History of Bolinas, CA (Part 1)
From: History of Marin County, California
Alley, Bowen & Company, Publishers
San Francisco 1880


GEOGRAPHY. - Bolinas township is bounded on the north by Nicasio township, on the west by Point Reyes township, on the south by the Pacific ocean, and on the east by San Rafael township. In shape it is oblong, its greatest dimension being from southeast to northwest. There are no streams in it of any importance other than drainage. Its only harbor is the bay of the same name situated at the southeasterly corner of the township. In days gone by this, doubtless, afforded a very ample anchorage, but the soil from the hillsides on the one hand and the sands of the sea on the other, have conspired to fill the entire bay, almost. The entrance to it is now nearly closed by an extensive sand beach, there being only a narrow channel open through it. The greater portion of the bay is a great sand bed which is bare at every low tide, and which affords a breeding ground for countless gigantic clams. It has, of course, required ages to effect these changes, for the attrition of the soil and the accretion of the sand, must necessarily have been very slow. When the country began to settle up, this filling in of the harbor progressed much faster; for the soil, being loosened by the plowshares, was the more easily washed into the bay by the Winter rains. When vessels first began to sail into the port, a schooner drawing ten feet of water could pass over the bar with ease at any stage of the tide, while now, the same draught of vessel can barely pass at the highest stage; and where those large vessels formerly lay at the wharf, the depth of water will not admit of more than a fishing smack. Old sailors are free to assert that the day is not far distant, at the present rate of filling in, when the entrance of the bay will be entirely closed, and the body of it will be mere tide and overflowed land open to reclamation and cultivation. It is true that the harbor is not of as much importance now as it has been in days gone by when the major portion of the wood and lumber supply of San Francisco passed over its bar; still it would work,a great hardship to the citizens of that section to have it closed altogether. It does not seem practicable nor probable that any efforts will ever be made to reopen the channel or to care for it in its present condition. At the termination of another generation the records of the many vessels which once spread their canvas in this harbor will read like a fairy tale, and will seem certainly to be among the improbabilities; very much as the greater portion of the early history of our Golden State will read to our grandchildren.

TOPOGRAPHY. - The general surface of this township is in keeping with the others in the county, and is quite rough. On the eastern side a ridge of the Tamalpais chain extends nearly the entire length, which is penetrated with lateral canons, causing that portion of the township to present a very corrugated appearance. Stretching northward from the head of Bolinas bay is a wide and fertile valley extending all the way to the head of Tomales bay: To the westward of Bolinas bay there is quite an extensive mesa or table land, which extends to the ocean. North of this the land is rolling and finally culminates in a series of mountain peaks which stretch to the northern limits of the township along its western boundary.

SOIL. - The soil of this township is generally very rich and fertile. It is mostly a sandy loam, with here and there a section of clay. Most of the hills have clay quite near the surface, but the out croppings of it are not very frequent. The clay is yellow and would, doubtless, be well adapted for the manufacture of brick. The soil of the valleys is well adapted for the purposes of growing grass, grain, vegetables, and fruits. Fruit trees planted almost thirty years ago by Captain J. A. Morgan are still bearing, and the fruit is excellent, considering the variety. There was a time, however, when there were not so many choice varieties in the State, and when these apples were much sought for and highly prized in the San Francisco market. A twig from this orchard, on which there were twenty apples once sold for a twenty dollar gold piece in that city. Some years ago quite large quantities of oats were raised about Olema for the city market, and oats and barley are still grown very extensively for hay. They are sown together, as it is thought that one protects the other from rust. Fine potatoes are also grown in this section, but as it is, found to be more profitable to use the land for dairying purposes, the growing of all these grains and vegetables is mostly abandoned.

CLIMATE. - The climate of Bolinas township throughout is very fine, and varies from the cold and foggy air of the ocean beach to the mild and dry atmosphere of the interior. At Bolinas the ocean breezes have a fair sweep across the mesa and come upon the town freighted, aye, saturated at times, with moisture from the ocean. At Olema it is quite the contrary, and while the wind is fully as cool and refreshing, the dampness has all been absorbed by the thirsty vegetation and trees over which it has passed. Here is as salubrious and health producing a climate as is to be found in any section. not only in Marin county but of the State of California.

TIMBER - There was a time when the timber of this township was bountiful, and its forests grand and extensive. It was from Bolinas that the greater portion of the early lumber supply for San Francisco came. It is estimated that about fifteen million feet of lumber was cut in. the immediate vicinity of Bolinas, and judging from the stumps which still remain, the redwoods of this grand old forest primeval must have been the peers of any of their congeners in the State, always excepting of course the "Big Trees of Calaveras." This forest extended from about midway of the bay on the eastern side northward to the summit between Bolinas and Olema. They grew much larger in the gulches where they were in a measure sheltered from the fierce winds of the ocean and also where the fog was the densest. On the ridges they grew very sparsely, and the few which did have the hardihood and indiscretion to spring up on those barren and forbidding mountain spurs were stunted in their growth by the bleak winds from the northwest, and warped into ill shapen and unseemly dwarfs of a monster race. Their leaves and limbs have long since succumbed to the fierce blasts of old Boreas, and their trunks now stand mere bare poles, looking much like skeleton sentinels guarding the destinies of the race of men who have so fully supplanted the people which knew and perhaps loved them in their quasi and quancdon glory. Of the other timber in the township, pine, fir, oak and alder form the greater portion. The pine is of the species known as "bull pine," and is gnarly, coarse grained and unfit for use except as firewood. This tree seemed to flourish well here, and in an early day there were large quantities of it on every hill and mountain side. The fir is fine grained and grows straight and tall. It makes good lumber for certain purposes, and is much sought after in the m arkets for the uses to which it is adapted. No prettier sight can be seen in many miles travel than a large forest of young fir trees growing on a mountain side. They stand in such regular order that, to the eye, they present the appearance of an army drawn up in rank and file. The oak, is the common black oak indigenous to all the coast of this section. It is gnarled and knotty, and its wood fit only for firewood, and not so good for that as its congenor, the live oak. The alder grew in the valleys and its forests were almost impenetrable, growing so closely together that they were obliged to follow Webster's suggestion to the young lawyer, and find their "room at the top," hence they grew very straight and tall. When they were cut the cord wood almost covered the ground from which the trees were chopped. The wood is light, makes a quick, hot fire, but not a lasting one. There is no other timber in this section worthy of mention. Of all these the major portion has long since been chopped out, and the places which knew them shall know them no more forever, nor will others spring up to take their places - "Peace be to their ashes."

PRODUCTS. - The fertility of the soil of this township would admit of a versatility of products, but here, as elsewhere in Margin county, the chief industry is dairying. In early times quite large quantities of oats, barley and wheat were grown both in the section around Olema and on the mesa west of the town of Bolinas. Potatoes do well also, and in days agone were grown quite extensively. The products of this township at the present time chiefly consist of butter and cordwood.

EARLY SETTLEMENT - Bolinas. - In considering the early settlement of this township we shall divide it, for convenience, into two sections, Bolinas and Olema. Their location and interests were such that their settlement was not contemporaneous. To Rafael Garcia doubtless belongs the honor of being the first man to settle in the Bolinas section. It is not known now just what year he came in, but it was probably about 18:34. He located the Baulinas rancho, and after remaining on it for a few years disposed of it to Gregorio Briones, his brother-in-law, to whom it was granted February 11, 1846, by Pio Pico. Briones sent his son Pablo to Bolinas in 1837. The family went in 1838 and he in 1839. The grant contained eight thousand nine hundred and eleven acres, and afforded pasturage for his extensive bands of stock. His house was only partially adobe, the lumber for the wooden portion having been "whip sawed" in the adjacent forests. The adobe portion comprised four rooms, two bed rooms, sitting room and kitchen. His stock multiplied very fast and in a few years he numbered his cattle by the thousands and his other stock by the hundreds. In domestic matters he dispensed with the same liberal hand which so preeminently characterized all the rancherias of that day. Gregorio Briones was born in Monterey in 1797, and his wife, Donna Romana Garcia, was born in San Diego in 1803. At the age of twenty two he entered the army and remained in it for a period of eleven years, during which time, in 1822, be was married at the Mission Dolores, San Francisco. In 1830 he went to San Jose and spent two years, then to Pinole, Contra Costa county, where he resided till September 5, 1837. He then went to the Presidio in San Francisco, and remained two years, during which time he was Alcalde of the place. They had five children, two sons and three daughters. He died May 10, 1863, beloved and respected by all who knew him. He was ever accredited with being an honest, upright and truthful man, and probably, with the exception of some few who had land difficulties with him, he did not have an enemy in the world.

The first marriage which occurred in the township was contracted between. Francisco Sebrean and Senorita Maria J. Briones, daughter of Gregorio Briones. This occurred May 20, 1850, and was an event long to be remembered by those present. Great preparations had been made for the occasion, and everything was in keeping with the order of things in that day. Up to this time there had not been a flour laid in the township, but what was a wedding without a dance, and what was a dance without a floor? So sonic whip sawyers, among whom was Charles Lauff, were employed to furnish the requisite lumber and construct the floor. This floor was fourteen by twenty, and, though seeming quite small now, afforded ample opportunity for devotion to the Terpsichorean. muse. A grand barbecue was also prepared, and the carcass of a fat bullock was roasted to a turn over the pit of bright coals. In connection with this there was a table sot, the like of which had not been seen before in all these regions round about. Viands were spread upon it in bountiful profuseness, so that there was enough and to spare for all the guests. In the early hours of that bright and beautiful Spring morning, a single horse with two riders might have been seen threading his way along the mountain trail leading from Bolinas to San Rafael. These riders were a man and woman, both in the full flush of youth and of love. He was the hero of the day, Francisco Sebrean, and she, the fair Senorita Maria J. Briones, and their destination, the mission, where was to be realized the full fruition of their ardent love. The services of Padre Santilla were invoked, and the twain were made one flesh, both by the laws of God and man. was mounting their horse, they started out on the journey home. Here was romance more than realized, but we draw the curtain and leave the newly made man and wife alone with their love, their happiness, and their hopes. Arriving at the Briones homestead late in the afternoon, they found all preparations for the wedding feast duly made. Congratulations were showered upon them from every side, and all was joy and gaiety. The wants of the inner man having been more than satisfied, all repaired to the dancing floor, and then the real pleasure of the guests began. The music consisted of a violin and guitar, and the dances were waltzes, polkas, schottisches and reels. A few quadrilles were indulged in by the American guests present. And thus was continued the round of eating, drinking and dancing, till the early dawn of another day was being heralded through the world by the clarion throated chanticleer, and the approach of Aurora in her chariot of light.

Among the many men whom chance circumstances had stranded upon the Pacific coast in that early day, long before immigration set in in this direction, was a man known only by the cognomen of "The old Blacksmith;" whence he came or what had been his past life, no one ever knew, for those were subjects on which he was very reticent. He appeared at the Mission of San Rafael very suddenly and mysteriously about 1840. He had evidently deserted from some ship in San Francisco bay, and stopped at the first settlement he came to. He was employed in several menial capacities by Timothy Murphy for a few years, but finally disappeared from there as mysteriously as he had come. In 1849, Captain J. A. Morgan had occasion to go to Bolinas bay, to wreck a vessel which had been stranded on the beach. Upon going ashore he was met by a very peculiar looking individual who seemed to be a fixture in that vicinity. Upon entering into conversation with him, he found that the man was living near by in a deep ravine, and he invited the Captain up to his residence for an inspection of his premises. When he arrived at "the house," what was his surprise, to find it to be simply a cask picked up from the beach, with the open end against a rock which served as a door. In the hogshead there was a lot of leaves, and a few rags which answered for a bed. The Captain then inquired of the man what his name was, and was answered with the laconic reply, "Blacksmith," and no amount of persuasion could ever induce him to reveal any other name. The old Blacksmith offered to divide his claim with Morgan, which proposition was accepted, and he subsequently located there. The Blacksmith was eccentric, erratic, cunning, bold and mischievous, and many used to think somewhat of a lunatic. He had a small raft which used to serve his purposes of navigation about the bay, and which he propelled with a long pole. He seemed to be a fire worshipper, for no matter where he stopped, be it day or night, Winter or Summer, he would build up a large fire and sit by it. He had two companions, a eat and a pig, both of which followed him in all of his peregrinations, and if he chanced to push off from the shore without them, they would both plunge into the water and swim to him. The affection which existed between them was something remarkable, and would more than emulate Robinson Crusoe and his pets. He always went barefooted, and half naked, being inured to the extremes of weather. His food consisted of clams, fish and game, capturing the latter with an old flintlock musket, from which the lock had been gone for years, but which he discharged by applying a lighted match to the powder in the "pan." After there was a trading post established at the Point he would sometimes come across the bay and get a quantity of whisky and return to his hogshead and have a glorious drunk He came to the Point for whisky one clay, and found everybody absent from home. Getting angry at this seeming disrespect for him by leaving home the day he had chosen to come to town, be set about to wreak revenge upon the inhabitants. He poured out all the fresh water about the premises, and replaced it with sea water. He then went to the only spring, a small one, and bailed out all the fresh water and filled it also with salt water; when supper had been prepared by the unsuspecting victims of this perfidy, with this salt water, it can easily be imagined how little it was relished, and one can also readily guess that the anathemas pronounced upon the Blacksmith were not few nor other than dire. In 1857, at about the age of sixty, the old Blacksmith met the rider of the white horse face to face and passed away from the scenes of life to those which death opened to his view. When he realized that his end was near, he was asked to reveal the secret of his life, but he refused to say anything further than to intimate that he had murdered his wife. What a burden to carry on one's mind and heart through all the days and years of life! Driven, like the first of his kind, from the presence of man, with the mark fixed upon him, although not visible to stranger's eyes, yeti always standing out boldly before his own. There ever Upon his hands were the drops of her blood; in his ears there ever rang that last wild shriek, the groan, the death rattle in her throat, the gasp; before his mind's eye there ever arose the vision of that last sad scene and the tragic end of the life he had sworn before God and man to cherish and protect, the supplicating appeal in her face when the hand of the slayer descended upon her, the recoil, the quiver, and all was over and he a doomed man, an outcast from the society of men, and with no hope of Heaven. Peace there was none, solace could not be found, all, all was gone. In the wilderness of a far away country he tried to entomb himself, and struggled in vain to forget. His punishment began on earth, and who shall say where the end shall be! His grave was made on the brow of a hill overlooking the beautiful bay beside which he had spent so many unhappy days, and the ceaseless roar of the Pacific is his requiem.

In 1849, quite late in the season, a party composed of the following named persons came to Bolinas bay for the purpose of getting out wharf timbers: - Joseph Almy, Charles Lauff, Henderson, B. T. Winslow, James Cummings. James Hough, Fred Sampson, Dr. Grattan, Hiram Nott, William F. Chappell and a few others whose names have been forgotten. James Hough had the contract for getting out the timbers and employed the other men, and received two dollars per running foot for the timbers delivered at San Francisco. The timber was rafted down the bay and over the bar where a vessel was anchored ready to receive it. It was used in the construction of wharves and warehouses in San Francisco. Joseph Almy undertook to take a raft to the city, but not being familiar with the tides and currents of the ocean he was driven into the breakers on what is known as the "potato patch," and his raft went to pieces. This company had quite a large building located about one hundred yards north of the present residence of W. W. Wilkins. The only passenger boat running from San Francisco to Bolinas at that time was a small "double ender," run by a man with the peculiarly odd title of "Captain Town Meeting," and no other name is known for him. The only house on the east side of the bay at that time was located where Mr. McKinnon now lives, and was occupied by a man named Johnson. There was an unoccupied shake shanty on the point on the west side of the bay. Two men by the name of Winston and Cummings were located further up toward the top of the ridge, and were engaged in making shingles. Of this party, only Joseph Almy and Charles Lauff are still residents of Bolinas. Mr. Almy was County Judge for a number of years, and Mr. Lauff is one of Bolinas' substantial citizens. Henderson afterwards married one of Rafael Garcia's daughters and died. This was the first marriage which occurred in the northern end of the township, in San Rafael in 1855. Dr. Grattan lived in Stockton for a number of years, and Hiram Nott married one of the daughters of Gregorio Briones and settled on the Mesa west of the bay. He died in 1869.

In December, 1850, there arrived in that section a man by the name.of John Greenwood, who was a hunter. He was the son of a Rocky Mountain hunter and a relative of the mighty nimrod, David Crockett, and had the reputation of being one of the finest shots in the country. He brought with him a young wife, not yet half out of her teens, with rosy cheeks and skin as fair as a lily, who contrasted very strangely with the tawny daughters of the native Californians. To them was born, March 15, 1852, the first child in the township, of other than Spanish parentage. Greenwood was killed in San Bernardino in 1859, but his wife is still living, having lost none of her vivacity by the added years, which seem to rest very lightly upon her head. Captain A. D. Easkoot came next, in 1851, and located at the extreme southern point on the bay. The next place north of him was located on by Captain J. A. Morgan. He lived in a ship's deck house, which was fourteen by twenty, and seven feet high, and was engaged in farming and dairying. In 1872 he returned East, and in 1874 was thrown from a buggy and killed. The next place north was settled by Captain Joseph Almy, and the next was occupied by Greenwood. On the west side of the bay there was the Briones ranch house and a house owned by Captain George Gavitt at the point. In 1852 David Robinson and Calvin K Woodbury built a small saloon at the point, getting the lumber out of a ship's poop. It was about ten feet square and had two banks and a deal table for poker in it. Two brothers, Thomas and William Johnson came in and located on the west side of the bay, in what is still known as the Johnson gulch. They were ship wrights and built a number of schooners there. In the same gulch a man by the name of Adams located and began raising poultry. Further north James Brayton was living in a little shanty and was growing potatoes. He afterwards went to Contra Costa county and settled. On the west side of the bay a Californian by the name of Jose Jesus Vuelinsuelo had built a house just back and a little to the south of the present site of the Druid Hall. During this year Captain George Gavitt began running the schooner "Eliza" from San Francisco to Bolinas. He also had a saloon with the title of "Golden Racer." W. W. Wilkins, S. P. Weeks and several others came in and located in the vicinity during the year. In 1852 Captain Samuel Clark and Captain P. L. Bourne came to Bolinas, also several others. In 1854 George Hilton located on the ridge east of the bay. As yet there had not been a wagon road constructed either to San Rafael or Saucelito, and to reach the former place with a team it was necessary to go via Olema. There was a trait over the mountain about where the present most excellent grade is, and a trail also leading to Saucelito. In 1857 T. J. and E. B. Mahon opened the first store. which was located at Woodville. They continued there only one year. In 1857 Henry Clover built and opened a store near the Briones ranch house. He sold to William Levy, and he to George Brittian and William Lacy George Brittian and William Haskell opened the first store at the point in 18.62. The first hotel at the point was located by John Gifford. The first dwelling house erected at the point was built by Captain Almy and the Johnson brothers. There was an abundance of California lions and bears in the woods on the east side of the bay. These lions would kill colts and small stock. They were extirpated about 1860.

SAW MILLS. - In 1851 Captain Hammond built the first saw mill in this section, which was located on the present site of Woodville. It was a circular, and had a capacity of about eight thousand feet daily, and was run by steam. In 1852 this mill was reconstructed by Captain Oliver Allen, and a circular saw put in, giving it a capacity of twenty thousand feet. This mill was run at times for about six years, when the machinery was taken out and shipped to San Francisco. It is estimated that all told this mill cut six million feet of lumber. The second mill was built by an association known as the Bolinas Saw Mill Company, who had also come into possession of the first mill. It was put in operation soon after the first one and was located in a gulch very near the former. It was a steam, circular saw, and had a capacity of about eight thousand feet daily. It was afterwards sold to George R. Morris, who moved it down to what is now known as Pike County Gulch, near the head of the bay, and run there for some time. It, is estimated that this mill cut three million feet. The next mill was built in December, 1853, by J. L. Moulthrop, and was located on what is known as Peck's ridge. It was a steam, circular saw, and could cut twelve thousand feet daily. It was afterwards purchased by Captain Peck and moved farther up the ridge, and was thereafter known as the Peck mill. It is estimated that this mill cut three million feet of lumber. The last mill built in that section was put in operation by D. B. L. Ross and John Rutherford in 1858, and was located in the road leading from Bolinas to Olema, and just south of Wm. Randall's place. This mill did not run but a short time and it is estimated that it cut one million feet. This would make a total yield of thirteen million feet of lumber from that belt of redwood. When the mills were first put in operation it was estimated that there were over fifty million feet in those forests, but they did not approximate the estimation. The logs were drawn to the mills with heavy ox teams on carts, the wheels of which were made from sections sawed off from a log. The lumber was drawn to the head of the bay, and thence lightered out over the bar, where it was loaded on vessels for San Francisco. The transportation of this lumber required from six to. eight vessels ranging in carrying capacity from eight thousand to one hundred and twenty thousand feet each. The remnants of the old lighter wharves are all that is now left to mark the site of these busy operations, and where once there existed an industry which. gave employment to hundreds of men, and yielded a handsome income, not even the stroke of an ax is heard. All is gone, and naught of it will ever return. In the days of the pristine glory of this forest primeval it was no uncommon thing to find trees fifty feet in circumference, and the lumber was all first class. There was a shingle mill on Randall's place in 1858, but nothing is known now, however, concerning it.

[Continued in Bolinas History part 2]

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