Elk / Greenwood “The Town with Two Names”

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Picture of the town of Greenwood / Elk  along the Pacific coast on Highway 1

The quaint little coastal town of Elk also known as Greenwood extends along the secluded stretch of State Highway 1, south from the junction of State Highway 128 where the Navarro River spills into the Pacific. The heart of this community is perched atop steep cliffs above the ragged shoreline. Many of the residents live in nearby redwood forests, and are surrounded by orchards or vineyards, lodged along the river, reside above the fog on ridges, or occupy the ocean bluffs.

First was Cuffey’s Cove

The current village of Elk is an outgrowth of the first local settlement about a mile north known as Cuffey’s Cove. It was settled in 1850 by two schooner shipmates, Frank Farnier and Nathaniel Smith. Frank and Nat were farmers and are credited with producing the famous Cuffey’s Cove red potatoes.

The growth of and prosperity of the town is credited to James Kenney who was an Irish immigrant. In partnership with John Kimball, in 1868 with their vision of establishing a distribution point for lumber products constructed a wharf and chute system to transfer goods down the cliffs to the rocks below, where they floated out to schooners waiting offshore.

By 1875 Cuffey’s Cove was a lively place. They established a Post Office in 1870. There were hotels, stores, a butcher shop, slaughterhouse, livery stable, multiple saloons, a church, two schools and of course homes. By 1886 there was an estimated 300 people living and working in town. Then in 1886 and 1892 fires struck destroying large portions of Cuffey’s Cove. The effect was devastating. The Post Office closed, and the town never recovered. Then in 1911 a fire struck again destroying the abandoned hotels, homes and barns.

So what is the story of Greenwood: The town of Greenwood got its name from early settlers, the Greenwood brothers. William, Britton, James and Biggs, who settled along the creek south of town around 1852. The brothers were trappers and hunters, supplying mills and camps in Mendocino and Little River with venison, elk, and bear. They were sons of Caleb Greenwood, a trapper and hunter who also guided pioneers coming to Oregon and California. Britton is credited with helping rescue the Donner party.

Now in 1875 Fred Heimke opened Greenwood’s first sawmill two miles up Greenwood Creek from the coast in a steep valley. But in the early 1880′s Hiemke’s mill on the creek was washed out with significant loss of life, and closed.

In 1887 L. E. White bought Heimke’s mill site and equipment. Following unsuccessful negotiations with James Kenney for exclusive use of the Cuffey’s Cove shipping facilities, he established a wharf on the line of rocks that connected with the bluff, 150 feet above. Then he built a large sawmill, a railroad and an entire company town. By 1890, everything was in full operation, including a fleet of 4 ships. The mill operated continuously through 1929.

In its heyday, Greenwood had all the trappings of a bustling town, which had a population that swelled to over 2,000. The town had 10 hotels, 15 saloons, several dance halls, 3 general and dry goods stores, a barber, photographer, butcher, candy store, creamery, jewelry store, blacksmith shops, livery stable and several busy brothels. After the turn of the century came a garage and auto dealer, movie house and an auto court (motel). Jack London visited Greenwood often in the early 1920′s renting an upstairs room at a hotel that later became a hospital.

After L. E. White died in 1896, his son took over the company, but that was short lived, because he died under somewhat mysterious circumstances from an overdose of alcohol. Mrs. White married Frank C. Drew, the mills accountant, who became president of the company. The mill continued to operate for another 31 years. It was sold to the Goodyear Redwood Company in 1916 and closed for good in 1930. Smaller mills and timber enterprises kept the local economy afloat until 1966 when the last 2 mills closed and the towns timber industry ended.

So how did the town get 2 names: In 1887 was when the Post Office was opened and the town made and official request for the post Office to be called Greenwood, which they discovered the name was already taken. Caleb Greenwood, the brothers father, had received approval for a Greenwood Post Office in El Dorado County. So the coastal Greenwood was forced to choose another name. A herd of Elk in the area provided the inspiration. However, the hard-working and stubborn settlers of the town refused to give up its original name. And so, Elk become “The Town with Two Names” the name of the town was Greenwood and the Post Office was Elk. Today a sign still hangs near the old Post Office door reading “Elk Post Office”‘ Greenwood California.

2 thoughts on “Elk / Greenwood “The Town with Two Names”

    James said:
    June 8, 2016 at 11:33 am

    I was born right across Hwy 1 from the original post office in the small red house and lived along the coast. until I was 18. I then moved to the Bay Area, in all those years I never read up on my hometown until just now, thank you very much for this!


      Nelson Symes responded:
      June 14, 2016 at 8:18 am

      Thank-you James for your comments and I am glad you enjoyed the article.


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