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Off The Map

Memory is a curious thing. For me, pure memory (one without emotion) is like a photograph or moving picture, with a main element in crisp focus and peripheral elements out of focus - either slightly fuzzy or very blurry.

I was reminded just how curious memory can be during my last visit to Anderson Valley in May. On a whim, I drove down Clearwater Ranch Road near Philo. During the early portion of my three decades in Anderson Valley that began in 1957, I went down Clearwater Creek Road often, either to see family friends Leo and Edna Sanders, or to visit classmate George Mason. However, I hadn’t been down the road in nearly 45 years.

The mill is still there, though more modern than I remember, but the shotgun shacks next to the road where millworkers lived are gone. There are several driveways on the south side of the road now where there were none – well, maybe one – in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The house where the Mason family lived and the hard right to the Sanders’ former home are exactly as I recall. The road is worse than I remember, with heavy ruts from heavy use and lack of maintenance.

Other details of this trip down memory lane proved less clear. Wasn’t there a PG&E substation next to the road? All those new vineyards - were they sheep pastures or were some of them orchards? Was there really that tight fence around back of the Masons’ old home and wasn’t there an oak tree in front? Didn’t the road have lots of trees and brush along both sides and weren’t there wire fences, too? When I went down Clearwater Ranch Road in the late 1950s and early 1960s, my attention was on where I was going and who I was seeing, so I cannot fill in those blanks with certainly.

Mapmaking must be a lot like memory; some areas carefully surveyed and accurately recorded, others not so much. Certainly this can be seen in older maps, including a map I purchased many years ago off e-bay. It is an Army Corps of Engineers, Orrs quadrangle progressive military map (the Corps also called it a “Controlled Reconnaissance Sheet”). Surveyed in 1916, it may be the earliest topographic map of Anderson Valley proper ever produced.

It is an interesting map and very different from those that came later. Although the US Army marked township and range “witness” corners in Anderson Valley (often by removing a portion of bark on a tree and scribing the township and range into the sapwood) in the 19th century, the Orrs quadrangle doesn’t show them. It shows different benchmarks than those later established by the US Geological Survey (USGS). Also, airplane flyovers and aerial photography were not yet elements of mapmaking – they did not come into use until World War I.

As near as I can tell, the survey used to create the Orrs quadrangle consisted of traveling local roads and rails, scaling a few high points to get the lay of the land, and recording various features: roads, train tracks, buildings, fields, orchards, peaks, rivers and creeks.

Nevertheless, the map says much about Anderson Valley. Although a portion of town falls below the southern limit of the map, Boonville’s main business district encompassed an area from just south of Lambert Lane to Manchester Road back then. Most of the main road (now Highway 128) followed the route I remember as a kid (a portion of which – due to rerouting - is now Anderson Valley Way), but took a different, more winding and more easterly route just south of Philo. In addition to the Boonville Methodist Church, there were two additional churches shown; one in Boonville on the northeast side of the main road and one in Philo adjacent to Rays Road. The one-room schoolhouse just northwest of Boonville is mapped, as is the old Peachland School on Peachland Road, but so is a third school, situated northwest of Philo across from the junction of the Highway 128 and Greenwood Road.

The map shows an impressive amount of agriculture in the region. Pastures, orchards and hop fields are found on the valley floor (and occasionally climb the lowest slopes), but are particularly prevalent on both sides of the main road adjacent to and north of Boonville. Oddly, only one vineyard is shown; located at the western edge of the map perhaps a half-mile west of Greenwood Bridge, it is consistent with the time-honored tradition of planting grapes on benchlands and hillsides.

Surprisingly, there are some errors even in easily reached locations. The Methodist Church just north of Philo, built in the 1890s, isn’t on the map. Nor is Indian Creek School; built in 1913, it was located just southeast of Lemon’s Market in Philo.

As for the map’s geographic elements, it is clear the mapmaker(s) gave them scant attention. But unlike memory, blank areas aren’t an option on maps, so those elements were included in a “hit or miss” – mostly miss – manner. Compared to the 1991 USGS Philo Provisional quadrangle, the most recent government topographic map available, the elevations of various peaks were overestimated, often by hundreds of feet. The watercourses of the Navarro River and its tributaries were – except where crossed by roads - obvious guesses. For example, the map shows Rancheria Creek looping around two high peaks near Big Bend (roughly between Philo and Manchester Road) when it actually runs between them. Another example is Ham Canyon (between Rancheria Creek and Anderson Creek), which is missing entirely.

Then there are the names and elements on the map that had disappeared by the time I arrived in the valley 40 years later. Two such are Handleys, a place (though not a town) near present-day Comptche, and Castle Garden, a spot near Low Gap. Another is the logging railroad, whose branches terminated approximately two miles north of where Highway 128 and Greenwood Road meet. One that does survive, though barely, is River Rest, the swimming hole under Greenwood Bridge on the Navarro River; the name was heard only occasionally when we lived in the valley, but it is on the map and continues to be used today.

I will keep and enjoy the Orrs quadrangle a few more years, as it is a fascinating – if flawed – document of Anderson Valley history. Eventually, I will pass the map along to the Anderson Valley Historical Society, where others with a strong interest in local history will have access to it.

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