This year marks the centenary of the completion of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad link between Eureka and San Francisco. The four-span bridge across the Eel River, just 40 miles south of Eureka, is a picturesque reminder of the once and no-future railroad. Driving south, as you approach the Honeydew/Founder's Grove exit, look to your left. Better yet, take the off-ramp, drive under Highway 101, and admire the bridge from the picnic area opposite the north on-ramp. The two "camelback" trusses (the rusty ones) date from 1910, while the shiny "Warren" design trusses replaced the two older ones damaged by the devastating 1964 Christmas flood, the disaster that wiped out several Eel River communities including Myers Flat, Weott, Shively and Pepperwood.
Not Dyerville, though; by 1964, there was nothing left to destroy. Two previous floods, in 1937 and 1955, had already wiped out the little town. Look around you — the only sign that you're standing on the site of a once-thriving community is a cluster of historical information boards on the east side of the picnic spot.
Dyerville was built on the site of the former Sinkyone village of Ltcuntdun. Taking advantage of the confluence of the south fork of the Eel and its main channel, indigenous people living there would have feasted on huge (pre-logging) runs of lamprey and salmon. Soon after its "discovery" by Lewis Keysor Wood and his companions in January 1850, the natives were run out or murdered by early white settlers and loggers who founded a new community on the site of Ltcuntdun. (The name "South Fork" was later adopted for the railroad station at the south end of the railroad bridge.)
The location rapidly became a service center for loggers and, later, wheat and apple farmers who took advantage of the rich alluvial soil on the flats two miles upstream known as Camp Grant. A ferry across the Eel was running by the mid-1870s, about the same time that regular stagecoach service connected the community with Rohnerville to the north and the Garberville area to the south. By 1890, when the name "Dyerville" was adopted (honoring the oldest inhabitant, Charles Venson Dyer), the small town boasted a hotel, general store, blacksmith shop and saloon. Stagecoach travelers from Eureka to San Francisco would have gone through — and probably spent the night in — Dyerville.
Most of the higher part of Dyerville, back from the river, survived the flood of 1937. It was the December 1955 deluge that finally did it in, when, according to Humboldt Redwoods State Park Superintendent James Warren, the Eel rose 19 feet in one hour! Highway engineers completed the erasure that nature had begun. If you're in the picnic area, you'll be standing on 30 feet of fill, placed there during 1957-'58 construction of the four-lane freeway.
Much of this information comes from the late local historian Margaret Pritchard's 1987 articles in Humboldt Historian magazine, available for on-site reading at the Humboldt County Historical Society, 703 Eighth St. in Eureka. Call 445-4342 for hours.
Barry Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org) marvels at the total disappearance of the community of Dyerville, as if it never existed.