Today, Anchor Bay is a wide spot in the road located on Highway One a few miles north of Gualala, but over the centuries it was part of the stage on which was acted out a microcosm of the conquest of the North American continent by Europeans. Anchor Bay was the homeland of the Pomo Indian Tribe prior to the arrival of the intruders in the nineteenth century. Very little has been written about the Pomo people, but it would appear that they were a very peaceful people easily pushed aside by a succession of immigrants to include Russians, Spanish, Mexicans and Americans.
Even though Spanish galleons were plying the waters just offshore for several centuries, a rough coastline combined with difficult weather patterns forced European sailing ships to avoid landing except in dire emergency. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed along the coast and may have landed briefly early in the sixteenth century, Sir Francis Drake is known to have landed along the coast later in the same century, and Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeno was forced ashore somewhere in the general region at the end of the century. These landings are thought to have all been made south of Anchor Bay, but they mark the European discovery of the region in the sixteenth century. All of the major powers in Europe took an interest in what was to become northern California, but the principal players early on were Spain and Russia.
For a number of reasons Spain, which claimed the region, did not occupy it north of the San Francisco Bay Area. This left the Anchor Bay region open to penetration by others. Early in the nineteenth century Alexandr Baranov began sending Aleut fur hunters down the coast of North America from the Russian Fur Trading capital in Sitka Alaska. Ivan Kuskov established an important Russian trading post at Fort Ross in 1812. A small bay like Anchor Bay would have been an ideal way-station for these hardy men. A small bay sheltered south of a jut of land was sufficient anchorage for the small ships and kayaks that they utilized in their pursuit of otter and seal. There was fresh water available in back of an easily approached beach and the bay was full of fish. The fish not only fed the men but also attracted the seals. Below the surface the sea floor was covered with abalone and sea urchins. There was almost certainly a profusion of sea otter, which was the principal objective of the Russian fur hunters.
By the second decade of the nineteenth century the Anchor Bay area had been hunted out and the Russian and Aleut intruders had left, leaving the Pomo people in peace, but in 1844 the Mexican government awarded Rafael Garcia a land grant that stretched from the Gualala River north to the vicinity of present day Elk and thus included Anchor Bay. The Garcia grant was part of a belated effort by the Mexican government to thwart the piecemeal invasion of California by emigrants from the then expansionist United States. Garcia made an effort to establish a cattle ranch in the area, but was not particularly successful in keeping Americans out. In 1848 California was incorporated into the United States and in 1855 squatters began occupying the Anchor Bay area. In 1858 Garcia sold out to Jose Leandro Luco who, in turn, sold parts of his land to settlers who had come to the area from all over Europe via the eastern United States.
Early U.S. shipping records refer to the Anchor Bay area as Fish Rock. (Today the name lingers on as the name of an important local byroad and a prominent island just offshore.) Following the discovery of gold in the Sierras in 1848 the sleepy community of Yerba Buena exploded into the boom town that was San Francisco. San Francisco needed construction materials and the region north of it was one vast redwood forest appearing to offer an endless supply of lumber. On May 13, 1861, Mark T. Smith was given the right to construct a wharf at Fish Rock. A lumber mill was constructed in Fish Rock gulch (where the Anchor Bay Campground is now located). In 1866 E.J. Stevens built a lumber chute in order to facilitate the loading of small coastal schooners plying the coast north of San Francisco. The masters of these schooners had little regard for the various bays, harbors and ports that they were forced to use and it was said that these breaks in the forbidding coastline were so small that even a dog would have a hard time turning around in them - hence the name "dog hole schooner."
The community that grew up around the lumber mill and the bay was called Fish Rock and it sprawled around the gulch leading down to the beach. In addition to lumber, the area produced bricks (from clay mined in the vicinity of present day Mar Vista Cottages). The community contained a general store (which was the predecessor of present day Anchor Bay Store) as well as the usual hostels and drinking emporiums. By the time of the First World War the lumber and brick business had died out and Fish Rock had disintegrated into a collapsing huddle of wooden structures. About this time Dave Barry purchased "the Meagher place" south of the gulch and began calling the bay Anchor Bay. A few years after the war William S. Pierce retired from the United Fruit and Pacific Mail Lines and established his family on a farm in what is now known as Enchanted Meadows. In 1924 he took over the operation of the Anchor Bay Store and the following year he expanded his holdings to include Anchor Bay Campground and what is now known as St Orres Place.
Following the Second World War, Norman Pierce enlarged the Anchor Bay Campground and built the tiny town of Anchor Bay on the bluff overlooking the bay. In 1953 he added a gas station (today operated as an equipment rental shop) to service the increasing number of automobiles traversing the coast and rebuilt the town using cement block materials. These structures are unusual along the coast and give the westernmost block of structures a unique character. In 1969 Pierce sold his holdings and moved to Nevada. In the years following, Anchor Bay became a residential community centered on small family farms. It is said that bootleggers frequented the secluded bay during prohibition. Today, one sometimes sees commercial fishing boats off shore in Anchor Bay in the evening, but the best libations are today found in the restaurants and the wine section of the Anchor Bay Store.