Sunday, January 10, 2010


Another place we visited during our Spring HALS vacation in 2009 was the town of Ferndale. The town of Ferndale is State Registered Landmark No. 883. Dozens of ornate homes and commercial properties line Main Street, mostly built in the 1890s. Mark Williams, in his book “Northern California Off The Beaten Path” describes Ferndale as, “the best preserved Victorian town in California.” Ferndale is located on the “Lost Coast” in an area of dairy ranches, and it is a fascinating place to visit.

I decided to check out one property in particular known as Fern Dale or Shaw House. It was the home of Seth Lewis Shaw, who founded the town of Ferndale in Humboldt County. His Gothic-style Victorian Home is the oldest structure in Ferndale, which was named after this property. The eighteen room home with its gables, balconies and bay windows was fashioned after the House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts. Construction was completed in 1866. Shaw called his home “Fern Dale” because many huge ferns grew along the creek (Francis Creek), that ran through his property.

The home was owned by the descendents of Shaw until 1967, and is now a bed and breakfast, so when you visit Ferndale, you can plan to stay there.

The most prominent feature of the garden is a white picket fence along Main Street. The fence consists of 6” wide horizontal boards at the base up to 18” high. These boards are routed in a way to make them look like stone blocks. A top the horizontal portion of the fence are 2x2 wood pickets, with four sided angled points. Every other picket is 3” shorter than the higher pickets. The entire fence is painted white.

This fence appears in the drawing of the property at the top of this post. The drawing is dated 1900. For a modest fee, I was given a digital copy of this photo at the Ferndale Museum, and was able to see and read about the property. I am finding that just about every small town has their own museum with good local exhibits and staff, or more likely volunteers, who are eager to answer questions. This is one more way that doing HALS research is enriching my vacation experience.

From the entry gate, a 4 foot wide concrete path leads directly towards the main gable of the front of the house. The path Ys, with one half leading to the front porch and the other to the garages. A triangular planting bed is formed by the Y. This alignment of walk and planting bed is clearly visible in a 1900 drawing.

The front garden is planted in lawn, and within the lawn many round and curvilinear planting beds are cut out. Most of these beds include a specimen tree with understory ferns, perennials and shrubs. There is also a linear planting bed inside and paralleling the front fence along the sidewalk. Plantings here include: Anemone, Lavender, Dicentra, Dahlia, Amaryllis, Sword Fern, Camellia, Buddleia, Rose, and Lilac – all species appropriate to a garden of the period.

To the left of the front gate is an exceptional Buckeye Tree (Aesculus californica) with a gnarly trunk 4 feet in diameter. The tree is low branching, with a well-balanced canopy that extends over the sidewalk and to the middle of the street. Other trees on the property that appear to be original are: Redwood, Walnut, Big Leaf Maple, Birch, Crataegus, Monterey Cypress, Holly, and one apple tree.

The garden has several mature, old fashioned shrubs some of which may be original. These include: old roses, a Viburnum, and a large rambling Fuchsia. There are also several trees, shrubs and perennials that are recent additions.

The property was designated as a state historic landmark on February 13, 1982, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 13, 1984, and is well worth a visit.

1 comment:

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