History of Captain Fletcher's Inn
A more detailed version of this history is available here.
Charles Fletcher, a sailor, ship's carpenter, and whale boat captain, was the first settler of what became the town of Navarro near the mouth of the Navarro River. Capt. Fletcher's father was a Scottish sea captain. Charles was born in the China seas on the Schooner "Wildcat." He came to San Francisco in 1849 during the gold rush. By ca. 1851, he had arrived on the north coast, apparently as captain of a whaling ship with a kanaka crew. Nathaniel Smith, an African American from Maryland, was said to be his cabin boy. Nathaniel first settled in Mendocino. Later he returned, with Francisco Faria, as one of the first “white” settlers in the area that became known as Cuffey's Cove.
Capt. Fletcher, in partnership with James Kennedy and Capt. Thomas Kennedy of San Francisco, built the Inn during the 1860's for sailors who had to wait three days while their schooners were loaded with lumber from the Navarro Mill. The Navarro Mill was built in 1861 by Henry B. Tichenor and Robert G. Byxbee co-partners in the firm of Tichenor and Co. of San Francisco, on land purchased from Charles Fletcher for $1,200. The first mill was built on the Navarro Flats near Capt. Fletcher's home.
Charles Fletcher and James Kennedy built the first lumber schooner on the Mendocino coast. The Sea Nymph (1862) was built for C. Goodall of San Francisco and was considered a "fast sailor." She was the first of at least eight ships built at the Navarro yard by Fletcher and others.
In December, 1860, after he sold most of his land to Tichenor and Byxbee, Charles Fletcher married Bridget Cooney of Mendocino, a widow from Roscommon, Ireland. They built a large house, separate from Fletcher's original redwood cabin, and raised four children there. Historic photographs show the house located immediately to the west of the Inn where a motel unit, built in 1964, now stands. The Fletcher family was one of the last to live in the old village of Navarro. Charles Fletcher died in 1902. His daughter, Ellen (Nellie) Fletcher Schaeffer inherited both the Inn and the family home. When she moved to Fort Bragg in the early 1920's, her daughter, Elsie Nystrom (later Farnsworth) purchased the house and Inn for $10.00.
Captain Fletcher's Inn has survived three major fires, the earthquake of 1906 and the devastating flood of 1907 that swept away a bridge near the mouth of the Navarro. In July, 1890, a fire destroyed the first Navarro lumber mill located near Capt. Fletcher's Inn which was built in the 1860's. Tichenor had died in 1883. Byxbee re-formed the company with Mrs. Tichenor as one of the partners. Byxbee then built a second, larger and more up-to-date mill about a mile up river. In 1911, a chimney fire, which started in the home of Schaeffer's daughter “Nellie,” destroyed much of the village on the Flats. In the early 1920's, a fire started by fishermen destroyed the Fletcher's family home next to the Inn.
The Navarro Mill went bankrupt in the “crash” of 1893. Byxbee attempted to sell to an English firm for $1,030,000 but was unsuccessful. The company was deeply in debt, not only for the new mill building, but also for improvements such as the extensive railroad line and a new engine called the "Tichenor." One of the company's steam schooners, the "Newsboy," was sold to Robert Dollar. It was his first ship, and the beginning of the famous Dollar Steamship Line. According to his descendants, Capt. Fletcher and Dollar were on friendly terms and had long talks at the Inn.
After the mill was sold, it burned down under mysterious circumstances. The fire occured in 1902, the same year that Fletcher died. This was followed by the quake of 1906, the flood of 1907, and the fire of 1913, all of which damaged the town of Navarro. By 1914, the name “Navarro” was usurped by the town of Wendling, located eleven miles up river. That town still bears the name "Navarro." What remained of the original village of Navarro eventually became known as “Navarro-by-the-Sea.” Capt. Fletcher's Inn and the mill manager's house are now the only buildings remaining from the once thriving town. At its height, it had 500-600 inhabitants, with another 300 men located in camps in the woods up river.
The Inn served as a popular fishing resort from the 1920's through the 1970's under various owners. It was purchased in 1996 by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The North Greenwood Community Assn.(NGCA), successfully nominated the building to the Save America's Treasures program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1999. NGCA gave a grant to the Navarro-by-the-Sea Center for Riparian and Estuarine Research to help pay for a temporary metal roof. The Navarro-by-the-Sea Center also received a matching grant from The National Trust for Historic Preservation for restoration planning. The contract for the initial report was awarded to well-known preservation architect Dan Peterson of Avila and Tom Architects in Oakland. The Charles Fletcher Society provided much of the historical research on the building.
Excerpts about Capt. Charles Fletcher from The Mendocino Beacon
Saturday, October 11, 1884: “From Navarro: ... A couple of weeks ago there was a perfect mass of fish in our harbor. Mr. Fletcher went out to cast his net, and did so making a large haul; but in coming in his boat capsized and he lost a thousand pounds of herring.”
March 14, 1885: “The Shipping Interest,” (lists ships built on the Pacific Coast by year) 1862: “This year the schooner Sea Nymph was built at Navarro by Kennedy and Fletcher. This was the beginning of ship building on the coast of Mendocino County...This was the well known Captain Fletcher of Navarro.”
January 30, 1897: “The Salvation Army has rented Murray's Store. It has been renovated throughout, and on the opening night, February 4, a big time is anticipated. Captain Fletcher is preparing an interesting program consisting of songs and recitations...”
August 16, 1902 (obituary):
“[Charles Fletcher was] highly respected as a business man and as a citizen. He was generous with his employees...large hearted, fearless and honest, he was a representative type of the hardy pioneers of this state...”