… as told to Gayle Karshner.

Introduction by Gayle Karshner:

During a discussion of clam chowder at a party not long ago, I remarked that the best I ever tasted was at Clam Beach Inn in 1941!

A voice from the crowd announced, “My mother made that chowder!” Charles “George” Taylor stepped forth and introduced himself. So I had to have the story of Clam Beach Inn, that wonderful, familiar destination for Sunday drives. The azalea-lined old highway cut through the green fields of what is now McKinleyville and Dows Prairie and then down to Clam Beach Inn.

Here is George Taylor’s story.


Above: Clam Beach Inn and Herrin’s Museum before they were lost to the 101 freeway. Photo courtesy Charles George Taylor Jr., via the Humboldt Historian.

My parents, Gertrude and Charles Taylor, Sr., bought the Clam Beach Inn in 1941 from Elmer “Akie” Acorn, and they sold it in 1947. Those were especially exciting years for a young boy like me, living right by the ocean, amidst all the activity of our business and the community during World War Two. My aunt and uncle, Mildred and Sidney “Sid” Webster, were business partners with my parents, and we all lived together at the Inn. Dad ran the bar, which was the closest one to Crannell, and a favorite rendezvous place for Crannell’s loggers. Uncle Sid was in charge of the Inn’s grounds and cabins, and he also helped with the store and the gas pumps; in fact, everyone helped in the store if business was brisk. Mother and Mildred were sisters: Mother was the chief cook; Aunt Mildred was in charge of the dining room, decorating, and serving the customers.

Many customers asked for the chowder recipe. The only ingredient I know of besides the clams, potatoes, bacon and onions, is evaporated canned milk.

There were numerous summer cabins across the highway on the hills above Clam Beach Inn that we rented from the county for $1.00 a year. Most of them were summer homes, but some were permanent residences. My grandmother, Ada Small, lived in one. We rented the cabins just across the road and behind the inn on a nightly basis. But three of these cabins were permanent residences and housed families with children my age. The children were great playmates. There were also tents with wooden floors. They were never rented, but we kids played in them. In addition to the Inn itself, there were outbuildings, a laundry house on the south side, and a “dance hall” that belonged to my folks. On weekends the loggers from Crannell shot dice in the laundry room. Dances took place in the dance hall for a while — some pretty wild. Trains loaded with huge redwood logs from the Big Lagoon area, bound for Hammond’s Mill in Samoa, passed regularly over the tracks and trestle across Strawberry Creek between the Inn and the beach. To get to the beach, you had to go under the trestle.

Just to the north of the Inn was Herb Herrin’s Museum, which attracted a great many tourists, and where I had a part-time job. Out front, giant clamshells and whale bones from the South Seas sparked great interest, as did the outside walls covered with abalone shells. Herb was a fascinating man. He had spent several years in the South Seas collecting opals, rocks and shells. I learned much about the world during the considerable time I spent talking and working for Herb. My job was to feed the seal in the tank outside the museum, and to collect starfish from the rocks at Moonstone Beach to be made into “starfish elephants” a tourist novelty. Herb also crafted redwood burl souvenirs for the tourists.

Other curiosities abounded inside Herb’s museum, including the heavy turquoise-blue blown-glass balls, used as net floats by Japanese fishermen. Local people and tourists liked to collect them. Many gardens and homes displayed these balls. They varied in size from that of a baseball to a volleyball, and in those days they were common on the beaches. For a while Herb rented the dance hall from my parents to use as his workshop and storage for his redwood, and it was a mess then, filled with machinery and sawdust. Between the Inn and the highway we had a fishpond, which had been created by damming Strawberry Creek. My friends and cousins and I had a great time fishing, swimming and playing in that pond in the summertime. Then in the fall I attended school at Dows Prairie. All year around, though, there was entertainment at Clam Beach.

There was a pervading atmosphere of excitement, especially during those wartime years, because the beaches were considered vulnerable to attack or even invasion from Japanese submarines. This was the kind of real-life adventure young boys thrived on. We hid in the bushes, we spied, we played many imaginary war games, but sometimes it was all too close to reality. The Coast Guard, in charge of patrolling the beaches at night on horseback, had to recruit special men familiar with horses for the job.

Their headquarters and horses were located on Patrick’s Creek, one quarter mile north of Clam Beach Inn on the west side of old Highway 101. Rumors were rife during the war.

One late night a rumor that “the Japs are landing at Clam Beach” had spread to a bar, inciting some local guys with guns and full of liquor to come roaring out to the beach to take on the enemy. In the ruckus, one of them tripped over a log and his gun went off with a shattering explosion. I was really frightened, as was everyone in our already nervous community. We thought the real thing had finally arrived. Charley Rabb, county sheriff at the time, soon arrived and quickly rounded up the men and took their guns away.

The halcyon days at Clam Beach eventually came to an end. The county decided there was not enough water to supply all the cabins on the hill, and they were all bulldozed. My parents sold the Inn in 1947 to “Slim” Bathhurst, and my entire family moved to Eureka. My grandmother lived with us there. Bathhurst ran the Inn for a few years, but he moved the bar to another location. He did use the dance hall for dances, though, until the late 1950s.

Then during 1963 and 1964 the entire community of Clam Beach was bulldozed to make way for the new highway. The Inn, the chowder, the pond, Herrin’s Museum, the cabins and all the rest of it lives now only in the memories of those who loved it.


The story above was originally printed in the Winter 2008 issue of the Humboldt Historian, a journal of the Humboldt County Historical Society. It is reprinted here with permission. The Humboldt County Historical Society is a nonprofit organization devoted to archiving, preserving and sharing Humboldt County’s rich history. You can become a member and receive a year’s worth of new issues of The Humboldt Historian at this link.