Mendocino Redwood Company

Jerome B. Ford
Jerome Bursley Ford was born in Vermont in 1821. At the age of 28, he came to San Francisco to work for Henry Meiggs. Unexpectedly in 1851, Meiggs sent him north to search for the wreck of the Frolic off the Mendocino coast. While Ford found nothing worth salvaging from the Frolic, he did spot treasure of another sort: giant redwood trees. Ford walked back to San Francisco and reported to Meiggs. Hearing the account of the massive trees, Meiggs ordered a sawmill from the east coast and purchased a ship, the Ontario, to carry it to Mendocino. Meanwhile, Ford drove some oxen overland and arrived in Mendocino on 17 June 1852. Immediately, he purchased land for $100 from William Kasten, the original settler, and staked a claim for Mendocino's first sawmill at the headlands of Big River.

Upon construction of the sawmill, Ford became the first supervisor.of the California Lumber Manufacturing Company (1852-1855), later known as the Mendocino Mill Company (1855-1873). Aside from business, Ford fathered six children. His son, Jerome Chester, was reportedly the "first white boy" born in Mendocino. Copies of several Ford diaries are in the Kelley House Historical Museum Research Office in Mendocino CA. Anyone searching for introspection and revelations of the inner man will not likely find them in Ford's diaries. His marriage is reported as succinctly and matter-of-factly as the weather or the number of board feet of lumber cut for the day.

Ford remained in Mendocino until 1873 when he moved to Oakland so his children would have better access to good schools. He was active in business until 1885 and died in Oakland in 1889. Jerome C. Ford took over his father's interests in the re-christened Mendocino Lumber Company (1873-1905). Many of Chester's letters describe the day-to-day operations of the company and of life in Mendocino.

Jerome B. Ford's granddaughter, Aline M. Pierce, died on May 2, 1993 at the age of 109. She attributed her long life to two things: her nightly martini and her Jaguar—"the only car worth driving." Mrs. Pierce donated the collection of Carleton E. Watkins photographs of the Mendocino Coast (1863) to the Bancroft Library in memory of her grandfather. Watkins (1829-1916) was a well-known California photographer. He lost his personal collection of plates and photographs when the 1906 earthquake struck San Francisco; in its aftermath, his entire collection was destroyed by fire. This contributed to his physical and emotional break-down. Watkins was committed to a mental institution in Napa in 1910 and was buried on the hospital grounds six years later.

J.B.Ford at age 55.

Primary Sources:

Ford Diary (Xerox Copy). Kelley House Museum Research Office. Mendocino, CA.

Secondary Sources:

W. Francis Jackson. Mendocino City: A Daily Journal - 1852-1938. Mendocino CA: Mendocino Historical Research, Inc., n.d..

Photo Credits

Robert J. Lee Collection copied from Alice Earl Wilder Collection.



 Mendocino Redwood Company - Ukiah, California