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As It Was: “Annie and Mary” Railroad Grows in Arcata, Calif.

The first railroad in Northern California got its start in Humboldt County in the 1850s. A tiny flat car  drawn on rails by an old white horse named “Spanking Fury” transported ship passengers and freight several miles from the Arcata town plaza to the end of the wharf.

In 1881, a locomotive replaced the horse, and the rail extended along the Mad River to take tourists to the hamlet of Blue Lake, named after a 13-acre body of water created during a flood in 1861.  

When Frenchman Clement Chartin (“Shahr-TAN”) arrived in Blue Lake, he turned the town into a resort destination by building a hotel, an opera house and a lakeside dance platform.  In the 1920s, a levee changed the river’s course, reducing the lake to a seasonal, one-acre pond.  By that time, the railroad extended several more miles to serve the booming timber industry.

The 15-mile line became known as the Arcata and Mad River Railroad, but people affectionally called it the “Annie and Mary,” the names of the secretaries who administered the offices at each end of the line.

Sources: Young, Don, and Marjorie Young. Pacific Northwest Adventure Guide. Edison, N.J., Hunter Publishing, 2009, p. 17. Sunny Blue Lake, Blue Lake Chamber of Commerce, www.sunnybluelake.com. Accessed 2 May 2017; Johnson, Marael. Why Stop California. Houston, TX, Gulf Publishing Co, 1995, p. 20.

Valerie Ing was a teenager when she hosted her first music program on the airwaves. As a student at SOU, she was JPR’s Chief Student Announcer and the first volunteer in our newsroom. She's now JPR’s Northern California Program Coordinator, hosting Siskiyou Music Hall from JPR's Redding studio in the Cascade Theatre.