In 1886, West Marin became linked to the tiny town of Cazadero north of the Russian River by the North Pacific Coast Railway’s narrow-gauge line.

The first North Pacific Coast train from Sausalito had on Jan. 7, 1875, arrived in Tomales by way of the San Geronimo Valley and a depot in a cow pasture that would become Point Reyes Station; not surprisingly, the advent of train service set off construction of homes and businesses around the small depot.

By the following year, another long stretch of tracks — from Tomales through Occidental (then called Howard’s) to Monte Rio — had been completed.

A train of picnickers prepares to head home after partying in Cazadero in the 1890s. Photo from Narrow Gauge to the Redwoods by Bray Dickinson.

In 1876, the North Pacific Coast Railway tracks were extended west along the south bank of the Russian River from Monte Rio to Duncans Mills. There the tracks for a logging train crossed the river and doubled back upstream.

In 1886, the logging-train tracks became the first section of an extended line that ran up Austin Creek to its terminus, which the Postal Service had named Austin after the creek. The town had previously been known as Ingram’s after a hunting resort there, and resort owner Silas Ingram, who was also the postmaster, was annoyed by the feds changing the name, which had helped promote his resort.

To quote Dickinson’s book: “A United States Post Office had been established here on April 1, 1881, with Silas D. Ingram as postmaster. The name of the post office was changed [back] to Ingram’s on June 25, 1886 and on April 24, 1889 [was changed] to Cazadero.” The word is Spanish for hunting ground.

Dickinson adds, “The first regular passenger train from San Francisco arrived at Ingram’s on April 1, 1886.” The trip had begun with travelers crossing the Golden Gate on a North Pacific Coast ferry. The ferry docked in Sausalito, and the engine house for the railway was in Point Reyes Station.

The CazSonoma Inn.

In the early 1970s when I lived in Monte Rio while editing The Sebastopol Times, I frequently heard good things about the Cazanoma Lodge in nearby Cazadero but somehow never found time to check it out.

A couple of weeks ago after Lynn and I finished some maintenance on a cottage she owns in Forestville near the Russian River, she and I on a lark decided to visit Cazadero, which neither of us had seen in years.

I was still curious about the Cazanoma Lodge, so we agreed to make that part of the trip. From Highway 116, we drove up the Cazadero “Highway” in the shadow of giant redwoods until we spotted a sign beside Kidd Creek, a tributary of Austin Creek. As the sign revealed, the lodge has been renamed the CazSonoma Inn, and we drove three miles up a dirt road to reach it.

Running the inn these days are Rich Mitchell (no relation) and his wife Renée. Rich, who is seen here in the inn’s charming dining room, is a genial host. A poet and author, the innkeeper relishes literary discussions.

Lynn enjoying a snooze in our room called the Creekside.

After making reservations earlier in the week, Lynn and I drove to Cazadero Friday and checked in at the CazSonoma Inn. Our room, which included two queen-sized beds and a large bathroom, overlooked a mill pond along Kidd Creek. Including breakfast the next morning, the tab came to $150 for the night.

The mill at the bottom of a small tributary to Kidd Creek was built in 1941 but hasn’t turned for two years, Rich told us.

The innkeeper gave us some fish food, which looked a bit like dog kibble, to throw into the mill pond near a pair of old duck decoys. Each time we did, we set off a feeding frenzy of trout.

I wanted to take a photo of Rich in the inn’s pub, which overlooks the mill pond, but he insisted we trade places. (Photo by Rich Mitchell)

Raymond’s Bakery beside Cazadero Highway has become well known for excellent pastries since opening 10 years ago. By now it is a popular meeting spot for local residents. Here Lynn chooses one of the bakery’s “award-winning” oatmeal cookies.

As it happened, Lynn and I were drawn to Cazadero Friday by the bakery as well as our inn. On Friday evenings, Raymond’s sponsors music outdoors under a stand of redwoods, and we heard a fine bluegrass band called Out of the Blue. Pizza, beer, and wine were served at picnic tables. There was no cover charge. A pizza large enough for two of us cost $18.

In the center of town is the Cazadero Store, which was built in 1882. The North Pacific Coast trains used to stop out front. To the right is the town post office.

On the north end of the small downtown is the non-denominational Cazadero Community Church. Over the door hangs a sign reading: “Heavenbound Express.”

Immediately north of the Community Church is St. Colman’s Catholic Church built in 1920.

Berry’s Mill when it dominated the downtown. (Russian River Historical Society photo)

My home in Monte Rio had been built with redwood from Berry’s Mill, so I stopped a couple of times to take a look at the mill back in the 1970s when it was still sawing logs into timber in downtown Cazadero.

“The story of Berry’s Mill and Lumberyard began in 1941,” notes the mill’s website. “Twenty-year-old Loren Berry was working as a logger in the small town of Cazadero. His family had been living there since 1886 when Loren’s grandfather bought the town of Ingrams and renamed it Cazadero.

“In those days, logging was done in and near Cazadero to convert forests to grazing land. Sawmills were needed to process the logs. In 1941, with the financial backing of his father, Loren built and began operating Berry’s Mill and Lumberyard. Most of the lumber was sold to farmers.”

During World War II, “Loren left Cazadero, joined the Army, and continued building and operating sawmills in the United States, Europe, and the Pacific. At the end of the war, Loren returned to Cazadero with a new philosophy of forest preservation and management. Rather than clear-cutting and burning forests to create grazing land, Loren promoted sustained-yield cutting and replanting.”

The old mill was destroyed by fire in 1989. With the help of townspeople, the Berry family rebuilt the mill but later relocated their operation to the Russian River end of Cazadero Highway.

A turnaround for locomotives was on the north end of Cazadero, the same as in Point Reyes Station. When the railway east of Point Reyes Station was  converted to standard gauge in 1920, the narrow-gauge line ran only between the two towns. Photo from Narrow Gauge to the Redwoods.

The Austin Creek disaster. Drawing by a San Francisco Examiner staff artistfrom Narrow Gauge to the Redwoods.

On Jan. 14, 1894, heavy rains swelled Austin Creek to where a trestle collapsed with a train from Cazadero on it. Seven men died, including the engineer, fireman, station agent, and town postmaster. The corpse of station agent Joseph Sabine was not found for 10 days.

Writes Dickinson: “By the 10th day, everyone was ready to abandon the search as hopeless just as an elderly Spanish woodchopper asked if they would let him help. He fastened a lighted candle to a piece of board and then chanted ‘mystic’ words as he set the candle adrift.

“Some distance downstream the board circled about in an eddy, then floated up to some tangled brush. The candle went out. ‘There you will find the dead man,’ said the old Spaniard. And so it was.” Dickinson adds, “It is difficult to determine how much of this story is true. However, those who were there for years repeated the story as true.”

The Cazadero depot in 1903. Photo from Narrow Gauge to the Redwoods.

On July 31, 1933, the 7.2-mile section of narrow-gauge line that connected Cazadero and Duncans Mill closed because traffic along it had mostly disappeared. The last narrow-gauge run from Camp Meeker south to Point Reyes Station had already occurred on March 29, 1930.

After almost 45 years of contributing to each other’s well being, Point Reyes Station and Cazadero were forced to go their separate ways. Their histories, however, are forever linked. Both towns are still small, but Cazadero today bears more of a quaint resemblance to its 19th century roots.