Eureka was originally populated by the Wiyot people, a Native American tribe that has lived in the Humboldt Bay region for thousands of years.
The California Gold Rush brought settlers to Humboldt Bay in the 1850s, and the city was given the name “Eureka” from the Greek word meaning “I have found it.” By 1853, White settlers eventually outnumbered the Wiyot people, and Fort Humboldt was established by the U.S. Army to assist in conflict resolution between Native Americans and gold-seekers. That conflict was not resolved peacefully, and in 1860 the majority of the Wiyot tribe was tragically murdered in what became known as the “Wiyot Massacre.”
The gold rush was soon replaced by the lumber boom and Eureka’s waterfront developed into a bustling commercial district. Many of the ornate Victorian buildings — Queen Annes and East Lakes — sprung up during this era of settler prosperity.
Logging continued in the redwoods from the 1800s through to the 1970s, but in the 1900s, commercial fishing also gained a local stronghold. The pristine water of Humboldt Bay has long been filled with abundant wildlife and even today, at certain times of the year, you can still buy fresh crabs, oysters, and more from the fisherman who dock at Woodley Island Marina.
In the 1940s and 1950s, local contractor Earnest Pierson designed and constructed around 2,000 affordable, modern post-war homes — the Eichlers of Humboldt County.
In the 1960s, the back-to-the-land movements brought cannabis cultivation to the region at scale. The once illegal industry fed a cash economy, reinforced the region’s fiercely independent spirit, and supported a creative arts culture that is still rich and vibrant today.
In recent years, anchor industry destabilization has challenged the local economy, and community leadership has turned to art and culture to revitalize the downtown district.
In 2016, the Eureka Street Art Festival was founded, and each year, more large-scale murals are added to the cityscape.
In October of 2019, the City made international headlines when they returned a sacred island in Humboldt Bay to their friends and neighbors in the Wiyot tribe. This event marked the first time a local government had taken such action anywhere in the country and was a long-awaited and deeply significant moment of healing for the entire community.
Eureka is home to some of the most diverse and unique architecture to be found anywhere – bungalows, cottages, craftsmen, and Tudors – many built from original local redwood timber. From the Victorians to modern post-war homes, Eureka's architectural history is rich and well-preserved.
The city has 20 buildings on the national historic register including a Carnegie Free Library, several Queen Annes, a Tudor Revival hotel, and the historic Old Town shopping district with Late Victorian, Greek Revival, and Classical Revival storefronts. Many of these buildings still contain original fixtures, hardware, and millwork.
The Eureka Heritage Society published "Eureka, an Architectural View" in 1987. Known locally as The Green Book, it contains photographs of 1200 homes and is considered one of the finest collections of details on historic homes ever published. Several local hotels and guest homes have copies for guests to browse, and a limited number of these books can still be purchased directly from The Eureka Heritage Society.
The Wiyot people have lived in the Humboldt Bay region for thousands of years, and ancestral Wiyot territory contained over 30% of what is currently known as Humboldt County. Historically, the Wiyot lived in permanent villages along the region's waterways and made seasonal camps across their tribal lands.
Jaroujiji is the Wiyot name for what is now known as Eureka and means “where you sit and rest,” perhaps indicating a stopping point along the canoe route between the south bay and the Mad River.
1 X St, Eureka, CA 95501 | (707) 444-3437
Open for tours and classes year-round, Blue Ox is a fully-functioning Victorian woodworking job shop that produces custom architectural millwork, as well as interior and exterior details for historic homes and new construction projects around the United States. But, it's more than that. Blue Ox is a school, a historic park, and a haven for craftsmen.
The product of nearly four decades of work from master craftsman Eric Hollenbeck and his wife Viviana, Blue Ox is a place where craftsmanship techniques of the last century are preserved and quality takes precedence over mass production. In 1999, Blue Ox was honored by a resolution before the California legislature, honoring them for teaching at-risk youth real skills in a disciplined environment. This is a place where the community comes together, traditions live on, and lives are changed in positive ways.
In March of 2022, The Magnolia Network on Discovery Plus launched a new television program, “The Craftsman” featuring Eric Hollenbeck and his business. The first season consists of nine episodes on the Discovery+ streaming service, showcasing Eric's dedication to restoring homes and forgotten treasures.
The Chinese people were integral to building the West (including Humboldt County) until the national Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the 1885 Eureka expulsion. Subsequent expulsions occurred in surrounding towns and areas in the following years. A hostile culture in Eureka prevented Chinese Americans from returning to Humboldt County until the 1950s. The Eureka Chinatown Project is a collaboration of community members and the Humboldt Asian & Pacific Islanders (HAPI) In Solidarity group, whose goal is to provide educational resources and celebrate the history and culture of the Chinese community in Humboldt before the Expulsion events of 1885 and 1906 through community installations near the site of the original Chinatown. The group believes that by educating the community and bringing awareness to our shared community past, they can help us heal, grow and move towards a more inclusive future. To learn more about the history of Eureka's Chinatown, join a one-hour walking tour, offered monthly from June through October on the first Saturday of the month coinciding with Arts Alive. If you can't make the tour, explore virtually with the Eureka Chinatown 360 Virtual Tour.
703 8th St, Eureka, CA 95501 | (707) 445-4342
For over half a century, the Humboldt County Historical Society has been a repository for local historic materials. Its more than 2,000 members have acquired a unique collection that includes hundreds of maps, over 65,000 photographs, historic business records, and criminal ledgers.
The society offices are housed in the former home of the late Helen Wells Barnum, the previous owner of the historic Eureka Inn. Built by her maternal grandparents, Dr. and Mrs. Reuben Gross, in 1902, the beautiful two-story Colonial Revival style house was donated to the Society in 1993 through Mrs. Barnum's estate. Much of the lower floor of the home is open to the public during business hours.
Original documents and research materials are available to the public through the research center.
240 E Street, Eureka, California 95501 | (707) 443-1947
Founded by Eureka High School teacher Cecile Clarke, the Clarke Historical Museum has been housed in the landmark Bank of Eureka building since 1960.
Tucked just behind the Eureka Visitor's Center, the Clarke Museum proudly displays the rich history of Humboldt County, which includes vibrant Native American cultures, gold rush settlements, a rich and storied lumber industry, prosperous ranching, fishing, farming, and more.
1000 F St, Eureka, CA 95501 | (707) 445-8775
Housed in the Annie B. Ryan House and Gardens, the Eureka Heritage Society was established in 1973 by a number of Eureka citizens who felt Eureka's local architecture was something special and worth preserving. The Eureka Heritage Society provides leadership, education, and advocacy to preserve and enhance Eureka’s historic structures and neighborhoods, thus ensuring a legacy for future generations.
While you're in town, stop by for a visit at 1000 F St. If you're in Eureka in October, check out the Heritage Society's historic home tours.
Just adjacent, the Annie B. Ryan Gardens are open for all visitors during daylight hours. Several Master Gardeners and others volunteer their time and talents to help this garden grow.
77 Cookhouse Rd, Samoa, CA 95564 | (707) 444-9440
The Humboldt Maritime Museum is located in Samoa, California, the small town located just across Humboldt Bay from Eureka. Founded in 1977 by William Zerlang, a long-time collector of marine artifacts, and a group of colleagues who sought to establish a local museum to preserve the rich maritime heritage and culture of the entire Humboldt Bay region.
From shipwrecks to shipbuilding, lighthouses to ferry launches, first explorers to ship models, the museum offers a glimpse into the past and invites visitors to learn about the area's seafaring heritage.
The focus of the museum is the preservation and interpretation of its collection of artifacts, photographs, library archives, and materials that relate principally to the maritime history of California's North Coast.
Adjacent to Samoa Cookhouse, 908 Vance Ave, Samoa, CA 95564
If you make your way out to Samoa, the small town on the peninsula across the bay from Eureka, you’ll find the Samoa Cookhouse, which has been serving hot, family-style meals in the same traditional style since 1890.
Check out the 115-year-old industrial buildings that make up the Samoa Shops while viewing Eureka’s Victorians from across Humboldt Bay. While you're on the peninsula, consider stopping to pick up a picnic or grill basket from the Humboldt Bay Social Club then heading over to hike on the beach at the Samoa Dunes National Recreation Area.
3431 Fort Ave, Eureka, CA 95503 | (707) 445-6547
EurekaHistory.com is an interactive map-based website that allows users to explore information about Eureka’s local history and architecture, as well as contribute their own information. The site was developed in partnership with the City of Eureka's Development Services staff and Eureka’s Historic Preservation Commission and was funded by a grant through the State Office of Historic Preservation.
Through this website, locals are contributing to Eureka's story, building on the city's architectural strengths, and showcasing Eureka’s historic structures, stunning architecture, and deep history to out-of-town visitors.