History is full of surprises, even in Anderson Valley. Here, as nearly everywhere, it moves at a seemingly imperceptible pace, until we look back and discover much has changed. In the last 60 years alone, Anderson Valley has gone from logging, apples and sheep to grapes, wine, tourism and cannabis. Nevertheless, it was a surprise to discover Anderson Valley has lost four towns in the last 120 years.
In truth, the term “town” may be generous. All four were small by Anderson Valley standards and spread out, too. “Hamlet” may be a better term. Nevertheless all four were important enough to be included on the 1916 State Mining Bureau map and several earlier maps, though one appears under two different names.
Perhaps the most important of the four was Christine, located near the intersection of Clark Road and Highway 128 between Philo and Navarro. Near here John Gschwend established Anderson Valley’s first lumber mill in 1856 (it was destroyed by fire in 1875). The hamlet was named for his daughter Christine, the second non-Native American child born in Anderson Valley. Born in 1857, Christine later married James Reilly, who built Reilly Heights. She lived a very long life, dying in 1960 at age 102.
During its heyday, Christine boasted a grist mill, school, general store and blacksmith shop. In addition, the intersection of the main road through Anderson Valley (now Highway 128) and Greenwood Road was called Christine Junction. A post office was established in Christine in 1874 and remained until service was consolidated to Philo in 1912. In 1908 it became the southern terminus of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad’s Albion Branch, a railroad primarily used to haul logs to the Albion Mill: the line later was extended to Mill Creek. The railroad ceased operations in 1930.
Moving south, the second of the four hamlets was Comfort. Or maybe Mountain View. Both names appear on maps from the late 19th and early 20th century. Comfort/Mountain View was located on Mountain View Road approximately 10 miles from Boonville. The precise location of Comfort/Mountain View is a little vague, but appears to have been just west of where Mountain View Road crosses the headwaters of Alder Creek.
This is rugged country, then and now; so rugged that major logging seems not have commenced here until the 1940s. The 1880 History of Mendocino County lists a Mountain View School with 20 students (one of the smallest in the county) and Vacation 1903, a book published by California Northwestern Railway, mentions Summit Springs, an inn “on the edge of the redwoods” in Comfort featuring mineral springs, hunting and fishing. There also was a post office in Comfort, established in 1902 and closed in 1911. I haven’t driven Mountain View Road in at least a decade, so have no idea whether anything of Comfort/Mountain View remains.
A few miles east of Boonville, on what is now Highway 253, Fairbanks was another small hamlet. Situated in Bell Valley, it encompassed a handful of houses. In the late 19th century, Bell Valley was sheep country, and Boontling, Anderson Valley’s local language, was born here around 1890. The other local business seemed to be hospitality.
Gibbins’ is listed in Vacation 1903 as a “mountain ranch; in the redwoods”, while Singley’s Soda Spring is mentioned in the Department of Interior’s Springs of California, published in 1915, which states “There has been a roadhouse near the spring for a number of years and the place is well-known to travelers through this region.” Fairbanks was named for Isabell Fairbanks, the postmaster of the post office established here in 1893: it closed in 1910.
The last small hamlet on our list is Hermitage. Historical accounts place it eight miles southeast of old Yorkville (located near the junction of Hibbard Road and Highway 128, the original Yorkville was – mostly - destroyed by flood in 1937) or roughly five miles south of today’s Yorkville. The site of Hermitage appears to have been near the new Ingram Cemetery on Highway 128. Hermitage – according to one source – was founded in 1858. The Hermitage post office was established in 1860, only two years after the first Boonville (then called Anderson) post office, and it remained in operation until 1902.
A school for Hermitage town was established in 1860. Named the Gaskill School, it had 19 students in 1880, according to the History of Mendocino County. The Gaskill School House still stands on the north side of Highway 128 approximately seven miles south of Yorkville, where it was moved from its original location in 1926. Vacation 1903 lists the Hermitage Hotel & Ranch as offering accommodations for 15, with hunting, fishing and mineral springs among its recreation options.
On 19th and early 20th century maps, other place names litter Anderson Valley, including a few known to local residents today: Hop Flat, North Fork, Floodgate and Guntley’s in the north, and Ornbaun and Whitehall (both of which had post offices - the former for 29 years, the latter for one) in the south. Behind all these place names are people’s stories; of everyday life and extraordinary events, of triumph and travail. They are stories the current older generation of Anderson Valley’s pioneer families should share with the younger generation and – if we are lucky – with us.