Monday, July 20, 2009

The View from Big Rock, Orleans

Permanent overlooks often beckon photographers throughout the decades, and thus can serve as long term photopoints. In Orleans, the aptly named "Big Rock" is such a point, and I have come upon several photos taken from this spot at Humboldt State University Library's Humboldt Room and in the Online Archive of California. These photos provide information about how the town and landscape have changed over time. This first photograph is from the C. Hart Merriam Collection at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library, showing the rock itself upslope from the old Orleans Bridge (circa 1918).

On the third floor of the Humboldt State University Library is the Humboldt Room, which has several historical photograph collections containing images from the Orleans/mid-Klamath area. I found five images of the view from Big Rock there: 3 bird's eye views looking over the town and 2 looking up the Klamath River.

While researching these Big Rock photographs, I learned from several Karuk tribal members that Big Rock is a culturally important place to the Karuk people. They expressed the importance of being especially respectful of such places, and that Big Rock should not be considered a tourist destination. I also learned that Big Rock is located on private property.

None of the Big Rock photos from the Humboldt Room are dated, but comparing them and applying background information about when key buildings were built can help determine their relative order. What appears to be the earliest of the bird's eye photos is this one by A.W. Ericson (Ericson Collection). There are several landmarks that I know of (please add your comment if you know of others) that are visible in this photo. In the photo, the river is flowing from north (right side of the photo) to south (left side of the photo), and I will describe things according to this orientation. The key landmarks shown in this photo include a madrone tree on the northwest corner of the orchard, a westward-running road now called "Downs Ranch Road" and the Orleans Cemetary (a diamond-shaped cluster of trees up the westward road in the center right of the photo). These landmarks are made much more apparent when compared to the other bird's eye photos. A second copy of this photograph is also located in the Humboldt Room's "Humboldt County Collection" (HCC Photos)." On that copy, Susie Baker Fountain (a prolific 20th Century Humboldt County historian) identified several significant buildings, including the court house, hotel, and Brizard Store. These are all on the left half of the photograph.
The next photograph is looking slightly downriver from Ericson's. The writing on it is that of Susie Baker Fountain, from whose private collection the photograph came. In this image, you can see the Orleans Cemetary outlined with a white fence. The orchard in Ericson's photo is not in this one. This photograph is also part of the Humboldt Room's "Humboldt County Collection" (HCC Photos), which is composed of individual loose photographs that are not part of larger, cohesive collections.

In this next photograph (also from HCC Photos), you can see the Orleans Cemetary with the white fence, a larger madrone tree, and new buildings. Across from the cemetary on the other side of the westward road is a house with two sheds. East of the Cemetary is a white house. Both houses were built by F.W. Gent in 1927, which dates this photo after 1927 and the other two bird's eye photos prior to it. Near the madrone is the Episcopal church. This church is no longer standing in Orleans, and is on the site of the current Forest Service compound.

I found two photographs looking upriver from Big Rock. One of them is this one from Ericson:

This photo shows a similar view, with a clearer image of the Pearch Mine (also known as Salstrom's Mine and McGain's Mine). This photo has houses on the right-hand side that are not in Ericson's image, which suggests to me that the Ericson photo was taken earlier.

The last photo shows the bird's eye view from Big Rock today, with a similar scope as Ericson's initial shot. From this photo you can see substantial vegetation growth blocking much of the view Ericson and the other photographers saw. However, the westward road (Downs Ranch Road) follows precisely the same path in all of the bird's eye photos. The cemetary and the F.W. Gent house accross from it are unable to be distinctly identified due to vegetation. The roof and upper story of the white F.W. Gent house is visible, as is the now much larger madrone tree.
Please leave a comment if you have additional knowledge or thoughts about these photographs!