A reader of this publication recently asked about the history of Yorkville. The answer to this innocuous question is a tale that is pure Anderson Valley; fascinating, unusual and slightly bizarre.
Over its 150-year history, there have been two Yorkvilles; the original Yorkville and the Yorkville we know today. Simply stated, the town moved.
Yorkville was originally located near the junction of Highway 128 and Hibbard Road. The site is lovely; wooded rolling hills to the north of Rancheria Creek, a good creek ford, a pretty valley to the south and timbered slopes beyond.
The spot first was settled by Elijah and Elizabeth Murray and their family, who arrived in 1856 and built a home on the south side of Rancheria Creek, and the McAbee family, who arrived three years later. Elijah Hiatt and his growing family arrived in the early 1860s. In 1867, he purchased land on the north side of Rancheria Creek from his friend Richard York and built a large house.
Both Hiatt and York wanted to name the growing community after themselves. To settle the matter they played a game of cards; winner would have the town named for him, the loser would become postmaster. Richard York won and the town became Yorkville. Elijah Hiatt became Yorkville’s first postmaster in 1868 and maintained the Yorkville post office in his house until a separate, adjacent post office building was built.
For the next 50 years, Yorkville was a small but thriving town. Hiatt turned his home into a hotel and stage stop. Hale Burger built and ran a two-story general store nearby. Yorkville had its own one-room schoolhouse, Methodist church, blacksmith shop, lumber mill and cemetery.
The town faded a bit in the 1920s and early 1930s. The Yorkville Elementary School closed, with the students traveling south to the Gaskill School. The school later was torn down. The Yorkville Methodist Church also closed and was torn down.
The event that doomed the original Yorkville was the flood that struck the town in February, 1937. According to Climate Data, California, Vol. 39-41, Cloverdale (the nearest reporting station to Yorkville) received 2.5 inches of rain during the first three days of February. The deluge came on February 4; a 5.45-inch downpour (in Cloverdale: Yorkville likely got significantly more) that pushed Rancheria Creek over its banks. The town was inundated; a flood eight feet deep swept the post office away, washed out several bridges (including the one to Yorkville Redwood Lumber Company) and likely (contemporary accounts of the flood are scant) destroyed or damaged most of the buildings.
A few years before the flood, Allie Prather established Allie’s Store three miles east southeast of the original Yorkville, near a place – not really a town, though it had a post office briefly in the 1870s - called Whitehall. His store supplied groceries, gas and sundries to millworkers – there were two lumber mills just to the west - their families, and travelers on Highway 28 (which became Highway 128 in the late 1940s). With the Yorkville post office building destroyed, the post office moved into Allie’s Store on October 1, 1937.
The Yorkville name apparently came with the post office. Signs went up on both sides of the highway calling the location Yorkville and it has been Yorkville ever since. The post office moved across the street in 1978 and later gained a permanent home approximately a mile north with construction of the current Yorkville post office in 1990. As for Allie’s Store, it eventually became a restaurant called Leo’s York Villa, later a store and most recently the Yorkville Market.
Of the original Yorkville, little remains. The house/hotel that Elijah Hiatt built – which later became the headquarters of Yorkville Ranch - still stands, as do a scattering of houses on both sides of Rancheria Creek. The other commercial buildings and the mill are all – as far as is known - gone.
One last note regarding Yorkville. When the Yorkville moved those three miles, it moved from the Navarro River watershed to the Russian River watershed. Rancheria Creek flows northwest to eventually become the Navarro, while Dry Creek flows south into the Russian River. The divide between the two watersheds is very close to the current Yorkville post office.
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Addendum: The author gratefully acknowledges Then and Now: An Anderson Valley Journey by Wes Smoot and Stephen Sparks, and Images of America, Anderson Valley by the Anderson Valley Historical Society, for providing significant source material.