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The Swiss Rohners
The Humboldt Rohners
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THE HUMBOLDT ROHNERS

Back: The Rohners in Switzerland

Heinrich (Henry) Rohner, the youngest child of Johannes and Elizabeth, was born 18 September 1829. He also learned the printing trade as well as farming, and at age 17 moved to join his elder brother as a printer in Evansville, Indiana. When in 1849 came word of the California gold strike, Henry and several young Swiss friends joined the Gold Rush and trekked across the continent to seek their fortunes.

After an arduous journey, in which Henry walked most of the way, they reached Sacramento in September of 1849 and received advice from fellow Swiss John Sutter. For many months, Henry and friends sought gold with moderate success along the Feather, Trinity and Salmon Rivers. From a fellow prospector at Big Bar, they heard of good farm land to the west in the Eel River Valley, and in 1851, Henry and an associate acquired land there.

To help finance this enterprise. Henry returned to mining for a while and even spent some time as a printer with an Arcata newspaper until injured when a "desperado" tried to shoot the editor. Henry then settled on his land in the Eel River Valley, building the first house and store in what was to become Rohnerville.

The little settlement quickly became a major stop for passengers, freight, and mail on the main southern route in and out of Humboldt County. It was also a jumping off point for miners and their supplies heading east to the gold fields. Henry Rohner served as the town's first postmaster and began the first water system.

On 26 June 1861, he married Mary Adelia Bulkeley, whose family had moved to Table Bluff from Wisconsin. Henry bought property west of Rohnerville in what was to become Fortuna and built the town's first house. Rohner House located at 15th and Main Streets.  His later grand home was long a landmark on Fortuna's Main Street. He and several partners also built the area's first grist and lumber mill. These developments plus the 1883 routing of the Eel Valley and Eureka Railroad through Fortuna began shifting the role of area transportation hub away from Rohnerville. The process was completed in 1914 when that rail line became part of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad linking the Humboldt and San Francisco bay areas.

Henry owned agricultural and business properties around the Eel Valley and in Eureka, and he was involved in several business enterprises including banking and merchandising. He was also active in civic affairs including being a member of the Fortuna Brass Band! The 1895 Humboldt Business Directory identified the occupation of this successful and multi-talented man simply as "capitalist".

Henry and Mary Rohner had seven children, three of whom died in the diphtheria epidemic that hit Humboldt County settlements in the 1870s. Of the surviving children, Henry, the eldest, became a successful cattleman and horse breeder in California and Oregon. Daughter Anna married a Humboldt County cattleman, Alberto Robinson, and daughter Elizabeth married Charles Barcus, a noted architect who participated in building San Francisco's Grace Cathedral and the Richard Sweasey Theatre (now the Arkley center) in Eureka.

Heinrich (Henry) Rohner
Born 18 September 1829 near Heiden, Switzerland.
Married 26 June 1861 to Mary Adelia Bulkeley.
Died 28 December 1900 in Fortuna. Buried in Rohnerville Cemetery and later moved to Eureka.

Mary Adelia Rohner (Bulkeley)
Born 28 May 1845 in Luzerne, Pennsylvania
Married 26 June 1861 to Henry Rohner.
Died 25 April 1919 in Fortuna. Buried in Rohnerville Cemetery and later moved to Eureka.  

Franklin Ellery Rohner, Henry and Mary's youngest child, was born in 1878. He was the first student from Fortuna High School to graduate from the University of California where he took a degree in dentistry. He practiced oral surgery in Napa for two years then in San Francisco for thirty five. He married Fay Boyden, his surgical nurse, and their son Franklin Boyden Rohner was born in 1927. Two years later after the death of his wife, Franklin E. retired and returned to Fortuna where he and his son lived with his widowed sister, Elizabeth Barcus. Dr. Rohner came out of retirement to practice dentistry during World War II when most of the younger dentists left for the military. He retired again after the war but continued to be active in civic, charitable and professional activities including Ingomar Club, Humboldt County Dental Association and Civil Defense during World War II.

Franklin B. Rohner grew up in Fortuna and after high school joined the US Navy serving with the occupation forces in Nagasaki, Japan. He then became the first graduate of Fortuna High School to attend Stanford University, and after graduating from Stanford Law School in 1954 served in the Judge Advocate Corps of the US Air Force followed by two years as a research assistant to the California Supreme Court. He went on to pursue successful business and law careers including extensive involvement in the television industry where he served as Vice President of the CBS Television Network and founded his own Law Firm which represented a number of award-winning television production companies and series. Land development and horse breeding were among his other activities. More recently, he funded the Franklin B. Rohner Admission Center at Humboldt State University.

Rohner Park, where this museum now stands, is a concrete example of the generosity and community feeling expressed by the Rohner family. The founder of Rohnerville and Fortuna, Henry Rohner, died in 1900. Nine years later, his widow, Mary Rohner, sold to the City of Fortuna the initial 20 acres of what was to become Rohner Park. She then spearheaded the public drive to fund many park improvements. Over the years, the Rohner family donated or sold for nominal sums many more acres of land, the largest portions coming from Elizabeth Rohner Barcus, a woman dedicated to the welfare of the community of Fortuna where she spent her entire life. Her nephew, Franklin B. Rohner, continues the family tradition by making possible many improvements in the museum including the dedication of this room to the pioneer Rohner family.

 

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