About Us the Hill House Inn

About Mendocino

One big part of Mendocino's history are the Redwood Trees. Mendocino was the first location in the area where lumber was harvested.

In 1849, The Frolic sank near Point Cabrillo. The attempt to recover the cargo was unsuccessful, but the scout discovered the giant redwood trees. In less than two years, the first lumber mill was operating on the Mendocino Headlands—right out where the sinkhole is, south of the west end of Main Street. This mill was only used for two years, and then it was rebuilt on Big River, just east of where Highway 1 crosses the river because it would be better covered from winter storms.

Early settlers came to find the western coastal wilderness already populated with Indians, Chinese and the rough loggers, but built homes and eventually brought their wives to the region. Thanks to these early settlers from the East Coast, many of the buildings in Mendocino bear striking architectural resemblance to houses, shops and church steeples of small New England towns.

Over time, a billion board-feet of lumber was taken out of the Big River watershed. This lumber was primarily used to build San Francisco as it expanded in the Gold Rush, and then again to rebuild it after the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. The mill closed in 1939, and Mendocino became a sleepy place for decades.

In the 1960s, an influx of creative and independent people came to Mendocino. Bill and Jennie Zacha started the Mendocino Art Center and it grew to become the center of a thriving artist community. The Art Center hosts exhibits, demonstrations and classes for artists. Because of the art center's contributions, many art galleries have popped up  in Mendocino and in Fort Bragg.

Music and other performing arts are also important to Mendocino. There are tw local opera companies, a symphony, a theatre company, and other performers in the musical arts in our town.

The Hills Brothers

The Hill House Inn and its Spencer's Lounge are named for Joel Fisher Hills and his younger brother Spencer. Joel Hills was one of the first non-lumbermen to settle in Mendocino. Joel came to Mendocino in the mid-1850s. In 1856, he established the first independent-owned store, where he raised cattle and sold meat.  His business was so successful that he was able to build a larger structure on Main Street, living in the upper story and using the lower story for his store.

After building and operating his two stores, Joel Hills purchased a claim for a large block of property north of Ukiah Street and east of Lansing Street from E.C. Williams; one of the original owners of the mill. The Hill House Inn is located on part of that property. In 1877, Joel Fisher Hills sold out his Mendocino holdings to his brother, Spencer Walcott Hills, and moved to San Diego.

Spencer W. Hills and his wife, Aseneth, came to Mendocino from Union, Maine, in 1859. They purchased a small cottage that had probably been built in 1855 by E.C. Williams. Hills enlarged the house in 1880 by adding the east wing and a porch across the front. The house still stands just 200 yards south of the Hill House Inn, down the slope and on Little Lake Road. In the years since Spencer and Aseneth lived there, the porch was extended and has been restored to its former glory.

In 1878, the Hills' 20 year-old daughter, Alice, married Joshua Grindle, who was 14 years her senior. Spencer Hills gave them the plot of land to the east of his house, and Joshua Grindle began construction of their home in 1879. That house, too, still stands. It is now the Joshua Grindle Inn.

The original property, known as the “Hills Estate Ranch”, consisted of 320 acres. Hills owned and operated the property until his death on July 1, 1909. After the death of Aseneth on August 24, 1909, long time Mendocino resident, Robert Law purchased the land and it became a dairy farm. The small, white building that faces the Hill House entrance was once the old horse stable.

After Robert Law's death, his daughter, Jean Law Grant, (later Rice) sold the property in 1964 to William C. Dill and Erwine H. Miehle who subdivided it. Barbara and Monte Reed, long-time residents of Mendocino, purchased part of the subdivision and built the Hill House Inn in 1978. 

This is a portion of the essay by Wilma Tucker of the Kelley House Museum

**All wedding photos are provided by John Birchard ( **