Entries tagged with “North Pacific Coast Railroad”.


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.

For a town with only 85 residents, Duncans Mills, which is on the Russian River just upstream from Jenner, contains a surprising amount of history from the Marin and Sonoma county coasts.

West Marin oldtimers may recognize this narrow-gauge passenger car from the North Pacific Coast Railroad, which operated from 1875 to 1930 between Sausalito and Cazadero. Point Reyes Station’s present post office was the town depot, and the Red Barn (now painted green) was the engine house.

For the rail line’s first year and a half, the northern terminus was in Tomales, but after a 1,700-foot-long tunnel was dug through “Tunnel Hill,” the line was extended to Valley Ford and Occidental (then called Howard’s) and on to the Russian River area.

After the line shut down in 1930, this passenger car, which is now being repainted, was the Point Reyes Station library until 1957. The late Mike Contos bought the car in 1957 and kept it at his trout farm, which was located where Point Reyes Station’s Caltrans corporation yard is today. The late Toby Giacomini, who at one time owned Toby’s Feed Barn and Toby’s Trucking, bought the rail car in 1975 and moved it downtown to where West Marin Storage is now located.

Millerick Brothers of Sebastopol purchased the car in 1981 and kept it at Millerick Brothers Boat Yard until 1983 when Duncans Mills Trading Company bought it. The old rail car was then moved it to the Duncans Mills Depot Museum, where it is currently being restored for the fourth time.

After a ceremony that took note of the history of this 140-year-old barn in Duncans Mills, Clamper Kevin Dixon of Vallejo (at left) from Sam Brannan Chapter 1004 indicated with a gesture what a great day it was.

On Saturday, two chapters of E Clampus Vitus dedicated a plaque in Duncans Mills, memorializing another piece of coastal history, Moscow Barn at Casini Ranch Campground. The structure is so old that President and former Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant is believed to have stabled horses there at one time.

The “plaquing” was carried out by Sam Brannan Chapter 1004 (Napa, Glenn, Colusa counties “and protector of Solano”) and Yerba Buena 1 (“the Mother Lodge”), which is based in San Francisco.

It was the second time a group of Clampers had dedicated a plaque in Duncans Mills. Back in 1989, Yerba Buena 1 placed a plaque on the Blue Heron Restaurant and Tavern, recalling an odd bit of town history. In 1877, Black Bart for a second time robbed the stagecoach between Fort Ross and Duncans Mills. The outlaw would eventually rob a total of 28 stagecoaches while never firing a shot. What made the second robbery worthy of Clamper recognition is that for this heist, Black Bart wrote a short poem and left it with the stage.

Clampers, by the way, have also left their tracks in West Marin. In 1998, the two groups dedicated a plaque to Tomales’ historic downtown, mounting it on a traffic island in front of the William Tell House. In 2008, they placed a plaque in Tomales Town Park, marking the site of the house of Warren Dutton, a co-founder of the town. The house was destroyed in the 1920 town fire. Yet another plaque was mounted at the Point Reyes Lifeboat Station.

The leader of each chapter or lodge of the Clampers is known as the Noble Grand Humbug. Here Jim “Woody” Morton (at left), the Humbug of Sam Brannan 1004 jokes with Nils “Hagar” Anderson, Humbug of Yerba Buena 1.

The “right temperament” to be a Clamper, said Dean Hamlin of Santa Rosa, ex Humbug of the Sam Brannan chapter, “means you have to have a sense of humor, the ability to laugh at oneself and with others, and have a sense and appreciation of history.”

Loren Wilson, who once lived on the Cereni Ranch just north of Tomales near Fallon, is an ex “Sublime Noble Grand Humbug” of all the Clampers, as well as a past Noble Grand Humbug of Sam Brannan Chapter 1004 and a current Clamper historian.

Gina Casini and her brother Paul Casini own Casini Ranch Campground where historic Moscow Barn is located. Paul noted their grandfather once managed a dairy ranch for the LaFranchi family on the site. In 1928, he bought the land from them. Gina said her grandfather then started the campground “and charged two bits.”

In 1919, the Christian Brothers had bought the neighboring land where the barn was located to start a retreat for boys. The barn’s stalls were converted into a recreation hall that was also used as sleeping quarters, Paul said, and the hayloft was converted into a chapel. By 1973, he added, the barn was no longer being used and was in disrepair, so the Christian Brothers decided to have it torn down and offered the Casinis the lumber.

However, his father had been baptized in the chapel and played in the barn as a boy, and he was fond of the building, Paul said. His family then moved the barn 1,500 feet to their property. On the way, the barn had to travel down a slope, and Gina said she’d been amazed it didn’t shake apart. Fortunately, the barn arrived safely and her father then restored it.

Humbug Morton and Gina Casini during the plaquing.

Gina told the crowd of almost 200 about going to movies in the barn as a youth. More recently she’s taught line dancing there and would like to do it again, she added. Nowadays, however, the former livestock barn is primarily used for weddings and other group events.

Following the comments from Gina and Humbug Anderson, he in accordance with tradition asked the group, “And what say the brethren?” In unison they shouted back, “Satisfactory!” Anderson then read the plaque to the crowd and again asked, “And what say the brethren?” Again the response was: “Satisfactory!”

The two humbugs then “anointed” the plaque with bottles of beer.