Elk is a hamlet on Highway One, between Point Arena and Mendocino. For several years when I’d driven through the hamlet on a weekday, the visitors center had been closed. This trip, it was open, because the State Parks Department has stationed a park employee there during the week. Before, volunteer docents covered the center, and were mostly available on weekends.
The staffer was friendly and well versed on the history of Elk, or Greenwood/Elk as it’s sometimes known. The center is on the ocean side of the highway, in the former mill building, next to the historic post office. The active post office is across the street.
Elk was founded in the 1890s and was a thriving lumber mill town. In 1916 the White Goodyear Company built the mill and the office, which included a vault and a safe (it’s still there, on display), shipping lumber to Seattle and San Francisco; until the 1930s when the Depression took its toll. Mills farther inland, like Willits and Ukiah, fared better because of access to transportation.
The museum has some family items from the Ross family, the last family to run the mill, a Boy Scout display and some groovy artifacts from the time the building hosted a commune in the 1970s.
The center has located a display about the area’s first human settlers, the Pomo, right by the door. The Pomo were there before the redwoods grew.
The town has two names, Greenwood/Elk. One of the founding families had come from El Dorado County, which had a town named Greenwood. They brought the name with them. When it came time to formally name the town, the US Postal Service had an opinion; they did not want two towns with the same name in the state. The townsfolk chose Elk, but many of them still called in Greenwood, or Greenwood Elk.
The town has a gallery, a deli-diner, a general store and a post office. The fancy Greenwood Pier Inn, part of a refurbished Victorian, has a trendy boutique and a cool garden shop. There are two paths out to the ocean; one to a beach and one out to the great wharf rock.