The first known inhabitants of this region, the Sinkyone people, hunted, fished, gathered food, and lived sustainably among Richardson Grove’s ancient redwoods, which they considered sacred. These Athabascan-speaking people trained their dogs to drive game toward waiting hunters. Both men and women were basket makers. Today’s Sinkyone descendants maintain cultural and spiritual ties to the Grove.
The first recorded settler in the area, Kentuckian Ruben Reed, bought land on the South Fork of Eel River in the late 1860s. His brother and their widowed father homesteaded 160 acres, now part of the park. In the early 1900s Henry Devoy bought Reed’s land; Devoy leased the redwood grove in 1920 to Edwin Freeman, who built a store, a dining room, and cabins at the site of today’s visitor center.
In 1922, Save the Redwoods League, concerned about the potential destruction of the trees by highway construction and logging, persuaded the state to acquire 120 acres of the redwood grove. Between 1922 and 1932, Freeman operated the new park as a concession and lobbied to name the park for Governor Friend W. Richardson. The Richardson Grove Lodge, which is now the visitor center, was built between 1928 and 1930. In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began building campgrounds, picnic facilities, trails, water systems, and restrooms in the main grove.
Periodic flooding of the Eel River, particularly during the floods of 1955 and 1964, damaged the CCC-built facilities. In February 1986, the river again overflowed its banks, destroying the campfire center and picnic area. Later, new facilities were built outside of the main grove. Today, only the visitor center remains in the main grove, lessening the human impact on its fragile ecosystem.