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Willits, California

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Willits, California

City of Willits
Willits Arch
Willits Arch
Location of Willits, California
Location of Willits, California
Country  United States
State  California
County Mendocino
Incorporated November 19, 1888[1]
 • Total 2.803 sq mi (7.260 km2)
 • Land 2.798 sq mi (7.248 km2)
 • Water 0.005 sq mi (0.013 km2)  0.17%
Elevation[3] 1,391 ft (424 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 4,888
 • Density 1,700/sq mi (670/km2)
Time zone PST (UTC-8)
 • Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7)
ZIP code 95490
Area code(s) 707
FIPS code 06-85600
GNIS feature ID 1652654
Website .comthecityofwillits

Willits (formerly, Little Lake and Willitsville) is a city in Mendocino County, California, United States.[3] Willits is located 20 miles (32 km) north-northwest of Ukiah,[4] at an elevation of 1391 feet (424 m).[3] The population was 4,888 at the 2010 census, down from 5,073 at the 2000 census. Willits is at the center of Mendocino County and at the beginning of the county's extensive redwood forests as approached by Highway 101 from the south. An arch donated to the city by Reno, Nevada in 1995[5] stands in the center of town and displays Willits' slogans "Heart of Mendocino County" and "Gateway to the Redwoods." The Sherwood Valley Rancheria of Pomo Indians of California is headquartered in Willits.

Geography and environment

Located at the center of Mendocino County in the Little Lake Valley, 20 miles (32 km) north of Ukiah on U.S. Route 101 (otherwise known as the Redwood Highway). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.8 square miles (7.3 km2), 99.83% of it land.


The mountains to the west cause Willits to have a cool winter and hot summer climate. Average January temperatures range from 32 °F (0 °C) to 54.9 °F (12.7 °C). Average July temperatures range from 47.3 °F (8.5 °C) to 85.3 °F (29.6 °C). There are an average of 34.5 days with highs of 90 °F (32 °C) or higher, and an average of 80.3 days with lows of 32 °F (0 °C) or lower. The record maximum temperature was 118 °F (48 °C) on June 30, 2005, and the record minimum temperature was 3 °F (−16 °C) on December 9, 1972.

Annual precipitation averages 51.4 inches (1,310 mm).[6] The wettest year on record was 1983 with 91.58 inches (2,326 mm) and the driest year on record was 2013 with 16.68 inches (424 mm) (formerly 1977 with 16.88 inches (429 mm).[7] The most precipitation in one month was 31.41 inches (798 mm) in December 1964. The most precipitation in 24 hours was 8.80 inches (224 mm) on December 22, 1964. There are an average of 94 days with measurable precipitation.

There are occasional snow falls in Willits each year, with an average of 3.7 inches (94 mm) of snow annually. The most snow in one month was 20.0 inches (510 mm) in December 1964.[8]

Climate data for Willits
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 25
Average high °C (°F) 12.7
Daily mean °C (°F) 6.6
Average low °C (°F) 0.4
Record low °C (°F) −11.1
Precipitation mm (inches) 252
Avg. precipitation days 14 12 13 9 5 2 0 1 2 7 13 14 92
Source: [9]

History and culture

Willits hotel, 1903
California Western Railroad double-header excursion train at Willits depot, 1974

Hiram Willits arrived from Indiana in 1857 to settle in the Little Lake Valley.[10] Kirk Brier founded the settlement on Willits' land.[4] Willits was originally called Willitsville.[4] Later, when the post office opened in 1861 it was called Little Lake.[4] The name changed to Willits in 1874.[4] Willits incorporated in 1888.[4]

Every July, Willits hosts the Frontier Days & Rodeo, the oldest continuous rodeo and Independence Day celebration in California. It is also home to the Roots of Motive Power Locomotive Museum and the Mendocino County Museum.

The Willits area is the final home of the racehorse Seabiscuit. Ridgewood Ranch, where Seabiscuit trained, recuperated, lived out his retirement and was buried, is located a few miles south of the city.

Willits High School is located on the north end of Willits. It is the home of the Wolverines.

Some notable names from Willits include Judi Bari, labour leader and environmental activist who fought to save the Redwoods. Over 1,000 people attended her Willits funeral in 1997. Tré Cool, drummer for Green Day, lived in Willits during his teen years (1980's). Mona Gnader, the bass player for Sammy Hagar also resided in Willits. Although the band Tommy Tutone is usually referred to as "a San Francisco band", they were located in Willits at the time that their enduring hit single "Jenny (867-5309)" was released. Hal Wagenet, guitarist for the band It's A Beautiful Day in their early years, is a graduate of Willits High School. The folk singer Jeff Buckley spent a year at Willits High School . Liquid Ginger guitarist and film industry personality C.J. Perrine, also known as Charles (Chuck) Curtis, is from Willits. Stagecoach bandit Charles Bolles (aka Black Bart) stole multiple Wells Fargo boxes and mail from stagecoaches traveling through Willits.[11] Technical death metal bands Embryonic Devourment & Hellusinit also come from Willits.

During the 1950s, seascape painter Marshall Merritt maintained a studio in Willits.

Beginning in 1996, the city and many residents became embroiled in lawsuits against the Whitman Corporation (later acquired by PepsiCo, Inc.), alleging that hexavalent chromium pollution left by the Remco Hydraulics chrome plating plant, which was owned by Whitman and operated in Willits from 1964–1995, is responsible for a host of local health problems.[12] Litigator Erin Brockovich, known for the eponymous movie about her work in a similar case, participated in a lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs. As of 2012 it appeared that the last remaining lawsuits were nearing final resolution.[13] According to this report there were 20 sites.

Dumping now has been reported at twenty locations:

934 South Main St. Page Pits Berry Creek (off Page Pits) Bob Peters' property (Shell Lane) Collie's pond Brooktrails Community 475 San Francisco St. 175 Lenore St. City sewer The open field behind Valley Oaks Trailer Park The open field behind Page Pits West hwy 20 Bridge near KOA campground Under freeway south hwy 101 where two lanes turn to four Ponds on Muir Mill Road Quadrio property Sherwood Rancheria Indian Land Baechtel Creek Pond near Nolans' property Well on Luna's property Willits Rail Yard.

These are the just some of the sites Chromium and Other industrial waste was dumped by the Harrah Abex Companies. There are many more unrecorded sites around Mendocino County. Five miles east of Willits, the San Francisco Bay Area Council of the Boy Scouts Of America operates a 2,200-acre (8.9 km2) camp named Wente Scout Reservation. Previously known as Willits Scout Ranch, the camp in 1984 "saved" the town of Willits during an emergency water crisis by releasing 20,000 acre feet (25,000,000 m3) of water from their private lake into the town's water system.

Willits is also home to classical guitar luthier Gregory Byers.

The Little Lake Election Day Shootout of 1867

Little Lake was the scene of a legendary family feud between the Frost and Coates families. The Frost family supported the South during the war, and the Coates family supported the Union. Both families were passionate in their beliefs. On October 16, 1867, Election Day, the long-running feud came to a head. A brawl turned into a shootout in front of Baechtel’s store, leaving Abraham Coates, Henry Coates, Albert Coates, Thomas Coates and Elisha Frost dead on the street. Three others were wounded.[14]

Triple Lynching of 1879

Elijah Frost, who had witnessed the death of his father in the Little Lake Election Day Shootout of 1867, grew up to be a criminal. Sentenced to four years in San Quentin Prison for horse theft, Elijah was released after serving thirty-two months. Teaming up with prison buddies Abijah Gibson and Thomas McCracken, the trio terrorized the residents of Willits, California. The men committed petty thievery, break-ins, random assaults, and senseless vandalism. They enjoyed shooting their pistols in the air while drunk and generally made a nuisance of themselves to the people of Willits. In September 1879, the trio were caught stealing a set of harnesses and were taken to Brown’s Hotel where they were put in shackles while waiting for the circuit judge to come to Willits on September 4, 1879. The townspeople were terrified that the men would be released and decided to take matters into their own hands.A meeting was held in the Willits Masonic Temple and during the early morning hours of September 4, 1879, a group of masked men seized the prisoners and marched them to the bridge on North Main Street at the base of Sherwood Road where the three men were thrown over the bridge with rocks in their pockets and their feet left dangling in the Creek, symbolic of a Masonic hanging of the Time. Their bodies dangled there until the next afternoon.[15]


Willits' location in California

2010 Census data

The 2010 United States Census[16] reported that Willits had a population of 4,888. The population density was 1,743.7 people per square mile (673.3/km²). The racial makeup of Willits was 3,862 (79.0%) White, 34 (0.7%) African American, 216 (4.4%) Native American, 68 (1.4%) Asian, 5 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 479 (9.8%) from other races, and 224 (4.6%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1,008 persons (20.6%).

The Census reported that 4,794 people (98.1% of the population) lived in households, 52 (1.1%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 42 (0.9%) were institutionalized.

There were 1,914 households, out of which 667 (34.8%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 693 (36.2%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 320 (16.7%) had a female householder with no husband present, 143 (7.5%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 163 (8.5%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 11 (0.6%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. 609 households (31.8%) were made up of individuals and 281 (14.7%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.50. There were 1,156 families (60.4% of all households); the average family size was 3.13.

The population dispersal was 1,270 people (26.0%) under the age of 18, 412 people (8.4%) aged 18 to 24, 1,191 people (24.4%) aged 25 to 44, 1,273 people (26.0%) aged 45 to 64, and 742 people (15.2%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37.8 years. For every 100 females there were 90.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.1 males. There were 2,073 housing units at an average density of 739.5 per square mile (285.5/km²), of which 843 (44.0%) were owner-occupied, and 1,071 (56.0%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 2.5%; the rental vacancy rate was 4.3%. 2,215 people (45.3% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 2,579 people (52.8%) lived in rental housing units.

2000 Census data

As of the census[18] of 2000, there were 5,073 people, 1,935 households, and 1,230 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,813.7 people per square mile (699.5/km²). There were 2,013 housing units at an average density of 719.7 per square mile (277.6/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 4,247 (83.72%) White, 32 (0.63%) African American, 179 (3.53%) Native American, 59 (1.2%) Asian, 2 (0.04%) Pacific Islander, 359 (7.08%) from other races, and 195 (3.84%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race numbered 745, or 14.69% of the population.

There were 1,935 households out of which 35.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.2% were married couples living together, 17.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.4% were non-families. 30.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.56 and the average family size was 3.15.

In the city the population dispersal was 29.2% under the age of 18, 8.5% from 18 to 24, 25.9% from 25 to 44, 22.6% from 45 to 64, and 14.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 90.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.6 males. The median income for a household in the city was $26,283, and the median income for a family was $36,193. Males had a median income of $30,983 versus $22,089 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,642. About 11.6% of families and 14.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.0% of those under age 18 and 4.3% of those age 65 or over.


Major employers in Willits include the Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital and METALfx.[19]


Willits is the eastern terminus of the California Western Railroad (otherwise known as the "Skunk Train"), running through the Coast Redwood forests to coastal Fort Bragg. The old redwood Willits Depot was built in 1915 by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific. It is registered as a National Historic Place.[20][21]

Located about 3 miles (4.8 km) northwest of the city is Willits Municipal Airport (also known as Ells Field), a public general aviation airport with one runway.

U.S. Route 101 is the major highway through Willits, passing through the city as Main Street, connecting Eureka to the north and San Francisco to the south. State Route 20 heads west, running parallel to and several miles south of the Skunk Train's route, to Fort Bragg. To reduce traffic congestion in the city, especially on US 101/Main Street, the Willits Bypass project intends to build a freeway bypass to the east of the city, but it remains controversial because the intended route will go through protected wetlands.[22]


In the state legislature, Willits is in the 2nd Senate District, represented by Democrat Mike McGuire,[23] and the 2nd Assembly District, represented by Democrat Jim Wood.[24]

Federally, Willits is in California's 2nd congressional district, represented by Democrat Jared Huffman.[25]

Sister towns

 Djibouti, Ali Sabieh

See also


  1. ^ "California Cities by Incorporation Date" (Word). California Association of  
  2. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer File - Places - California".  
  3. ^ a b c U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Willits, California
  4. ^ a b c d e f Durham, David L. (1998). California's Geographic Names: A Gazetteer of Historic and Modern Names of the State. Clovis, Calif.: Word Dancer Press. p. 168.  
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Western Regional Climate Center
  9. ^ Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  10. ^ Hogle, Gene NAC Green Book of Pacific Coast Touring (1931) National Automobile Club p.45
  11. ^
  12. ^ Lazarus, David (March 31, 2000). "A Town Diseased and Torn / Willits split on whether illnesses are due to chemicals left by shuttered plant". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  13. ^ Williams, Linda (October 12, 2012). "Remco lawsuit nearing an end". The Willits News. 
  14. ^ Secrest, William B. (2005). California Feuds: Vengeance, Vendettas and Violence on the Old West Coast. Word Dancer Press. P.121 ISBN 1-884995-42-X
  15. ^ Kulczyk, David. (2008). California Justice – Shootouts, Lynchings and Assassinations in the Golden State. Word Dancer Press. P 37 ISBN 1-884995-54-3
  16. ^ "2010 Census Interactive Population Search: CA - Willits city". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved July 12, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Historical Census Populations of Places, Towns, and Cities in California, 1850-2000". California Dept. of Finance. Retrieved 2011-11-12. 
  18. ^ "American FactFinder".  
  19. ^ Private-sector employers - Mendocino County
  20. ^ Willits Depot
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Caltrans Ordered to Stop Work on Willits Bypass".  
  23. ^ "Senators". State of California. Retrieved March 10, 2013. 
  24. ^ "Members Assembly". State of California. Retrieved March 2, 2013. 
  25. ^ "California's 2nd Congressional District - Representatives & District Map". Civic Impulse, LLC. Retrieved March 1, 2013. 

External links

  • Official website
  • Willits Chamber of Commerce
  • Willits High School
  • California Western Railroad - "The Skunk Train"
  • Mendocino County Museum
  • Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation - tours of Ridgewood Ranch
  • Roots of Motive Power Locomotive Museum
  • Willits Library
  • Article discussing high rate of cancer in residents of Willits due to hexavalent chromium poisoning by Remco/Abex
  • Wente Scout Reservation
  • Welcome to Willits
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