Glen Blair: Woods ‘Mystery’

It kind of comes with the deal. Even a new (logged) forest is old, older than any city or farm. Especially the old growth redwood forest, or the ruins of it that we 21st-century humans work and play in. Those vast stumps sometimes seem like the Roman ruins people lived among for centuries after they'd fallen, and before the new towers rose.

Mystery is a part of every forest stroll, but on the path into old Glen Blair, it deepens and somehow tugs at the heart a little more. Glen Blair was a mill town about five miles east of Fort Bragg that was born in the earliest days of Mendocino Coast logging, and closed up shop in the 1930s. Today the “glen” that 1300 people lived in at one point is a few hundred yards north of the Skunk Train's Glen Blair stop.

Stumbling onto the odd track in summer — a little wider than a hiking path, but narrower than a modern road — a thick carpet of miniature daisies and purple prunella covers the grassy strip between the road ruts, and the redwood shade gives way to jungle: blackberry, salmonberry, stinging nettle, alder, grapevines, cucumber vines all whirling around the edges of tiny, silent Pudding Creek. And something weird: ivy. Ivy covers a pair of old growth stumps, side by side, each a dozen feet across at least, in a dense cape that spreads out into the undergrowth. Ivy doesn’t grow in the redwoods. Ivy grows in people's front yards. If you look at a map while you are looking at those ivy covered stumps, you will see that you are standing in front of one of the millworker houses that stood at the western end of Glen Blair. A few more houses up was the one-room school house. The rest of the town and then the mill filled the jungly ravine ahead, occupied now by nothing but the wind.

Pictures of Glen Blair in the 1920s reveal scenes like those in the Gold Rush towns of the Sierra Nevada 50 years before. White plank houses clustered on a blasted landscape. People standing in their impossibly formal clothes, proud and straight-backed. Children who always seem to have a glint of triumph in their eye, to have the run of such an amazing place. Trains rolled up to the mill daily for 60 or 70 years, loading lumber off the nine sorting tables, each with a separate spur of track. 

Glen Blair was home to more people than Fort Bragg had for a good stretch of the town’s early existences. Fort Bragg had a mill and harbor, but Glen Blair was where the action was. The action last Friday: hummingbirds jetted around in the afternoon sun. A silent gray box hung on a redwood trunk sprouted from a 1000(?)-year-old stump recording the passing of juvenile salmon (there are a few still in Pudding Creek). Glen Blair holds a special place in the hearts of old Fort Braggers. You can see eyes get wistful, even misty, when the name is spoken. There's something about the old town in the woods that isn't there anymore — but is — that speaks to those who have spent the most time on this little island of a town at the edges of two oceans (one liquid, one redwood). Glen Blair, like all ghost towns, is always whispering—hard to tell what, though.

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