Duncans Mills, the Blue Heron

images of Blue Heron

The Blue Heron was built soon after the town of Duncans Mills was established in 1877 and has served as a trusted watering hole ever since. Several history buffs whisper that it is the oldest tavern along the entire length of the Russian River. The Blue Heron is known today for its hearty pub food and selected spirits.

“What the Shuck”, the saloon’s intrepid cook, serves barbecued oysters alongside Sunday afternoon music on the patio. My dear friend Dave Camarillo, a.k.a Dr. Love, and his Blue Burners are a favorite (voted best blues band in the county by Krush radio, 95.9 FM). (more…)

Duncans Mills Railroad Days

The first train arrived in the new town of Duncans Mills in 1877, becoming the northernmost terminus of the North Pacific Coast R.R. (NPC).  The NPC operated almost 93 miles of track while a ferry connected San Francisco to Sausalito where the line began. The railroad carried redwood lumber, local dairy and agricultural products, express and passengers.     

The NPC developed into the North Shore Railroad (NSR) that later became part of the North Western Pacific (NWP). The depot (upper photo) was erected in 1907 and restored in 1971. (more…)

Duncans Mills Moniker

images of 1890's Duncans MillsDuncans Mills gets its moniker from the Duncan brothers, Samuel and Alexander. Some say they were the first sawmill operators on the Sonoma Coast. They originally founded a mill just east of Freestone before relocating near the mouth of the Russian River near today’s Bridgehaven. Many a log, which floated downstream to the site, would wash out to sea in bad weather. Another disadvantage to this location was the lumber would have to be hauled by horse-drawn tram to Duncan Point (just south of Wright’s Beach) where waves, currents and weather often did not cooperate with the loading of timber onto waiting ships headed for the San Francisco market. Two events in 1877 changed the town’s destiny forever. A fire burned much of the mill, and the North Pacific Coast Railroad was approaching inland. (more…)

Duncans Mills, the Early Days

images of Duncans MillsDuncans Mills, the early days, tells a tale of greed, international tension and fate. Once upon a time it was part of Alta California, which was under the Mexican governorship of Pio Pico. He was often ridiculed for his physical deformities resulting from acromegaly, a disease caused by the unregulated release of hormones causing abnormal growth of hands, feet and face. One newspaper critic called him the “ugliest man in the territory”.  It is easy to understand why Pico developed a tough skin. He scorned his enemies and protected his allies. When the Russians abandoned Fort Ross in 1841 and sold the surrounding land to John Sutter, Governor Pico exposed his combative side and went into action. He issued the sale “null & void” and instead gave the land to a close friend, Manuel Torres, as part of the Rancho Muniz Land Grant.  (more…)

Secret World War Two Tunnels

Secret Tunnels of San Francisco

A secret World War Two tunnel supposedly runs somewhere north of Civic Center in San Francisco. Built in the early 1900s, this passage used to transport soldiers and materials.  Behind a pair of twenty-foot gates, there is a huge metal door.  Thrill seekers tell of their adventures deep inside this maze.  Doubters insist the photo on the left simply appears to be a sewer, others testify that this urban legend is true.  If you are of the latter persuasion, keep in mind that presumably inside there’s a nuke-esque sign that reads “Fallout Shelter”, and best believe I’ll be there if necessary.



Secret Tunnel Under Cliff House

tunnel under Cliff House

At Land’s End, usually frequented only by raccoons, is a forgotten tunnel under the Cliff House in San Francisco.  In 1891 a grizzly old miner announced there was a fortune in the coal vein he’d found. On March 28 of that same year, readers of the Chronicle were greeted with astonishing news: Coal Discovered in the City! “An old miner has found a vein hugging the coastline below the bluff at the Cliff House (left photo). ‘Do try to buy up that land,’ miner Charles Jackson told Superintendent H.H. Lynch of the Cliff House and Ferries Railway. ‘There is a fortune in it, for I am sure there are thousands of tons of good coal in that district.'” (more…)

Secret Tunnel Beneath San Francisco Speakeasy

image of Bourbon and BranchAnother example of a secret tunnel beneath a San Francisco speakeasy is at the present site of a Bourbon and Branch saloon at 501 Jones St. near O’Farrell. Look for the Anti-Saloon League sign (upper photo). Between 1923-1935 the nondescript building housed the J.J. Russell Cigar Shop, but an aromatic havana was not their main product. One would knock on the main door and provide a password (today, you must make reservations via their website where you are given a password to be used just as in olden days). Once inside, if you requested a particular cigar, an employee would lead the way through a trap door to the basement where a bartender would serve the finest bootleg contraband shipped from Vancouver. There was a brass bell, which was connected to a lever behind the counter upstairs. If this sounded, a warning would be sent throughout the speakeasy. Patrons would scurry through various tunnels. The Ladies Exit, for example, granted safe passage to Leavenworth Street, a full block away. (more…)

Secret Tunnels of Chinatown, cont.

image of Cameron House

Secret tunnels in Chinatown included the one emanating from the present-day Cameron House at 920 Sacramento Street (left photo). In the 19th and early 20th centuries, neither Chinese American leaders nor white officials in San Francisco made any real effort to curb the tide of a growing slave trade. With few legal resources, a Protestant missionary by the name of Donaldina Cameron (upper right photo) extricated upwards of three thousand girls from serfdom. They were known as mui tsai and sold into prostitution or domestic work by the tongs who ran the brothels. The rescue work was dangerous as Miss Cameron received ongoing death threats from the gangs. Bold beyond description, she would chase down leads to free the women. On one occasion, the missionary shared a slave girl’s cell in order to save her. (more…)

Secret Tunnels of Chinatown

images of secret tunnels of Chinatown

The 1906 earthquake and fire unearthed the vast system of secret tunnels beneath Chinatown in San Francisco. Many believe the catacombs stretched throughout the sixteen-block enclave and into North Beach. The leaders of the tongs guarded the whereabouts of entrances to these passageways with their lives. The underpasses hid thriving opium dens (upper left photo), torture and execution chambers as well as escape routes that confounded authorities for decades. Mayor Eugene Schmitz (mayor 1902-1907) and attorney Abe Ruef would use their influence to scare Chinese out of their downtown enclave.


Secret Tunnels of San Francisco – Part 2

A secret tunnel runs under the former San Francisco law office of Melvin Belli (1907-1996), the “King of Torts”, whose client list included Errol Flynn, Muhammad Ali, The Rolling Stones, Mae West, Jack Ruby, and others. After winning a court case, Belli would raise a Jolly Roger flag over his office building and fire a cannon, mounted on the roof, to announce the victory and the impending party. The structure at 722 Montgomery Street in the Barbary Coast District was built circa 1850. Belli claimed that it was a Gold Rush era brothel, later to become the Melodeon Theater where one of the most acclaimed and beloved entertainers in the City’s history performed. Lotta Crabtree was a noted singer with a zealous fan base. (more…)

Cazadero – Part 1

    Silas Ingram (upper left photo) and his wife joined a wagon train bound for California in 1840. While crossing the plains, they were attacked by a warrior party of the Ute tribe.  The Ingrams walked over 100 miles to Salt Lake City where they caught transportation to San Francisco.  Soon thereafter, the family bought property in the hills north of the Russian River and built a hunting lodge (upper left photo) and a sawmill.  Today, that property is known as Lions Head Ranch.
         In 1869 Silas became the first post master of the nearby town, which was named Ingrams in honor of the family.   However, the mail was often not delivered on time or delivered at all.  That was because it was pilfered on a regular basis.  In an awkward twist of history, the culprit turned out to be Silas’s own son, Charles,  who later confessed to the crime and served eighteen months in jail. Silas Ingram died on June 8, 1900 and is buried at the Redwood Cemetery in Guerneville.
        In 2007 the entire town of Cazadero was for sale on the cheap. A similar occurrence happened in 1888. Despite being the rainiest place in the state (85 inches/year), the area has always had a certain appeal. This was true when George Simpson Montgomery (upper right photo) purchased Ingrams and changed its name to Cazadero, which is Spanish for “The Hunting Place”.
      At the time George was living at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco and holding membership in the exclusive Bohemian Club. Probably due to peer pressure, he soon developed into a two-fisted drinker with a reputation for visiting the brothels of the City.   His wife ventured in the opposite direction, establishing a ministry.  Her book, Prayer of Faith, was translated into eight languages and sold over four hundred thousand copies.  A few years later her husband saw the evils of his ways and converted to Christianity.
       At the insistence of his wife, George attempted to convince the local ruffians of Cazadero to go dry. If one did not obey the new regulations, Montgomery blocked the person’s business activities with heavy tax penalties. I ask you, what kind of decent, civilized municipality would turn its back on a little fun? After all, the bible says that God works harder for sinners, right?

  The North Pacific Coast R.R. (upper left photos) ran from Sausalito to Cazadero via west Marin. Between Freestone and Occidental the train crossed the monstrous Browns Canyon Trestle, which at the time was the largest man-made structure west of the Mississippi.
           The broad gauge and narrow gauge met in Monte Rio before running down present-day Moscow Road and crossing the Russian River at Duncans Mills, continuing to Cazadero, etc. The local lumber industry helped rebuild San Francisco and Santa Rosa after the 1906 earthquake.  It is also said that redwood pilings from the mills were used as foundations for the Bay Bridge.
           Mishaps along the line were plentiful.  George Montgomery’s insistence that the town go dry might have initiated a protest in 1894 when Engine No. 9 was hijacked by its crew and others in Duncans Mills with the intent of a party-run to Cazadero. The train never reached its destination, plunging into Austin Creek while attempting to cross the trestle at Elim Grove (upper right photo) . 
           Ten days later a local Native American shaman joined the search for missing persons.  He affixed a candle to a board and sent it on its way downstream.   In an eddy of tangled brush, the remains of seven men were discovered.  Booze and religion have never been good bed partners.
         On September 17, 1923, a moonshine still blew up, igniting a blaze that roared through the lumber mills from Guerneville to Jenner.  With the lumber trade on the fritz, passenger service had to pick up the slack.  The Northwestern Pacific Railroad offered “dollar days” on weekends with a roundtrip fare of $1.25 between the City and the River. 
          The Depression soon arrived with the NWP running over a million dollars in the red. The last train out of Cazadero was on July 31, 1933, followed by the Guerneville line two years later. Locals mobbed the passenger cars for the final ride and partied to the next stop. Some inebriated souls, however, lost track of time (and consciousness)  to find themselves at the terminus in Sausalito.  Or so the story goes.  

Black Bart (Charles Boles) robbed the Wells Fargo & Co. stagecoaches on twenty-nine different occasions.  Two of these holdups were near the Russian River.  One was just west of the town of Duncans Mills.  The second was north of Jenner at Meyers Grade on August 3, 1877, where Black Bart made his demands in a civil, gentlemanly manner accompanied by a double-barreled shotgun.  He tucked away the $300 in cash and tossed the following poem into the strongbox: “I’ve labored long and hard for bread / For honor and for riches / But on my corns too long you’ve tread / You fine-haired sons of bitches.”
             It is said that he hid out that night at a barn (the refurbished version can be seen on present-day Hwy. 116 at Sheridan Ranch) before heading into Guerneville.  At a future holdup, he left behind a handkerchief with a laundry mark, which led to his ultimate downfall.  Charles Boles served over four years in San Quentin Prison before being released in 1888. 
            Upon his release, Black Bart was asked if he would rob stages again. He said no.  The reporter continued and queried whether or not the infamous poet had any more verses up his sleeve.  His response was: “Young man, didn’t you hear me say that I wasn’t going to commit any more crimes?”
            Alice Adams Dahl’s research states that Black Bart never rode a horse.  He always walked.
              Perri Paniagua recalls that for over sixty years her relatives had told her that the name “Elim” is “mile” spelled backward, the distance from town.   Others say that George Montgomery’s wife gleaned the name from the Bible.  Exodus 15:27: “And Moses came to Elim where there were twelve wells of water…”  Scholars interpret Elim as being “The Place of Refreshing”.
             Cheatham Jethro remembers as a local getting booted from the Boy Scout swimming hole on many occasions.

Secret Tunnels of San Francisco

image of House of ShieldsWhen America went dry during Prohibition, San Francisco simply went underground, digging secret tunnels. The House of Shields was established in 1908 and is presently located at 39 New Montgomery St. As you enter under an alluring neon sign right out of a Bogie movie, you saunter across a mosaic tiled floor to a grand bar. Textured panels and columns that adorn it provide a reassuring sturdiness that fits the bar’s authenticity. A thick bar rail, flat stools, paneled walls, and dark booths confirm the fact that yes, this is a real, historic tavern. To gain access to bootleg whiskey (as well as women) during Prohibition, a tunnel was built connecting the laundry room of the Palace Hotel to the above establishment, which was across the street. The House of Shields was a former gentlemen’s club where women were not allowed until 1976. (more…)

CazSonoma Inn

images of CazSonoma Inn

CazSonoma Inn was formerly known as Cazanoma Lodge. At one time it was a hunting resort and now serves as a quaint bed and breakfast. Getting there is half the adventure as you wind your way up Cazadero Highway toward the three-store town by the same name. Head up Kidd Road along a dirt path for three miles until you arrive at an English cottage with formal gardens and a lazy pool. Millpond Cottage, the inn’s main building, featured a menu specializing in beer-braised bratwurst with cabbage and roulade, all cooked by a big German chef named Oudo.   This was back in the day when Randy and Gretchen Neumann (widow of John Mino) were owners and managers (1970-2000). (more…)

Cazadero Folklore

         Some of Cazadero’s folklore is dark and foreboding.  Take the case of Helmuth Seefeldt, age 68, who was bludgeoned to death on or about August 20, 1942. His body was discovered in a shallow grave on his Creighton Ridge sheep ranch five months later. Buried with him was his pet dog. His ranch foreman, Roy Cornett, was an ex felon who some years earlier had spent time in prison for cattle rustling.  Soon after Seefeldt’s demise, Cornett was arrested for the murder, but there was not enough evidence to convict him of the crime. Cornett, however, was found guilty of forgery for falsifying three of Seefeldt’s personal checks while the victim was still in the grave.

Now this is where the story gets very interesting.  Upon his release from jail, Cornett returned to his old tricks, but on a much larger scale. (more…)

Pole Mountain

image of Pole Mountain

Pole Mountain was formerly known as Mt. Ross, taking its name from the nearby Russian fort. In 1898 the U. S. Signal Corps erected a tower on the highest peak along Sonoma County’s coast with an elevation of 2205 ft. When the federal surveyors were finished with their mapping, they left the transit-sighting pole in place, forever to be known as Pole Mountain.   It is hard to believe in this day of extreme fire danger and global warming (which President Donnie T. says mankind does not contribute to) that Pole Mountain is the only active lookout in the county. Without much assistance from government, the good people of Cazadero and the surrounding area have gathered donations and held fundraisers (e.g. annual breakfast at the Caz firehouse) to keep it going.   (more…)

Berry’s Mill and Lumberyard

The story of Berry’s Mill and Lumberyard began in the early 1940s. Prior to that, twenty-year-old Loren Berry and his father Merrill were working as loggers in the small town of Cazadero, California. The family had been living there since 1886 when Merrill’s father-in-law, George Montgomery, bought the town of Ingrams and renamed it Cazadero. In 1941 Merrill and his son began the downtown sawmill on the former NWP railroad depot site across the street from the General Store and the Post Office.

In those days, logging was done in and near Cazadero to convert forests to grazing land. A few years later during World War II, Berry’s Sawmill and Lumberyard supplied the big beams used at Guerneville’s Mount Jackson mine (abandoned in1970 due to high levels of mercury). There was a thriving business in quicksilver, which was required to detonate artillery shells on battleships. (more…)

Camp Royaneh

images of Camp RoyanehThe San Francisco Bay Area Council (SFBAC) established Camp Royaneh as a permanent Boy Scout site along Austin Creek near Cazadero in 1925.  The Council purchased the 120 acre Watson Ranch for $17,000.  Mrs. Watson was a nurse during the Civil War while her husband was captain of Company F out of Kansas.  All of the Watsons are buried at the pioneer cemetery in Guerneville.  The name “Royaneh” is an old Iroquois word meaning “Camp of Joy” or “Meeting Place of the Tribes”.  Northwestern Pacific steam engine No. 20, which weighed almost 94,000 lbs., carried the boys over the  77 mile journey from Sausalito until 1933 when the line between Duncans Mills and Cazadero was closed. 

Camp Royaneh is the longest running Boy Scout camp west of the Mississippi River, having served over 100,000 Scouts during its ninety-three year history. (more…)

Cazadero Music Camp

images of Cazadero Music CampIn 1927 the City of Berkeley paid George Montgomery $25,000 for the fifty acres at Elim Grove and established the Cazadero Redwood Camp for East Bay boys and girls. In 1957 it became the Berkeley Music Camp and in 1996 it was known as the Cazadero Performing Arts Camp. 

The Cazadero Music Camp has been the summer home to tens of thousands of young musicians since the fifties.  The first season had just 60 young musicians, but the word spread quickly. By 1961, over 300 campers attended, and by 1964, the camp had grown to four 12-day sessions with close to 600 youth in attendance.  For the past 61 years, Cazadero has inspired generations of young musicians, growing into one of Northern California’s most vibrant youth programs.  (more…)

Black Bart

image of Black Bart Black Bart (Charles Boles) robbed the Wells Fargo & Co. stage coaches on twenty-nine different occasions.  Two of these holdups were near the Russian River.  One was just west of the town of Duncans Mills and the second was north of Jenner at Meyers Grade on August 3, 1877.  Black Bart made his demands in a civil, gentlemanly manner with a “Please throw down the box” and a double-barreled shotgun.  He tucked away the $300 in cash and tossed the following poem into the strongbox: “I’ve labored long and hard for bread / For honor and for riches / But on my corns too long you’ve tread / You fine-haired sons of bitches.” It is said that he hid out that night at a barn (the refurbished version can be seen on present-day Hwy. 116 at Sheridan Ranch) before heading into Guerneville.  A handkerchief he left behind with a laundry mark led to his ultimate downfall.  Charles Boles served over four years in San Quentin Prison before being released in 1888.  (more…)

Elim Gove in Cazadero

images of Elim GroveElim Grove in Cazadero has been an integral part of the town since 1890, located where Raymond’s Bakery is today.  Elim comes from a passage in the Bible: Exodus 15:27: “And Moses came to ELIM where there were twelve wells of water, and three-score and ten palm trees: and he camped there by the waters”. Biblical scholars interpret “Elim” as being “The Place of Refreshing”.  While it is a coincidence that the grove is a mile from town, that is not where Elim received its title (i.e. Elim spelled backwards). 

Elim was the site of the first summer retreat for the Bohemian Club in 1877. Members would board the ferry at the Embarcadero in San Francisco before catching a train at the Sausalito NWP depot.  The seventy-seven mile trip from the bay to Elim lasted three hours with a stop at Duncans Mills to change over to the narrow gauge line. (more…)