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Early Boonville

Boonville. The metropolis — relatively speaking — of Anderson Valley, Boonville is both its oldest town and its commercial heart. But like so many aspects of Anderson Valley, Boonville’s early history is fascinating, unusual and slightly bizarre. It also includes a mystery, one that involves a now-famous name. 

Brothers Henry and Isaac Beeson, together with their stepfather Walter Anderson, are generally considered the first non-native Americans to see and settle in Anderson Valley. They discovered the valley in 1851 while tracking a wounded elk. In the spring of 1852, all three settled in the valley north of what later became Boonville; Walter Anderson built a cabin on land at the base of the western hills near the current Anderson Valley Unified High School on Mountain View Road, while Henry Beeson established his family —which likely included his bachelor brother Isaac — homestead nearby.

Despite lending his last name to the entire valley, Walter Anderson did not stay long. After his wife, Rhoda Crouch Anderson, died in 1857, he sold his cabin and land to Joseph Rawles, and departed for Sonoma County a year later. Henry and Isaac Beeson stayed, eventually moving to land near the current Boonville CalFire station. 

Several other families arrived in Anderson Valley during the 1850s, including names long-time residents will recognize: Ball, Prather, Brown, Ingram, Ornbaun, Gschwend, Guntley, Smalley, Nunn, Shields and McGimsey. 

The first commercial district in the valley was built around 1860 approximately a mile south of today’s Boonville, at the intersection of the crude road from Cloverdale via Mountain House (which became the McDonald to the Sea Highway and eventually Highway 128) and the original Anderson/Beeson trail from Ukiah (which soon became the Gschwend toll road and eventually Highway 253). Appropriately, the settlement was called The Corners. There in 1862 John Burgot built a hotel he called “Anderson House”, Samuel Stevens built a blacksmith shop nearby, and Levi & Harrison established a store. 

Another commercial enclave began to take shape near the center of today’s Boonville soon after. Alonso Kendall built a two-story hotel in 1864, soon to be joined by a blacksmith shop opened by Charles Bradbury. Levi & Straus — the latter appears to have replaced Harrison in the partnership — moved their store from The Corners to a location across the street from Kendall’s hotel. This new commercial center became known as Kendall’s (or Kendall, depending on the source) City. 

That name would not last long. William Waightstall (W.W.) Boone, who arrived in the Valley a few years previously, purchased the Levi & Straus store in 1867 and appears to have taken on management of Kendall’s hotel that same year, after Kendall moved to Manchester. Boone also succeeded Kendall as the town’s postmaster, with the post office in his home, situated just south of the hotel. Soon after, Kendall’s City was renamed Booneville. A photograph taken of the town around this time likely shows most of Booneville’s population: approximately 45 people. In 1880, it was described as “A prosperous little country village of some dozen buildings all told,” including a hotel, a saloon, a store, two blacksmith shops and a Methodist church.

W.W. Boone left Anderson Valley to return to his native Missouri in 1870. As a result, he never saw Booneville grow significantly. Nor was he present when his namesake town changed from Booneville to Boonville; the dropped “e” possibly the result of a typographical error on his surname in the 1870 census. 

Most of the buildings from the Kendall’s City days are long gone, but at least one remains. A handsome survivor, Kendall’s hotel is now the Boonville Hotel.

The Corners simply faded into history. “At the present time, nothing but a few tumbled down houses remain to mark the site of the old town,” observed The History of Mendocino County, published in 1880. 

The Kendall’s City/Boonville mystery is mentioned in some historical accounts of Levi Strauss briefly owning a store there. The confusion is understandable; partners Levi & Straus owned a store in Kendall’s City in 1864, but there is nothing to suggest — other than the similarity of names — Levi Strauss, the originator of riveted denim jeans in the 1870s, was in any way involved. By the 1860s, Levi Strauss already was a very successful purveyor of dry goods in San Francisco, with customers in Sacramento, Auburn, Downieville and throughout the Sierra Foothills (California’s gold country). Indeed, between 1861 and 1865, he shipped more than two million dollars in gold (the equivalent of $40 million dollars today) back to his family partners in New York to purchase additional goods. The likelihood of his having a store in tiny Kendall’s City — even briefly — is remote.

(The author gratefully acknowledges Images of America, Anderson Valley by the Anderson Valley Historical Society, Then and Now, an Anderson Valley Journey by Wes Smoot and Stephen Sparks, History of Mendocino County, California published by Alley, Bowen & Co., and Levi Strauss, the Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World by Lynn Downey, all of which provided source material for this article.) 

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