By Robert L. Harrison

View of San Rafael from Wolfe Grade looking up D Street. San Rafael Hill in background. Marin County Courthouse at right; North Pacific Coast Railroad depot and grounds at right of center. Image from Isaac Shaver Photograph Album, circa 1890 — San Rafael & Ross Valley. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

Today it is unusual for a local Marin County newspaper to advocate for significant growth. The current public sentiment seems solidly behind slow or no growth policies. This was not the case some 130 years ago.

In the mid to late 19th century, the press enthusiastically promoted the County’s growth. The front page of the Marin Journal’s April 7, 1887 edition offers a prominent example of the desire for continued development. The Journal dedicated five of its seven front page columns -occupying about three-quarters of the page- to the promotion of the newspaper’s hometown, San Rafael.

By Dewey Livingston

Kentfield and the Corte Madera Creek marshes seen from the top of the Kent Estate, which at the time was used for grazing and a small dairy. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

While Ross Landing grew into an important town in Marin with significant commerce and large estates in the 1870s and beyond—it would later become Kentfield — there remained many aspects of the rural life. William Barry had a dairy ranch and milk route in the valley, selling fresh milk for eight cents a quart in 1874. Even the younger James Ross had a large dairy ranch at Greenbrae, where, for a short time he lived the life of a gentleman farmer, until leasing it to a Swiss dairyman.

A fascinating tale comes with the arrival of Giovanni…

By Carol Acquaviva

Anne T. Kent California Room Collection

Today, many of us are lining up (or attempting to line up) to receive a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, a critical step to suppress a deadly communicable virus that has so far taken 2.7 million lives worldwide.

In the 1950s, a dreaded common enemy was poliomyelitis, or polio, a disease that, at its worst, can cause infection of the spinal cord and brain, rapid paralysis, and death. Like COVID-19, there is no cure for polio, although its eradication is largely attributed to prevention by vaccine.

Although it has existed for thousands of years, polio began to be…

By Robert L. Harrison

San Francisco Examiner, September 17, 1896.

Women gained the right to vote in California on October 11, 1911, some nine years before the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. That day the voters passed the women’s suffrage amendment to the California Constitution by a narrow 1.4% margin. The Marin County electorate and much of the Bay Area rejected the measure by significant margins.

The campaign for women’s suffrage greatly advanced in the last half of the 19th century. In 1848 a gathering of abolitionists in Seneca Falls, New York, including reformers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia…

By Robert L. Harrison

Marjorie W. Macris. Coll. of Robert L. Harrison

Marge Macris is perhaps the woman most responsible for the way Marin County looks today. In the early 1970s she was a principal author of the Marin Countywide Plan and later, as the County Planning Director, led its implementation. For nearly 50 years, the county and all of its cities have relied on the plan, which restricts new urban development to the Highway 101 Corridor and reserves the county’s central and western areas for small villages, agriculture and recreation. Her work was pioneering not only for its substance, but also because she was among the few…

By Laurie Thompson

Publicity still of Beatriz Michelena. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection/ George Middleton Archive.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to shine a spotlight on pioneer Latina film star, Beatriz Michelena (1890–1942).

The actress who was to become the California Motion Picture Corporation’s leading lady and a local star in San Rafael, California, was Beatriz Michelena, born on February 22, 1890 in New York City.

Her father was Fernando Michelena, a Venezuelan-born tenor, who tutored Beatriz and her sister Vera in singing and acting from their earliest years. Beatriz’ mother, Frances Lenord Michelena, had been a Vaudeville & comic-opera star before her marriage to Fernando in 1886. Both Beatriz…

By Robert L. Harrison

California State flag presented to Hoover, March 5, 1929. Library of Congress Coll.

In 1849 California applied for admission to the United States as the 31st state. With the gold rush underway the territory’s value was well known across America. Moreover, statehood had the enthusiastic support of the growing number of American settlers in California. One would have expected prompt action by the national government of the application for statehood from a territory as rich as California — a state that met all the legal requirements. What then was the problem that provoked a heated debate in Congress and delayed California statehood?

As it turned out, California’s application got…

By Dewey Livingston

The Parsons house and wagon shed at Five Brooks, south of Olema. The 160-year-old house and wagon shed still stand, but are badly in need of preservation. The image has been digitally enhanced and cropped from the full album page 1. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

The recent donation of an old photo album to the California Room features faded pictures of generally poor quality. Looking more closely, the images provide a wealth of information about pioneer families and dozens of unique views, many of which are the first seen of particular people, buildings and scenes. The album belonged to Ella Parsons Denman, a Petaluma resident with deep roots in West Marin. Mrs. Denman also had family ties to the McNear family of San Rafael and Petaluma. The images are dated, in Ella’s hand, between 1896 and 1905.

Ella was the daughter of…

by Brian K. Crawford

Bert Ross was a notorious criminal in California around the turn of the twentieth century. His name was in the papers for years. But we know very little about who he really was because of his habit of using false names and lying. He used a first name of Elmer, Elmore, Herbert, Zoro, Zono, and Bert, and a last name of Golden, Holden, Pierce, Akers, Meredith, and Ross. He gave his place of birth as Louisiana, Illinois, New York, Montana, and “east of the Rocky Mountains.” He was born between 1870 and 1876. …

By Robert L. Harrison

The Point Bonita Lighthouse and adjacent fog signal building, circa 1910. The tall chimney at left was for steam boilers in the fog signal building. Courtesy of GGNRA Archives.

In the late 19th century there was considerable public discourse among Sausalito residents over the need for a good road to Point Bonita. Concern was expressed by some that the growth of the town was greatly constrained by a lack of “driveways”. The January 18, 1896 Sausalito News described the matter this way: “Sausalito’s Future — Its Principal Drawback the Lack of Better Driveways.” …

Anne T. Kent California Room

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