Glass Beach is situated in the northern section of Noyo Headlands Park in the community of Fort Bragg, which is between Pudding Creek to the north and Noyo River to the south, about 95 miles (153 km) south-southeast of Eureka and 10 miles (16 km) north of Mendocino, California. The beach is named for an abundance of sea glass created from a historical garbage dump containing glass bottles that were shattered in the ocean surf, and the shards were rolled and tumbled for many years until the pieces became rounded and frosted by sand scouring. The bedrock underlying the area represents the Franciscan Complex that developed during the late Mesozoic and consists of greywacke sandstones, shales and conglomerates which have experienced low-grade metamorphism. These rocks are covered by marine terrace deposits that formed during the Pleistocene and extend for approximately 50 miles (80 km) along the coast between Rockport to the north and Point Arena to the south and inland from 0.2 miles (0.3 km) to about 5 miles (8 km). The marine terraces occur as a series of up to 5 benches or steps, composed of sediments derived from the underlying bedrock, mostly well-sorted, fine to coarse sand, and range in thickness from 1 to 140 feet (0.3-43 m). The sequence of terraces is called an ecological staircase because each step represents a different period of soil development supporting different plant communities.
Present-day Fort Bragg is near the boundary between the traditional territories of the Coast Yuki people to the north and the Northern Pomo people to the south. Despite speaking different languages, the Northern Pomo were in regular contact with the Coast Yuki, with whom they shared rights to hunting and gathering food. Both tribes were hunter-gatherers that relied heavily on salmon, shellfish such as mussels, and sea mammals for food. In the early 1800s, Spanish missionaries and Euro-American explorers introduced diseases that quickly decimated tribal populations. Settlers created conflicts with the tribes over land use and in 1856, the Mendocino Indian Reservation was established on 25,000 acres (10,117 ha) north of the Noyo River. In 1857, Fort Bragg was founded on the reservation and named after Captain Braxton Bragg, a Mexican-American War veteran. Within ten years, the reservation and military outpost were abandoned after the tribal population decreased from several thousand to just 280, mostly from disease, opportunities for work in other areas, and violent encounters. The remaining Native peoples were relocated to the Round Valley Reservation and the land around the fort was sold to settlers and several sawmills were built.
Timber development in the area boomed in 1885 when Union Lumber Company built a large sawmill and developed plans for a city that could serve as a hub for shipping mill products and housing loggers and their families. The community of Fort Bragg was incorporated in 1889. Union Lumber acquired the California Western Railroad and partnered with the National Steamship Company to export forest products and import manufactured goods. In 1906, Fort Bragg established an official town garbage dump which was moved to a new location in 1943. When this site was filled another dump was started in 1949 and closed in 1967, becoming present-day Glass Beach. In 1972, Georgia-Pacific Corporation acquired the mill and remained the region’s major employer until 2002 when the mill was closed. Fort Bragg is redeveloping 430 acres (174 ha) of the mill site as Noyo Headlands Park including providing coastal access, constructing a coastal trail and park facilities, site remediation and wetlands restoration, and construction of an educational and research center. Various cleanup programs were undertaken, and all the metal was eventually removed and sold as scrap or used in art. Read more here and here. Explore more of Glass Beach and Noyo Headlands Park here: