Thanks to “Abhorrent in Albion” for the inspiration for this article (what a moniker, maybe not hiding your identity would be better than labeling yourself as abhorrent?). I often struggle to find topics to write about, but thanks to Abhorrent I was inspired to interview my 90-year-old cousin, Joe, for the ridge and family history below.
A little background; my family came to this area in the early 1900s — I found a census record for 1905 from when they lived on the ranch on Greenwood Ridge. My father, Francis, was born in 1905, not quite the youngest of nine children, two of whom did not survive infancy. My grandparents emigrated from Germany — my grandmother, Anna, for whom I’m named, from Cologne (Koln) and my grandfather, Louis, from Kaysersburg, in what today is France. So, yes, I am indeed rooted in this community.
My family acquired a large piece of land atop what was then called Cold Springs Mountain in 1946 or 1947, when my cousin was 16. He and my father found the property for sale for $5,000 for the 350-400 acres. At the time the land was covered with “virgin timber” that was described as “not worth cutting.” $5,000 being a lot of money at that time, my father and cousin reached out to other family members and friends to partner up and buy the place. The intent was to make it a hunting club — to this day some of them still call it “the club.” There were ten “shares” and ten partners: my cousin, Joe, his father, Joe Sr., my father, Francis, my uncle Tony and several family friends — Slim Fowler, Rex and Halsey McCart, Ray Guthridge, Ray Salou and Fred Lieke. (I may have misspelled one or two of those, but that’s the best we could do). Slim was an old family friend who met my uncle Tony while living in the same boarding house in San Francisco, Rex was a cop in Vallejo, where Joe grew up, and Ray Guthridge was his good friend. Ray Salou was the brother-in-law of Slim.
About ten years after the purchase, timber prices started to rise. Neither my father nor my cousin, Joe, wanted to cut the timber, but the other partners did. They entered a five-year contract where they got $10.00/thousand board feet for redwood and $4.50/tbf for the Douglas fir. Joe can’t remember the exact amount of timber, but he thinks it was around 7 million board feet. Unfortunately for the partners, by the end of the five years, redwood prices had gone up to $80.00, but they never saw that. A side story to this was that Rex and Halsey McCart had another brother, Armand, who had been gold mining up in Alaska but decided to come down and work in the woods during the timber harvest. He should have stayed in Alaska; he was crushed to death by a falling tree on his first day on the job.
Along the way, the partners added to the property up on Signal Ridge, buying a total of eleven 40s to bring the total acreage up to about 750 acres. They got these from tax sales — when folks didn’t pay their property taxes the County sold them off cheaply.
At some point along the way one of the partners, Fred Lieke, wanted out. He decided to put the whole place up for sale and put an ad in the Wall Street Journal. This upset most of the rest of the partners and they ended up buying him out. Over time, many of the partners died and their widows sold the shares back to the remaining partners. Today, there are fewer partners, with some members holding more shares than others; I do not own a share, but my mother does.
As a child I would go out to the “Lookout” with my dad a few times per year. Mostly we went during deer season. I call it the Lookout because that is what it was often referred to as by my father. I asked Joe about this. At the time that they bought the property there was a fire lookout tower on the property. It was an old tower but the department of Forestry would still use it; the agreement was to pay the “Club” a dollar a year for the use. Joe remembers that my dad got that dollar once. There was also a road that ran from Mountain View Road, across the Crispin ranch, and out to Philo-Greenwood Road. Joe says that the Forestry people put that road in along with a phone line from the Crispin side. A few years into the partnership’s ownership of the place the government came in and “condemned” two acres that included the tower and ended up putting up a newer tower. I don’t know if the tower that is there now is that one or if it was rebuilt again later. I think it is probably the same one.
Also, when I was a child, my dad and uncle Tony would go up every year and burn off the place, mainly to keep it open for deer to graze and make better hunting for them come August and September. Apparently the first big burn up there was done by the Piper ranch in the mid-1950s — he told them he was going to burn, did they care? And he apparently burned “the whole canyon.” I remember the burns but they were no longer allowed at some point and after that a lot of the Douglass fir and some of the redwoods started to come back. Most of that in turn burned in 2008 during one of the many lightning strike fires of that summer.
This brings us to the property I have listed for sale that so upsets Abhorrent, the 100 acre property that abuts my family’s land and sits just below the Lookout tower and the various cell towers on top of the hill. I asked my cousin about that land. I don’t remember anything much about it as a kid going up there — in my memory it was fairly open or at least filled with low brush. Joe confirmed this — he said it was covered in brush and that they would put the dogs in there and have them scare out the deer. He said there were probably a few scrappy firs and some tan oaks there by the time the current owner purchased it and opened it for the vineyard. Hardly the uprooting that so upsets Abhorrent, unless she has a deep love for brush and the fire danger it brings. As for any pesticide or fumigant use, perhaps Abhorrent can educate herself in what actually goes on in a vineyard, any vineyard, before throwing out wild accusations that have no factual basis. As it turns out, this vineyard is both dry farmed and organic.
And then there’s that sales commission that also seems to upset Abhorrent. It’s normal, of course, for Realtors to make commissions, and I imagine all businesses have some sort of profit structure built into the system. I, personally, though make sure to donate at least 3% of my gross earnings every year to mostly local non-profits. So, if I should end up selling that property, my community will benefit from the commission as well.
But back to Signal Ridge — the views from up there have always been stunning; we used to drive up to the top where the tower is, before it was fenced off, and watch the sun set over the ocean. There are few folks living up there, just the Ludwigs and a few others. It’s quiet and peaceful and beautiful. Oh, and besides the mere 14 acres of vineyard, the remaining 86 acres are still covered in brush and some timber.