Christmas in 1880’s San Franancisco

images of Christmas in 1880 San Francisco

Let’s take a trip back to Christmas in 1880’s San Francisco. It is interesting to note during this season of divisiveness that three quarters of the population of the City were first generation immigrants. They brought some wonderful traditions that are still with us today. The influx of Irish changed the major holiday of the year from the Protestant promoted Thanksgiving to Christmas. The folks from Ireland (largest group of immigrants to S.F. in 1880), many of whom settled in what is now present-day Mission District, started the custom of putting out cookies and milk (or was it Baileys Irish Cream) for Santa on Christmas Eve. This was based on the practice of leaving the front door open so that Mary and Joseph could enter and find a beverage and sweet bread on their journey to Bethlehem. (more…)

Civil War Reenactment

images of Civil War reenactment in Duncans MillsThe Civil War reenactment in Duncans Mills occurs each July and is the biggest such show in the state if not the western United States, incorporating over one thousand people. It has been at the same venue since 2000, sponsored by the California Historical Society and Casini Ranch. During the weekend performance, two historic battles are recreated each day with Confederate and Union armies splitting victories.

“There’s a lot of brush clearing to be done,” says Teri Moretti of Petaluma, “not to mention the issue of the cow patties.” These bovine pies, however, remain where they lay, making navigating the battlefield somewhat like negotiating a minefield. The surrounding hills of Freezeout Road soon become filled with the sound of fife and drum, musket and cannon as soldiers engage in a war that took more than 700,000 lives from 1861-1865. (more…)

Sportsmen’s Club of Duncans Mills

image of Russian River Sportsmen's ClubThe Russian River Sportsmen’s Club of Duncans Mills was founded in 1938 to “…promote cooperation between land owners, ranchmen and sportsmen”. Another goal has continued to be the rescue of fish that become stranded in the creeks and pools adjoining the nearby Russian River. In 1948 Angelo Boles pushed the organization to purchase six acres, and a clubhouse was soon underway. George Guerne (relative of founding fathers of Guerneville) showed up with his crew to donate their talents.

Membership peaked in the early fifties with some six hundred members. Today the Sportsmen’s Club is supported by eighty hardy souls. Women such as Gladys Pacheco of yesteryear (served as president from 1951-1953) and Lynn Wheeler of today have always played an important role. (more…)

Casini Ranch in Duncans Mills

images of Casini Ranch

In 1881 Bartolomeo and Anastasia Casini settled in the area around Duncans Mills, first living along what is today Freezeout Road. Not long afterwards, the bridge washed out by one of Russian River’s famous floods, forcing the Casini family to move into the European Hotel nearby. Their son, Paul Anthony Casini, worked as the dairy manager for the La Franchi family. In 1932 he bought out the La Franchi shares and became the sole owner of what is now Casini Ranch. 


Last Train Leaves the Russian River

image of last train along the Russian River  Guerneville declared a holiday on the last day of operations for the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.  With three cars full to capacity, Engine No. 108 cruised down to Rio Campo (now Northwood) where it crossed the Russian River (at the 9th tee of present-day golf course) and headed into the Bohemian Grove before running down Moscow Road in Monte Rio to Duncans Mills.  With the sky overcast, 250 persons gathered at the depot for the “last rites” (see photo).  All came together for pictures and speeches.  Lunches were eaten and beer and harder liquid flowed freely.  Over in one corner of the Duncans Mills depot several of the old-timers talked and wondered what was going to happen to the area.  Without a railroad how could business go on?  What did the future hold?  And so sixty years of railroading came to an end.

November 14, 1935.

Train Crosses River at Duncans Mills

image of train crossing Russian RiverThe broad gauge accommodated the passenger trains when the lumber industry along the lower reaches of the Russian River faded in the early part of the 20th century.  The broad gauge crossed the river at three locations: (1) Cosmo (now Hacienda), (2) between Rio Campo (now Northwood) and Bohemian Grove; and (3) at Duncans Mills (see photo).  Two trains made their way from San Francisco to the Russian River on a daily basis with weekend and holiday specials offered at $1.25 roundtrip.  The larger 4-4-0 engines were capable of handling a thirteen-car train.  Northwestern Pacific (NWP) once again bounced back into the black until the Depression hit in earnest, crippling the system in the early 1930’s.


Circa 1930.

Railroad along the Russian River




images of railroad along the Russian River


Old No.222 with engine No. 20 heading a five-car train on the three-rail portion west of Monte Rio approximately where Cassini Ranch is today.  Next stop, across the river to Duncans Mills.



Year 1924.

Catching the Ferry

The camera-eye records the arrival of the venerable ferry Tiburon as she glides into the slip at Sausalito on a routine afternoon run connecting with train No 224 for the the Russian River in the year 1922.

In the 1880’s passengers boarded the ferries through this structure at the foot of Market Street, San Francisco, for the ride to the train terminal at Sausalito.

Historic Buildings of Duncans Mills

images of Duncans MillsAs you round the curve into Duncans Mills from the east, to your immediate right, you will see The Superintendent’s House (upper left photo) snug against the hill, one of the town’s first historic buildings. Circa 1880, it was the old company house of the Duncans Mills Corporation during the sawmill days, providing shelter for the family that founded the village that still bears its name. Recently it existed as a Bed & Breakfast and is on the market for $945k.   You can Google “24951 Hwy 116” for an insider’s look into a home that has retained the Victorian charm of yesteryear.

On the flats you can still see DeCarly’s old General Store (upper right photo), built in 1888. For over one hundred and thirty years, the store has met the varied needs of the town’s 170 residents. (more…)

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