Earning a Living

The Economic History of Anderson Valley

Researched by Hayes Brennan, written by Sheri Hansen

The Periods
1850-1900, 1900-1940, 1940-1950 (Boom), Present 1850-1900

During the early period the subsistence was agriculture. The population was stable. In 1860 there were 290-300 people in the valley. Between 1880 and 1940, the population was 1050-1060. There was mixed farming — corn, vegetables, fruit, cattle, pigs, sheep and horses. At one time there were 20,000 head of cattle and in 1880 there were 75,000 head of sheep.

By 1990 there were only 50 sheep ranches in the valley and today there are 4. Marie Hill tells of the days in 1948 when they could drive from Cloverdale through the valley to the coast and see just apples and sheep. The decline in sheep ranching began in 1972 when poison was banned. This was the end of coyote control. At the same time there was a lack of buyers, only 2 slaughterhouses and the price of lamb went way down. Sub-dividing of the large sheep ranches began at this time too.

In 1897 Alva Ingram reported that he saw a grape vineyard on the Ball Ranch. It was planted in 1877 and was about 20 acres. There were hops in Bell Valley and the Gowan Ranch. It was in the 1890’s that Boontling came out of Bell Valley. The people in the Hop fields used Boontling to talk while they were working in the hops.

The Ball Family farmed apples in 1853. The first apple orchard was on the Guntley ranch.

Logging was another part of early agriculture. John Gschwend had the first mill on the deep end of the valley. There was a millpond in mill creek with a long flu that turned a wagon wheel. In 1876 Tom Hiatt put a mill 4 miles from Boonville. In 1877 Irish put a mill in Philo.

There were several settlements in the valley. In 1860 Boonville was located at the corner of Highways 128 and 253. In the late 1860’s, Tindall and Boone opened a merchandise store in what we now call Boonville. We never picked up the e from his name in the spelling of Boonville.

Philo was founded in 1863 and was named after Cornelius Prather’s favorite cousin, Philomina.

7 Swiss people found the settlement of Christine. There were from a tiny village in the Swiss Alps. In 1854, 1855 they left Illinois as part of a wagon train traveling to Pt. Arena. They ended up settling close to Mill Creek at the south fork of Christine Woods. Christine was the first white child born in the valley. John Gschwend built the first house in the valley in 1855. That home is the home of Christine Clark, the great, great granddaughter of Christine. In 1868, John Gschwend built a toll road between Boonville and Ukiah. He also built a road in the direction of the grade to Pt. Arena and to Albion going along the Navarro and the Navarro Ridge Road. John Gschwend was a mover. There is a statue in Mendocino of John Gschwend cutting a redwood in Christine Grove.

Other settlements in the valley included Yorkville, Peachland, Bell Valley and Hop Flat. Hop Flat was located near the high water marker of 1964 on the way to the coast. Alvi Price, Hayes mentor was born in Hop Flat and grew potatoes. He would walk up the south fork of Wilkinson Creek to Ukiah to sell his potatoes. Hop Flat was named because it was such a popular dance spot – peopled hopped around. Another wonderful memory Hayes has of this area was the care of the water in Navarro. Ava Nimoli taught him how use inner tubes and bailing wire to repair the horizontal wells that were in the caves above Navarro. During this period, there was a feeling of cohesiveness among the valley people. They danced, played baseball, hunted together – enjoyed each other.

The Transition Period • 1900-1940

During this period the isolation of the valley began breaking down. Men went off to war and brought back different ideas and information. During this time, 20 families built the first valley telephone system, which is still the telephone system in use today.

In 1902 James Wendling created a shingle mill in Wendling. In 1906 Stearns built a huge mill in Navarro. In 1905 the railroad was built from Cane Summit to Navarro. Wendling became Navarro in 1916. When Wendling was laid out it had many lots. It was like a sub-division, but never formally sub-divided. Even today, it is difficult to change property in this area (just ask Don McMath) because of the many early lots. In 1908 the Floodgate Extension was built and the railroad went from Mill Creek to Christine Woods. In 1922 it was extended to Perry Gulch. When the railroad was finished (Mahoney and Philbrick) there were 2 engines and 92 cars and redwood was shipped to San Francisco. There were two separate communities - Dego Town and Mill Town. The Italians were in Dego Town, which had 4 hotels, 4 whorehouses, 3 dancehalls…a very busy place.

During this time there were huge migrations of people in the United States - Germans, Italians, Finn. The Italians came to San Francisco and were going on the Pt. Arena. They ended up settling in Albion, Elk, Wendling and the Greenwood Ridge. They planted grapes and the Ridge became known as vinegar hill or vinegar ridge. At that time there were about 200 acres of grapes on Greenwood Ridge, mostly Zinfandel. The Pronsolinos, Tovanis, Giovannelis, Tolson, Pardinis, Hagemans, were all families that settled on the ridge. During prohibition 1920-1933, this area continued to be busy and there are lots of interesting stories from this time. It is said that they made Jackass Brandy, a favorite among valley folks. There were distinct paths up Greenwood Road used by the valley people to get their favorite drink. The first winery in the valley was on the Peterman ranch. In 1911&1912 Joe Pinoi built the winery and successfully planted the first grapes on the valley floor. His wife did the wash, so men from the railroad would go to the winery to pick up their laundry and buy some Jackass Brandy. In the 1920’s Italian Swiss planted 100 acres near the High School. They weren’t successful, it was to cold and they didn’t get the right sugar content.

Also at this time a Tan Oak mill was built at the corner of Highway 128 and Greenwood Rd. They used the oak to tan hides to leather. Maple Basin also had a mill.

In 1920 Harvey Ames created the Smackville Coop. The farmers and ranches were all part of the apple coop. It was located near Jacks. The story is that the coop did well and the farmers split lots of money. No one will say how much, but A LOT.

In Hayes Brennan’s write-up of the Economic History of Anderson Valley, he shared some information on “Smackville”. Hayes isn’t from one of the early valley families and was sharing what he had been told and/or researched. Norm Clow, who is from one of the early valley families, has shared his memories of Smackville below.

“What I know about Smackville is that in 1928 a guy named Henry Ames sold shares to local investors for a co-op to process and dry apples, which ultimately proved to be worthless on their issued price, although there was value in the machinery which was paid for with further capital injection. Ames also tried to transfer the stock into a failing plant on the San Francisco peninsula, but the owners refused due to the strong smell of fraud, or, perhaps more appropriately, rotten apples. There had been no profits reported by Ames that first season, which doesn't mean there weren’t any. Ames asked for more investment capital, again the locals said no, and he left town to “raise more money”, never to return (nor did the investors fully expect him to at that point, one presumes). The investors, wanting to try to make a going concern of it, contracted a processor out of Healdsburg to run the plant in 1929, and then in 1930 my grandfather, George Clow, and Frank Ward, who had worked at the Clow mill on Anderson Creek, were hired to manage it, which they did through the 1931 season. It was then closed and dismantled and the machinery sold. There may have been some return on investment by then but probably not much. (In an only-in-Anderson Valley historical aside, when Jack and Kay Clow built their large 2-story home in 1971 on the site of my grandparents’ former house, near the former co-op site, Jack June dubbed it “Smackville Rising”.)”

During this time there was a Mason-Dixon line near Denmark Creek in the valley, located near the Grange Hall. The people from Boonville were primarily Scotch-Irish from the Carolinas and Indiana. They were pro south and Democrats. On the deep end of the valley, Navarro, there were Republicans from the upper Midwest.

The Boom Period • 1940’s, 1950’s

This was the lumber boom period - the time when the Oakies and Arkies came to the valley. There were 50 mills in the valley. Among the legends of that time was Buster Hollifield, who came in 1946. The old timers, creating the first split between Old Timers and New Comers, saw this large migration of people from Oklahoma and Arkansas as outsiders. Many of the New Comers of that time are now our old timers, names like Daniels, Lemons, Adams, Tuckers, Brights, and Owens. There were also lots of resorts in the valley at this time. This would be a great subject to research on its own. Huge groups of people would come up from San Francisco. The Highland Ranch was one of the early resorts. Charmain Blattner lived on the Highland Ranch.

The Present • 1960-Today

During the 60’s and 70’s, apples, sheep and lumber were the activities. Masonite moved in - tree planting began. A new migration began during the 60’s & 70’s - the Urban Refugees - Hippies, Back to Landers, Teachers. Many of the teachers worked in 3 schools that worked with difficult youth – Bachman Hill, Unicorn and Clearwater. Many of the newcomers of this period are still here - our medical clinic members, teachers, and superintendent. The feeling of Old Timers vs. New Comers continued. For example the school board had always been Old Timers. Then in 1975, Bruce Anderson , a New Comer was elected to the Board. (He was later recalled.)

In 1964 Dr. Edmeades planted vineyards. Tony Husch came in 1968. In 1972, Dan Edmeades built the first winery. Wiley’s came in 1971 and the Bennetts and Collins started the Navarro Winery. Then in the early 80’s Roederer moved into the valley becoming the first corporate wine operation. Since then more and more have moved to our valley. Also in the 1980’s and 90’s, marijuana planting became popular. In fact some said it was the most important cash crop in Mendocino County. During the 1970’s and 80’s the valley still had a feeling of isolation and cohesiveness. Going to Ukiah was still a big thing and baseball was a very strong, unifying force. Each area had a team and when our valley played other villages there was a lot of animosity – we didn’t like those guys.

In 1973 Masonite wanted to build 700 homes between Hendy Woods and Edmeades. The New Comers fought it. Then one day George or Jim Gowan (Old Timers) told them “There weren’t no water down there in the 20’s, no water in the 30’s and there still isn’t any damn water down there". The project stopped.

Today, wines continue to expand. The people coming to the valley are older, retired. There are second homes on the ridges. The cohesiveness is not the same. But we live in a beautiful place - a Shangri-La. There are lots of good things - we will never be overpopulated, to many grapes. There is less difference between New Comers and Old Timers. We all just feel like this is home and are treated like that.

Books Note: Down To Earth, authored by Maurice W. Tindall shares extracts from a weekly newspaper column written by Maurice on the life and history of Anderson Valley. Mills of Mendocino provides a record of the lumber industry. Voices of the Valley is a volume of books that captures Anderson Valley history through the stories of Anderson Valley residents. These are narrated, compiled and edited by Anderson Valley High School students. Sketches of Anderson Valley (Volumes I-IV) capture the history and changes of Anderson Valley. All of these books are available through the Historical Society.

Several Historical Society members added the following to Hayes research: One member shared that he had opened roads for Masonite for 25 years and saw many homesteads. Each homestead had an apple tree and a fig tree. Surprising where you find the homesteads; many are out on Peachland Rd. Another member asked when the thing (freeway!) was built that replaced Anderson Valley Way. No one knew for sure, but it was thought to have been built in the late 60’s. Victoria Center shared that there was a large Chinese population in the valley in the early days. Her uncle told stories about working on the railroad with them and helping them cook. They dug many of the tunnels that were used by the railroads. Another questioned how the Fair evolved. It seems it started in Mendocino, Caspar as an apple show. In 1923 it was moved here due to politics!


12340 Hwy 128, Boonville CA
2 lumberjacks stand next to a large partially cut tree

Selling bark from Tan Oaks was a major industry in the early 1900's

8 men - 4 standing and 4 sitting - in 19th century clothing, hold their sheep shears for the portrait

Sheep shearing crews traveled from ranch to ranch, sleeping in barns; photo circa 1900