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About the Plaza

Content provided by City of Arcata


The Plaza was laid out in the original plot of the town known as a commons. During the late 1850's and early 1860's at the height of the troubles between the white settlers and the Indians, the Plaza became a parade ground in the evenings where a citizen's military company drilled. The Plaza was also used for grazing cows by citizens. Each cow had a different cow bell and the sounds of these cow bells were heard in the early morning hours. Finally, the cows created sanitary conditions on the Plaza and by a vote of the citizens on May 6, 1901 the cows were banned from the Plaza.
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By city ordinance, the Plaza was the only place in town where bars and liquor stores could be located which still accounts today for the large numbers of bars facing the Plaza. Not until 1870, were women and minors allowed to enter places where liquor was sold.

jacobymuleimage   The Plaza served also in the early days as the staging area for the numerous pack trains of mules for the hinterland and the mines. Since 1850, Trinidad and Union (Arcata) came into existence as supply centers for the gold mines on the Klamath, Trinity, and Salmon Rivers there was strong competition for the function of the supply center for the mines. Eventually, Arcata took the lead in the packing trade and the Plaza became the center of activity for arriving and departing mule trains. The average train consisted of from 30 to 40 pack mules plus a mule for each packer, a kitchen mule and the bell-mare who led the train. The Plaza was the site of corrals and livery stables
and many of Union's early-day residents were packers and owners of pack trains. As assessment record for 1876-77 for A. Brizard and Sacramento Moreno (his house still stands on the NW corner of 11th and F Street) lists pack saddles and riggings, two horses, and 67 mules valued at $3410. Tom Bair had his corral behind the Union Hotel (Arcata Music Shop - Globe Imports Building). Another corral was located on G Street between 10th and 11th Street (Humboldt Federal Building); and the Pioneer Livery Stable was on the corner of 8th and G Street (Bank of America building).

Through the years, the Plaza was more often the nucleus of good times. It was a natural ball park, a gathering place for town and national celebrations of holidays, the scene of huge 4th of July bonfires, of bicycle races, parades, Easter egg hunts, concerts, theatricals and fairs and the annual salmon bake. At its center a flag staff of a reported 113 feet height was erected, crowned by a Libert Cap made by the local tinsmith. On July 5, 1869, a new and elegant flag, 24 feet in length was purchased by the citizens of Arcata, and "unfurled to the breeze". The Arcata Union related that a young man celebrating the new year of 1899 climbed to the top of the flag staff and went to sleep, watched by all the people on the Plaza and expected to fall at any moment. He was rescued by another young man who went up to the cross trees and persuaded the climber to come down.

For many years, cannons had a place on the Plaza. In the early 1860's soldiers from Camp Curtis, north of town just east of the Arlington - Hwy 101 over-crossing of the railroad tracks, purloined a cannon from Eureka and brought it to the Plaza where it stood until 1878. Photographs taken in 1901 show a band stand apparently surrounding the flag staff in the center of the Plaza.
For many years, cannons had a place on the Plaza. In the early 1860's soldiers from Camp Curtis, north of town just east of the Arlington - Hwy 101 over-crossing of the railroad tracks, purloined a cannon from Eureka and brought it to the Plaza where it stood until 1878. Photographs taken in 1901 show a band stand apparently surrounding the flag staff in the center of the Plaza.

In 1905, Mr. George Zehndner was determined to make a gift to his town. He commissioned the Armenian sculptor Haig Patigian to make a bronze statue of the martyred President McKinley. Work on the bronze statue had just been completed in San Francisco when the 1906 earthquake struck the city and destroyed most of its central business district in San Francisco. It was feared locally that the bronze statue of McKinley would not have survived the disaster but it was
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determined that the statue had been saved. On July 4, 1906, the bronze statue was placed in the center of the Plaza and formally presented by Zehndner as "a gift to the City of Arcata for all time to come".