The area now known as Fort Bragg was home to Native American Indians, most of who belonged to the Pomo tribe. They were hunter-gatherers who lived close to the land and sea along the Northern coast of California. In 1835 an exploration party formed the Bureau of Indian Affairs visited the area. They were looking for a site on which to establish a reservation and, in the spring of 1856, the Mendocino Indian Reservation was established at Noyo. It was 25,000 acres and extended from what is now Simpson Lane to Abalobadiah Creek and east to Bald Hill.
In the summer of 1857, 1st Lieutenant Horatio C. Gibson, then serving at the Presidio in San Francisco, established a military post on the Mendocino Indian Reservation about 1.5 miles north of the Noyo River. He named the camp for his former commanding officer, Captain Braxton Bragg, who later became a General in the Army of the Confederacy. The official date of the establishment of the fort was June 11,1857. Its purpose was to maintain order on the reservation. The approximate boundaries of the fort extend from the south side of Laurel, east from the railroad depot to the alley behind Franklin, down the alleyway to a point 100 feet south of Redwood Avenue, west on Redwood to just beyond what used to be the Georgia-Pacific Corporation company offices at the mill, then north to connect with the Laurel Street border at the railroad station.
During this time, a Mr. McPherson was granted a mill site on the Noyo River inside the reservation to begin what was to become the major industry in Fort Bragg.
The fort was evacuated in 1859 and the troops were sent north. Soon after the fort was abandoned, the land of the reservation was offered for sale at $.25 per acre to settlers. This bargain did not spur development in the area until it caught the interest of C. R. Johnson. Around 1885, Johnson saw, in what was to become the City of Fort Bragg, an ideal place for shipping mill products and a town accessible to the mill.
In 1885, the Fort Bragg Railroad was founded. Initially there were only 20 miles of track for the logging operation. The main line went up Noyo River. In 1887 the Fort Bragg railroad was extended six miles up Pudding Creek. At that time, a San Francisco streetcar was purchased to carry loggers and their families.
In 1889, Fort Bragg was incorporated as a city. Johnson’s partner, Calvin Stewart, did the plot maps of the town. He laid out the town, as much of it exists today, in rows of 100 x 150-foot lots with alleys. Johnson’s company offered these lots for sale at a price of $100 to mill hands and their families.
The Union Lumber Company was incorporated 1893 by absorbing some of the smaller lumber companies of the area. Some of company’s new lands were in the next valley east of town, making removal of logs difficult by rail, unless a tunnel was built. Johnson hired experienced Chinese tunnel builders from Nevada. After completion of the tunnel, most of the Chinese settled in Fort Bragg. A six-walled Chinese town was built at Redwood and McPherson. Older residents say the town faded out eventually because most of the children of the Chinese moved elsewhere.
In 1901 the Union Lumber Co. incorporated the National Steamship Co. to carry lumber, passengers and supplies. Fort Bragg’s only link to manufactured creature comforts and staples like sugar and coffee were from delivery by steamship. In 1905 the California Western Railroad was formed, and plans were pushed to get the rail line to Willits where train connections could be made to San Francisco.
The 1906 earthquake resulted in a fire at the mill that threatened the entire city. Within the town itself, all brick buildings were damaged, if not destroyed completely, and many frame homes were knocked off their piers. The fire downtown burned the entire block bordered by Franklin, Redwood and McPherson streets in addition to the west side of Franklin, which burned to half a block beyond the intersection of Redwood and Franklin. Within 12 months following the earthquake, all downtown construction was completed. Ironically, the earthquake brought real prosperity to Fort Bragg as the mills furnished lumber to rebuild San Francisco. With new prosperity, the rail line to Willits was completed and, in 1913, the first tourists arrived in Fort Bragg. By 1916 Fort Bragg had became a popular location to visit-and settle.
Commercial fishing in Noyo Harbor also played a vital role in the formation of the community’s economic base. Once a major commercial fishing port, Fort Bragg was well known for producing quality fish products that were distributed to many metropolitan markets. The emergence of the City of Fort Bragg as a diverse residential, recreational and growing commercial area had begun, and the city was on a path to becoming what it is today.