A Brief History of Fortuna

Henry Rohner, Rohnerville and Fortuna

Before the development of the railroad, there was another thriving town in the area of present-day Fortuna called Rohnerville. Originally known as Eel River Township, the town was later named Rohnerville in the 1850s after Henry Rohner, one of the town's earliest settlers.

In 1849 when Henry Rohner arrived in the area of Rohnerville, he opened the general store. It did not take long for the town to grow and become a booming mecca. Much of Fortuna's history began with the neighboring town of Rohnerville.


Rohnerville's commercial district about 1891. Fire destroyed the buildings on the right in 1895.

Rohnerville's commercial district about 1891. Fire destroyed the buildings on the right in 1895. - Peter Fassold, photographer.

Rohnerville grew first as a supply stop for those venturing to Trinity County for gold, but then grew to accommodate many businesses and even a college. St. Joseph's College was founded in 1872 near the present-day Rohnerville Airport. 

St. Joseph's College brought in students from as far away as Santa Barbara and taught a variety of classes such as Latin, French, literature, natural philosophy, music and art. The college was an expensive venture and by 1875 Father Patrick Henneberry, the college's founder, and the college were in dire need of funding.

Even after ten years of fund-raising around the world, when Henneberry returned to the college he was forced to close the campus. St. Joseph's reopened once more for a short time only to be officially closed in 1889.

It is said that at one time wooden sidewalks connected Rohnerville and Fortuna allowing people to enjoy the amenities of both towns, such as sporting events and Fortuna's movie theater. Rohnerville was once even considered for the seat of Humboldt County, but because the railroad was routed past the town to Fortuna, so was much of the business and prosperity.  More information is in "The History of Rohnerville".

 Henry Rohner's fine house in Fortuna.

Henry Rohner's house.

Henry Rohner's home was located on the lot next to the present-day Veteran's Memorial building on Main Street, currently occupied by a restaurant. He bought 350 acres of land from the Starar brothersSee 'Related Items' in the right column. and donated to Fortuna the land for its first city park, but during the late 1800's flooding destroyed the land. The deed of the parkland was signed by Abraham Lincoln, and a replica may be seen in the Park's Depot Museum. In the early 1900's Mary Rohner, Henry's widow, sold the town a total of 53 acres of the family's land in three installments. This is now the location of the present-day Rohner Park. Rohner's daughter, Elizabeth Barcus Rohner, sold the third section of land to the City for one dollar with the stipulation that the park's name never be changed.

Next: The Naming of Fortuna


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The Starar Brothers

Andrew and Jacob Starar, originally of Arizona, are Fortuna's connection to the legendary Lost Dutchman's Mine. Historic documents refer to them variously as the Star, Starr, Starar and Starrar brothers from Arizona. In 1854 Andrew and Jacob signed a petition to the governor of California requesting protection from Indians in Humbolt County, and both men apparently signed "Starar".


-- Daily Times, October 10, 1877 --
"In the Times yesterday, mention was made of the fact that diphtheria was very prevalent in the vicinity of Rohnerville. Miss Tennie C. Young and a little daughter of Mr. Henry Rohner is dangerously ill, and the latter is not expected to recover. Among the number now down with the disease are: George Cummings, Harvey Dale, Willie A. Beasley, and Eddie Kellogg. The Rohnerville public schools have closed for two weeks on account of the prevailing epidemic. A little daughter of Mr. J.W. Henderson, died yesterday of diphtheria, and three other children in the same family are suffering from the same disease. It is said that there are now a number of cases in Eureka. If such is the case, and the epidemic appears to be in the increase, would it not be a good idea for our schools to close for a couple of weeks?
Certainly it is better to lose that much schooling than to expose our children to the ravages if this terrible disease."