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Susie Baker Fountain - Arcata Historian

by: Katy Knight

Perhaps the first manifestation of her interest in Humboldt County history was exhibited when she and a girl friend presumably wrote notes, signed them Bret Hate, then stuffed them between the studs in the attic of an old Victorian house. They were confident that posterity would thereby be able to solve the mystery of just which house it was that Bret Harte actually lived in while serving for a short time in Union, later renamed Arcata, as a printer's devil on The Northern Californian.. But if this were true, this impish side of her personality served to belie the fact that Susie Baker Fountain was a serious scholarly historian, lauded as Humboldt's most accurate, having left on her retirement, the most definitive records available of the people, houses, sites and events of the county, to the Humboldt State University Library.

The Baker family arrived in Blue Lake, from Nebraska, in the summer of 1912, where they purchased the Henry House. Susie's father, Leon Baker, established a hardware store. When fall arrived, Susie returned to Lincoln to complete her senior year and to graduate in mathematics from the University of Nebraska, the only girl graduating with the Class of 1913. Shortly thereafter, in 1914, she returned to Blue Lake and enrolled in the then new Humboldt Normal School, a two year teacher's college, now Humboldt State University.

Having already graduated, she received her teaching credential the first year, 1915, the only student so honored, as her classmates required an additional year to acquire the same. Until she moved form the county, she would continue to accept invitations to be honored and introduced as Humboldt's first graduate, yet always once so acknowledged, deny that she was a graduate of Humboldt State College, indicating that she indeed had previously earned her degree from the University of Nebraska, an accomplishment of which she was most proud.

And again when often referred to as Mrs. Susan Fountain, the feisty, pixie-like lady would insist that she had been christened Susie and would like to be so addressed.

Bustling and talkative, Susie was a small, round lady, assertive, with a delightful sense of humor. She was warm, a good friend, one who often mailed clippings to those she felt might want to share her latest finds. She would inspire confidence in others by soliciting their advice or their help, while feigning helplessness and innocence in herself. Her five children and her dentist husband, Eugene, came first. As a loving, caring mother and wife, never did she confuse only cooking and cleaning with motherhood, but went about teaching her children the steps toward obtaining independence and academic excellence, and then off she would go to her historic haven, investigating people and places. Her family was her love; history her obsession.

After the tragic death of a young son, Susie, her husband, and their four children moved from their Arcata home, 1625 I Street, back to the Baker House in Blue Lake. There Susie converted one of the large Victorian rooms into her private library, and there she stored and filed clippings, notes, and documents. She could often be seen at the county courthouse in Eureka, painstakingly reviewing each recorder's book, finding facts and clues ultimately enabling her to document building dates of every building in Humboldt County. Always the champion of the cause of updating the accuracy of written local history, her own notes were interspersed with possibly, only rumored, or non-documented. Often she would agree to whitewash family data by omitting the more embarrassing in return for vital information available only from descendants of that particular family. But though she published only the positive facts about specific people, she was not divorced from including some of the more racy items, such as the location of the houses of the ladies of the evening, about her community.

The Arcata Union often printed her column and The Early Days of Humboldt was a regular feature of The Blue Lake Advocate. In 1957 it won the coveted Bronze Medal in the Top Story Class at the California State Fair and Exposition awarded at that time by Governor Goodwin Knight. In 1967 she was the first recipient of the President's Distinguished Service Award, presented by Humboldt State University President Cornelius Siemens. She was president of the Humboldt Historical Society, vice-president of the Clarke Museum board of directors, was recognized by the Huntington Library and was a privileged member of the California Historical Society.

In keeping with her giving personality, Susie, before she moved with her husband in 1966 to Berkeley to live nearer their children, very generously donated her entire collection of papers, including the personal letters, handwritten notes and clippings, as well as bibliographical sketches and maps indicating who lived in each house on a particular year, to the university library.

Historians to this day consider Susie's works to be the most comprehensive source of historical information available concerning Humboldt County families and sites. Many others will remember her as a fine lady, a good, caring and generous friend, often referred to as Humboldt's own Historian Laureate.

© Katy Knight
Original photos obtained from June Baker Fountain upon the occasion of this article in the Arcata Historical Sites newsletter.
Two photos:Young Susie and Dr. And Mrs. Fountain digitally repaired by Sally Everding of the Blackberry Bramble Network.
Digitized and html by Joyce Farruggia for the Blackberry Bramble Network Permission to use for non-profit purposes only.
Last Updated 12-23-95