Crescent City Harbor is the county seat and only incorporated city in Del Norte County, California. Located just 28 kilometers south of the State's border with Oregon, Crescent City Harbor is the northernmost port in California. Home to the headquarters of Redwood National Park, Crescent City Harbor is about 180 kilometers south of Oregon's International Port of Coos Bay and almost 500 kilometers north-northwest of San Francisco. In 2000, just over four thousand people called the Crescent City Harbor home (not counting the 3300 prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison).
The Crescent City Harbor economy is based on timber, fishing, and tourism. Recreational and commercial fisheries are mainstays of the economy, and tourism is very important. Serving the fishing and tourism industries, Crescent City Harbor contains a boatyard, a marine supply store, a yacht club, a dive shop, a fresh fish market, and an ice house among many other establishments.
When Europeans arrived in the Crescent City Harbor area, they found indigenous Tolowa villages near today's Battery Point, Pebble Beach, and Point Saint George. The indigenous peoples living in the area had distinctly different cultures and spoke different languages. The tribes were related by economic, social, and religious practices.
The people were hunter-gatherers that used local resources to build their homes (with planks from fallen Redwood trees). Their food sources were the local elk, deer, fish, berries, nuts, and seeds. They believed that the Redwoods were ancient Spirit Beings that taught people how to live.
Gold was discovered at Crescent City Harbor in Myrtle Creek and along the Trinity River in the mid-1800s, bringing thousands of white people to the area. The indigenous people were forced off their lands. If they resisted, they were killed. The State government paid militia units composed of homesteaders and miners to remove the "hostiles."
Treaties were signed with the Crescent City Harbor native peoples, but they never created reservations for the tribes nor were they ratified. The reservations were established by administrative decree. In 1856, during the Red Cap War, Camp Crescent City was established, leading to the removal of indigenous peoples from eight tribes to the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. While many of these people continue to fight for legal rights, the lack federal recognition or treaty guarantees.
The Crescent City Harbor settlement began to grow in the middle 1800s during the California Gold Rush. It was soon an important entry port for miners and supplies in Oregon and nearby California settlements.
Crescent City Harbor was incorporated in 1854 with a local economy based on fishing, lumber, and agriculture. Settlers used the Redwoods for lumber, and the first lumber mill was created in Crescent City Harbor in 1853. The first road in the county, Crescent City Plank Road, was built in 1858, running from the Smith River Canyon to Oregon's Illinois River.
With the 20th Century came technologies for harvesting and transporting lumber that brought fast growth and prosperity to Crescent City Harbor. In 1906, a railroad was built to carry lumber to Crescent City Harbor from Smith River. In Crescent City Harbor, the lumber was loaded on ocean schooners for export around the world.
The Redwood stands were beginning to disappear by 1910, and concerned residents formed the Save the Redwoods League. Three Redwood reserve state parks were also established. In spite of their efforts to save the forests, logging continued. By the 1960s, all but 10% of the original Redwood stands were gone. Redwood National Park was established in 1968.
In addition to lumber, the fishing industry supported the Crescent City Harbor economy. In the 1860s, a cannery was built near Smith River's mouth. When the timber industry started shrinking in the middle 1900s, the fishing industry in Crescent City Harbor replaced its economy role.
Until lighthouses were built on the coastline, shipwrecks occurred frequently near Crescent City Harbor. In 1850, the Paragon was the first ship to sink. In 1851, the Tarquin went down. The America sank in 1855. In 1865, the Brother Jonathan hit an uncharted reef, sinking with a large gold shipment aboard and killing most of its more than 200 passengers.
Battery Point Lighthouse was built at the north end of Crescent City Harbor in 1855, and it continued to operate until 1965. In 1892, the Point St. George Lighthouse was opened in 1892 and continued operating until 1975.
In 1964, the Great Alaska Earthquake created a tsunami that hit Crescent City Harbor, destroying its downtown and killing 11 people. The community quickly rebuilt the damaged properties.
Today, Crescent City Harbor has a profitable tourism industry based on its location near the Redwood National Forest and its many recreational opportunities. Crescent City Harbor is surrounded by parks. The Elk Creek Wildlife area is next to downtown Crescent City Harbor, and Tolowa Dunes State Park is north of the city. Within just a few miles are the Smith River National Recreation Area and the Redwood National Park.