Trinidad Tidings: A history mystery: Trinidad incorporation

It hasn’t always been clear as to the official incorporation date of Trinidad, now accepted as Nov. 7, 1870. The carefully researched The History of Trinidad was written by Dwight Manning in February 1957. He wrote:

“Some doubt exists as to the date that Trinidad first was incorporated as a town. Some of the pioneer residents of Trinidad, according to Miss Wilda Tomlinson who was the town clerk for six years, insisted that Trinidad was incorporated in 1850,” when the first Argonauts landed in their quest for gold and immediately laid out claims for land and elected a governing body.” 

There was another opinion as to Trinidad’s incorporation. Manning quoted from information in D.L. Thornbury’s Humboldt County, California Redwood Wonderland (San Francisco Sunset Press 1923): “In 1912 it was discovered that the incorporation of 1852 had never been dissolved. Acting trustees were appointed by the Governor of California; an election was held and the population of one hundred keep up the government of Trinidad.”

Manning found more definitive information in the minutes of the Board of Supervisors of Klamath County for Monday, Nov. 7, 1870, which “deal with the matter of the petition for incorporation of the town of Trinidad. The petition stated that the population exceeds 200 in number, the majority of the inhabitants have signed the petition, and the metes and bounds of said incorporated town (were set)... And it is further ordered: that on Wednesday, the 14th day of December, A.D. 1870, an election be held, within the limits of said town of Trinidad, thus incorporated for the election of five Trustees, a Treasurer, Assessor, and Marshall, and that E. Du Bertrand is hereby appointed Inspector and that J.A. Baldwin and Wm. F. Shelton are hereby appointed Judges of said election: and that a certified copy of this order be transmitted to the signers of said petition.”

Dwight Manning further tried to clear up the confusion caused by the statement of Leigh H. Irvine, in his History of Humboldt County, California published in 1915, that “Trinidad, the oldest town in California but one, is a picturesque village of 250 population.” 

Manning wrote in 1957 to Walter C. Stutler, Deputy Secretary of State, State of California. Stutler replied regarding Trinidad’s incorporation date: “Strange as it may seem, this office has no document of official record setting forth incorporation. Prior to 1883, when the Municipal Corporation Bill of 1883 was passed, most incorporations were effected by legislative acts. There was a period of time when incorporations were by order of boards of supervisors under authority of Chapter 133, Statutes of 1856. It was necessary that the population exceed 200 and that the petition to the board be signed by Qualified electors and showing the metes and bounds of the proposed town. This act did not require any filing with the Secretary of State. Therefore, prior to 1883, our office relied upon the statutes for dates of incorporation. Trinidad was never incorporated by legislative act. It is not, as far as we can ascertain, the second oldest municipal corporation. It is possible the community operated under some form of local government not provided for by law. Several towns were incorporated by legislative act in 1850 and these would have been older--officially. While we have nothing official to support our record of incorporation of Trinidad, our record shows Nov. 7, 1870, under authority of Chapter 133, Statutes of 1856, while a part of the former Klamath County.” 

Another notable event of 1870 was the opening of Trinidad’s first school located on a 75’ x 150’ parcel, south of today’s Trinidad Cemetery, donated by J.P. and J. A. Hooper, prominent lumbermen and sawmill owners.
It was a one-room, one-teacher school constructed by Henry Gastman at a cost of $220. 

C.R. Saunders taught there from 1870 to 1874. Nine or ten families sent their children to the new school. 

The 1870s were busy prosperous times in Trinidad, with sawmills, the sawmill railroad, and the Trinidad Head Lighthouse all running by the end of 1871.

Email Patti at [email protected].


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