The Town with Two Names
The Story of Cuffey's Cove
The current village of Elk lies a mile south of the first local settlement, known as Coffey’s Cove. It was settled in 1850 by two schooner shipmates, Frank Farnier, known as “Portuguese Frank” and Nathaniel Smith, called “Nigger Nat.” The town got its name from the Australian colloquialism, “cuffey” for a black person. Frank and Nat were farmers, and are credited with producing the famous Cuffey’s Cove red potatoes. In 1855, James Kenney, an Irish immigrant, came to the area and purchased land from Frank Farnier. Kenney is credited with the growth and prosperity of the town. He had a vision of establishing a distribution point for railroad ties, shingles and produce to San Francisco. Under the direction of John Kimball, a successful tie broker, railroad tie mills began to sprout up in Cuffey’s Cove. Shipping by land was arduous, so in 1868 Kenney constructed a wharf and chute system, to transfer goods down the cliffs to the rocks below, where they were floated out to schooners waiting offshore. By 1870, business was booming and a post office was established. An 1886 census showed a population of 300 living and working in town. But the boom was short-lived. A fire in that year destroyed a large portion of the town, after which Kimball sold 21 acres to his brother-in-law, Lorenzo (L.E.) White. The effect was devastating. The post office was closed, and the town never recovered. The only remaining evidence of the once thriving town is the graveyard on the bluffs on the West side of Highway 1.
The Story of Greenwood
At about the same time that Farnier and Smith landed at Cuffey’s Cove, four brothers, William, Britton, James and Boggs Greenwood settled on a ranch along the creek south of Cuffey’s Cove. The brothers were trappers and hunters, and supplied mills and camps up the coast as far north as Mendocino. Their father, Caleb, a trapper and guide, is believed to have helped the Donner party prior to their disastrous trek into the mountains. Caleb and the boys’ mother, Batchicha remained in the Sierra foothills, where Caleb guided pioneers from Oregon to California. In 1875, Fred Helmke had built a tie mill, two miles up Greenwood Creek from the coast in a very steep valley. Horses were used initially to haul cut timber down the valley. Helmke later built a wood-burning engine for the task. Helmke built his own chute down to the water a mile south of the original chute at Cuffey’s Cove. A third chute known as the Old Chism Chute was added at Dinney Doyles Point. Just north of the old Cuffey’s Cove post office, newcomer L.E. White attempted to build another chute at Li Foo’s Gulch, and a another was under construction two miles south at Abe’s Landing. By then, Greenwood’s population had grown to 50, including the four Greenwood brothers and Helmke. But in the early 1880’s Helmke’s mill on the creek was washed out with significant loss of life, and closed.
In 1887, things began to change. After purchasing the 21 acres from Kimball, L.E. White bought Helmke’s mill site and equipment. White was on a mission. He negotiated with James Kenney for exclusive use of the Cuffey’s Cove chute, finally offering $40,000. But Kenney held out, demanding $75,000 – quite a tidy sum for the times. So White returned to his abandoned chute at Li Foo’s Gulch and completed it.
Then, he began building a new mill in the cove just south of town. He implemented his vision of a sophisticated system for getting logs to the mill and finished lumber out to where it could be graded and stored, and then out to schooners for delivery to San Francisco. The company formed a large millpond by damming the creek where it emptied out to the cove. Devices called “steam donkeys” towed heavy logs from the forest out to where they were loaded onto flatcars and brought by train to the millpond. From there, log-walking “pond men” with pick-poles moved them into “boom pockets” by species and then coaxed them to the mill at the base of the bluffs.
Sawn lumber was hauled up a ramp to the town level. When ready to ship, the lumber was placed on rail carts, which were lowered by cable to tracks that ran along the edge of the bluffs. Four mules, all named “Maude,” drew the carts north from the mill to the Greenwood Wharf at Li Foo’s Gulch, where it was loaded onto waiting ships. The mules were sheltered in a shack alongside the tracks called “Maude’s House.”
By 1890, everything was in full operation and Greenwood’s population had swelled to over 1,000, sustained by 14 saloons, 4 dance halls, a barber, butcher shop, creamery and several, rather busy brothels. Mill production steadily increased to 100,000 board feet per day. In 1893, White built an executive guesthouse on the bluff overlooking the millpond, to accommodate visiting buyers while they negotiated the purchases that helped to build San Francisco, and then rebuild the city after the Great Earthquake of 1906. That house is now the Elk Cove Inn.
After a long illness, L. E. White died in 1896. The lumber company and the Greenwood Wharf continued to operate, but lacked Lorenzo’s leadership. His son, Will, took the helm, but that was short lived. He died two years later of acute alcoholism, but under somewhat mysterious circumstances. According to local folklore, Will’s wife had been carrying on with a San Francisco attorney, the mill’s accountant, Frank C. Drew. When given medication by the local “sawbones,” and instructed to administer it to her ailing husband in very small doses, word has it that she gave him the whole bottle. He was found dead the next morning. Within a short time, Mrs. White married Drew, who became president of the company, and took the 1883 guesthouse as their residence, henceforth called the Drew House. 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.
Elk: The Town with Two Names
By 1890, Greenwood’s population had grown to the point where it needed to apply for its own post office. The only problem was, that Caleb Greenwood had already received approval for a Greenwood post office in Eldorado County. So our Greenwood was forced to choose another name. A herd of Elk in the area provided the inspiration. However, as rustic, hard-working and stubborn settlers, the town refused to give up its original name. And so, we are called “The Town with Two Names.” Our town is still officially Greenwood. Our Post Office is Elk.
Located 17 miles south of Mendocino, our hamlet is now a peaceful and engaged, contemporary community, composed of retired professionals, craftspeople, and hoteliers, with an enviable quality of life. While the sign at the edge of town says “Population 250,” truth be told, there are only about 80 full-time residents enjoying this little slice of Heaven on Earth.
We are located 150 miles North of San Francisco and 15 miles south of the village of Mendocino.
A short stroll from the inn puts you in the center of Elk, a lively community composed of equal parts history and contemporary good living, with shops, convivial conversation, even a state park with visitor center.