MEET ME AT THE RIVER

“Change doesn’t happen overnight,” the saying goes, but in truth, it seems to. Surely you can recall many times when you’ve been surprised to notice a tipping point has “suddenly” tipped – a trend becomes commonplace, or nearly everyone accepts a notion that isn’t very old. My favorite example is this image which was created for the Today Show, comparing St. Peter’s Square during the announcement of Pope Benedict in 2005 and the announcement of Pope Francis in 2013. In the earlier photo, only a single person can be seen with a mobile phone. In 2013, it appears everyone in the crowd is taking a snapshot with their phone or tablet. If you had asked the 2005 crowd if they expected to be at the same event eight years later taking pictures with their smartphone, they would have first asked, “What is a smartphone?” followed by, “why wouldn’t I be using a regular camera?” (As news photos tend to disappear over time, you can also find it here, here and here.)

(RIGHT: Crowds waiting for the ferry at the Monte Rio Landing, 1910. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

It appears the Russian River resorts reached such a tipping point in the summer of 1910 when there was a jump in the number of visitors. “Already thousands of campers are at the different places and daily more are arriving. After the Fourth of July it is expected that a great many more pleasure and recreation seekers will journey to the famous river,” commented the Santa Rosa Republican. “The trains coming from the resorts on Sunday carried about 18 coaches and two engines, the coaches being crowded.”

The Russian River resort scene had been growing steadily for more than a decade, with a new place or two opening every year. If you wanted to get away for a few days to swim and paddle around in shallow water or even just lounge away like a sloth in a tent-cabin, it was the best spot in the Bay Area. Although many resorts were more or less the same, some filled a particular niche. Mirabel Park was popular with groups holding Sunday picnics, Camp Vacation (near Bohemian Grove) had tennis courts, and so many Santa Rosans descended upon Rio Nido that it seems much of the town was there at some point over the summer, judging by the frequent notices that appeared in town papers. That history was discussed in an earlier offering, “When we Summered in Lost Places,” and all that continued, as shown in items below.

So what made 1910 different? For starters, it was the first season after the Northwestern Pacific (NWP) line finally connected with the narrow gauge railway coming up the coast. This meant someone in San Francisco could reach the most popular resorts at the west end of the river – Camp Vacation, Monte Rio, and that year’s new hot-spot, Monte Cristo – without taking the NWP to Fulton and changing to the slooooow river local that crawled along with over a dozen stops along the way. This was also the year that electricity came to the resorts, so roughing it was no longer quite so rough.

But the special sauce drawing the crowds, I believe, was live music. For the first time (at least, that I’ve encountered in the papers) a resort was promising there would be great dancing. “The Santa Rosa band will furnish music for the dance, and this is a sufficient guarantee of the excellence of the terpsichorean revelry,” blurbed the Republican newspaper about the opening of Monte Cristo. “The dancing platform is one of the best on the entire river, and has ample floor space to accommodate large numbers of dancers.”

As everyone familiar with local history knows, the Russian River scene exploded in the years around WWII as the top Big Bands in the country performed at the resorts, with jitterbug dancing and hot jazz making the area a showcase for the best in popular music. In order for that to happen, however, visitor’s attitudes needed to first shift away from viewing the resorts as less a get away place into a go to destination. “The bungalows on the river and the cottages at the seaside are the strong attractions now,” wrote the Press Democrat’s gossip columnist in 1910, striking a prophetic note. “Summer is on.”

RAILROAD IS MAKING FILL
Will Form New Depot Site at Monte Rio

Work on the big fill at Monte Rio, where the broad gauge and narrow gauge trains will meet, is progressing rapidly. A large gang of workmen are employed at the present time, and the railroad company has run a trestle out over the slough where the fill is to be made, so that it will be an easy matter to dump in earth and arrange for reclaiming a valuable spot.

The new depot site will be on this spot where the fill is being made, and the Northwestern will reach the depot with a graceful curve on the east, while the North Shore train will come in on the west side of the depot. There is considerable work to be done there before the new depot site will be ready.

Other improvements are being carried out at Monte Rio and Rio Campo and a work train is being also used. Things are lively there now, in preparation for the coming vacation season. The railroad companies expect to do a great business this summer in hauling visitors to the redwood section.

All of the resorts along the river are planning improvements, and are anticipating entertaining the largest crowds in their history during the coming months. There is no question but the redwoods section about Guerneville is the most popular places in the entire state for summer outings.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 1, 1910
ELECTRICITY FOR RESORTS
“Rionido” Makes First Contract For Juice

The Russian River Light and Power Company has begun stringing wires on its poles recently set leading from Sebastopol to Monte Rio. This will furnish electric current for all the resorts on Russian river which require it. The wires will all be placed and ready for the turning on of the current on June 1st. The actual work it is estimated can be done in about fifteen days.

From Monte Rio the wires will be run at once to Occidental, when the work of setting the poles has been carried out. Contracts have been entered into with the Westinghouse Electrical Company for the transformers required and the secondary work is to be done by the Metropolitan Electrical and Construction Company of San Francisco.

Rionido, the pretty summer resort which was formerly known as Eaglenest, is the first of the summer resorts to have electric lights. Manager Ellis, of the Russian River Light and Power Company, states that he will have the wires into Rionido in a few days. Thomas C. Mellersh, manager of Rionido, is determined to have his resort the most up-to-date in the county, and will spare neither pains nor expense to make it so. The formal opening of Rionido occurred on Tuesday, June 10, when the dining room was thrown open to the public…

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 14, 1910

Nestling amid rosebushes and a picturesque woodland is the country home of the Frank Woolseys at Mt. Olivet. The Woolsey ranch has for years been noted for its hospitality and its welcome to visitors. It is ideally located, specially for such a delightful gathering as took place there last Sunday afternoon, when Mr. and Mrs. Frank Woolsey and their charming daughters, the Misses Louise and Helen Woolsey, entertained a large company of friends at tea and the accompanying pleasures of an outing in the country. They also entertained a few friends at luncheon prior to the larger gathering. The invited guests from this city either drove out in automobiles or went by train, the latter stopping conveniently at “Woolsey”…


“Monte Cristo,” the Frank Leppos county home on Russian river, was thrown open last Monday by Mrs. Leppo for the entertaining of the ladies composing “The Spreaders.” The club members were delightfully entertained and returning to town gently pleased with the outing.

– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, May 22, 1910

OPENING BALL MONTE CRISTO
Frank Leppo Arranges For Comfort of Guests

The formal opening of Monte Cristo, Frank Leppo’s splendid new summer resort on the Russian river, will be one of the events of the season in that section. The Santa Rosa band will furnish  music for the dance, and this is a sufficient guarantee of the excellence of the terpsichorean revelry.

All the arrangements for the pleasures of a large attendance have been perfected by Mr. Leppo, and he has left nothing undone which could in any manner add to the pleasure or comfort of his guests. Busses will be run from Monte Rio’s hotels to the new resort, in order that patrons may be in attendance at the dance and those who wish to go from this city to attend can find accommodations at the Monte Rio hotels.

Monte Cristo is one of the prettiest places on the river, and all who have visited it are delighted. There are many handsome cottages on the grounds, and it has leaped into popularity with rapid strides from the first.

Indications point to a large crowd being present at the dance, and that they will have a jolly time is a foregone conclusion. The dancing platform is one of the best on the entire river, and has ample floor space to accomodate large numbers of dancers. Mr. Leppo will give his personal supervision to the grand opening ball, and he knows how to conduct elaborate affairs.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 17, 1910

Mr. and Mrs. Harry L. Hall and Mr. and Mrs. Ney L. Donovan are spending the week-end at Monte Cristo, the country place of the Frank O. Leppos, and attended the ball in the evening.

Mrs. James W. Oates and her guests Miss Myrtle Hamell and Mrs. Martel and Mrs. Blitz W. Paxton were among the visitors at Monte Cristo on Saturday and spent a delightful day.

From all accounts the picnic of the Irene Club at Rionido must have been one of the most enjoyable ever. It occurred last Wednesday and the members left this city on the morning train and carried with them well-filled luncheon baskets. The lunch was made up on innumerable dainties for each member contributed to the feast. I was assured by one of the Irenes after this manner: “The Irenes can cook and don’t you forget it.” Delighted! Cooking is a very useful and necessary accomplishment. The exhilarating weather, the swimming and the hiking and the pleasures of the outdoor life were all features of this never-to-be-forgotten outing at Rionido. At noon everyone was perfectly ready for the meal, which was spread in the dining room at the bungalow of Mrs. Charles A. Wright, Mrs. Wright being a charter member of the Club. During the enjoyment of the many courses of menu there was much laughter and merriment. some of the members returned home in the evening while others remained overnight with friends and returned the following day.

– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, June 19, 1910

ALONG THE RUSSIAN RIVER
Thousands of People Camped at the Resorts

The year 1910, from all present appearances, is going to be one of the most profitable that the owners of resorts along Russian river have ever had. Already thousands of campers are at the different places and daily more are arriving. After the Fourth of July it is expected that a great many more pleasure and recreation seekers will journey to the famous river.

The popularity of the river as a place of amusement is easily attested by the fact that nowhere in California may the same amount of travel be found for such a short run. The trains coming from the resorts on Sunday carried about 18 coaches and two engines, the coaches being crowded. From one end of the river to the other people come to seek places to spend the summer months. As a place of recreation it would be hard to find one that could surpass it. San Francisco go there by hundreds to enjoy the bathing. Each day sees the river crowded with bathers. Extra precautions are being taken this year to prevent casualties. Expert swimmers have been stationed along the different places and they keep a constant look out over the people.

Not only is it a place for bay cities people, but Sonoma county [garbled typesetting] parties it would be hard to surpass. Many board the train from the cities along the route and attend the dances there on Saturday evening and spend Sunday bathing and boating. Many new boats have been added to the supply by the different resorts and at times the river is crowded with the little craft. Passengers in their raillery have often said that the resorts are so close together and the trains so long that the engine is at one station before the rear coaches have passed another.

A number of resorts are making preparations for the Fourth of July. Hundreds of people will go to that section to enjoy the two days’ vacation and adequate quarters will be provided. Many of the camps will celebrate with exercises, while a majority will confine their sports to a grand ball in the evening.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 25, 1910

Socially this week has certainly been the calm before the storm. After those memorable seven parties in nine days people have been taking a breathing spell. The bungalows on the river and the cottages at the seaside are the strong attractions now. Summer is on.

– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, July 10, 1910

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camp-vacation-tl

WHEN WE SUMMERED IN LOST PLACES

In the years straddling the turn of the last century, it seemed everyone in Santa Rosa was coming and going to the Russian River during the summer months. For many of them, however, the appeal of the river area had less to do with water activities than the siren call of rocking chairs in rented cabins, croquet and bowling and billiards with friends from town, hotel service, and for some above all, eating.


View Russian River train stops and resorts c. 1900-1909 in a larger map

RIGHT: Russian River train stops and resorts c. 1900-1909. Blue markers indicate Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP) passenger stops; red markers show resorts or other tourist destinations

Much has been written about the river scene from the mid-1920s onward, but info about the first decade of the river resorts is scarce, although they were a central part of Santa Rosa life in early 20th century summers. Where exactly were these places, and what were they like? Why would someone prefer to go to Camp Vacation instead of Summerhome Park? After picking through out-of-town newspaper ads, railroad timetables, maps and atlases and all those “personal mention” columns tracking local residents, I present (what I believe to be) the first cross-referenced map of the Russian River byways during that era.

My early confusion centered upon the tangled names. Some spots were known by two or more – the Olivet train stop became Woolsey and Trenton became Laguna, for instance – and making matters worse, the Santa Rosa newspapers were sometimes sloppy about accuracy. Before Eaglenest became Rionido, then later Rio Nido, it was also in the papers as Eagle Nest, Eagle’s Nest and Eagle’s Nest Camp. And don’t even ask about Camp Six.

It’s also tricky to judge the popularity of any of these places. A new get-away popped up almost every summer during those years, while the paint was still almost fresh on the oldest resort, only about a dozen years old. Time spent anywhere on the river was still a novelty, something to talk about with your neighbors and friends, and the next time you went maybe you’d try another place that you’d heard good things about.

Today it’s hard to imagine the Russian River wasn’t always a tourist destination, but most thanks for transforming a no-man’s-land of redwood stumps into a primo resort area goes to north coast railroad baron A. W. Foster, president of the Northwestern Pacific (NWP). Mr. Foster is best remembered as a heartless supervillain in the 1905 “Battle of Sebastopol Avenue” (although it’s more likely that history has given him a bum rap). As logging was winding down in the mid-1890s, Foster saw an opportunity to cash in on the growing popularity of Sunday excursion trips and vacation rentals, as best told in the often-quoted (but rarely credited) book “Redwood Railways” by Gilbert Kneiss:


To Foster, however, belongs much of the credit for opening up the Russian River country as a vacation land. Informal camping in the forests and two-week rocking-chair sojourns at American plan, pitcher, basin, and thunder-mug resort hotels had long been common. Foster was thinking in terms of summer homes and traffic for the Guereneville Branch where logged out country had left rusty rails. He bought some of the cut-over land, now green an bushy with second growth…[soon] Guerneville converted itself from a hard-drinking, bullwhacking lumber camp to a village of parasols, mandolins, and ice-cream sodas.

It’s not the job of this Santa Rosa-centric blog to tell the story of railroads, but I wish more history was available on how Foster and his railway developed this area. Did the NWP plan and build the resorts, then selling or leasing them once profitable? The intriguing thread tying most of the resorts together was Santa Rosa’s industrious Cnopius family, who were apparently managing nearly all of them at different times between 1896 and 1906. Did they work for Foster? Mrs. L. C. Cnopius (no first name found, sorry) was particularly key to the progress, and her importance was even noted in San Francisco obituaries. Mrs. Cnopius is also known here for being the last direct victim of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake.

TOP: Section of the Camp Vacation dining room, 1908. Note the hungry fellow peering through the window
RIGHT: Boating at Camp Vacation, 1907
MIDDLE: NWP Locomotive No. 99, “Coffee Grinder”
BOTTOM: Boarding the eastbound passenger train at Guernewood Park, probably 1909. Note the pile of luggage at the far end

Dining room photo courtesy UC/Berkeley, all others courtesy Sonoma County Library

CLICK or TAP any image to enlarge

The first resort to open was Mirabel Park, which soon became a particularly popular spot for large groups – unions, churches, fraternal organizations – to hold day-long Sunday picnics. So great was Mirabel’s appeal that it threatened the overall success of the area. In the 1900 San Francisco papers it was reported  that “many families fear to take [Russian River trains] owing to the dread of coming in contact with Sunday picnics,” although the railway assured the public that “this road has had no trouble on this score.” Still, they promised to herd picnickers into separate train cars: “In the future, therefore, no one traveling on the California Northwestern Railway on Sundays will come in contact with Sunday picnics.”

Mirabel Park was also somewhat unusual in this era for having a “villa” offering actual boarding rooms. More common were partially-furnished bungalows for rent or sale, should you have the overwhelming urge to buy a tiny shack with no running water or electricity. And these cottages near the river did not sell cheap; ads from real estate brokers listed them for $400 up, about three times more than a place in Camp Meeker.

Bungalows were suited for anyone spending the season on the river or planning to entertain friends, as many people did. But most people vacationing for a few days or so stayed at one of the tent hotels, adults $2/day, $10 per week, children under ten half-price. An advertisement for Camp Vacation describes the accommodations: “To sleep beneath a tent, to pass the day in the open air and have nothing else to do is to camp with luxury. Camp Vacation makes this easy for all. It is a hotel under canvas. Regular hotel service is furnished, but the guests live in tents. The tents are provided with wooden floors, are well furnished and are taken care of by those in charge.”

Meals were included in the deal, and the all-you-can-eat grub seemed to be as much an attraction as the Great Outdoors. In a September, 1908, San Francisco Call how-I-spent-my-summer-vacation writing contest, 8th grader Ruth Moore told of her good times at one of the tent hotels:


My vacation was spent in the beautiful redwood groves of Sonoma county…we arrived at Montesano station about 3 p. m. and lugged our heavy baggage up hill, over stumps, rocks, brush and other obstructions to our camping grounds. Then our troubles were over. Nothing to do but eat, sleep and seek pleasure….

…When I first arrived at the camp I did not have a very big appetite, and I was surprised to see my friends eat. Their table manners seemed to have been left at home. They grabbed everything in sight with both hands. They would drink out of the bucket in preference to using a cup and wipe their mouths on the tablecloth.

But in about three days I was just as bad. I simply could not get enough to eat, and how good everything did taste. I never did get enough of hot cakes and maple syrup any morning…

For Santa Rosans and other locals, the most popular resorts – or at least, the most often mentioned in the newspaper columns – were Camp Vacation, just across the river from Bohemian Grove, and Eaglenest, location of modern-day Rio Nido. The latter included bungalows and a true resort hotel, complete with a “box ball” bowling alley (a cross between a half-length 9 pin bowling lane and and a looooong coffee table, often found in arcades at the time – photo here). Besides four miles of beaches,  Camp Vacation offered tennis courts, and it’s worth noting that tennis and box ball bowling were among the few genteel sports where women could compete against men.

But maybe the best part of those months was having the entire lower river available as your personal playground. When passenger and freight trains weren’t scheduled, the railway used the tracks to offer a kind of trolley service using an ancient steam engine and open railway car recycled from the old timber days. Meeting your friends at a particular swimming hole by catching a ride on the “Coffee Grinder” –  which looked like an oversized toy, and puffed away at less than ten miles per hour – added to summer’s delight.

Even the James Wyatt Oates family joined the river stampede, in their own way. The couple escorted a couple of girls a family friend and her daughter to a 1909 house party at the home of Charles Rule in Jenner, where they visited at least once a year every summer or autumn.

This chapter of the resorts ended in late 1909, when the NWP line finally met the narrow gauge railway that came up the coast. After that the railroad began promoting the “Triangle Trip” Sunday excursion trains from San Francisco, a 150-mile ride with a little stopover at Monte Rio. A day out of the city sitting on trains while watching some nice scenery, then home for dinner. Oh, look, there’s a beach. Those trees look tall. Gee, I wish there was only some way I could stop thinking about work.

NEXT: Big Changes on the Russian River in 1910
 

NO PICNIC CROWDS
To Interfere With Regular Sunday Travel.

The California Northwestern Railway is making heavy preparations for handling next season’s business, and among other things will give special attention to its Sunday travel. The section which this road traverses is more than attractive for short Sunday trips, but many families fear to take them owing to the dread of coming in contact with Sunday picnics. While it is true this road has had no trouble on this score, it is determined to eliminate from the minds of the public all idea of this contact. Although the picnics up the road to Mirabel Park, etc., have in the past been kept separate from the regular travel, there will be none whatever this coming year, and those attending Schuetzen Park will be run on separate boats and trains. In the future, therefore, no one traveling on the California Northwestern Railway on Sundays will come in contact with Sunday picnics.

– SF Call, November 11, 1900

 

I hear that box ball in the bowling alley at Eaglenest has been a fascinating pastime for a number of our society women who have been spending a portion of their vacation there during the past few weeks. So interested did they become, some of them, in the sport, that quite a little good-natured rivalry was aroused as to who could make the highest score. I know one lady who made a record score, but social excommunication is threatened if the newspaper divulges the name. Some of the best players, however, are members of the Irene Club and some of them have been guests of Mrs. Charles A. Wright at her bungalow at Eaglenest.

– “Society Gossip” Press Democrat, August 9, 1909

 

Colonel and Mrs. Oates, Mrs. Dorothy Farmer and Miss Hazel Farmer were included in a house party at Rule Ranch as the guests of Charles H. Rule. Colonel Oates will return the first of the week, but the ladies will remain for several days longer. The hospitality of Rule Ranch is always very cordial.

– “Society Gossip” Press Democrat, September 19, 1909

 

CHANGE NAME OF STATION
Camp Vacation Will be Known as Rio Campo

Camp Vacation  as the name of a railroad station on the Northwestern Pacific is a thing of the past. In future the place will be known as Rio Campo and unless the name of the popular resport which was created by Lewis C. Cnopius is maintained, the name of Camp Vacation  will disappear forever. To the efforts of Mr. Cnopius and the late Mrs. Cnopius Camp Vacation  owes its great popularity as a resort and its wide reputation over the state.

With the changes that come and go. the railroad company has determined to call the station at the place Rio Campo, and with the completion of the bridge near that place there will be no other stops on this side of the river for the trains will continue their journey across the bridge and on down to Monte Rio.

With the coming summer season the loop completed by this bridge will make the redwoods section even more popular than it has been heretofore. Annually thousands of visitors spend their vacations in this delightful section.

The rails are laid on the Monte Rio side of the river, and everything is in readiness to connect the same when the officials give orders for the same.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 21, 1909

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FISHING WITH PITCHFORKS

SALMON INFEST RUSSIAN RIVER
Sand Bar at Mouth of River Blown Open to Permit Entry — Best Run in Many Years

The salmon are running in Russian River at the present time in vast schools, and the residents of the vicinity touching that stream are having great feasts of the delicious fish daily. It is no task at all to catch more salmon than one can carry, and small boys are catching them on pitchforks, instead of the usual gaffs required.

The run of salmon is reported to be the largest in more than eleven years, and the fish are said to be above the usual standard from a toothsome point. The sand bar at the mouth of the river was unusually heavy this year, and prevented the fish getting across. The fish were seen in swarms just outside the bar by many residents, who determined that they should be assisted in getting into the fresh water stream.

Accordingly, when the tide was low, a quantity of dynamite was placed in the sand and a hold of considerable length and depth was made. Then a number of men and youths took shovels and dug away the sand to give an unobstructed entrance to the swarms of fish. This having been done at low tide, permitted the water in the river back of the bar to run out into the ocean.

With the rising tide came the swarms of fish into the river, many of which have fallen victims to gaff and pitchfork, and are furnishing the piece de resistance for many substantial meals.

The sport of catching these big fish is among the best afforded, and those piscatorally inclined are reveling in the fun.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 28, 1905

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