|Christine Churchill, owner of the Country Inn Bed & Breakfast in Fort Bragg, with her pet rooster Thumper|
While Thumper will never appear on a breakfast plate, his sisters’ eggs are a regular feature. Churchill began raising chickens behind the inn about a year ago. She started with just a few and then as she says, “It snowballed.”
|Fresh eggs from the inn's brood of hens|
But by the time Churchill discovered he was a rooster, she was already too attached. His 4:00 a.m. crow would be an unwelcome wake-up call for her guests, so she used her background in music and a sprinkle of ingenuity to build a soundproof roost for her beloved pet. Now each evening, Churchill carries Thumper inside, they watch a little T.V. together, and then he settles into his soundproof box where he can crow his head off without waking anybody up.
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|Country Inn Bed & Breakfast from North Main Street|
|Adirondack chairs on the front porch of the inn|
When I last visited Fort Bragg a decade ago, the mill’s whirring saw blades and piercing whistles had already been silent for three years. For this blue-collar town of 7,000 with deep roots in the lumber industry, the closure of the mill was devastating. A number of storefronts lining downtown were shuttered. The 400-plus-acre oceanfront lumber mill site sat in ghostly ruins: a bleak landscape of rusting rail cars and abandoned buildings with broken windows and peeling paint. The beautiful coastal bluffs lining the former mill site stood far out of reach, fenced-off from the public.
But when I visited again on a bright sunny day in June, change seemed to brewing. I noticed new shops, galleries, and restaurants had sprung up in downtown. A First Friday Art Walk showcases the work of local artists. The North Coast Brewing Company Tap Room now hosts touring jazz musicians on Friday and Saturday nights for its “Jazz at the Sequoia Room” series. Young new owners of an old local watering hole and landmark, the Golden West Saloon, had recently restored and reopened the bar, where they serve great cocktails with an authentic, old logging-town vibe.
Hilary White grew up in Fort Bragg and moved away for college, but was drawn back by the beauty of her hometown. She bought a women’s lingerie boutique, Understuff, two years ago and has slowly transformed the shop into a destination. She’s introduced new lines and new innovations in women’s lingerie and caters to a generation of women who never had a bra fitting. She has out-of-town clients who make the trek to Fort Bragg annually just to buy their bras. Describing the young merchants who are cultivating some of the changes around town, she said “We’re moving back and making it into the town where we want to live.”
|The view from Fort Bragg's newly-opened Coastal Trail|
|Pudding Creek Trestle at MacKerricher State Park|
A southern segment of the Coastal Trail, which begins at Noyo Point Road at the mouth of the harbor and extends to the south side of Soldier Bay, is due to be completed later this year. Completion of a central portion connecting the two trails is pending remediation of hazardous substances on the old mill site, but is expected to be finished in 2017 or 2018.
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The new trailhead at Glass Beach is just four blocks from the Country Inn Bed & Breakfast. Churchill pointed the way from the front porch of the inn while holding a baby bantam chicken. The inn’s close proximity to attractions like Glass Beach was a large part of the appeal when Churchill and mother Kathleen purchased the inn three years ago.
As Bay Area residents, they had always vacationed in Mendocino County. Then as Churchill’s mother was approaching retirement, they kicked around the notion buying a house on the north coast. They drove up to look at real estate, stayed at a B&B, and later joked in front of the realtor about wanting to buy a B&B of their own. He took them far more seriously than they intended and showed them the Country Inn Bed & Breakfast.
|The remodeled bath for Chantilly|
The 1890s vintage inn, built with virgin redwood timbers, had potential. It was located right on Highway One—the main drag running through town—and could easily attract drive-by traffic. It was just blocks from downtown shops and restaurants and many of Fort Bragg’s attractions including the Skunk Train, the Guest House Museum, and of course, Glass Beach and what would become the new Coastal Trail.
Churchill quit her job, and she and her mom moved up to begin the work of restoring the inn. Upon arrival, they promptly dumped three-quarters of the inn’s furniture. They painted over unsightly wallpaper and 1970s-era wood paneling. They’ve been modernizing the bathrooms, including adding low-flow toilets, which Churchill and her mom installed themselves. “Old houses need a lot of work. You learn to be superwoman,” said Churchill. “We’re gradually making it our own, but we’re still in the process of updating.”
|Guest room furnishings for Autumn Song|
|The hot tub is nestled on a private redwood deck|
Breakfast and the hens’ fresh eggs are star attractions for the inn. The morning of my stay, Churchill made a hearty breakfast of eggs Florentine with roasted potatoes, sausage, fruit, and freshly-baked scones with her signature lemon curd. Other specialties include eggs Benedict, quiche Lorraine, huevos rancheros with jalapeno hush puppies, bananas foster French toast stuffed with mascarpone, roasted asparagus with poached eggs and a Meyer lemon hollandaise, and lemon ricotta pancakes with fresh strawberries and lemon curd. Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan and other dietary restrictions are happily accommodated upon request. Breakfast is served at a communal table in two seatings: 8:15 or 9:15 a.m., or you can opt to have breakfast delivered to your room for a nominal charge.
Standing at the ocean’s edge, I turned and looked east, back toward town across the vast grassy fields and the abandoned remains of the old mill. While the land is still privately owned and mired in battles over environmental clean-up, it seemed it's only a matter of time before the wasteland between the edge of town and the coast will be redeveloped. Fort Bragg has finally reclaimed its coastline and the city seems poised for the next axe to fall. The momentum for redefining Fort Bragg is gaining ground.
The Country Inn Bed & Breakfast
632 North Main Street
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
Tel: 707.964.3737 or 800.831.5327