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History of Forest View Ranch

Original Caretakers

The original inhabitants of the place we call Forest View Ranch were the Pomo Indians. They summered under the Redwood trees that grew so thickly in the rich, moist soil of the Russian River.

Early Days

In 1860-70s there was a movement of logging in the Russian River area. The largest redwood trees in the world were around where Safeway is today. They called this area “The Big Basin”. The Big Basin was the first area logged.

The trees were known to be the largest in the world. The first timber mill in the area was located here on the Russian River. Most of the redwoods were used as railroad ties for the Intercontinental railroad.

The redwoods continued to be harvested and a lot of the wood was used to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.

The area was serviced by a narrow gauge railroad. Oxen brought the timber out of the woods and took the redwoods down to the flats, where they were cut into sections and then loaded onto small railroad cars. The wood was then transported by rail or by ship from Jenner and further north, Gualala to its destination.

When they were clearing the forest, Kate Armstrong continued to ask her father to leave a small stand somewhere so that not all the redwoods would be lost. So Colonel Armstrong choose Armstrong Woods because it was one of the smallest stands of redwoods and it wouldn’t cost him much to save it. He allocated 500 acres originally that has grown to 4500 acres over the years.

The Von Renners bought the ranch on April 1, 1995 from Dave Wayland, who was 65 years old when they bought the ranch from him. Dave was six when his parents, Clark and Adele Wayland bought the Ranch in 1934. The Waylands were the third owners of FVR. The first owner of the property was a timber harvester, possibly Colonel Armstrong. The second owners were an Italian family, the Guidotti Family.

After they logged FVR in the 1880- 1890s the Guidotti family put in orchards of apples including Gravensteins, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and Jonathans. They didn’t want all their eggs in one basket so they planted different varieties for different rain times so as to not loose their whole crop at one time.

Luther Burbank was coming out to the area in the 20s and 30s. He did some grafting at Colonel Armstrong ranch across Armstong Woods Road. From 1960 to 1965 Fred’s family owned Colonel Armstrong’s 125 acre ranch when he was 12 years old. Fred remembers living in the old home with a croquet court.

FVR consists of three main buildings. The main house is the old farm house and Fred and his family still live in it today. The caretakers unit is next to the main house.

From the 1930s until the Von Renners bought the property, the Wayland family would come to stay at FVR for the summer and weekends. Clark Wayland was an engineer at Johns Manville in San Francisco. The caretaker in those days worked at the quicksilver mine down the road.

The Artist’s Studio

The Artist’s studio is the other main building. Until the Von Renner’s moved here in 1995, the Artist Studio was a holiday home to the owners. The Artist’s Studio was built when Clark and Adele had a fire in the main house when Adele was cooking down some lard. They built the artist’s studio to live in while they remodeled the house after the fire.

Adele Wayland was taking lessons in the late 1940s from Marguerite Wildenhain, who lived nearby at Pond Farm. Adele was so interested in pottery that she designed the back door of the artist’s studio to be 4 feet wide so she could get her kiln in so she could throw her pottery. Marguerite Windenhain probably visited FVAR. If you visit Pond Farm, you can see a resemblance in the architecture of the Artist’s Studio at FVAR to the architecture of Pond Farm. Adele Wayland’s kiln eventually was sold to San Simeon winery at Hearst castle to reproduce a lot of the pottery they have on display there.


Artist Colony

In 1940, Jane and Gordon Herr, of San Francisco, bought the Walker Ranch, on a hilltop above Armstrong Woods. The 250 acre property had a large pond, so they renamed it “Pond Farm”. Jane and Gordon had a dream to establish an artist’s colony and had traveled to Europe in 1939 and met many artists, including Frans and Marguerite Wildenhain.

After the Nazis invaded Poland, Marguerite, who was Jewish, traveled to the United States and accepted Gordon and Jane Herr’s invitation to help establish the artist colony in California in 1942. In a restored barn, Marguerite established her pottery studio and taught many students there. Frans Wildenhain joined her seven years later after serving in the German army and taught sculpture. The Pond Farm school opened in 1949. Marguerite continued to teach pottery lessons on Pond Farm until 1980.

Resort Town

In the late 1800s, the Guerneville area became a popular resort destination for the wealthy families living in San Francisco. San Franciscans would board the ferry and then take the train to Guerneville. Many vacation cabins and resort hotels were built along the Russian River. 100,000s of thousands of people would escape the city and converge on the Russian River area. The energy was very upbeat and anyone who was anyone had a house here. If you couldn’t afford a house, you would rent a spot on a sleeping porch for 5 cents a night to be part of the action.

In the 1970s, LGBT entrepreneurs from the friendliest gay city in the world, San Francisco, purchased businesses in the area and marketed Guerneville as a liberal resort. Vacationers came to spend their money again in the summer and Guerneville prospered again.

Currently, the Russian River area in Sonoma County is thriving as a tourist destination for kayaking, hiking, wineries and eco tours with visitors from all over the world.


Photos courtesy of the Sonoma County Library Heritage Collection