The train arrived along the river in 1876, Starting at Fulton and heading West along the Russian River. The train moved through farmlands, to redwoods, out towards River’s end at the ocean. The bridge at Hacienda today is the third version, with wood and steel versions preceding it. As you move West, the temperature drops several degrees with increased tree cover and ocean humidity.
The primary industry along the river was forestry. In fact, the clear-cutting of sequias along the river was so prevalent that Guerneville became known as “Stumptown.”
Not everyone was happy about the clear-cutting. Hardy Fox wrote this in 1876 for the St. Louis Star…
“The train moved on with the next scheduled stop being Korbel Mills. That was where the tracks ended.”
As we approached I was sickened by the view. In all directions I saw nothing but stumps. The fantastic trees had been murdered in their sleep. Of course I knew that it was a lumber mill, that these trees were the natural resource that actually caused a train to get built. But I never expected this kind of impact, this sense of the idea being so obviously wrong. It was like if God were mineable and we would go into churches and cut him into pieces, carry him out and sell him on the street.
Once off the train, I walked over to a large stump and placed my hands on it. I apologized for being a human, saying that one day this would all be over. There would be trees and river and humans. We would want to be here, to live here and tell the world that all is good.
I knew it was wrong, but I knew technology is like this. It tells us what to do instead of us telling it what to do. Technology stumps us too.”
Another business near the Hilton area was brick making. As the river had a large clay deposit, the Big Earthquake in 1906 increased demand for bricks. By 1909, the Pureclay Brick and Tile Company was producing 30,000 bricks a day. The bricks were used to build the Masonic temple in Sonoma, the Post Office in Santa Rosa, and other buildings until it was closed in 1912.
Before there were massive vineyards, there were massive hop fields. Anthony McPeak farmed both hops and grapes on his property on Hobson Creek. A little known fact is that Russian River Brewing Company was created in 1997 when Korbel decided to try their hand at brewing beer. Brewer, Vinnie Cilurzo, was hired as brewmaster. Korbel sold the brewery to Cilurzo and his wife Natalie in 2002. Cilurzo is regarded as one of the most innovative microbrewers in the country and Russian River Beer is highly regarded in the beer world.
Major stops along the river were largely campgrounds, including Mirabel, Hacienda, Forestville, Green Valley Steelhead, Sunset, River Bend, Schoolhouse Odd Follows and Korbel. Going through these stops is like a time capsule, with fragments of Russian River history left behind. For example, did you know that many of the original pioneers of the area are buried in the tiny McPeak cemetery in Hacienda. The McPeaks left Missouri in 1852, and bought land along the Russian River until two Czechoslovakian brothers by the name of Korbel offered to buy his land. Around the same location near the bridge, the best place to camp was the Cosmo farm. A popular campground, the owner of Rio Nido purchased the land from the McPeak’s and converted it to vacation properties, calling it Haciendas del Rio.