History of Nicasio, CA
From: History of Marin County, California
Alley, Bowen & Company, Publishers
San Francisco 1880


GEOGRAPHY. - Nicasio township is bounded on the north by San Antonio township, on the west by Tomales township, on the south by Tomales bay, Bolinas and San Rafael townships, and on the east by San Rafael and Novato townships. There are no streams of importance in this section. That part of Tomales bay which skirts along the south-western portion of Nicasio is not navigable now for any kind of craft, although years ago the water was deep enough for sloops and fishing smacks. Nicasio creek is a small stream flowing through the central portion, while San Geronimo, or Paper mill creek, flows along the southern border.

TOPOGRAPHY. - The general face of this section is hilly rather than mountainous, although there are some quite high ridges and peaks in the western portion. The country is generally quite open and free from timber or chaparral. In Nicasio valley the hills become mere undulations, having much the same general appearance as the southern portion of Sonoma county, especially that section known as Big Valley. It may be said that there is no level land in the township from the fact that the valleys are all broken up into these undulations.

SOIL. - The soil of Nicasio is fully up to the standard of any other township in the county. It is a rich, sandy loam in all the valleys, while on the hillsides there is some red clay. On some of the rolling ground in the northern part of the township the soil is of a lighter nature, still not enough so as to cause any very great difference in the yield, either of grass or grain. The soil generally is well adapted to growing all kinds of grains, vegetables and fruits, also grass.

CLIMATE. - The climate is mild and pleasant in the eastern portion of the township, while in the western it is subjected to heavy winds and fogs. In Nicasio valley proper the climate is not excelled anywhere in the county. It is well protected from the blasts of the ocean winds by the range of hills known as the Black Mountains, on the tops of which the fogs seem to cling with wonderful tenacity, and seldom swoop down into the valley.

PRODUCTS. - The products of this section are in keeping with other townships of the county. Butter is here, as elsewhere, the product, although the business of dairying is not conducted on quite so large a scale, by individuals, as in some other sections. Some grain is grown, but little of it finds its way to the market. Some cord wood and railroad ties are cut and marketed. Fruit trees thrive excellently, but little attention is paid to their cultivation. Potatoes grow luxuriantly, and tons of massive tubers are produced to the acre; but all these things give way before the all absorbing industry of butter making.

TIMBER. - When the country was settled up by Americans there were large forests of redwood in Nicasio, but since then saw mills have been busily engaged for many years, and the prime trees have long since fallen victims to the remorseless ax of the woodsman. There are still large numbers of second and third grade trees remaining in the forests, and it is quite probable that there will come a time when they will be very valuable. Of the other timbers, the oak may be mentioned as the principal one. None of this, however, is available for other purposes than firewood. There is some laurel and some alder, but the latter does not form any considerable portion of the timber of this section.

EARLY SETTLEMENT. - Nicasio township is composed chiefly of lands granted to Pablo de la Guerra and Juan B. R. Cooper, and known as the Nicasio Rancho. This grant contained sixteen square leagues, and was made August 1, 1844, by His Excellency, Don Manuel Micheltorena, Brigadier General of the Mexican Army and Adjutant General of the staff of the same, Governor, General Commandant and Inspector of the Department of the Californias. The full measurement of sixteen leagues would call for seventy thousand eight hundred and fifty four and four hundred and thirty two thousandths acres, but it appears that only fifty six thousand six hundred and twenty one and four hundredths acres were confirmed to the following named parties:- Henry W. Halleck (afterwards General) thirty thousand eight hundred and forty eight and eighty five hundredths acres; Daniel Frink and William Reynolds, seven thousand five hundred and ninety eight and ten hundredths acres; James Black, nine thousand four hundred and seventy eight and eighty two hundredths acres; and Benjamin R. Buckelew, eight thousand six hundred and ninety five and twenty seven hundredths acres. Very soon after this grant was made the services of Jasper O'Farrell were secured as surveyor, and the boundary lines fully established. For this service O'Farrell received the tract now known as the Black estate, which, by the way, was a handsome compensation for his labor. This tract of land was exchanged by O'Farrell for the Canada de la Jonive Rancho in Sonoma county, in 1847 or 1848. James Black was the owner of the Jonive ranch, and as soon as the bargain had been consummated he came to Nicasio, and began making improvements. He brought the lumber for his house from the Bodega saw mill, at that time operated by Captain Stephen Smith. This building was doubtless the first one erected in the township, except perhaps some small shanties. We will now give a short sketch of this pioneer:- James Black was born in Inverness, Scotland, in 1807. Shortly after his birth his father moved to Liverpool, taking with him his family. In the course of time he attained to the position of Master of the Docks in that city. Young Black early evinced a roving disposition, and at his request his father secured him a place on board of one of the many foreign bound ships which sailed from that port. He sailed to India, China and to almost all other portions of the globe in various ships during the years which intervened from the time of his shipment until 1831. Some time during that year he shipped on board of an English vessel bound for the California coast and British Columbia in quest of hides and furs. On January 2, 1832, the ship arrived at Monterey, and Black, being very sick with typhoid fever, was put on shore to die. The captain of the vessel, however, promised to call in for him on the return voyage. Juan B. R. Cooper was at that time living in Monterey, and kindly cared for the forsaken English sailor, and in the course of time he fully recovered from his illness. Neither his restless spirit nor his purse would allow him to spend the waiting time in idleness. He was given work by Captain Cooper, and remained with him one year. During this time an acquaintance sprang up between him and a brother Scotchman, named Edward Manuel McIntosh. This acquaintance ripened soon into a friendship which bound them in ties as close as those of brothers, and which burned fervently and brightly till the latest days of their lives. At length Black became wearied of waiting for his vessel, and determined to join McIntosh in a hunting and trapping excursion. The vessel never came into port, and Black never heard of it again. After three or four years spent together in hunting and trapping, the most of which time was passed in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company, Black and McIntosh found themselves in Sonoma. This was in 1835, and from a statement made by General M. G. Vallejo, we learn that upon his (Vallejo's) assuming the position of commandant of the military of California in the above named year, he was ordered to extend his settlements as far as possible in the direction of "Fuerte de los Rusos" (now Fort Ross), then the head quarters of the Russian colony in Califonia, and to thus encroach upon their territory and usurp their possessions. For it is purpose he chose three hardy pioneers, viz:- James Black, Edward M. McIntosh and James Dawson, and promised to give them each a large grant of land, provided they would settle in the locality designated by him. This they readily consented to do, as they were sun that they can live on amicable terms with their Russian neighbors. The Russians at that time occupied that section of Sonoma county, now known as Bodega, hence the nearest approach to their settlements must be made near that place. Accordingly, Black settled upon what is now known as the Canada de la, Jonive rancho, and Dawson and McIntosh occupied the Estero Americano tract. Dawson, however, afterwards separated from McIntosh, sawing their common house in twain, and placed his half on the tract now known as the Canada de Pogolome rancho, all of which grants bordered on the Russian colony, and were eventually confirmed to their respective claimants. When the mines were in their glory Black drove annually large herds of cattle into that section, where he found a ready market for them, and their sale added much to his store of wealth. He spent the remainder of his days in quietude in this county, being however always an active business man and a true citizen. In 1850 he was one of the Associate Justices of the Court of Sessions, and on April 24, 1852, he was appointed Assessor, which office he filled till 1853. In both these positions he proved himself both capable and faithful. In 1843 he was united in marriage with Maria Augustine Saiz, daughter of Juan and Domingo Saiz. Two children resulted from this union, one of whom is now living, and is the wife of Dr. G. Burdell. Mrs. Black died February 23, 1864, and in 1865 he married Mrs. Pacheco, who still survives him. He died June 12, 1870, at the age of sixty four. And thus are the leaves of the great book of life closed and another of California's oldest pioneers has passed from time to eternity, and all that can be gathered of the life he led, the scenes he saw, or experiences passed through in those olden days, before it were possible to place them upon the living pages of history, is but the stray threads of warp and woof, and the web can but be at best sadly disconnected, and the links of life's chain widely severed, with only here and there one which even approaches completeness. In 1853 Jacob and J. O. B. Short leased an extensive tract of land in Nicasio from Timothy Murphy for grazing purposes, and took a considerable band of cattle upon it. They built a large log house in Bull's Tail valley, on what is now known as the Crayton place. This house is still standing, though Father Time has left the imprint of years upon it. This was the second house erected in the township. Two brothers named Hiram and Noah Corey came into this valley in 1852, and each built a house. The one erected by Noah Corey was the first house built on the present town site of Nicosia; and was located where the hotel now stands. This house was twenty two by thirty feet and is still standing, and occupied by Mrs. McMannus. The frames for these two buildings were sawed out with a small circular saw driven by horse power. This was probably the first saw mill of any character that was ever run in the township, and was owned by the Corey brothers. These houses were weather boarded and ceiled with shakes, and were very durable and comfortable. The house built by Hiram was situated just north of the town site of Nicasio. These men brought their families with them, and, with the exception of James Black's family, were the first who came to the township. During the first or second year of their residence here a little child belonging to the family of Noah Corey sickened and died, and was buried under the wide spreading branches of a massive oak tree which grew near the house. Years sped by apace, and the family moved away, leaving the little grave behind them with nothing to mark it save a redwood slab. After them many came and many went, and at last the slab was gone and the little sleeper forgotten by those who knew her, and her resting place unmarked and unknown to the strangers who came to settle in the valley. But fresh in the memory of the parents remained the little mound, and no lapse of time could destroy their love for, or cause them to forget, the hallowed spot. At length, after the flowers of a quarter of a century had bloomed, the father returned for the purpose of removing the body to a more appropriate resting place, beside other members of the family, who, having wearied with life's burden, had gone to rest on the bosom of mother earth. But when the father returned he found that many, many changes had occurred. The old house was gone, and the tree that sheltered the grave of his darling had likewise been swept out of existence, and in their stead the goodly proportions of a fine hotel were reared. Search for even a trace of the grave proved futile, and with a sad heart the father turned away to await the great day which shall reveal the resting place of all

William Dampier and William Butterfield were the next settlers in the valley. They constructed a house similar to those mentioned above, in 1853. It was situated south of the town of Nicasio, and is still standing on the farm owned by B. F. Porter. These gentlemen were partners and were engaged in the stock and dairy business. After this the valley filled up quite rapidly with settlers, among whom may be mentioned Peter Irwin. John Nutter, Captain Tenney, M. McNamara, C. Murray and Richard Magee. The latter came to Nicasio in 1857 and located in the redwoods east of the town. He had bought the down timber in this forest from John Lucas. He built a log house. The present locale of those old settlers mentioned above who are still living is as follows:- Short Brothers in San Rafael; Corey Brothers in Sonoma county, near Santa Rosa; William Dampier, present Treasurer of Marin county; William Butterfield in Monterey county; Richard Magee, M. McNamara and C Murray still reside at Nicasio; and Captain Henney is in Sacramento, and the remainder have gone to their long home.

The first blacksmith to work in the town of Nicasio was a man by the name of Thomas Ward. His forge and anvil were placed under the branches of an oak tree, and here he forged and welded with as good a grace as though he were housed in a mansion. He continued to work under this tree till the rains began, when an open shed was constructed. Later in the year he sold out to W. C. Fredenbur, who added the business of a wheelwright to his blacksmithing.

The first store in Nicasio was conducted by Edward Jackson. He occupied the old Noah Corey. House, which is mentioned above as being the first house erected in the town.

The business interests of the town of Nicasio are represented by one store, one blacksmith shop, one meat market, one livery stable, one hotel, and one boarding house. H. F. Taft is postmaster and Wells, Fargo & Co.'s agent. The postoffice was established April 13, 1870, with Mr. Taft as postmaster.

CATHOLIC CHURCH. - The church at this place of the Catholic persuasion was for a number of years included in the Petaluma parish, and the resident priest of that place served the people here for some time before a church building was erected. In the Spring of 1867 a subscription was circulated and enough secured to proceed with the building. The body of the church is twenty four by fifty, with a chancel at the rear which is twenty by twenty four. It is neat and substantial in its construction, having hard finished walls. The work around the altar is of curled redwood nicely varnished, giving to it a very handsome appearance. It is stated that the cost of the building was three thousand dollars. Father Harrington was pastor at the time or the erection of the building. He was followed by Father Burmingham. The church is now connected with the parish of Sonoma.

SCHOOLS. - There are two school districts in the township, viz: Nicasio and San Geronimo. The first school house erected in the former was built in 1866, and was quite a small building. The demand for a larger building soon became pressing, and in 1871 a second and much larger structure was erected, being thirty five by forty five. This is probably the most substantial and handsome district school building in Marin county. It cost three thousand dollars when completed.

HOTEL. - A large and well furnished hotel was erected at this place in June, 1867, by Wm. J. Miller. The main building is thirty by sixty six. three stories high, with a wing twenty six by forty. It contains twenty two rooms, beside bar, dining room, kitchen and parlor. It was completed and furnished at an expense of eleven thousand dollars.

SAW MILLS. - The pioneer mill of this township was built by James Dixon and James Ross in 1862. It was located about one and a half miles easterly from the present site of the town of Nicasio. The capacity of the mill was about fifteen thousand feet of lumber per day. It was run till 1865, when Dixon bought the interest of Ross, and moved the mill to Fort Ross, Sonoma county. The next mill was built by Isaac Shaver and Jonathan Mitchner in 1866, and was located about one and a half miles southeast of Nicasio. It had a capacity of twenty thousand feet per day, and was run till 1872, when part of the machinery was taken to San Rafael and put into a planing mill. In 1874 Isaac Shaver located a portable saw mill on the White ranch, about a mile south of San Geronimo Station. It was run six months. In 1875 Isaac Shaver and Edmund and Samuel Kier built a mill on the road between White's Hill and San Geronimo. Its capacity was twelve thousand feet daily, and was run for six months. In 1876 the same company built a mill about two miles west of San Geronimo, with a capacity of twenty thousand feet per day. They ran it about six months. The machinery is still there and in running order. In 1877 Robert Scott, Charles Sims, and Parks had a shingle mill at the foot of Nicasio Hill, on the road from Nicasio to San Geronimo. It had a capacity of fifteen thousand shingles daily, and was run about one year.

SAN GERONIMO. - This is the name of the station on the North Pacific Coast Railroad, from which stages connect with Nicasio. It is a small village containing some half score houses, of which most are dwellings. The only business conducted at the place is a blacksmith shop.

GOLD MINES - The San Geronimo gold mine is located about one half mile west of the station, and operations were begun in it in October, 1878. Since that time a shaft two hundred feet deep has been sunk, and a drift has been run to the northward a distance of two hundred and sixty feet, and a side drift from that a distance of sixty feet, also a drift to the westward has been run two hundred and seventy feet. It is proposed to run this drift some distance farther, when a shaft will be sunk connecting with it. The force engaged at present consists of fourteen men, who work in three shifts of eight hours each, with the exception of two engineers, who work twelve hours each. Assays of ore average from thirty to forty dollars per ton, although it has yielded as much as ninety dollars gold. The ore contains gold, silver, iron, manganese, antimony and tracings of nickel. The outcroppings of the lode extend for a long distance through that section of the country, and should gold in paying quantities be found it will prove a very extensive mine, and would add very much to the material interests of Marin county.

INDIANS - The Nicasio Indians were at one time a very powerful tribe, numbering many thousands, and filling the whole valley, but they have vanished before the silent forces of civilization like the dew from off the grass beneath the ardent rays of a mid summer sun. Dire contagion stalked through the land and claimed many tithings for. the charnel house of death, and later the accursed "fire water" of the white man overcame and destroyed their sons, and the souls and bodies of their daughters were sold in prostitution and they ceased to bear children. And thus have their ranks been decimated until scarcely a score can be mustered, and the once populous village contains only eight wigwams now. What few remain of the tribe now live upon a tract of about thirty acres, situated about two miles east of the town of Nicasio in a lovely valley, which was purchased by Jose Calistro, their last chief, of Wm. J. Miller, several years ago, for a home for the remnant of his people. The county appropriates forty dollars per month for their support, which, together with the pittance of wages which they earn and the game they kill, affords them a meager sustenance. There are five who are very aged indeed, in fact so old that nothing can be obtained which will establish the date of their birth, and they are almost helpless. They are patiently waiting for death to come and take them to their people who have gone before them long ago to the happy hunting grounds in the home of Gitchie Manito," the mighty.

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