Willits is a small town (4,888 people in the 2011 census) located on California State Highway 101 about twenty miles north of Ukiah. It claims to be the "Heart of Mendocino County" and the "Gateway to the Redwoods." Before the arrival of Anglo-Europeans, it was home to Pomo Indians. Hiram Willits arrived in 1857 and the community that grew up was originally called Willitsville. A post office was established in 1861 and the name was changed to Little Lake. In 1874 it was changed to Willits.
As modern rail transportation routes emerged in the later part of the nineteenth century, Willits became an important stop on the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, which connected San Francisco (Sausalito) in the south with Eureka (Samoa) in the north. Today, most railroad buffs know Willits as the eastern terminus of the Skunk Railroad (California Western Railroad). This rail line was built in 1885 with the primary purpose of hauling giant redwood logs from the interior coastal forests to the very large lumber mill on the coast at Fort Bragg. When the Northwestern Pacific Railroad was built, the Skunk was extended to connect with it at Willits (1911). The Skunk continues to operate today as a "heritage railroad" and tourists can ride part way, one way, or round trip to the western terminus in Fort Bragg. Today, Highway 101 continues the importance of Willits as a transportation hub as it passes (slowly) through the center of town.
As is the case in most communities, residents are proud of those among their neighbors who have attained public recognition. Old timers note that Black Bart robbed a couple of stage coaches in the vicinity of town. Willits is the resting place of the most famous race horse of all time - Seabiscuit. Several regionally important musicians and artists have lived in Willits at various points in their lives. The local community lists a number of prominent people as having lived in Willits including Judi Bari, a controversial environmental activist who worked to save the remaining old growth redwoods from logging in the later part of the twentieth century.