Fellow Book Benders
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    This is the 25th edition of Fellow Book Benders, a free monthly online newsletter about the ridiculous truth and historical tidbits of San Francisco, the Russian River and beyond.    This venue allows me to promote my novels, etc.  New followers are deeply appreciated.  Spread the word and feel free to share.  This month we visit Guernewood Park along the Russian River for the first of a two-part series.  Enjoy!
         May, 2018                                               Vol. 3, No. 5
Guernewood Park, Part I
      During the early days, the North Pacific Coast R.R. (later the North Western Pacific R.R.) would take you from the ferry building at Sausalito on a four-hour trip through San Geranimo Valley to Point Reyes Station, Valley Ford, Freestone, Occidental, Monte Rio and eventually to Guernewood Park and beyond along the Russian River.
      The historical postcard (upper left) depicts one of seven tunnels you would encounter along your journey.  This particular passage was between Occidental and Monte Rio above the present-day fish ladder in Dutch Bill Creek. The railbed is still visible and used by local hikers. 
      The 1912 black and white photo (upper right) shows the tracks coming into Guernewood Park and joining up with Old Monte Rio Road.  The railroad path was converted into Highway 12 in 1936, which is now Highway 116.      
       When the first trains rumbled to the Russian River area on Sunday, March 25, 1877 the passenger cars were an assortment of open-end platform wooden coaches.  Fifty years later the same type of cars were still bringing thousands of excursionists to the local resort towns. It must have been something to see the black smoke billowing from the balloon stack, listening to the whistle as ol’ NO. 11 (photo bottom left) rolled into the station at Guernewood Park (photo bottom right). 
       Perhaps the best part of the summer months was having the entire lower river available as your personal playground. When passenger and freight trains weren’t scheduled, the railway used the tracks to offer a kind of trolley service using an ancient steam engine and open railway car recycled from the old timber days.
       Meeting your friends at a particular swimming hole for a picnic by catching a ride on the “Coffee Grinder” –  which looked like an oversized toy, and puffed away at less than ten miles per hour – added to summer’s delight.  This chapter of the railroads ended in late 1909, when the NWP line finally met the narrow gauge railway that came up the coast. After that the railroad began promoting the Sunday “Triangle Trip”.  These  150-mile outings took you up the coast to the river and then would return in the afternoon via present-day River Road and Highway 101 until reconnecting with your ferry by the bay.
       Sidebars: Jennifer Baca remembers working with an elderly woman named Juanita who was born on the train between Mill Valley and Tiburon.
        The last train out of the Russian River area was in 1935.
   Before the 1950’s, one of the largest resorts along the Russian River was Guernewood Village, which should not be confused with Guernewood Park.  The former was on the north side of present-day Highway 116 while the latter was on the south side.   The top photo on the left depicts the Old Monte Rio Road, which was also known as the Monte Rio Highway, connecting Monte Rio with Guernewood Village.  Also in the same pic is the gated entrance “To The Height” that was a summer home development and is now the intersection of Lover’s Lane.
         Just east of the gated community and Lover’s Lane was the outdoor Catholic Church.  The bottom photo on the left shows a 1954 Sunday service in Guernewood.  During the summer months, the regular indoor worship sites such as St. Elizabeth’s in Guerneville, St. Catherine’s in Monte Rio, and St. Colman’s in Cazadero were full to capacity. Traveling priests initiated outdoor churches to accommodate the overflow.  One local tells the story of her husband’s grandfather not only handling the offering basket on Sunday at the Guernewood church but also going door-to-door after the mass to make sure that everyone had contributed their fair share.  Also, horse riders had to take alternate routes on Sunday so as not to disturb the worshipers.         
        The top photo on the right (early 1940’s) depicts the entrance to the village with Hulbert Creek running behind it.  As you strolled under the sign, a path led the way to a cafe, various game booths including Skee-Ball and a baseball toss with milk bottles.  Further down the lane would be an indoor bowling alley, an outdoor roller skating rink as well as an amphitheater where some of the Big Bands played.  The most popular local band was the Harry Davis’ Guernewood Village Bowl Orchestra.
        The bottom photo on the right shows the Guernewood Grocery, known from the 1940’s to the mid-1950’s as Noble’s Grocery Store.  It was located just under the Guernewood Village sign and just west of where the Garden Grill diner is today.
      The Heights development expanded from Lovers Lane to Old Cazadero Road.  The two cabins in the photo on the left are existing examples of these early days.  Both were built in the 1920s each with one bedroom, one bath and approximately 900 square feet.  The living space would be located out of reach of any possible flooding. 
       Linda Henris recalls her grandparents place: "It was magical when I was younger with its huge stone fireplace.  A special time for sure."  Others such as Nancy Ann Woolbert Bettencourt's family have held onto their vacation homes for a hundred years or more.  Nancy owns the "White Rock" house on Cherry St.
          Campers relax by the open fire pit next to their tent in the early part of last century along the Russian River (top right photo).  During more recent times, neighbors in the same area complained about the illegal activity at Spooner’s RV Park.  The locals pleaded for relief from the squalor, illegal drug use, theft and noise associated with the tenants at Spooner’s. “It’s the scourge of Guernewood Park,” said Old Cazadero Road resident Patricia Hall.   “We see, hear and smell what’s going on there,” said Fred Uren (no pun intended) of Lovers Lane.  “It’s anything but pleasant.”  Spooner's faced threats of legal action by the community and $3,000 in abatement costs and civil penalties. 
          A group of investors from Santa Barbara bought the two-acre site a couple of years ago and have developed a glamping destination named AutoCamp Russian River (bottom right photo).  The project includes 24 Airstream trailers and luxurious canvas tents with plush interiors on the property where the old Molly Brown’s Restaurant and Bar was situated.  Also included are a modern clubhouse, fire pit lounges, concierge service and Wi-Fi throughout.  Accommodations can cost upwards of $300/night.  “I’m happy with the development,” said Chris Gulledge of the Guernewood Neghborhood Association.  But beware, do you want to trade in the former sordidness for a gentrified future?  So far, the answer is yes. 
       Sidebars:  In 1952 houses along Old Cazadero Road in Guernewood Park sold for around $4k, the same price of a new Buick station wagon at the time.
        The cabin in the lower left photo sold in 2017 for $476k.
        Houses today in the "flood plain" of the Russian River need to be above the century mark, which is the forty-eight-foot flood level.

       If you have enjoyed reading one of my novels, a short review with Amazon would be appreciated. 

Next Time:
   In June we will revisit Guernewood Park along the Russian River for the final segment in a two-part series. Do you have a favorite historical tale or personal adventure relating to Guernewood Park?  If so, I would love to publish it next month in Fellow Book Benders. You can reach me through my website or email me directly:  Thanks and stay tuned. 

        If you spied a film crew along the banks of the Russian River recently, they are shooting scenes for Katrano, a documentary inspired by my first novel, Memories That Linger.
       On another note, Don't Stop the Music won a Notable Indie Book Award in a national writing contest.

Where to purchase my latest novel:
      Don't Stop the Music is an award-winning, action/adventure story that celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love.  It is a wild ride through the streets of the Haight and Fillmore Districts of San Francisco culminating in the historic Grateful Dead concert in Rio Nido along the Russian River in 1967.
         The paperback as well as the kindle version are available on Amazon.  If you want to save on shipping and handling charges, you can purchase a signed copy through my website at

          My novels are also available at Hand Goods, Occidental; Gold Coast Coffee, Duncan Mills; Jenner by the Sea Gifts, Jenner; Larks Drugs, Five & Dime, and Russian River Art Gallery, Guerneville; Bia's Coffee, Monte Rio; Gaia's Restaurant, Santa Rosa.
Reviews are trickling in for Don't Stop the Music:
        “For those who remember the era (Summer of Love), Don't Stop the Music is a delicious summary of memory.”
         San Francisco Museum and Historical Society
        "John McCarty has put together a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love (1967) that is cheerful and entertaining and even pays tribute to the beauty of west Sonoma County..."
          Sonoma County Historical Society

          “A trip back in time to the 1960’s San Francisco Fillmore District, up through the Marin & Sonoma coastline to the Russian River hippie heyday and the peace, love, and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.  A nostalgic read.”
            Russian River Historical Society

            "Somehow McCarty manages to build sympathy for his motley crew as they embark on a classic road trip from San Francisco to rural northern California."
            Northern California Fulbright Association

         "Familiar folks, home-grown scenery, and candid attitudes will put you happily in the middle of all the action."
            Stephen Gross, The Press Democrat

           "All along there is danger, excitement, budding love and a number of unrighteous brawls.  The author knows what he writes about.”

            Bob Jones, Sonoma West Times & News

Attributions & Asides:
       A special thank you is due to anonymous subscribers for sharing their memories of  Guernewood Park.   Also, a note of appreciation goes to the following individuals and organizations: Jennifer Baca, Linda Henris, Nancy Ann Woolbert Bettencourt, Patricia Hall, Fred Uren, Chris Gulledge, Robin Monroe (website designer), The Press Democrat, Card Cow Vintage Postcards, Sonoma County Historical Society, Russian River Historical Society, San Francisco Museum and Historical Society, and Wikipedia.
                To subscribe a friend to this newsletter go to and scroll to the bottom of any page to "Subscribe To Our Newsletter".
                 Your privacy is important to me.  Be assured that I am not sharing your email or any other personal information. As Red Skelton used to say, "Good night and may God bless."   JMc
Copyright © 2018 John McCarty, All rights reserved.

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