Fortuna (formerly, Slide, Springville, Fortune) is a city in western-central Humboldt County, California, United States. The population was 10,497 at the 2000 census. The city lies on the northeast shore of the Eel River (approximately 9 miles (14 km) from where it enters the Pacific Ocean), and is on U.S. Route 101.
The settlement was originally called "Slide", for Slide Hill, in 1874. Named for the slide that was a fixture on the northeast side of the Eel River and the southwest portion of Christian Ridge just to the northwestern edge of town. But, in 1875, the name was changed to "Springville" during the construction of the Springville Mill, a lumber and saw mill for the nearby redwood forests, named so because of the numerous springs in the area. The mill was being built by the Springville Mill Company, and its owners Henry Rohner (namesake of neighboring Rohnerville), Alexander Masson, M. N. Weber and G. F. Gushaw. Springville was originally a company town (belonging to the Springville Mill) and the few people that resided there all worked for the mill. By the late 1870s, Springville was large enough to warrant a post office, but there already existed a town called Springville (then in Ventura County) in the state of California. The post office was named Slide on May 24, 1876. In 1884 the residents petitioned the state legislature for the name of "Fortuna", Spanish for "fortune" and Latin for "chance", and by July 3, 1888 the name was changed to Fortuna.
The name was chosen when settlers saw the proximity of the forests, the river and its valley, and the Pacific Ocean, as ideal for enjoying the quality of life, and felt "fortunate" to live there. It is believed that a local minister and real estate agent, wanting to sell lots to newcomers, came up with the name as a marketing gimmick.
Electricity came to Fortuna in 1883 when W. J. Swortzel and George W. Williams (Swortzel & Williams), owners of the Springville Mill Company, built a $4,000 power plant. Some of the local saw mills already had electric power, and by providing power to the mills, Swortzel & Williams saw the opportunity to also provide inexpensive electric lighting to the people of the town. The town was incorporated on February 20, 1906, and because of the Eel River became known for its excellent agricultural in vegetable crops, berries and fruits, and for the fresh fish from the river. Although agricultural was expanding, the lumber industry is what started the town and would continue as the main source of local income for some time.
Rohnerville (formerly Eel River Township), a town started to service miners looking for gold was competing with Fortuna to be the leading township in the area. The miners would come by ship to Eureka, and then head up the Eel River to the junction with the Van Duzen River, where the miners headed east up the Van Duzen River Valley in into Trinity County. Rohnerville was at this junction and looked to proper on selling supplies to the miners. But, when the Northwestern Pacific Railroad chose to put their station in neighboring Fortuna, it set both towns fate.
The Northwestern Pacific Railroad came to Fortuna in the 1890s, and now lumber and agriculture products could head south to San Francisco and north to Eureka with greater ease, and people could come in to town looking for work. Fortuna became the rail hub for smaller communities like Alton, Fernbridge, Ferndale, Hydesville, Newburg, Port Kenyon, Rohnerville, and Waddington.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.8 square miles (12.5 km²), all of it land.
Fortuna is located seven miles (11 km) from the Pacific coast within the Eel River Valley of Humboldt County in Northwest California. The community is affected by coastal weather patterns with the Pacific Ocean to the west. Fortuna is served by Hwy 101 providing direct access to San Francisco 253 miles (407 km) to the south and to Eureka (County Seat) 14 miles (23 km) to the north. The western terminus of Hwy 36 intersects Hwy 101 one-mile (1.6 km) south of the city limits. Fortuna is surrounded by National, State and County Redwood parks, and is the gateway to the Sequoia Giant Redwood forests of Northern California. Sequoia sempervirens grow as high as a 30-story building and live to be 2,500 years old. It is humbling to stand in a redwood grove cathedral and realize these trees were alive when the Romans ruled the world. The 33-mile (53 km) Avenue of the Giants drive offers one of the most spectacular views of the Redwoods as it brings visitors through grove after grove. Stops include Founders Grove, the Visitor Center near Weott and several places that provide trail access.
As of the census of 2000, there were 10,497 people, 4,185 households, and 2,778 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,179.9 people per square mile (840.9/km²). There were 4,414 housing units at an average density of 916.7/sq mi (353.6/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 88.39% White, 0.45% Black or African American, 2.91% Native American, 0.97% Asian, 0.17% Pacific Islander, 3.95% from other races, and 3.16% from two or more races. 10.45% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 4,185 households out of which 31.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.6% were married couples living together, 12.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.6% were non-families. 28.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.45 and the average family size was 2.98.
In the city the population was spread out with 26.0% under the age of 18, 8.6% from 18 to 24, 25.7% from 25 to 44, 22.3% from 45 to 64, and 17.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.8 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $31,129, and the median income for a family was $38,867. Males had a median income of $32,414 versus $23,327 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,574. About 12.1% of families and 17.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.8% of those under age 18 and 4.6% of those age 65 or over.
In the state legislature Fortuna is located in the 2nd Senate District, represented by Democrat Pat Wiggins, and in the 1st Assembly District, represented by Democrat Patty Berg. Federally, Fortuna is located in California's 1st congressional district.
Along with being known as "Sunny Fortuna" because of its Mediterranean climate, the City is also famous for its events and festivals. The local citizenry and visitors to Fortuna enjoy a large number of outdoor festivals including the Annual Fortuna Rodeo. Its most widely attended event is the yearly paean to chrome and sheet metal, the Redwood AutoXpo, a car show fueled by vintage rock ‘n’ roll, pink poodle skirts, white bobby socks, sunglasses and cars. The name of the show was originally Fortuna Redwood Autorama but was changed by the organization due to a trademark issue.
The Eel River is the locale for the Paddle to the Headwaters canoe race. Other festivals and events include the Logging Competition, Civil War Days, and Apple Harvest. Spring brings the Daffodil Festival; Art & Wine in the Park happens in early summer.
The Hops in Humboldt festival rounds out August, preceding an eight-performance event of the Fortuna Concert Series which continues through the winter and spring. These professional musical programs feature local groups and individuals, as well as nationally and internationally known performers. The programming includes classical, jazz, folk, ethnic, vocal and instrumental music.