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John Gschwend, Founding Mill Owner

(February, 1965) — To John Gschwend belongs the honor of constructing the pioneer sawmill in the Anderson Valley township. He built the first sawmill in Anderson Valley in 1856. At that time there were no roads leading out of Anderson Valley in any direction. Nothing but trails lead the traveler to this sequestered locality. Over these primitive roadways Mr. Gschwend had the hardihood to attempt to transport a sawmill outfit. What is more remarkable, he succeeded. All the machinery was hauled over trails without mishap and was safely set up on a parcel of ground hand-picked by Mr. Gschwend. This mill was situated at the extreme western end of the valley and was built on a fork of the Navarro River. The mill was run by water power and answered every purpose and supplied demand for lumber in the Valley. Some years later steam was added and more machinery, making the mill quite complete in all its appointments. About 1864 John Gschwend added a gristmill to the sawmill and for several years flour for that section of the Valley was ground at John Gschwend's gristmill. In 1875 on the 12th day of October the sawmill met its fate. The fire fiend swept this pioneer landmark out of existence.

Thomas E. Hiatt built the next mill in Anderson Valley in 1877. It started out on July 20 of that year. This mill was located on Ingram's place about four miles south of Boonville where there was a fine stand of timber. After this timber was cut out, the mill was abandoned and the machinery was taken elsewhere. This had been a steam mill with a circular saw and had a capacity of about 8,000 board-feet per day.

Henry O. Irish erected the next mill in 1878. It was the third and last sawmill built in the township. It was a steam mill and ran but a short time before it burned to the ground.

There were two roads leading out of Anderson Valley and crossing each other at right angles at Boonville. One lead from Cloverdale to Navarro and extended the entire length of the Valley. This was a good road and afforded the only outlet to market for any of the products of the valley. The Cloverdale and Mendocino City stages owned and operated by Messrs. Allman and Queen made tri-weekly trips over this road affording residents ample opportunity to reach the outside world. The stages also delivered mail and express matter. The transverse road at right angles to the Cloverdale-Navarro Road was divided into two sections. One section was known as the Gschwend Toll Road and lead to Ukiah. The other was known as the Grade to Point Arena.

In days gone by Mr. Gschwend, having put his sawmill into operation sought then to find an outlet for the lumber he manufactured. He thought there might be a liberal demand for it in the Ukiah Valley. He constructed the road at an expense of $10,000. Whether or not the road proved a profitable venture is not known to the chronicler, but as it led to the seat of county government and seem to be a much trebled their affair, it is quite likely that it proved profitable outside of the primary design. The bill, authorizing the Board of Supervisors of Mendocino County to grant the right to judge when to "construct and maintain a toll road from Boonville and Anderson Valley to a point where the old Anderson trail intersects the State Road in Ukiah Valley" was passed by the Legislature in 1868 and signed by the governor on March 26 of that year. The other section of this road extended from Boonville to Point Arena and was laid out in 1869. It served the people a great advantage as it linked the entire southwest portion of the county to the seat of government in Ukiah and the people found the distance was cut by almost one-half.

The subject of this sketch whose brief portrait appears in his work was born in Switzerland on December 25, 1826. Nothing is known about his early childhood in Switzerland. On June 15, 1842, he landed in New York. Immediately he proceeded to Illinois and there he engaged in a sawmill business which he followed for three years. On February 24, 1853 he was married to Elizabeth Guntley, also a native of Switzerland. In 1854 he went to Kansas and in 1855 he came to California by crossing the planes with ox teams. He also brought along with him a band of cattle. He came directly to Mendocino County and began farming. In 1856 he erected a sawmill in Anderson Valley. As there were no roads then, all machinery had to be packed to the mill site. Soon after he added a sash saw to the mill and finally a circular saw and a steam engine. He built the road from Ukiah to Boonville in 1867 at a cost of $10,000. The mill was burned on October 12, 1875. He then returned to farming, stock raising and taking county contracts. In 1862 he was elected supervisor of the first District. His children were Mary, John, Christine, Conrad, Martha, Joseph, Alfred, Elizabeth, Andrew, Thomas and Catherine. Christine, my great-aunt, was said to be the first white child born in Anderson Valley and the stage stop which consisted of a store and post office was named after her and known as Christine. Later she married James Reilly and they built the house that still stands near Philo and is called Reilly Heights. John Gschwend's namesake, John, was my father. He helped his father, John Gschwend, my grandfather, build the roads to Ukiah and to Point Arena. I am the only one left of the John Gschwend family.


  1. Lauren April 7, 2016

    I read a news item in the Marin Journal dated Dec. 28th, 1872 about the killing of James Crowey of Napa, purported to be a distant relative of Joseph Gschwend of Anderson Valley.
    It seems Joseph’s 16 year old daughter was stolen from him by George Cleveland and William Adington (probably Edington) for the purpose of marriage.
    When Mr. Crowey approached Mr. Cleveland, he was shot and killed.
    Do you happen to know of this story? I was researching the Crowey family of Napa when I came across this news item.

  2. Susan Mountin September 18, 2017

    I am interested in learning more about this author. I am also a descendant of John Gshwend and I’m interested in connecting with this part of my family. Like this author, the great-aunt of my father was Christine Reilly.

    • Alan Landmann October 23, 2017

      Hi Susan.

      I am a descendant of John Gschwend’s sister Maria Anna Magdalena Gschwend. She married Jaoob Rall and they stayed in Highland IL. I would be interested in touching base.


      • Susan Mountin October 24, 2017

        So nice to meet you! My parents are actually best informed about the Gschwends. Would you like to be in touch with them? We visited Anderson Valley a few years ago – such a beautiful place. All of us now live in Washington State. Would you like to call them? I’ll be happy to put you in touch.

        • Alan Landmann October 28, 2017


          I would love to talk with your parents about the Gschwends. My e-mail address is if you would prefer to send contact information that way.

          What part of Washington do you live ? I live in Woodinville WA

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