BODEGA BAY AREA HISTORY
Long before the settlers came, the Pomo and Coastal Miwok Indians were the first to walk the hills of Western Sonoma County and harvest clams and mussels from the shores of Bodega Bay.
With the help of native Pomo and Miwok Indians, the Russians built Fort Ross 11 miles north of the Russian River and established Bodega Bay as a port for shipping crops and supplies to their Alaskan settlements. When crops failed, the Russians gave up and returned to Alaska. Their respect for the natives is legendary and the world's largest collection of Pomo baskets is in Russia.
Mexico had gained independence from Spain in 1810 and in the process, granted the land to Mexican citizens and soldiers.They established Rancho Bodega bordered by the Russian River to the north including the whole Bodega Bay area.
At the same time, settlers from the east were moving west and threatened the land ownership of the Mexicans. Convinced of the right of Manifest Destiny, they established their own government and created the Bear flag. The United States and Mexico were soon at war and by 1850, California became the 31st state.
Progress moved at a rapid pace from then on. People came from the east by wagon and from European nations by ship. Growth was everywhere throughout California and Bodega Bay gave shelter to a growing fishing industry.
Firmin Candelot founded the town of "Bay" which later changed its name to Bodega Bay in 1941. Although most early settlers were drawn here to jobs in the lumber mills, in time, locals shifted their focus to harvesting fish instead of lumber, establishing the still thriving fishing industry. Soon even recreation became a part of commerce as thousands of people flocked to Bodega Bay and its surrounding towns known today as Bodega, Jenner, Duncans Mills, Guerneville, Monte Rio, Forestville, Occidental, Freestone, Valley Ford and Fort Ross.
Jenner is perched on the hills where the Russian River widens to enter the sea. Congregating at the mouth of the river, harbor seals have lain in the sun and given birth to their pups since before the days of the Miwok Indians. Originally called Jenner Gulch after Charles Jenner, it was home to workers of the nearby lumber mills. In the mid-1800s, a ferry was built to cross the Russian River, connecting the coast highway north to south.
The narrow gauge railroad put Occidental on the map in the late 1870s by taking redwood out of the region and bringing tourists in from San Francisco and Sausalito. William "Dutch Bill" Howard and Melvin C. "Boss" Meeker pretty much owned the area between Howard's landholdings and Meeker's huge lumber mill just north of town. The town's first post office, school and church were built by 1876 and the town boasted two hotels. By the 1880s, Italian immigrants arrived in large numbers at the same time introducing Zinfandel grapes and Italian cuisine.
In the early 1800s, Freestone Valley was home to Russian wheat farmers. When the North Coast Pacific Railroad was built from Sausalito to the south and Cazadero to the north, Freestone became a hub for the railroad and lumbermen, as well as for tourists. They established one of the area's first schools and a historic hotel in the middle of town, both still part of the local landscape. Proud of its heritage, Freestone has maintained its historic buildings and was declared the First Historic District in Sonoma County.
Valley Ford is a tiny town surrounded by rolling coastal hills dotted with livestock. Very little has changed since the first ranchers brought cattle to the area and planted the low lying fields with potatoes. In the center of town, you'll find the historic hotel and one of the area's first banks. Valley Ford's most recent claim to fame came in 1976 when Christo's fence meandered through the middle of town and out to the coastline, attracting international attention.
Today, the beauty that first brought settlers still attracts thousands of travelers throughout the year to our moderate climate, forests of old growth redwoods, our long sandy beaches and coastal vistas.