Mendocino Redwood Company


Rockport Redwood Company

In my end is my beginning.
T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Towns come and go and we are the fourth company to have operated here—but the land is eternal.
Bernard Z. Agrons (1920 - )
If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.
Orson Welles (1915-1985)

Hollywood learned long ago that Americans love a comeback story. While it probably will never find its way onto the big screen like Seabiscuit, the tale of Rockport Redwood Company has its own human drama of loss and return. At the center of the story is a wealthy family and a small company town on a rugged, isolated coastline. Ambitions and struggles are set against the backdrop of three major developments of 20th century history—The Great Depression (1929-1940), World War II (1939-1945), and Post War American Culture (1945-1960).

As often happens, failed businesses are opportunities for other entrepreneurs. "Opportunity is missed by most," Thomas Edison said, "because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." After two company failures in a row and a mill that had been idle for four years, the property creditors, with E. T. Dusenbury as trustee, finally foreclosed on the Finkbine-Guild mortgage and on January 14, 1933 transferred title of the property to the newly chartered Cottaneva Redwood Company (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59). Another four years passed. So did E. T. Dusenbury, who died on January 30, 1937 of asthma (MB, Vol. LIX, no. 19, 6 February 1937, p.1). The mill continued to sit empty and rusting and its owners were anxious to strike a deal. Along came Ralph M. Rounds—a midwestern lumberman.

Born in Alliance, Nebraska on January 22, 1891, Rounds was the only son of Dwight C. Rounds. His father, president of Rounds and Porter Lumber Company, operated retail lumber yards in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Rounds graduated from Stanford University in 1913 with a degree in history from the School of Humanities and Sciences. At the age of 30 he married Rebecca Cooper in Wichita, Kansas and raised two sons there. Ralph Cooper, who would go by the name of Bill, was born on August 17, 1923; Dwight Merle, on May 15, 1926.

The Rounds patriarch died at his home in Hollywood, California in 1938. That was the year that his son Ralph would expand operations to California redwood country. The 46-year-old entrepreneur unexpectedly saw a sweet deal beckoning in Rockport, California. Frank Kilpatrick, vice-president of Rockport Redwood Company, recalled in 1963 an early conversation with Rounds:

Mr. Rounds once told me how he came to purchase Rockport and he said that he had not really been looking for that sort of an investment when he came across it but he made such a good deal he could not turn it down. The owners offered to sell Ralph Rockport for $400,000. He was to pay for the stock and the money went into the corporation and this would furnish the money with which to operate—little did he know then how much it was going to take to get the thing going. (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59)

Prior to the Rockport sale, Rounds was given a walk through a part of the forest. At the time, walking was the only way to get in and out. Kilpatrick suggests in his 1963 recollection that the spot selected, Middle Creek, was not typical of the property as a whole and that later inspections would fall short of Rounds' expectations. If this was the case, it was not unusual in property sales then or now. In any event, Kilpatrick's memory proved accurate; a letter sent from Rounds in Wichita to Kilpatrick at the San Francisco office, dated 6 June 1950, states his disappointment:

You ask me how much timber I thought we had when we first purchased Rockport. At that time, I thought we had approximately one billion feet of standing timber there . . . I know that Mr. Dusenbury was very disappointed, when I saw him a few years after we had taken over the operation, to learn from me that we were not going to get the billion feet we had hoped to get. I cannot tell you what Mr. Ed Dusenbury thought about the timber when he bid in the property in 1932 or 1933, but I do know he considered the Hollow Tree tract an unusually heavy stand of good quality timber and, if he were still alive, I know he would feel as disappointed about it as we do. (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59)

Since foresight is not as common as hindsight, Rounds and his associates took the lease in 1937 on the Cottoneva Redwood Company with an option to buy. In a proposal letter dated and accepted on 17 December 1937, Rounds agreed to pay Cottoneva Redwood Company $1 per thousand feet of lumber sawed at the mill to lease the mill, the logging railroad and equipment, and the houses (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59-30). In cutting and removing timber, Rounds would pay $2 per thousand feet of logs, measured at the log deck (ibid). Rounds also agreed to pay the current real estate and personal taxes of $7,238.31, to pay the installment on the delinquent taxes, and to pay the current insurance premium of $5,562.12 (ibid). Logging and milling began the following year in Rockport around the first of April (MB, Vol. LX, no. 16, 15 January 1938, p.1). Exercising his option in 1941, Rounds and his associates purchased the Cottoneva Redwood Company and changed its name to the Rockport Redwood Company. Operations at that time included a sawmill, a company town, and approximately 30,000 acres of timberland.

Initially, Rockport Redwood Company used the logging and milling equipment from the Finkbine-Guild operation, including four Shay locomotives and a Lawson Flyer. A letter dated 1 January 1926 from J. D. Alexander, the manager for Finkbine-Guild, indicates that Shay Locomotive No. 1 had originally been shipped to Rockport at a cost of $1,872.94 (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 58-23). Ralph Rounds even resurrected one of the old towers built by Finkbine-Guild. When Finkbine-Guild was operating, there was a large tower on the mainland and a smaller tower on an offshore rock. Between the towers was a cable system powered by a Lidgerwood engine that transported the lumber from the mainland to the rock. When Rounds acquired the Rockport property, the large tower remained, although in disrepair, but the smaller one was gone (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59). Rounds, at considerable expense, overhauled the tower and cable system and loaded one shipment of lumber on a schooner. All this effort was actually a ploy to exact "reasonable" hauling rates from the truckers who were reluctant to make the trip to Rockport. Rounds proved to the truckers that, if push came to shove, he could get his lumber to market the old-fashioned way—by sea. The truckers negotiated. By 1940 all wood operations in the Rockport forest were carried out by tractor and truck. Moreover, all lumber produced at Rockport was sold to the Rounds Lumber Company and sent to the 45-acre Rounds plant 3 miles south of Cloverdale on Highway 101. Rockport Redwood Company itself had no sales organization. The Rounds Lumber Company sold the Rockport lumber to retail lumber dealers in northern California and to lumber wholesalers in other parts of the country (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59-30).

Sawmills have always been susceptible to fires and there were a succession of fires at the various Rockport mills over the years. In 1942, the mill at Rockport Redwood Company was added to that list. The mill fire occurred shortly after 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 8. Fortunately, all the lumber on hand, approximately 5-6 million board feet, were saved (MB, Vol. LXIII, no. 50, 12 September 1942, p.1). The company leased a small mill at Juan Creek while the Rockport mill was rebuilt (MB, Vol. LXV, no. 5, 31 October 1942). Rounds faced other obstacles besides the fire itself. With World War II in full swing, many items were rationed or impossible to get. In a speech on April 28, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) rallied Americans to sacrifice for the war effort:

As we here at home contemplate our own duties, our own responsibilities, let us think and think hard of the example which is being set for us by our fighting men. Our soldiers and sailors are members of well-disciplined units. But they're still and forever individuals, free individuals. They are farmers and workers, businessmen, professional men, artists, clerks. They are the United States of America. That is why they fight. We too are the United States of America. That is why we must work and sacrifice. It is for them. It is for us. It is for victory.

Franklin D. Roosevelet


The U.S. military had first claim on aluminum, steel, rubber, machine parts, and gasoline, as well as items like coffee, sugar, and cigarettes. In salvaging drives, small-town America gathered together rubber tires and rubber duckies, tin cans, bottles, and even women's silk and nylon hosiery for parachutes. This was America's first taste of re-cycling. While ordinary Americans felt the pinch, so did American businesses. Rockport mill was just one of many during the war years that had to be rebuilt with used parts.War meant not just a scarcity of parts but a scarcity of labor as well. Kilpatrick spoke of this years later:

We had great difficulties during the war keeping men. We had two men in Sacramento - man catchers with [a} pick up truck bringing men back and forth. The men usually brought a jug of wine and worked 2 or 3 days and we would have to send them back. Jack Mitchell was a man catcher. He would load up in Los Angeles in a 7 passenger car and drive across country. We were able to get gasoline to import the workers from Los Angeles. We recruited them from Sacramento, quite a few from Los Angeles and Atoka, Oklahoma and the Atoka people turned out quite well - better than Los Angeles. The Oklahoma people were good people. (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59)

Rounds also experienced the war in more personal and profound ways than just scrounging for mill parts or hiring workers. While the 53-year old Rounds looked after business, his 20-year old son, Bill, went to war on a B-24 bomber crew.

A different strife came on the heels of the war. Rockport mill, like others in northern California, was halted by a worker strike. The strike lasted a total of 818 days, from January 14, 1946 to April 11, 1948. Kilpatrick recounted in 1963 the effect of the strike on Rockport Redwood Company:

In 1947 we had the strike that lasted 27 months. We were down about six months and finally decided, along with the other mill owners, to start up so we had a little mill down there and so we filed the saws with very heavy gauge to make a lot of noise and started up the mill. So the pickets out there could hear the mill running and did not know whether we were cutting lumber or what but we were cutting up slabs. So the first day we operate with 12 or 15 men coming in and the second day only 6 or 7 came in and we thought we were blown up and I remember these figures because it was such a critical time and the next day about 20 men came in. From there we were off to the races with our men going through the picket lines and a lot of our people tore up the union cards and threw them in the faces of the pickets. We never had a union since. About that time some of the other mills started to break the strike and all started the same time. We took a wagonload of provisions around to the people and we had some terrible battles among the people there - those in favor of the strike and those who were not. Much hard feeling at the time. We had a bad time collecting the rent from strikers but we finally did get some [and] forgave a lot, too. A lot went through the picket line who had belonged to the union before. We have had four or five elections at Rockport. (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59)

There is some evidence that Ralph Rounds, having faced a number of disappointments and challenges with the Rockport property right from the start, was considering putting the 30,000 acres up for sale. In a note to Kilpatrick scribbled on a prospectus prepared by Cottoneva Redwood Company and given to Ralph Rounds in December 1937 as he pondered the lease-to-buy deal that was being offered to him, Rounds wrote:


This prospectus helped sell Rockport to me. Maybe we can get up one to sell to a willing buyer.

R. 12/6/48

(Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59-30)


While managing to limp along into the 1950s, even purchasing a Helio Courier at one point, Rockport Redwood Company finally fell to competition and inefficient technology. Toward the end, they were, as companies before them, simply liquidating the timber stock (Agrons interview). In 1955, Kilpatrick described the land as "approximately 12,000 acres in virgin timberland, approximately 16,000 acres cut over land, and approximately 2,000 acres of grassland" and added that "some of the cut over land was logged 20-30-40 years ago and the rest logged by this company" (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59-30, letter of F.C. Kilpatrick, 12 April 1955). While the company was still engaging in clear cutting, Kilpatrick notes that most of the current logging was "on a selective basis, leaving the smaller trees" (ibid). Ralph Rounds, in a letter to Kilpatrick on 17 September 1957, finally confirmed the decision to call it quits:

I think the longer we put off the closing of our Rockport sawmill, the greater will be our financial loss; and so I think we reached a good decision this afternoon, when we decided to "blow the whistle" on October 1st. (Rockport Records, ctn 17, folder 54-14)

With the mill closed, the owners began re-seeding the cut-over forest and proceeded to take a closer inventory of their biggest asset, namely the land and the remaining virgin timber. They also took stock of the logs that remained at the mill. L. I. Holmes, the Vice-President and General Manager at Rockport at the time of the mill closure, wrote to F. C. Kilpatrick on February 10, 1958:

We have approximately

4,000,000 FBM redwood logs
2,500,00 FBM fir logs

on hand at Rockport. It can be estimated that 70 percent of this volume, both in redwood and fir, is in logs 30 inches and less in diameter. This means that we have 4,000,000 FBM useable in our Gang Mill. (Rockport Records, ctn 17, folder 54-14)

Events would take another turn after Ralph M. Rounds' death on July 23, 1960 in Taos, New Mexico at the age of 69 (Wichita Eagle, 24 July 1960, p. 5A). That same year, the Rockport Redwood Company certified its timberlands as the Ralph M. Rounds Tree Farm, selling timber to neighboring companies. The term "tree farm" originated two decades earlier in the 1940s, as the timber industry introduced the concept of sustainable forestry and continual stewardship. Farming implies continuous nurturing and commitment to a "crop" year after year. Tree farming was the polar opposite of the "cut-out and get-out" strategy of some timber industrialists. On August 25, 1965, Rockport Redwood Company, with Carl Nelson now as president, dedicated their Demonstration Forest, only the third such forest in a chain to be developed in the redwood region and the first in Mendocino County (Rockport Records, ctn 3, folder 3-18). It was to be an outdoor classroom for the public to learn about the ecology of a second-growth redwood forest. Today it is on the northern edge of MRC land and serves as a picnic area and walking trail. A bronze plaque to Ralph M. Round, however, is still in place.  

In the final years of Rockport Redwood Company, Bernard Z. Agrons was given the task of managing the inventory crews and proposing a management plan for the Rockport timberlands. The plan called for a moratorium on harvesting with only a light selective cut in 15 years and culling of defective trees and some mature second growth trees to allow growing space for new vigorous trees. This plan was never carried out. The heir to the Rockport property was one of Ralph Rounds' sons, Bill. Bill finally sold the Ralph M. Rounds Tree Farm and the town of Rockport to Georgia-Pacific on July 30, 1968. In 1973 the Rounds Tree Farm, the Georgia-Pacific timberlands throughout northern California, and the former town of Rockport was spun off into Louisiana-Pacific. MRC purchased the Louisiana-Pacific lands, including the Rockport town site, in 1998.

Rockport Redwood Company presided over the end of an era on this northernmost slice of Mendocino coast. Under its watch, the last mill since milling operations first began at Rockport in 1877 was closed. With the passage of another 50 years, nature and new land managers reclaimed the land, leaving only a slight reminder here and there of the mill and the town of Rockport. Today Rockport beach is one of the most beautiful in northern California. While it remains a private beach, many guests and organizations from the local community enjoy it throughout the year for camping and picnics.



Author: DMS

Photo Credits

Rockport Mill and Rockport Mill Fire, Robert J. Lee Collection, Held-Poage Research Library (Ukiah, CA).

Rockport Beach, color/BW (2005), Doris M. Schoenhoff (MRC).

Primary Sources

Agrons, Bernie. Video interviews at Rockport Beach and Rockport Guest House, 6 May 2007, conducted by Doris M. Schoenhoff (MRC).

Rockport Redwood Company Records, BANC MSS 70/184c, The Bancroft Library (Berkeley, CA).


Defense Needs Rubber, 1941, U.S. Office for Emergency Management, in collection of Northwestern University Library (Chicago, IL).

Do with Less, 1943, U.S. Office of War Information, in collection of Northwestern University Library (Chicago, IL)..


 Mendocino Redwood Company - Ukiah, California