A sawmill located near the lagoons of Lake Earl helped to implement some of the first railroads through Del Norte County.
In 1869, the Lake Earl Mill, or Wenger Mill, was built to process redwood, fir and spruce. It was owned by the J. Wenger Company. The lumber produced there was taken three miles by railroad into Crescent City where it would then be shipped to San Francisco.
Instead of a locomotive, four mules would pull four cars of loaded lumber per day. Sometimes people would make the ride from the mill into town at no charge. However, other baggage could be hauled for a price.
The mill was built by John Chaplin and Jacob Wenger, Sr. in an effort to take advantage of Del Norte County's resources and jumpstart the economy.
Fire destroyed the mill in 1891, when a small spark in the filing room ignited the entire blaze. According to eye-witness accounts, when the fire was first spotted it only took 15 minutes to engulf the entire complex. The fire put 125 people out of a job, 40 who worked on the premises and 80 who worked in the logging camps.
The mill was rebuilt a few years later, and put out even more lumber than it did before, contributing over 50,000 board feet per day, nearly 10,000 more board feet per day than before the fire.
In 1903, Wenger and Company's mill was purchased by Hobbs, Wall and Company┬Śone of Del Norte County's largest lumber businesses. Under new ownership, the mule-drawn railroad expanded, replacing narrow, wooden rails with wider, iron rails, as was considered the standard.
Before Wenger and Company sold the mill to Hobbs, Wall and Company, owner Wenger, Sr. spoke about logging in Del Norte County, specifically at his Lake Earl Mill.
"Del Norte County may be behind in some things like transportation but not in redwood," he said. "To those unacquainted with the immense growth of our redwood, the recital of facts seem like fiction. The banner claim of this section and perhaps of the coast to this date has been logged by our men at Lake Earl.
"From a tract of 160 acres, 35 million feet of redwood, log measure was cut," Wenger, Sr. said. "This took several years with a crew of 45 to 50 loggers. On some parts of the quarter section of the stand run produced 1 million to the acre. The land was purchased a few years ago for $1,000."
Wenger, Sr. died in 1898, five years before his company was sold to Hobbs, Wall and Company.