Mon 19 Mar 2012
Point Reyes Station’s “birth can be pinpointed: Jan. 7, 1875, the day the first train came through on its way to Tomales,” the late historian Jack Mason of Inverness wrote in Earthquake Bay, A History of Tomales Bay, California (North Shore Books, 1976).
The train’s “first sightseers viewed Olema Station (its name for seven years) with unbelieving dismay. ‘The depot is in a wilderness!’ one of them wrote. And so it was — 11 acres of Mary Black Burdell’s cow pasture: no hotel, no sandwich stand or saloon.
“To reach Olema two miles distant, where many were headed, was well nigh impossible, with Papermill Creek to cross and no bridge or stageline,” Mason wrote. Back then Olema, whose downtown was much larger than it is today, was the commercial hub for the foot of Tomales Bay. It boasted two restaurants, two hotels, six bars, a racetrack, a school, a Catholic Church, and a Druids Hall.
In less than a year, a bridge providing access to Olema was built across Papermill Creek, but by that time, Mason observed, “passengers had a hotel nearer at hand …. ‘with the only saloon serving a vast and thirsty land.'” The hotel and saloon, which Dr. Galen Burdell built, were right across the street from the train depot.
Dr. Galen Burdell’s saloon.
Mary Black Burdell was married to dentist Galen Burdell and was the daughter of rancher James Black of Nicasio. Black Mountain, which provides the backdrop for Point Reyes Station, is named after him. In 1961, the site of Black’s ranch house was inundated by the completion of Nicasio Reservoir, but whenever the reservoir runs dry during droughts, the house’s foundation can still be seen on the western shore.
When the train depot opened in Mary Black Burdell’s pasture, Black had been leasing land nearby to former Sheriff James T. Stocker, who operated a dairy ranch on it. Today, “Stocker’s ranch site is marked by the cypress trees right across Highway 1 from Campolindo Road and [by] a couple of fruit trees,” Dewey Livingston, the reigning historian of Inverness, told me. “They all overlooked Tomasini Creek.” This this no doubt explains why Tomasini Canyon, where the old sump was located, for years was known as Stocker’s Gulch.
In the area around the depot, Mrs. Burdell gave her husband 950 acres of land she had inherited. The property would become the site of Point Reyes Station, and until the dentist’s death in 1906, “the town was his plaything,” wrote Mason. “By 1880, Burdell’s Station, as some called it, had all the appurtenances of civilization: a blacksmith shop, livery stable and butcher shop.”
A small school was erected in 1879, but in 1905 it was replaced by Black School (above), which was named after Mary Burdell’s father. The wooden, two-story structure was located where the firehouse is today.
The first store in town was built in 1883 at Second and A Streets by A.P. Whitney and Company of Petaluma but was sold four years later to Salvatore Grandi. The “Swiss farmer,” as Mason described Grandi, turned the business into a general store called Grandi’s Mercantile Company.
(It should be noted there is no street named Main Street in Point Reyes Station. The correct name for the main street is A Street — or, if you prefer, Highway 1.)
The first post office opened on May 23, 1882, and the town changed names from Olema Station to Point Reyes the same day. The town’s name changed again — to Point Reyes Station — on Aug. 10, 1891, so its mail wouldn’t accidentally be sent to the post office at F Ranch on Point Reyes.
As Dr. Burdell developed Point Reyes Station, he wrote a covenant into the deeds for all the lots he sold, prohibiting anyone else from operating a saloon in town. Grandi, however, broke Dr. Burdell’s monopoly by opening a second saloon in 1902. The dentist sued, but in 1907 the state supreme court ruled in Grandi’s favor; Dr. Burdell, however, had died the previous year.
Grandi himself already had competition of his own to contend with. In 1898, one of his clerks, Peter Scilacci, opened a general store further north on A Street. Scilacci’s emporium was bigger than Grandi’s and included a livery stable and a grain warehouse.
The Bank of Tomales in 1910 bought land on the main street for a branch; over time, the bank would relocate and go through several ownerships and name changes en route to becoming a branch of Wells Fargo. Just before World War I, the Foresters of America built a hall, which still stands on Mesa Road just north of the Old Creamery building. In 1914, a small Catholic Church opened on B Street.
The masonry-built Grandi Company building had collapsed in the 1906 earthquake, and Grandi replaced it with a wooden building that is “now the upper story of the Western [Saloon],” Livingston told me. Two years later, Grandi retired and sold his nephew Reno Grandi and Reno’s partner Joe Codoni property across Second Street from the wood building. There they built the large, brick Grandi Building, which is now unfortunately empty and in disrepair.
In its heyday, the Grandi Company sold everything from pianos to cattle feed, and in time it developed a policy of never raising the price on goods once they were in stock. Some items, such as stove-heated irons for ironing clothes, remained in stock for decades.
The upstairs of the Grandi Building was a hotel, along with a dance hall. The hotel was mostly used by railroad men, but lieutenant-colonel Dwight Eisenhower stayed there in 1940, just 12 years before he was President Eisenhower. For awhile the town’s telephone switchboard was in the hotel’s lobby. “The hotel closed around 1950,” Mason wrote.
The narrow-gauge railroad, which had been built to carry lumber from Cazadero in Sonoma County to the ferry docks in Sausalito and to return with supplies from San Francisco, was never profitable. It was reorganized several times and eventually became part of the Northwestern Pacific. But the advent of competition from trucks for hauling cargo and from cars for carrying people was too much for the railroad.
In 1920, the NWP converted the track east of Point Reyes Station to standard gauge. (It took the narrow gauge 477 cars to haul what the standard gauge could haul with 198.) But the new arrangement turned out to be inconvenient. Cargo passing through Point Reyes Station had to be unloaded from narrow-gauge cars and onto standard-gauge cars or vice versa.
In 1930, the narrow-gauge line to the north closed down, and in 1933, the standard-gauge line to the east followed suit. For a time, old rail cars were stored in Point Reyes Station, but many were eventually burned. The old engine house became a community center, and the depot is now the town post office.
I am indebted to historian Jack Mason’s Earthquake Bay for much of the foregoing information.