Sailing on the Russian River

images of boating on the Russian RiverJohn King built a small stern-wheel steamboat in 1869 and sailed it along the Russian River. Named the Enterprise, there are no known photos of the vessel but it probably resembled the Montrio (upper photo), which plied the waters as far west as the old Monte Rio footbridge.  King’s little ship was fifty feet long and sat high in the water, with a draft of only a foot, perfect for the shallow stream.   He carried cargo from Heald and Guern Lumber Mill (near Guerneville’s Safeway today) to the mouth of the river at Jenner. On occasion he would promote excursions, towing two barges upon which revelers would dance to live music while under steam.   After several failed attempts, the Enterprise sunk trying to reach Healdsburg. (more…)

Octagon House

images of octagon house

Well-to-do San Francisco architect McLachlan built the Octagon House that presently sits at 22292 Moscow Rd. near Villa Grande. Horticulturist John McClaren, a crony of McLachlan’s and best known as the man who created Golden Gate Park, designed the gardens. The McLachlans used the house as a summer getaway for approximately thirty-five years, hosting parties for their friends traveling from San Francisco for galas on the Russian River. Sailing was always a popular amusement for guests and a boathouse was located on the property. The residence is used today for weddings and other assorted gaieties. (more…)

Villa Grande Summers

image of Villa Grande General StoreMost of the activity in Villa Grande (upper photo) centered around the General Store and the old hotel.   It was a real treat for kids to gather some spare change after a barbecue dinner and head down to the General Store (lower photo) where they would load up on hard candy, root beer barrels, candy grab bags and RC Colas.   Warren Payne recalls his failing ritual of purchasing a toy balsa wood airplane only to invariably lose it to the limbs of a nearby redwood. The post office was located here as well where a mynah bird and a dog named Laddie would great patrons upon entering. (more…)

Cost of living in 1900 Villa Grande

After the logging had been exhausted in Mesa Grande (Villa Grande today) along the Russian River, the North Pacific Coast Railroad formed a subsidiary, the North Shore Land Company, to develop its properties. There was a lumberyard located here with half of its twenty, full-time residents working in construction. Riverfront lots were sold at seventy-five dollars and the remainder at fifty dollars. Wood shingles beautified the exterior while burlap lined the inside walls. Electricity became available while a nearby windmill pumped water to the cottages. However, most cabins did not possess a proper kitchen and the only phone was located at the General Store (phone number: 15-R). (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…)

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