Prior to private settlement of the area, the north spit at the entrance to Humboldt Bay was used by a series of Federal government projects including the 1851 to 1892 Humboldt Harbor Light, in 1862, a prisoner of war camp for Native Americans captured in the Bald Hills War, the Humboldt Bay Life-Saving Station in 1878, and the stonemason finishing yard and transshipment point for foundation stones for the St. George Reef Light from 1883 to 1891 at Paysonville.
The nongovernmental settlement was known as Brownsville, after James Henry Brown a dairy farmer who settled his ranch on the present site of Samoa in 1865. James Brown was the first permanent white settler on the north peninsula of Humboldt Bay. He was born in Quincy, Illinois, in 1830 and came to Humboldt county in 1853, until a group of Eureka businessmen formed the Samoa Land and Improvement Company in 1889. Vance Lumber Company purchased the Humboldt Bay frontage from Samoa Land and Improvement Company for construction of a large sawmill in 1892. Eureka and Klamath River Railroad was chartered in 1893 to connect the Samoa sawmill and associated worker housing facilities to the city of Arcata and timberlands near the Mad River. The Samoa sawmill was the largest in Humboldt County when purchased by Andrew B. Hammond in 1900. The Samoa post office opened in 1894.
A sash and door factory was added to the mill complex by 1909, and the company was reorganized as the Hammond Lumber Company in 1912. Hammond Lumber Company built an emergency shipyard during World War I, and seven wooden steam-ships were built at Samoa between 1917 and 1919. Hammond Lumber Company railroads brought logs and lumber to Samoa from Little River and Big Lagoon until the railway trestles were destroyed by wildfire in 1945.
Georgia-Pacific Corporation purchased the Samoa sawmill complex in 1956 and began operation of a plywood mill in 1958. A modern sawmill replaced the original sawmill facilities in 1964. A pulp mill began operation in 1965. Some of the older worker housing was razed during construction of modern mill facilities, but the Samoa Cookhouse was preserved. The Samoa mill complex was transferred to Louisiana-Pacific Corporation during a Federal Trade Commission action initiated in 1972 The last old-growth timber was milled in 1980, and the area was set for sale in 2001.