The origin of the Park is full of twists and turns, beginning in 1867 when a man named Joseph Warren Welch bought about 350 acres of "tall timber" in the area encompassing that grove of extraordinary trees. But instead of a massive logging operation, "Welch had another plan...."
Just what happened is detailed in "Historic Tales Of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park: Big Trees Grove" ($21.99 in paperback from The History Press, historypress.com) by Deborah Osterberg. The Bonny Doon author is a Chico State grad, with degrees in history and geography, and was a volunteer docent at the Park starting in 2016.
With dozens of historic black-and-white photographs, some supplied by Special Collections at Chico State's Meriam Library, Osterberg tells the story from "the first stewards," the Native peoples, to 1954, when the Park officially opened (and which now includes more than 4600 acres with more than a million visitors a year).
An appendix lists the names of the Big Trees (including the General Fremont, a burned out stump large enough for indoor living); another provides a guide to some thirteen silent movies filmed amongst the Big Trees (including The Last Man On Earth in 1924: "An epidemic kills off all virile men except for one hermit. When he is discovered living in the Fremont Tree, every woman on the planet wants him").
The Welch family, and Henry Cowell, a rival who owned nearby land, were not interested in redwoods preservation but in the burgeoning tourism business. Osterberg's account is rich with detail, including the visit in 1891 by President Benjamin Harrison, which proved to be a PR bust when Harrison declared his visit personal with no pictures taken.
Osterberg's beautifully written narrative will prepare armchair travelers for the real deal.