Modern History of Fortuna CA on the Redwood Coast

Fortuna, California is a small town located along the famed Redwood Coast in Humboldt County. This small town is long known for its big amenities, like giant redwood trees, stunning scenic beauty, and the mighty Pacific. Keep reading to learn more about the modern history of Fortuna, CA on the Redwood Coast. You can also read about about the history of the Native tribes of Humboldt County, CA who lived here for centuries prior to colonial settlement, and still do today.

What’s In a Name?

Fortuna has been known as “The Friendly City” ever since area residents chose the name in 1888. Fortuna, which means “fortune” in Spanish and “chance” in Latin, was the perfect name because it described how fortunate residents felt to live in such an incredibly beautiful place.

Just prior to 1888, Fortuna had two other names: Slide and Springville. In 1874, the original settlement was called “Slide” after Slide Hill, where huge slides were located on the edge of town. Just a year later, in 1875, residents changed the name to Springville for the Springville Lumber Mill that was being constructed. Springville also aptly described the many natural springs in the area. By the time Springville Mill and the Newburg Lumber Company were in business, the town had grown large enough to warrant a post office. Ironically, the Post Office had to resort to the name Slide since Springville was already taken (in present day Camarillo in Ventura County). But only for a short while. The post office officially adopted the name Fortuna along with the town in 1888.

Bllack and white photograph of old train depot in Fortuna CA

Fortuna’s Growth

Nineteenth century Fortuna settlers enjoyed fishing, farming, and raising livestock thanks to the rich Eel River Valley. As a result, Fortuna became known for fresh fish, vegetables, berries and fruits. But  lumber is what really put Fortuna on the map. And getting electricity and the railroad in just before the turn of the century offered a real boost to lumber production. After being incorporated in 1906, lumber became Fortuna’s primary industry. The residents benefited as well with access to affordable electric lighting thanks to a power plant built by Swortzel and Williams. Having electricity in such early days in the small town was a treasure.

The railroad also helped revolutionize both the lumber industry and the town, connecting Fortuna to the rest of the world. Travelers and loggers could easily travel between Fortuna, Eureka, South Fork, Shively and beyond, and as a result, many settled in Fortuna. In the following years, the rail line traveled all the way from San Francisco to Eureka which continued to help the town thrive. 

Black and white photograph of old Star Hotel downtown Fortuna

The Star Hotel was a popular fixture on Main Street from the 1880’s to the 1950’s. As seen in the photo above, the ground floor consisted of (from left to right) the Candy Store, North Drugstore, Star Hotel lobby, and Newell  McIntyre General Store. The Hotel offered travelers fine dining and friendly service. Although the Hotel closed its doors in the 1950’s, the building was used by local businesses until 2015, when it was unfortunately destroyed in a fire. 

Fortuna Today

The industries that helped build Fortuna, such as fishing, farming, and lumber, continue down to this day along with TV and movie making (Humboldt County), craft breweries, fascinating cannabis farms, and tourism. In fact, Fortuna is one of the fastest growing incorporated towns in Humboldt County. Area residents and annual visitors alike enjoy the moderate climate and stunning scenic backdrop. 

History buffs can visit the Fortuna Depot Museum, home to the original train depot. You’ll learn information about the railroad, Fortuna gold miners, and the Rohner family, who opened the first saw mill, Springville Mill. Displays include farm and logging equipment, fishing gear, tools, archives, and more. The giant redwoods also offer a glimpse into ancient history dating back 500-700 years on average, although some are over 2,000 years old. 
3 Park St., Fortuna, CA

Fortuna has certainly lived up to its name. Today, there are currently about 12,000 residents along with thousands of visitors each year. You too will feel fortunate if you have a chance to visit Fortuna. Be sure to check out our blog to learn more about all there is to see and do in this beautiful town. When you make your plans, book a room at The Redwood, located right here in Fortuna. We offer comfortable and clean accommodations, daily breakfast, and are conveniently located near Fortuna’s and Humboldt County’s attractions. 


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