Magazine article Sunset

Taking a Walk through the Past in Eureka

Magazine article Sunset

Taking a Walk through the Past in Eureka

Article excerpt

At first glance, Eureka looks a bit like the setting for a melancholy Bruce Springsteen song. U.S. Highway 101, gateway to this hardworking northern California lumber town, is lined by a blur of motels, gas stations, and coffee shops. In the distance, a pair of mills spew great clouds of steam into the sky,

And yet, behind this sombre facade lies something unexpectedly uplifting a stunning cache of historic homes, hotels, and saloons, many dating from the late 1800s. In fact, according to a recent survey, nearly 1,600 Eureka buildings (1 in 6) would merit enrollment in the National Register of Historic Places (though only a handful are actually on that list).

Such a high concentration of historic architecture is unusual in California, where old buildings are routinely razed to make room for an expanding population. But in isolated Eureka, where there are fewer people now (24,153) than in 1960, there's been little use for the wrecker's ball.

As a result, Eureka remains a place where the past is strikingly present, where a city's grand hopes and disappointments have been frozen in ornately crafted wood and glass. In short, it is the perfect spot to break your drive and spend an afternoon or longer strolling through history.

Two walks: one guided, one not

But touring a town with so many historic buildings can be a daunting proposition. Rather than trying to take in too much at once, try any of several ways to ease into the city's nostalgia-tinged neighborhoods. The first is a guided walk in Old Town once a collection of raucous bars and bordellos, now a renovated shopping area. Like nearly all Eureka's buildings, most here are made of long-lasting redwood and are still in use, adding an element of authenticity to their nostalgic charm.

To join an hour-long walk by and through Old Town's buildings, call ahead to Raymond Hillman, curator of the Clarke Memorial Museum, at (707) 443-1947. For a $25 donation to the museum, he will lead groups of 1 to 12 any time.

Another option is a 1.3-mile residential district walk (see map on page 50). …

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