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Melburne History

A hundred years ago, in 1918, the Melburne Post Office closed, signaling a dwindling end for a once prosperous community along the Comptche Road, about ten miles east of the coast. Melburne's height of prosperity and population occurred in the last years of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth. Dozens of families lived within shouting distance of the town center. Many more single men resided in tents or movable cabins belonging to the Albion Lumber Company (ALCO). These wood cabins could be loaded onto rail cars and removed to other logging camps when needed.

There are various stories about how Melburne got its name. One has it as a bastardization of Mendocino Lumber Company, which seems unlikely. A second derives from a the first name given to a child of a fairly early settler, Charles Dearborn, Melburne's first postmaster. A third comes from the travels of John R. Skiffington, a contemporary of Dearborn. Mr. Skiffington had visited Melbourne, Australia prior to settling in Mendocino County. He was impressed by the Australian place, but wanted to distinguish his community through a different spelling. His son, John H. Skiffington, also served as postmaster.

The first known white settler at Melburne was Bill Host. His ownership dates to the 1860s, but he didn't begin construction of a home for himself and his wife until the 1870s. Host, who was born in Bavaria in 1834, lived in Mendocino City where he owned and operated a meat market on the northwest corner of Main and Kasten Streets. In 1873 his wife, Mary, suffered some sort of medical calamity, probably a stroke, that caused her to be an invalid from that time on. By then Bill Host had constructed a cottage at what would later be called Melburne. For awhile Mrs. Host preferred to reside in the cottage they calked “Ash Grove” rather than in town. Mr. Host planted climbing ivy, which year by year crept higher and higher up the outside walls of “Ash Grove.” Throughout the later 1870s, Bill Host traveled back and forth to Mendocino to perform his duties as one of the town's constables. 

Though none of his tales have survived, Bill Host was known in his day as quite the storyteller. Occasionally, one or two of these might have been true. (Jerome) Chester Ford, the first white boy born in Mendocino, who grew up to be superintendent of the Mendocino Lumber Company, and knew the constable well, considered Bill Host to be such a “big windbag” that he actually wrote the comment down as a summation of the man's character.

Having no children, and with “Ash Grove” completely encrusted in ivy vines, the Hosts sold out and moved back to Mendocino. Bill died there in 1900. You can find his tombstone in the middle of Evergreen Cemetery. Mary, six years his senior, and unable to care for herself, became a ward of the King's Daughters House for Incurables on Broadway in Oakland. She died there in 1912.

The Host place was purchased by the aforementioned John R. Skiffington, primarily because it contained a large tract of virgin timber. He stemmed from Michigan and made his living in the railroad tie business. Skiffington, and his family, had already settled nearby in the early 1890s before buying the Host land in 1899. John R. and his wife, Helen, passed away within a year of each other. She died in 1910 and he in 1911. While John H. Skiffington went on to become postmaster for Melburne, ownership of the old Host property fell to his brother George and his wife Inez.

This leads us to October, 1912. The prospect of joining Charles McCormick in his newfangled automobile on a ride into Mendocino and back was too good to pass up for John H. Skiffington. Fellow passengers, Mrs. Silveria and Mrs. Ada Dearborn, Charles McCormick's grandmother, joined in for the trip.

Ada Dearborn and her husband Charles had built and operated a general store and saloon at the center of Melburne. The post office was inside the Dearborn store. Mr. Dearborn also operated a blacksmith. In the early years of the 1900s, Charles Dearborn helped his neighbor, Mr. Gonsalves, the Mathison brothers, and others to string a telephone line from Melburne to Mathison Peak's fire lookout.

Charles Dearborn died in 1909. Mrs. Dearborn went on tending store. Reportedly she was generally a kind and generous woman, but, when necessary, she could be tough as any rough woodsman who tromped into her place of business.

With young Mr. McCormick acting as driver, the party of four motored into Mendocino that autumn 1912 morning. By 11 a.m. all four had finished their shopping errands and took to the auto once more for the return trip.

About six miles east of the coast, on a section then known as the Stickney grade, just past the watering trough, Charles McCormick was motoring along at a smart clip when the vehicle rounded a bend to find a cow squarely in front of them. She was too close to brake for, so McCormick swerved his machine to the left. Nevertheless, the auto struck the cow a glancing blow that shoved the car's front driver's side wheel off the roadway. The left rear wheel followed suit. McCormick accelerated the auto twenty feet forward, clinging to the roadway, before gravity took over. Still upright the vehicle bounded down the hillside forty feet or more before it struck a tree stump with such ferocity that the vehicle flipped, and in so doing ejected all of its passengers.

Three men and a woman happened to be stopped at the water trough making a minor repair to their car before heading on their way to a funeral in Ukiah. Instead, they were eyewitnesses to the accident. They were able to get their auto running in relatively short order then rushed to the nearest house with a telephone (along that same line Charles Dearborn helped erect only seven years prior).

By the time Dr. Piersol hurried out from Mendocino and others arrived from Melburne and Comptche it was clear that Mrs. Silveria was the only passenger to come out of the wreck with nothing more than bruises. She was tending to the others as best she could when the doctor arrived. Charles McCormick suffered internal injuries, John H. Skiffington had major back, hip, and abdominal injuries. Fifty-seven-year-old Ada Dearborn was suffering from internal hemorrhaging. The doctor hastened her to a nearby home where she perished within an hour.

John H. Skiffington endured untold pain for five days before he, too, succumbed. This was the first fatal automobile accident on the Comptche Road. 

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