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Anderson Valley’s First Settlers

According to Indian tradition, Mendocino County was once a vast mesa, level and waterless in summer, but the coyote (their representative of power and energy) caused an upheaval into its now broken state. Winter rains filled the chasms, washed down the silt, overflowed, and broke out from one to another, forming lakes and rivers, which former eventually became the present valleys. The soil is determined by the character of that of the surrounding hills. Some are sandy loam, and some the black loam approaching the adobe. Both are rich in the qualities which make for heavy production of cereals or root crops. There is much red soil in the hills, evidencing volcanic origin, and this is unsurpassed for fruit and vine.

Anderson Valley is located in the Coast Range, almost all in and embracing the whole of the watershed of the Navarro River, and a small portion of the headwaters of Dry Creek on the southeast end. It is 30 miles in length. Breadth varies from eight to twenty miles. The arable land at present under cultivation nowhere exceeds more than a mile and for the most part, only a half mile in width. Much more could be cultivated, but so far has been deemed more valuable for pasture than for the plow. The southern part of the township is detached from the northern part because the main branch of the river, Rancheria Creek, has no bottom land to speak of for some miles of its course opposite Boonville, but further south on its extreme headwaters, it again affords some tillable land. The valley soil is a rich wash loam immediately along the creek bottoms. The bench lands are either black clover land or gravelly loam, while the pasture lands proper, on the hills, partake of the nature of both the last mentioned soils, while the chemissal and brush lands are generally rocky and sterile. Exceptions in these latter may be found where the soil is a rich red volcanic debris, that makes the best of orchard and vineyard land.

The climate of Anderson Valley is a compromise between the hot torrid inner valleys and the cold, foggy coast section. It usually has a nice sea breeze in the afternoon, and often foggy mornings, which revive the vegetation in the dry summer months and restrain the frosts in the winter.

The various grains luxuriate here, except corn, which is not especially successful, probably from the coolness induced by the fog. Hops succeed well and give a good yield on the best bottom land. Fruit grows remarkably well on much of the bench land and lower hills.

Early Settlement…

So far as the dim past can be explored, Walter Anderson seems to be the first white man who really settled in Anderson intending to make it his home, and that as early as 1851. He came from Sonoma County, as most of the interior early settlers seem to have done, and located what was afterwards known as the Rowles place, on the west side of the valley, about one mile northwest of Boonville. He sold the place to Joseph Rowles in 1858 and moved away. J. D. Ball and family arrived in 1852, and settled on the opposite side of the valley, on plateau land, and was the first to put out an extensive orchard, which is still bearing profusely. In 1855-6-7 closely following each other came William Prather, John Gschwend, J. S. Smalley, Oscar Carey, Joseph Gschwend, James Burgess, Henry Wade, Frank Buster, A. Guntley, John Gossman, John Conrad, A. Braden, J. Shields, W. W. Boone, A. Elliott and H. Stevens. In the following few years R. H. Rawles, J. A. Jamison, J. O. McSpadden, J. McGimsey, Alex McDonald, J. W. McAbee, C. Prather and R. H. York. The first attempt at town building was about a mile from the present town of Boonville. John Burgot built a hotel, Sam Stevens a blacksmith shop and Levi V. Harrison a store. Quite a large stock of goods was also placed in a two-story building (where Robert Rowles has lived for some years) by Wintzer & Welle, but all of these died out in a short time. In 1864 Alonzo Kendall built a hotel at what is now Boonville and called the place Kendall’s City. Levi & Straus moved their store here, soon selling out to W. W. Boone, who succeeded in giving his name to the town, Mr. Kendall having removed to Manchester. 

Access to the valley was yet very difficult on the road from Cloverdale, and by private subscription John Gschwend attempted to build a road from Boonville to Ukiah, the county seat, in 1867. When about half done, the subscriptions failed, and Gschwend obtained a franchise for its completion as a toll road in 1868.

Within the last four or five years nearly the whole of Gschwend’s old road has been abandoned for better grade, though the general route has been followed. In 1869-70 a road was surveyed and soon after worked after a fashion from Anderson Valley to Point Arena, but the grades were so steep it has never been used for aught but light teams, except at each end, where the downgrade favors the hauling of timber either way. 

To John Gschwend also belongs the principal credit for the road built over Navarro ridge connecting Anderson Valley with the coast. This was “swamped” in 1861-2 and graded immediately after and for many years was the only road from the coast part of the county to the outside world. The Gschwends, Guntleys and Gossmans were Swiss, and formed the settlement at the lower end of the valley that was long known as “Guntleys” and later as Christine, for a daughter of John Gschwend’s.

Andrew Guntley erected a distillery and brewery which flourished until about 1806, when the government tax caused the abolition of the establishments. These Swiss all planted orchards which still flourish, and the orchard area might be extended tenfold with profit. There are several fruit driers in the main valley and much fruit is shipped to the coast section for home consumption, but little or none has been shipped to the more extensive markets of the bay area, except dried. In 1908 250 tons of dried pears were shipped.

The western and northern part of the township is heavily timbered with redwood, fir, tan oak, madrone, laurel, as forest, plus manzanita, blue blossom and chemissal brush covering quite a large section. The redwood and fir have been destroyed largely in the northern part of the township, while only desultory attempts have been made upon its area elsewhere. 

To John Gschwend belongs the honor of building the first saw mill, in 1856. At that time there were no roads leading into or out of the valley, and access to the township was had only by skirmishing over the hills from one opening to another with ox teams, rough locking down the steep hills, and doubling teams up the mountain. That first mill was built on Gschwend’s homestead on a branch of the main fork of the Navarro, run by water. Previous to that date the settlers’ houses were mostly built of logs, shakes split from the pliant, straight-grained redwood, or lumber made by the toilsome whipsaw mill. Some years later it was supplied with steam power and more machinery for making dressed lumber. In 1864 a grist mill addition supplied the neighborhood with flour. In 1875 fire destroyed Gschwend’s mill, and as the timber was nearly all cut off contiguous to the site, it was not rebuilt.

In 1877 Thomas Hiatt built a sawmill some four miles up the valley from Gschwend’s, with a capacity of 8,000 board feet per day. He soon cut down the timber convenient and moved the mill away. In 1876 the Clow brothers built a mill on the west side of the valley, about four miles from Boonville which used up the timber on 250 acres, running for twenty years. Its capacity was 12,000 board-feet per day. It was then sold and moved away.

In 1878 H. O. Irish erected the fourth mill a mile or two further down the valley, but it was destroyed by fire very soon after it began running. In 1896 August Wehrspon built a mill at Ornbaun Valley, a detached upland valley near Yorkville, with a capacity of 20,000 board feet per day. This mill was in a fine body of timber, purchasable at $1 per thousand. By the terms of the contract the mill was required to cut a specified amount of lumber each year.

Timber raised in value, but the mill owner failed one year to cut the required amount, and was ousted by suit at court. The mill was moved to the old Bonnet place west of Boonville, where they cut a little lumber, and still stands there, although the main body of the timber has passed into the hands of speculators.

The mill cut about 16 million board-feet in all. In 1904 Bledsoe built a shingle mill at Peachland, a settlement on the ridge east of Anderson Valley, of about 20,000 board feet capacity. It was run about three years, and since then has remained idle. It is now owned by Bledsoe & Daugherty.

Access to the township is attained by the road from Cloverdale, 30 miles distant, or from Ukiah, 24 miles, or from Albion by road, or railroad, to Wendling, a mill town, a few years old. This mill was built on the promise of a railroad, but before even residences were finished for its superintendent and foremen, work was suspended, the railroad not materializing.

Suit was instituted, or threatened against the Santa Fe company and compromised, and the logging road from the Albion mill was pushed through to the mill, and two miles further up the valley. The product is railed down to the Albion and there transshipped to sea vessels. This road has been surveyed through to a junction with the Northwestern at Healdsburg, and will soon be pushed through, as there is a fine body of timber tributary to it. The Wendling property has passed into the hands of Hickey & Co., and the town name changed to Navarro.

Yorkville, in the southern part of the township, is a small hamlet of a few houses, located on Rancheria Creek, the principal tributary, or rather the main head of the Navarro River. It was named after its founder, R. H. York, who lived there many years. It has a post office and a hotel has long been maintained by the Hiatt family owning the ranch.

Boonville, about the center of the township, is the oldest village in it. It consists of two hotels, two stores, two blacksmith shops, a post office, a drug store, and eight or ten residences, a church and school house and a barber shop. There used to be two saloons, but the school district voted dry some years ago and they are things of the past.

Philo, nine miles down the valley, is a small hamlet of two stores, a blacksmith shop, Methodist Episcopal church, school house, post office, and two or three residences, near enough to be included in the town. Here the four horse stages from Cloverdale are split into two, one proceeding to Greenwood on the coast, the other five miles down the valley to Navarro. 

Navarro is essentially a mill town, and was unbroken forest until the lumber company pitched on it as a base of operations. The mill has recently changed hands and its product will eventually find its outlet by rail to Healdsburg, and on to San Francisco and east. The mill was erected in 1905, with a capacity of 60,000 board feet of lumber and 100,000 shingles. It was run by the Stearns Lumber Co. with profit even with the long haul and rehandling of its output. The town did contain two stores, one livery stable, three hotels with bars, two hotels without bars, one saloon, one blacksmith shop, one restaurant, one barber shop, one photo gallery, 45 residences and a post office, being the end of a mail route in that direction. The saloons have been discontinued on account of the election voting the district dry.

Many fine residences have been erected in Anderson Valley in the last ten years and much progress made in fruit culture. The climate is undoubtedly the finest in the county, and only three failures on account of frost have been known since its first settlement. The earthquake of 1906 did not seem to affect this section as much as the one experienced in 1898, which opened considerable gaps in the earth at the northern end of the valley but without much damage. In the past few years roads have been built connecting the valley with Hopland and Fish Rock, both starting from Yorkville. Several mineral excitements have had their rise and fall, but none of the discoveries have so far proved of present value.

There have been several lodges instituted in the valley, but at present all have lapsed. It has had its quota of fires. The hotel has been burned and rebuilt; Ruddick’s store burned in April, 1913; Johnson’s store at Philo burned September 18, 1913, and there have been several residences burned. In July, 1901, a threshing boiler exploded, killing two men.

There are several fruit dryers in the valley, J. D. Ball erecting the first in 1890, Studebaker about the same time and others have followed. There have been two or three small saw mills on Rancheria and Dry creek, but they have passed away. The road to Point Arena was improved from time to time until in 1890 it was made available for freighting to a limited extent.

A mail route formerly extended through the valley from Cloverdale to Navarro, sixty miles, but has been cut off at Wendling, while a cross mail has been established from Philo to Greenwood, twenty-one miles. On the through route in 1904 there were sixty-seven individual mail pouches used.

The timber has nearly all passed into the hands of mill owners or speculators. In 1909 Hickey & Standish bought 3500 acres west of Boonville, and sold 12,000 acres of their holdings to the Santa Fe. During 1913 much bark was hauled to Cloverdale by motor trucks; 8700 pounds at a load, two trips per day, making 120 miles travel. Much has also been shipped by way of Albion. For years previous it had been hauled by teams to Cloverdale and Ukiah.

Some notable deaths have occurred among the old settlers. Among them may be mentioned John Gossman, 88 years, November 20, 1898, who came to the valley in 1856; S. W. Knowles, September 25, 1911, 89 years of age, settled on Dry Creek, 1858-9; R. H. Rowles, ex-County Supervisor, November 9, 1911, 66 years, settled in 1858; W. L. Wallace, August 27, 1883, settled in 1857, and Mrs. John Conrad, who came to the valley in 1858. died July 12, 1914, at the age of 101 years.

The several school districts voted for a union high school, and a rough building was erected last year and is now in use.

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