Protected lands surround Stevenswood, with Van Damme State Park at our back door. Miles and miles of nature trails originate at Stevenswood Resort. Van Damme State Park was named for Charles Van Damme who was born at Little River in 1881, son of John and Louise Van Damme, early settlers of the region. John Van Damme and his wife were a Flemish couple. The patriarch of the family was born in Ostend, Belgium on May 22, 1832. “Following the sea” for some years, Van Damme, upon his arrival in Mendocino County, later worked in the lumber mill at Little River. In this settlement all of his children were born, including Charles, whose love for the area prompted his acquiring, after some years as a successful operator of the Richmond-San Rafael ferry line, a plot of ground along the redwood coast. Upon his demise this area became a part of the State Park System in 1934. In those early days lumbering was a major economic factor in the development of the northern coastline. Little River was built as a mill town in 1864 by Ruel Stickney, Silas Coombs and Tapping Reeves after the property, formally called Kents Cove, was purchased from W. H. Kent in 1862.
Before long it had attained fame, not only as a lumber port, but as a shipyard; but a stand of timber, if logged, does not last forever and by the end of the century, even though logging was periodically moved back into the headwaters of Little River, the mill was forced to close (1893). What there was left of Little River soon deteriorated; the shipyard, the wharf, the town, several chutes for loading lumber and the lumber mill itself. Activity at the port, which once hummed with bustle, declined. Little River’s school, once attended by close to 100 students, closed; its weekly steamship service ended, and a shipyard where, in 1874, Captain Thomas Peterson turned out full-size lumber schooners for the coast wide trade, phased out. Only the schooner Little River returned, to be wrecked on the very beach from which it originally departed.
Plagued by a lack of sufficient timber reserves, fires, loss of substantial business, deterioration of wharf’s and chutes, the end of coast wide shipping and the attendant decline in population, Little River reverted to a natural state. Its acquisition by the State Park System in 1934, and the subsequent addition of peripheral lands has preserved some of California’s most interesting natural resources.
Stevenswood is situated only 1 Ѕ miles from the quaint Victorian Village of Mendocino.
Mendocino is a small town with a worldwide reputation. Like other areas on the North Coast, Mendocino was inhabited by the Pomo People before the Europeans came and it was known to them as Booldam. It was the most important Pomo village in the immediate area.
As was the case with other towns in the area, the very first white settler in Mendocino is believed to have been a castaway from a ship wreck in 1850. His name was William Kasten and he filed papers claiming the land as “Port of Good Hope” in June of 1851.
In 1852 Henry Meiggs heard about a big river and gigantic redwood forests that were located close to the shoreline far to the north of his mill in Bodega. He built the very first sawmill there that same year and for a brief time the place was known as Meiggsville. Meiggs got into financial difficulties in 1854 and moved to Chile. His company was taken over by his partners and their creditors and eventually became profitable. The town, known popularly as Big River at the time, grew steadily and by the end of the civil war had a permanent population of about 700.
In 1870 The Bank of Mendocino was established and the town became an important center of coastal economic activity. During much of the second half of the nineteenth century Big River was the largest and most important community in the county. During the life of the mill over seven billion board feet of lumber was produced and sold.
Many of the buildings of note in Mendocino Town were built in the late nineteenth century. A few were started as early as 1855. The Presbyterian Church of Mendocino was built in 1868 of native redwood milled in the Mendocino Mill. It has been designated a California Historical Landmark.
Today the town is a haven for artists, writers, woodworkers, potters, actors and a host of other very creative people. Galleries and gift stores abound and carry some of the most beautiful and unique items imaginable. Browsing these establishments is a worthwhile esthetic experience for anyone whether they are looking for an unusual gift for a friend, a treasure for themselves or are just plain looking. After a day on the bluff looking at nature or a tour of the shops it is time to savor a wonderful meal in one of the numerous fine dining establishments that are tucked away in the back streets. At dinner don’t forget to try one of the wines from either Mendocino County or one of the other nearby wine-growing counties. It is some of the very best in the world.