History of Russian River Recreation Area
When all the local redwoods were “old growth”, the Native American Indian tribes called the Russian River area “Shabaiki”. The first settlers were Russian fur traders in 1811. Their main settlement was on the coast at what is now Fort Ross. The Russians hunted sea otters which were once very common along our coast line.
The Gold Rush triggered explosive growth of San Francisco. The demand for construction lumber was huge. Loggers were attracted to the hills and valleys along the Russian River valley. Trees as old as 2000 yrs were harvested in the region. Soon, the name “Stumptown” was given to one of the larger lumber camps along the river.
In 1867, George E. Guerne a young Swiss immigrant arrived in Stumptown. He purchased land and established a subdivision which became Guernewood Park. He constructed and operated a saw mill in Stumptown, only a short distance from what is now Fern Grove Cottages. Stumptown was renamed Guerneville after its most important resident. Fern Grove Cottages was initially constructed in the 1930s on land acquired from the Guerne family. Today, the redwoods in our 6.5 acres are “recent “, being only 120 years old and only 80 to 100 ft high. Here and there you can see stumps from the original giants that reached heights of over 320 ft. Or you can visit the nearby Armstrong Redwood Preserve where you can walk among 2000 year old redwoods. Colonel Armstrong owned forestland and a sawmill in the 1870s, but fought hard to retain over 400 acres of redwood forest for future generations.
In the early 1870’s, another immigrant, Francis Korbel and his brothers bought logging property near to Guerneville. After the lumber boom slowed, the Korbels turned their once forested lands to agriculture. By 1882, they started to produce wine from their grape vineyards. Today, Korbel ranks as the nation’s most widely recognized champage producer. You can visit the original buildings as well as the tasting room when you visit Guerneville.
After the introduction of the railroad into the Russian River valley in the late 1800s, thousands of San Franciscans flocked to the region each summer. Soon, many of the famous big bands started to provide dance music at packed outdoor venues along the river even into the 1950s. Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey and other famous names were frequent performers during the Big Band era. Hollywood stars were also frequent visitors.
Today, a visitor can enjoy the historic heritage and magnificent natural beauty during a stay at one of the many restored historic inns such as Fern Grove Cottages. The old knotty pine interiors allow the visitor to experience history while enjoying the pleasures of more modern amenities such as a private spa tub and internet access.