DUNCANS MILLS TODAY
Just a minute's drive west on River Road from Cazadero Highway and three miles inland from the ocean coast, Duncans Mills, population 75, once revolved around redwood lumber mills operated by Samuel and Alexander Duncan in the late 1800s. In 1877, the North Pacific Gauge Railroad completed its tracks to Duncans Mills and hauled out much of the redwood lumber used to build San Francisco. Redwood was also transported south by ship.
For a while, Duncans Mills was a lively destination for Bay Area tourists who traveled to the town via two daily passenger trains. During its heyday, the town had four hotels, restaurants and a saloon to accommodate visitors. Starting in the 1920s, the increased popularity of the automobile began to diminish the number of train riders. As this trend continued, Duncans Mills began to decline and it eventually fell into disrepair. The last train rolled out of the town in 1935.
Fortunately for modern day visitors, this was not the end of the town. Duncans Mills has been restored to closely match its earlier appearance and it's easy to imagine a train chugging into town with a load of city slickers from San Francisco. The railroad depot has been turned into a museum with exhibits of tools, historic photographs, railroad memorabilia and items from Duncans Mills sawmills, with a few historic rail cars standing outside.
Most of the other buildings have been revived as shops, galleries or restaurants that make browsing in Duncans Mills an enjoyable experience. There is a charming general store with deli, a terrific wine and cheese tasting shop (with a Friday evening “happy hour“) as well as numerous gift shops and galleries. Cape Fear is a wonderful restaurant, popular with locals and visitors alike. Across the road, there is a great pizza restaurant with outdoor patio, coffee shop with bakery, and the Blue Heron, a restaurant and bar, with live entertainment.