Russian River Flood History

photos of Russian River floods       The following are the top ten recorded floods of the Russian River:   (1) 48.8’ – 2/18/1986; (2) 48.0’ – 1/10/1995; (3)  47.6’ – 12/23/1955; (4) 47.4’ – 12/23/1964; (5) 46.9’ – 2/28/1940; (6) 45.38’ – 2/27/2019; (7) 45.0’ – 1/1/1997; (8) 42.5’ – 1/5/1966; (9) 42.1’ – 2/18/1879; (10) 41.8’ – 1/1/2006.
       The upper photo shows #9 worst flood.  It was in 1879, Guerneville, with the very first recording of flooding along the lower reaches of the Russian River.  Damage was widespread.  The tracks of the San Francisco & Northern Pacific Railroad dropped into the stream just east of Rio Nido. The boilers and engines at the Korbel sawmill were likewise under water.  Some eighteen homes in Guerneville were either afloat or off their foundations.  Two homes were washed away.  Part of Guerne Mill fell into Fife Creek (near today’s Saefway parking lot). (more…)

In the Beginning, Villa Grande

images of Villa GrandeBetween Monte Rio and Duncans Mills along the Russian River is Villa Grande, formerly known as Big Flat, Mesa Grande, and Grandville. Vacationers from San Francisco would climb aboard the North Pacific Coast Railroad for the three-hour ride from Sausalito to their front door. The community soon accommodated the Villa Grande Hotel, a firehouse, general store, post office, and numerous shingled cottages. 1910 was the first year that electricity arrived in Villa Grande along with a windmill (photo on left), which supplied water to the cabins. It was dismantled in 1977 and given to a camp in Cazadero but the attached house still exists. With the revenue collected from their whist games, the good ladies of the village erected a sturdy windbreaker for the main beach each summer, which was located directly in front of the windmill. (more…)

Train Mishap Near Villa Grande

image of trains along the Russian River

On December 20, 1920 the Northwestern Pacific Railroad experienced its worse mishap along the lower reaches of the Russian River. After leaving the station in Monte Rio (upper photo) and before crossing the bridge to Duncans Mills (lower photo), engine No. 222 encountered a slide that buried the tracks near Mesa Grande (Villa Grande). No sooner would a steam shovel remove the debris when another load of muck took its place. A large locomotive, which could furnish 200 pounds of steam pressure, made its way up from Tiburon with a hydraulic pump. Even though the engine proceeded at 10 m.p.h., its weight broke fifteen rails along the way. (more…)

Train Routes to the Russian River

images of train to Russian RiverIt appears that the Russian River resorts reached a tipping point in the summer of 1910 when there was a jump in the number of visitors. It was the first season after the Northwestern Pacific (NWP) line finally connected with the narrow gauge railway coming up the coast. This meant someone in San Francisco could easily reach the popular resorts on the west end of the Russian River. No longer was it necessary to board the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad (SFNP) to Fulton near Santa Rosa and transfer to a slooooow connection that crawled as it made over a dozen stops along the way including Dell, Hilton, Eagle Nest, Guerneville, Montesano, and Camp Vacation near today’s Northwood. From there a determined soul would have to board the seventy-five-foot stern wheeler, the Monte Rio, in order to travel further downstream. (more…)

Villa Grande, the Beginning

images of Villa Grande

Villa Grande is an unincorporated community in Monte Rio along the Russian River. How the name Villa Grande was born is a story unto itself.   In the very beginning, there was “Big Flat”, a patch of land filled with redwoods and owned by the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, which ran along present-day Moscow Road. The logging boom started to fizzle out by the beginning of the twentieth century, causing NWPR to sell lots in the Big Flat area. A fourth-class post office was established under the title of “Mesa Grande”.

Unfortunately, there was another Mesa Grande located in the San Diego area, necessitating a name change. The post office operated under the new moniker of “Grandville”, doing business out of a cubbyhole in the general store. (more…)

Music of the Barbary Coast

images of Barbary Coast music

My grandfather was a member of the California Grays, a San Francisco military fraternity. Prior to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the Grays aided the local police in clearing out the Barbary Coast. Fights broke out in many of the saloons with undesirables ferried across the bay to Oakland by the men in their natty West-Point-like uniforms. Grandpa recalls crawling under pool tables to avoid the mayhem. But the job was incomplete. The Barbary Coast remained a sideshow, a skid row and music mecca all rolled into one. (more…)

Hotaling

images of Hotaling building

In 1866 you deboard a three-masted ship, step ashore onto Battery Street and cross over land-filled Yerba Buena Cove into Jackson Square.  While navigating this section of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, you keep a wary eye out for pickpockets, con artists, and false solicitors offering everything from snake oil to a free drink of pisco to the unfettered company of the fairer sex.   You make your way past the Custom House to a large warehouse at 451 Jackson Street. Mr. Hotaling invites you to his second-story office where you negotiate the price of his whiskey for shipment back East. (more…)

Old Ship Saloon

images of Old Ship SaloonOver 500 ships were abandoned in San Francisco Bay as crew members fled for the gold fields in 1849. Many vessels, like The Arkansas, became part of the Yerba Buena shoreline awaiting their next life. The Arkansas was converted into The Old Ship Ale House near what is now Pacific Avenue and Battery Street, selling drinks at twenty-five cents each. By 1855, rotten timber and ballast stones from other crafts landlocked The Arkansas, causing it to become a permanent fixture of the Barbary Coast District.

Supposedly the term “shanghaied” originated from this bar. A drug-laced liquor would render an unsuspecting patron unconscious. (more…)

Barbary Coast

images of Barbary Coast

The Barbary Coast of San Francisco gets its name from the Barbary Coast region of Northwest Africa, essentially where Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya are today. This region was known for its slave traders and pirates, with all the complementary unsavory types such as gamblers, pimps, thieves, etc. Its namesake in the City is nine-square-blocks bounded by Pacific Ave. on the north, Clay St. on the south, Montgomery St. on the east and Stockton St. on the west. This includes most of Chinatown, Jackson Square and parts of the North Beach District. The tens of thousands gold seekers in 1849 would overrun the town. The population increased from 400 to 25,000 within the year. (more…)

Gold Mountain Monastery

images of Gold Mountain MonasteryIf you are seeking a genuine Chinese experience, ring the buzzer at 644 Broadway in San Francisco where a nun will welcome you. When the door closes behind you at the Gold Mountain Monastery, all outside interference suddenly dissolves as you enter another world. Incense laces the air as a strange sense of peace engulfs you.

You are escorted into a chamber where devotees sit on mats while embracing the teachings of Buddha. Foreign words like sila, samadhi and prajna escape your understanding. But after a brief wait, you recognize familiar disciplines from bygone days such as “all beings are equal”, “a moral life”, and “the importance of education”. Twists on these universal truths tickle your curiosity as ideas of reincarnation, meditation and enlightenment are presented. (more…)

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