On the northeast bank of the Eel River, four and one half hours north of San Francisco lies the city of Fortuna. It is the third largest city in Humboldt County, the home to the annual Fortuna Rodeo and several other events. Before European settlement, the area where Fortuna is today was the home of members of the Wiyot Tribe, who named the area Vutsuwitk Da’l, after a legend where a young woman cooked eels for a young man with whom she was in love and threw the ashes of her cooking fire into the river where Fortuna now sits.
Fortuna was founded in 1874, and originally named “Slide” for a large earth slide nearby. In 1875, the town was called “Springville” after the construction of the Springville Lumber Mill and the numerous natural springs in the area. Because there was already another “Springville” in California, the post office, which opened in 1876 was named “Slide”, the original name of the town. In 1884, the citizens of the town petitioned the state legislature to change the name of the town to “Fortuna” after the Spanish word for “fortune” and in 1888, the petition was granted.
For years, the primary industries in Fortuna were lumber, ranching, fishing and farming. While, farming and ranching are still large industries in the area, fishing and lumber have been on the decline. Today, Fortuna is still dependent on ranching and farming but tourism is becoming more and more important too. The city hosts several events throughout the year from the Daffodil Festival in March, the Fortuna Rodeo and Redwood AutoXpo in July, the Apple Harvest Festival in October to the Lighted Parade in December, there is always something going on in or near Fortuna.
Nearby are the Humboldt Redwoods, Richardson Grove, and Grizzly Creek State parks, all of which preserve old growth redwood trees. Humboldt Redwoods State Park is home to the famed “Avenue of the Giants”. It and Grizzly Creek State Park were the forest moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi. In Fortuna itself is Rohner Park, home to the Fortuna Rodeo Grounds and the Depot Museum. The museum, housed in the former Northwestern Pacific Depot, built in 1889 and relocated to its present location in 1974, the museum has several displays tracing Fortuna’s history from the Native Wiyot people to the present era. It also houses the archive of the Humboldt Beacon newspaper, providing a valuable research collection for those who are interested. The museum is open from 12:00 pm – 4:30 pm Thursday through Sunday, September through May and daily in June through August. It is best to call the museum to make sure that it is open and staffed. (707) 725-7645. The museum is located at 3 Park Street, Fortuna, CA.
GETTING THERE: From 414 Mason Street, Get on US 101 N and drive north for approximately 4 hours, take exit 668 to 12th Street in Fortuna. Turn right onto Main Street and then Left onto Park Street. The Museum will be on your right.
Since you may wish to spend the night in Fortuna, I can recommend the Redwood Riverwalk Hotel, 1859 Alamar Way in Fortuna. (707) 725-5500 and I can also suggest the Double D Steakhouse for dinner. 320 Main Street, (707) 725-3700.