The Town of Hornbrook
08/25/2017 11:00AM ● Published by Gary VanDeWalker
By Gary VanDeWalker
Photos by Taryn Burkleo
As the lanes of Interstate 5 weave their way to the Siskiyou Summit, they pass through a small, quiet valley, where rolling hills cradle a town which breathes the voices of its past. A painted cattle guard marks the pavement, drawing visitors into the wispy past and present of the town of Hornbrook.
The California and Oregon Railroad came through this valley in 1887, where a Native American village once prospered. A town grew up around the tracks, named Cottonwood, after the creek which still runs through the town. However, when the post office was established, the name Cottonwood was already taken, so the area was renamed Hornbrook, after David Horn whose ranch was at the mouth of the creek.
As the two lanes meander into town from the freeway, cows watch with their heads leaning over barbed wire fences. Earlier pioneers and those who came after them rest in the Henley-Hornbrook Cemetery. A nearby home is joined by a tall water tower, whose container is cracked and empty, but echoes of days when it supplied water to the home.
Once this mountain village was busy with activity. The railroad depot had an active roundhouse and switchyard. A large saloon hosted dancing and social events. Horses and buggies lined up along a hitching rack. Walnut trees shaded a band stand. Ranchers and cowboys populated the streets and life moved swift as the town grew. South of town, when the trains were frequent, a hobo camp sprang up. Along these same tracks, in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson stopped and signed the American Legion charter. Herds of deer wandered through the ranch land, while the creek filled with fish.
Passing through the neighborhoods of Hornbrook, there is an ethereal threading of the past between the homes of its current families. A yellow painted church is now a home. The downtown is marked with buildings from its western past, waiting by themselves to see if they will be filled again. One house leans sharply to the south, empty and waiting to rest on the ground. A concrete shell of what was once a two-storied structure strives to remember its history.
In decades past, The T. Jones Company operated in a large brick building. The butcher and barber kept their doors open during the week. The Waldon Brothers Dry Goods Store did a brisk business. The D.C. Earhart Hardware Store kept the town repaired and building, along with the Post Office and Telephone Exchange inside its walls. The Livery Stable burned and was replaced by the Hornbrook Garage and the newly acquired automobiles of the residents.
The town is dotted with grassy fields, filled with cattle, horses and hay bales. Weathered barns and homes with no paint show the years which have passed. Tractors and farm equipment rust with grace alongside the road and homes, giving an antique feel to the community.
The small town of Klamathon arose, bringing a saw mill, box factory and door factory to the valley. This created a rival community which in 1902 disappeared in a fire. A few decades after, a fire swept through Hornbook, and much of where the city had grown was left to weeds, and the valley entered a quieter phase.
Today, Hornbrook is home to a California Department of Forestry station, and the highway offramp brings people to a gas station and convenience store. Yet between the rolling hills, the same winds from a century ago move the branches of Ponderosa pine over the 268 residents. The same mountains watch and the same creek flows. Here, time moves forward and yet holds all that is past.