“an historic place to rest your head”
Gold Rush pioneers Joseph and Zipporah built Fern Cottage as their family home in 1866. Family members lived in it continuously for over a century. Today, it is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the few homes in California containing the original family furniture and furnishings. Visit it and step back in time to the late Victorian era. Fern Cottage--144 years of living history. HISTORY Joseph had operated a family-owned a sawmill in Appleton, Maine when news of the discovery of gold in California made its way around the world. He had the frame for a small building cut and, with a stock of merchandise, shipped himself and the building and gear to San Francisco on the bark “Midas,” by way of Cape Horn. He arrived on March 15, 1850 and quickly discovered that nearly everyone was heading for “the diggings.” He sold the building and merchandise and went to the gold fields. Instead of digging, however, he operated a sawmill, then filled contracts to build bridges.Later that year he moved to Volcano and opened a general store for a season. He said later, “We did an excellent credit business and left the profits on the books where they still remain!” He went north to Placerville, purchased a herd of cattle, drove them to Yuba City and sold them at a profit. The next year he was busy selling hay and seed and shipping orders between Colusa and Shasta in the Sacramento Valley.In Fall, 1852, Joseph purchased approximately 100 cattle in Placerville and, with two hired vaqueros, drove them over the Coast Range to Humboldt County, selling them in Eureka to settlers and the Army at Fort Humboldt. The next spring he filed a claim and built a log cabin just east of Centerville (not far from where Fern Cottage stands). He and a partner, Berry Adams, then went to Sacramento to purchase a large herd of cattle to drive back to Humboldt. There, he met the Nehemiah Patrick family, including daughter Zipporah, who had just arrived from Pennsylvania (via a sojourn in Illinois). He persuaded them to move to the Ferndale area. About the same time, he and Adams drove their herd to the Bear River hills and opened a meat market in Eureka.Joseph and Zipporah were married December 17, 1854. She was 16. He was 29. In the mid-1850s, they began to buy ranch land, ultimately owning more than 50,000 acres of it. Nearly all the ranches are still owned and operated by their descendants.By the mid-1860s the family included five children. The Bear River area was a remote place from which to manage the expanding Russ enterprises (over time, timber and lumber, an abattoir, several meat markets, a bank, ships and The Brick Store, a dry goods emporium). They looked for a site outside the young town of Ferndale. One day, riding along the high ground above the Eel River delta, west of Ferndale, they came to a spot where Zipporah said, “Here is where I would like to have a house.” And this is where Fern Cottage has stood since 1866.
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