Biggest Floods Ever?

images of 1955 and 1964 California floodsAccording to the National Weather Service, the floods of 1955 and 1964 were the largest ever along the Russian River.  The ’55 flood crested at 49.7 feet while the ’64 deluge peaked at 49.6 with the 1986 flood seeing the river rise to 48.56.  The torrents in the fifties and sixties both occurred during the Christmas holidays.

In 1955 two Pineapple Expresses arrived just four days apart, inundating Guerneville. The aerial view in the top photo is typical of major floods.  It is difficult for the human eye to distinguish between the Russian River, Main Street, and Armstrong Valley.  Locals recall Santa Claus visiting hungry families at the Hilton Park Family Campground (River Bend Park) in Forestville, hauling in dinner on a National Guard amphibian. (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…)

Earliest Recorded Russian River Floods:

images of early Russian River floodsThe upper photo shows #9 worst flood along the Russian River. It was in 1879, Guerneville, with the very first recording of such torrents. 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 Korbel sawmill were likewise under water. Part of Guerne Mill fell into Fife Creek (near today’s Saefway parking lot).

The lower left photo pictures the 1907 flood where it destroyed the Bohemian Bridge.  It is uncertain if this was the pedestrian bridge or the railroad trestle.  The later delivered San Francisco Bohemians from where the ninth tee box is today at Northwood Golf Course (built in 1928) to the top of a granite bluff & into the Grove. (more…)

Historic Flood Along the Russian River, 2019

NWS flood chart of 2019The flood on Wednesday, February 27, 2019 will go down in history as one of the worst along the Russian River.  But there are differences of opinion as to which historic floods rank first and second.  According to the Russian River Historical Society, the 1986 flood crested at 48.8′, making it numero uno.  This coincides with findings of the NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration).  The National Weather Service, however, states that the December 23, 1955 flood topped this at 49.7′ as well as the December 23, 1964 flood at 49.6′.  But both organizations agree that the recent deluge ranks sixth all-time.

The Russian River is 110 miles in length with its headwaters north of Ukiah and flows thru Alexander Valley, which was transformed last week into a six-foot-deep lake. (more…)

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…)