FERNDALE, Calif. — The grass is always green in Ferndale. Every year the soggy soil is doused with an average of about 43 inches of rainfall. Drought is rarely a problem here and that’s why it makes for ideal grazing land for dairy cows.
Ferndale is a dairy town. It always has been and probably always will be. When gold brought a rush of people to California in the 1840s, Ferndale’s butterfat fed them, and it wasn’t long before the dairymen started innovating and inventing.
Ferndale was the first town in California to have milk trucks, and was the birthplace of powdered milk and came up with different ways to process it.
Historian and Chamber of Commerce Member Paul Beatie said the dairymen of Ferndale became wealthy and they started building what came to be called “butterfat palaces.”
“Lumber was cheap, and egos were big so they started building these butterfat palaces,” said Beatie.
In Ferndale, a butterfat palace is a Victorian-style home or business laced with an exorbitant amount of what’s called, "gingerbread."
“Like the doilies and stuff--all that woodworking trim. The 'dental work' is the stuff that looks like teeth,” said Beatie.
That gingerbread, or fancy house trim, became a status symbol. Wealthy dairymen competed to build the best butterfat palace, and today you will find them all over town.
Ferndale is on the National Register of Historic Places and because it is so well-preserved, Hollywood loves to make movies here. Like the 1995 film "Outbreak" starring Dustin Hoffman, or the 2001 film "The Majestic" starring Jim Carrey.
Ferndale is also home to cook and TV host Guy Fieri, who actually owns and maintains two buildings in town.
"Guy Fieri grew up here. His first job was at the meat market and he’s been giving back to the community ever since he made it big,” said Beatie.
If you come the first week in December, you can witness the lighting of America's tallest living Christmas tree. The Sitka spruce stands just over 162 feet tall and is a Christmas beacon that can be seen for miles.
“Coeur d’Alene, Idaho thought they had the tallest Christmas tree, but they killed it by leaving the lights on all the time,” said Beatie.
Want to listen to some music? Head over to the Old Steeple. Beatie and his wife converted this old red church into a music hall and community space. While you are there be sure and admire the stained glass. Each window was recently dismantled and restored.
“There are 20 windows with 4,520 pieces of glass,” Beatie said.
Finally, a trip to Ferndale would not be complete without stopping by the fairgrounds and paying respects to some of the prize-winning cows that made this town prosperous.
Ferndale is town full of history, architecture and a few oddities. If you don’t mind a little rain, it’s well worth a visit.