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California Counties

The state of California is divided into fifty-eight counties. On January 4, 1850, the California constitutional committee recommended the formation of 18 counties. They were Benicia, Butte, Fremont, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Monterey, Mount Diablo, Oro, Redding, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, and Sutter. The last California county to have been established is Imperial County in 1907.

Humboldt County, California

Humboldt County Education, Geography, and HistoryHumboldt County, Califronia Courthouse

Humboldt County is a county in the state of California. Based on the 2010 census, the population was 134,623. The county seat is Eureka. Humboldt County was established on May 12, 1853 from Trinity County . The county is named from Humboldt Bay and Humboldt Bay is named after Alexander von Humboldt, a German naturalist and explorer.

Humboldt County comprises the Eureka-Arcata-Fortuna, CA Micropolitan Statistical Area. It is located on the far North Coast 200 miles north of San Francisco.

Etymology - Origin of Humboldt County Name

The county derived its name from Humboldt Bay, which was entered by a sea otter party in 1806, but was not rediscovered until 1849. In 1850, Douglas Ottinger and Hans Buhne entered the bay, naming it Humboldt in honor of the great naturalist and world explorer, Baron Alexander von Humboldt.


County QuickFacts: CensusBureau Quick Facts

Humboldt County History

Organization of Humboldt County

 To understand accurately the early days and organization of Humboldt county and to gain some idea of the organization of the state and its first election. It should be understood that the first election held in California, in 1849, was not participated in by the residents of the north, if there were any. In 1849 the state was not organized, and the election precincts were established only in those interior towns and mining camps that had sprung into prominence during the few months after the great gold rush following the discovery by the immortal Marshall. Up to this time the adventurous feet of prospectors had not passed the beautiful verdure-clad hills of the northern latitude. Of those who were destined to become the founders of the county some were then in the Southern mines, others were toiling wearily westward or tossing upon the bosom of ocean around the Horn eager to reach the land of gold and sunshine. Many others were in their Eastern homes with hardly a thought of the faraway land that was to beckon them to its shores.

Elliott tells us that upon the subdivision of the State into counties in 1850 Mr. Wathall, a member of the Assembly and of the delegation from the Sacramento district which includes the Sacramento valley as far as the Oregon line, proposed the names of Shasta and Trinity for the northern part of the State, which at that time included what is now Del Norte, Trinity, Humboldt, Siskiyou, Modoc, Lassen, Shasta, and a part of Butte county.

It is interesting to reflect that when the State was divided into counties by the act of February 18, 1850, the northern region was generally an unknown land to the Legislators. The excitement in Trinity county was at that time at its very height, but still very little was known of the entire region, the population having progressed but little beyond the diggings on the Sacramento river and Clear creek, and about Shasta. All the northeastern part of this territory was erected into one county called Shasta, with the county seat at Reading's ranch. The northwestern part was called Trinity county, with the county seat at Trinidad, and thus the territory was divided into Trinity and Shasta counties.

All that portion of the State lying west of Shasta county and that which was afterwards formed into Trinity, Humboldt, Klamath, and Del Norte counties was created and known as Trinity county, but as it was yet a comparatively strange land it was attached to Shasta for judicial purposes. This action was taken because it was expected that a large population would soon be found on Trinity river and about the bay of Trinidad. Trinity county was divided in 1852, all south of a line due east of the mouth of Mad river being Trinity, and all north of that line being Klamath county.

The California Legislature of 1850-51 provided for the organization of Klamath county and ordered an election to be held on the second Monday in June, 1851. The act was approved on May 28, 1851.

The officers were duly elected and the county government took effect immediately thereafter. This act recognized Trinity county, and the territory consisted of Klamath at the north and Shasta at the east. The Legislature appointed commissioners to designate election precincts and superintend the election. Five commissioners were appointed, none of whom were from what is now Trinity county ; two were from Humboldt City, two from Eureka, and one from Union, the old name for Arcata.

The following were the first officers elected for Klamath : county judge, Dr. Johnson Price; district attorney, William Cunningham; county clerk, John C. Burch; sheriff, William H. Dixon; assessor, J. W. McGee; treasurer, Thomas L. Bell.

By act of the Legislature, approved May 12, 1853, Trinity county was divided into two parts. The western portion was organized into Humboldt county, and the eastern portion retained the old name of Trinity. The clerk of Trinity county was required to restore to the clerk of Humboldt county, the books, records, maps, and papers held by Trinity county, and the same became a part of the records of Humboldt county, including maps of the towns of Union (Arcata), Eureka, and Bucksport. This change in boundaries made the territory into five counties as follows : Klamath, Siskiyou, Humboldt, Trinity, Shasta.

The act provided that its boundaries should commence at a point in the ocean three miles due west of Mad river, thence due east from the point of beginning to Trinity river, thence up the Trinity river to the mouth of Grouse creek, thence south to the north line of Mendocino county, and thence to the ocean. This boundary was rather indefinite and caused considerable trouble thereafter. In 1874 Humboldt and Siskiyou counties acquired the territory of old Klamath county, and it no longer appears on the maps. In 1874 it was disorganized, divided, and attached to Siskiyou and Humboldt. Much the larger part was attached to Humboldt, and at this date the territory of the original two counties has become seven counties, and one has disappeared. There at once arose a number of contests regarding the location of the county seat of Humboldt county. Rival towns along the bay did all in their power to obtain the coveted prize, and much bitterness of feeling resulted as the contest went on, as has been said elsewhere in this history. The town of Union was designated as the seat of justice, but Bucksport and Eureka were far from being reconciled. In fact they became jealous rivals. At the first contest for location of the county seat, people of Eel River, in conjunction with all the rural districts of that part of the county, joined with Bucksport and supported that place for the location, but Union, or Arcata, bore off the prize. The air was filled with charges of fraud and dishonesty.

A petition signed by more than one-third of the voters of Humboldt county was put in circulation and an application was made for another contest, and this was entered into with great bitterness on both sides. In order to settle the matter an election by popular vote was immediately called.

It is interesting to recall the claims which were set forth by Bucksport at the time of the second contest. In a signed argument the proposition appeared in the following language : "That Bucksport is the most appropriate place for county seat in Humboldt county. It has the best townsite, the best natural advantages for a commercial city, and by far the best water off the bay for shipping purposes. That it is the nearest central of any of the places proposed, and most accessible; that it will accommodate the citizens generally better than any other place, produce more general quiet, and that, when once established, will be far more likely to remain permanent than any other place on the bay; are facts of so general notoriety and so well established in the minds of the public, that arguments in substantiation are unnecessary."

In the Humboldt Times of October 14, 1853, is published a conveyance from William Roberts to the committee for the purpose of laying such honorable motives before the public as shall secure the selection of Bucksport for county seat. Mr. Roberts agreed to convey by deed to the trustees named by him a large portion of his quarter section of land at Bucksport on which is situated that most beautiful plateau overlooking the bay. The deed provided for surveying the tract into lots 50x100 feet and that every citizen of the county "outside of Bucksport precinct shall be entitled to a lot of that size for the nominal price of $1 if he shall support Bucksport for the county seat and it be selected as such."

The result of the matter was that neither place received the majority of the votes cast. Union retained the location until the act of the Legislature in 1856, removing it from that place to Eureka, which act took effect on May 1, 1856.

The board of supervisors at a special meeting April 12, 1856, accepted the proposal of R. W. Brett to furnish the county with a court room, two jury rooms, clerk's, treasurer's, and sheriff's offices, at Eureka for one year from the first day of May, 1856. Mr. Brett reserved to himself the use of the court room, and with this reservation furnished the rooms mentioned for $200 per annum.

On Thursday, the first day of May, L. K. Wood, the county clerk and ex-officio recorder, removed the records, books, files, a safe, and other property belonging to those two offices to Eureka, in accordance with the act declaring Eureka the county seat of Humboldt county from and after that day.

R. W. Brett, who owned the building at Eureka occupied by the county for court room and offices, had them improved by January, 1857, by having the court room extended through to the front of the building the same height and width, making the various spaces to some 25x25 feet and sixteen feet high. These rooms were used until the court house was built.

In 1860 Humboldt county purchased a block of ground lying between Second street and the bay, being above the termination of First street and between I street on the west and K on the east, with a large frame building thereon built at that time.

The contract was then entered into for placing this building on the block, adding wings thereto for a court house. The main building was eighty feet in length, parallel with Second street, by twenty-four feet deep. There was a front projection for entry way at the center extending towards Second street 12x26 feet.

The affairs of the county were managed by what was known as the court of sessions from its organization in 1853 until 1863, when they passed into the hands of the board of supervisors. The county judge, as chief justice, and two justices of the peace as associate justices, composed the old court of sessions. Annually the county judge convened the justices of the peace of the county, who selected from their own number two who should act as associate justices of the court of sessions for the ensuing year.

The duties of the court of sessions at first were chiefly to administer the affairs of the county, a function which is now always discharged by the board of supervisors. In time a radical change was made in the powers of this court by conferring upon it the criminal jurisdiction previously exercised by the district court. It had the power to inquire into all criminal offenses by means of a grand jury and to try all indictments found by that body except those for murder, manslaughter, and arson, which were certified to the district court. In 1863 the court was abolished and its powers were conferred upon the county court. This was the highest local tribunal of original jurisdiction, embracing chancery, civil, and criminal causes. As at first created it had original cognizance of all cases in equity and its civil jurisdiction embraced all causes where the amount in question exceeded $200, causes involving the title to real property, or the validity of any tax, and issues of fact, joined in the appropriate court.

This court had power to inquire into criminal offenses by means of a grand jury and to try indictments found by that body. The Legislature took from this court its criminal jurisdiction and conferred it upon the court of sessions, leaving it the power of hearing appeals from that court on criminal matters, and the power to try all indictments of murder, manslaughter, arson, and any causes in which the members of the court of sessions were interested.

Geography: Land and Water

As reported by the Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 4,052 square miles (10,495 km2), of which, 3,572 square miles (9,253 km2) of it is land and 480 square miles (1,243 km2) of it (11.84%) is water.

The county's terrain is mostly mountainous except for the area surrounding Humboldt Bay. Eel river empties into the Pacific about 12 miles south of Eureka and the Mad river flows into the ocean about 10 miles north of Eureka between Arcata and McKinleyville. The Klamath River which ends at the sea about 50 miles north of Eureka. Wide valleys are on both sides of the Eel and the Mad Rivers near the coast providing good pasture and bottoms land.

Neighboring Counties

Bordering counties are as follows:

  • North: Del Norte County
  • Northeast: Siskiyou County
  • East: Trinity County
  • Southeast: Mendocino County
  • West: North Pacific Ocean


Post-secondary education is offered locally at the College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University. Blue Lake's Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre offers accredited three-year Masters of Fine Arts in Ensemble Based Physical Theatre

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