates to the Republican convention at Gold Beach: S.A. Moore, Frank Strain, George Wilson and Winfield Duley.
A dance was inaugurated in the evening, and tangle foot flowed like water. Three fights took place, and the Republicans all went home in a happy frame of mind.