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Welcome to the Mill Valley Historical Society

The Old Mill, built by John Thomas Reed around 1836. MVN1328 – Courtesy of the Lucretia Little History Room, Mill Valley Public Library

This website serves to keep our members and visitors informed about the many activities as well as the extensive historical archives pertaining to and related to the history of Mill Valley, California.  If you are not already a member of the Mill Valley Historical Society, whether you live in the area or not we warmly encourage you to go to the BECOME A MEMBER page and see what a yearly bargain it is to join.
We invite all those with an affection for Mill Valley to join and learn about the charming history of this little historic town at the base of Mount Tamalpais. Check the CALENDAR for past and upcoming events and programs. See the news posts below for the latest historical news about Mill Valley and Southern Marin. You can search the posts by the keywords that are listed on the sidebar. And please consider making a DONATION in support of our mission. We hope you enjoy your stay at www.mvhistory.org.

MVHS First Wednesday Event – Mill Valley Beat Poets and Authors

 “Mill Valley Beat Poets and Authors”

Locke McCorle and Al Young
Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017
7 PM,  Mill Valley Library
Click here to register

In 1955, Locke McCorkle rented a piece of property for $25 dollars a month on a quiet street named Montford, in a sleepy suburban enclave called Mill Valley.  The property was primitive with two small, rustic houses that would become the nexus of gathering for Locke and his friends, Gary Snyder, Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley and Philip Whalen.  This vanguard group of counter-culture thinkers pushed the social envelope of the day.  Kerouac actually used that envelope as scratch paper to write a book about friendship and Buddhism and hiking and he called that book, The Dharma Bums

Join longtime friends, author Locke McCorkle and poet Al Young, as they savor and explore this magical time in Mill Valley’s history when the Beat movement caught fire under redwood and eucalyptus trees in a mountain town just a stone’s throw from a busy urban area perched on the precipice of change. 

Locke McCorkle
Locke grew up in Eureka, California. After studying English and French at Humboldt State University, he moved to the Bay Area to attend UC Berkeley, but quickly changed course after hearing Alan Watts’ lectures on eastern spirituality.  This led Locke to the California Institute of Asian Studies where he studied Zen with Alan Watts, Sanskrit with Frederic Spiegelberg and Indian Philosophy with Haridas Chaudhuri.  Locke loved the new dimension these studies added to the culture he’d inherited.  During his time at the Institute he befriended the poet Gary Snyder, with whom he moved to Mill Valley in the late 1950s.  Through Snyder, Locke became acquainted with many of the Beats, including Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg.  Locke himself served as a model for one of the major characters in Jack Kerouac’s 1958 novel, The Dharma Bums.  Locke now lives in Palo Alto with his wife, writer Carole Simone, and their beloved, bearded collie, Rumi, but still counts Mill Valley as his favorite place to live.

Al Young
Born in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the eldest of seven, Al Young is the author 25 books (poetry, fiction, essays and a memoir).  Published in Paris Review, Essence, The NY Times, and Ploughshares, Al served California as Poet Laureate 2005-2008.  

His honors include Wallace Stegner, Guggenheim, Fulbright, and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, as well as two Pushcart Prizes, two American Book Awards, the Richard Wright Award for Excellence in Literature, and the 2011 Thomas Wolfe Award.  He has written screenplays for Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor.  He has taught poetry, fiction writing and American literature at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Santa Cruz, U.C. Davis, and many other distinguished universities across the country.  Al’s work is included in The Best American Poetry 2016.  He presently lives in Berkeley, California.

January 2017 First Wednesday Talk – Pacific Sun’s Steve McNamara

Steve McNamara
Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017
7 PM,  Mill Valley Library  

Steve McNamara graduated from Princeton in 1955 and since then has written for, edited and/or owned a large variety of print publications, including the Winston-Salem Journal, Miami Herald, Car and Driver magazine, Competition Press, San Francisco Examiner, Tiburon Ark and, for 38 years Steve and his wife, Kay owned, published and edited the Pacific Sun, then located across from Mill Valley City Hall. The Sun is the second oldest alternative newsweekly in the United States, after the Village Voice in New York City.

In 2008 Steve helped revive the San Quentin News as its de-facto publisher. The SQ News, which now goes to all of the state’s 36 prisons, is the only inmate-produced newspaper in California and one of the few in the world.

Steve first moved to Mill Valley in 1962. He and his wife, a therapist, have six children and live four blocks from City Hall in a house built in 1896.

Steve’s talk will focus on how the Pacific Sun helped change Marin and Mill Valley from an outpost of small-town Republicanism into a liberal enclave. Plus why San Quentin, the state’s oldest prison and one of the most rundown, is the one where most of the state’s 100,000 inmates hope to do their time. At San Quentin one of best inmate jobs available is writing for the San Quentin News, even if it only pays 37 cents an hour.

Vestige of Mount Tam’s Railroad History Returns to Mill Valley

The model locomotive at the Scenic Railway’s Mill Valley shops, December 16, 1911. Photo by Howard Folker, Sr., Howard Folker, Jr. collection. Courtesy Fred Runner.


After 86 years, an extraordinary piece of local history returns to Mill Valley. From December 9th through the month of May, the Lucretia Little History Room of the Mill Valley Public Library will display a one-of-a-kind handcrafted steam engine model that was built 105 years ago by the once world-famous Mill Valley and Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway.

A fantastic work of machinery with still-working piston rods and drive shaft, the 80-pound, 57-inch-long model is a remarkable example of a Shay engine locomotive, one of the types of locomotives that once climbed Mount Tam. Employees of the Railway built the all-metal model in the railroad’s Mill Valley shops, right next to full-sized Shay steam engines.Most of the work on the model was done by Mill Valley resident Howard Folker, a conductor, engineer, and machinist for the Railway. Folker completed the model in December 1911 and that same month the engine was put on display in the Railway’s ticket office in San Francisco’s posh Palace Hotel. A 1911 newspaper article in the Sausalito News describes how holiday shoppers would crowd around the Market Street window to get a glimpse of the locomotive and its moving parts.

In 1929, after years of popularity, including passengers such as Susan B. Anthony, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, and John Muir, the Scenic Railway ran its last trains, eventually filing for abandonment in 1930. The Railway was scrapped that summer by Chicago’s Hyman-Michaels (now Azcon Metals), and the model was taken to the company’s Midwest headquarters. Earlier this year, the nonprofit Friends of Mt Tam arranged a two-year loan of the model. In April 2016, after a meticulous restoration by master modeler Phil Gazzano, the model went on display at the Civic Center Library in San Rafael.

An unveiling event and short talk by historian and Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway author Fred Runner will take place in the History Room at 1pm on Friday, December 9th. On Wednesday, March 1st, as the featured speaker of the Mill Valley Historical Society’s First Wednesday program, Runner will visit the Library to speak in more detail about the model and the history of the Scenic Railway in Mill Valley.

Many thanks to Fred Runner, Arlene Halligan and the Friends of Mt Tam for making this display possible.

First Wednesday Event for Dec. 2016 – Man vs Nature

man-vs-nature-clip
Alex Kenin

Wednesday, Dec. 7
7 PM,  Mill Valley Library  

If you’ve hiked in San Francisco, you may have enjoyed the dense forests of the Presidio, Mt. Sutro Open Space Reserve, or Mt. Davidson. Or you may have relaxed along the plentiful lakes found throughout Golden Gate Park. But what you may not realize as you explore the city’s 70 miles of trails is that much of what you’re seeing is non-native-or even manmade.

Ever since the Spanish arrived in Yerba Buena in the late 1700s, the area has undergone a transformation from its native sand dunes, coastal scrub, grasslands, oak woodlands, and lakes and creeks. Today, it is thought that 40% of the flora in San Francisco are non-native.

Alex will discuss some of the major changes to San Francisco’s natural areas and the people who drove these changes including the US Army, John McLaren, and Adolph Sutro. She’ll discuss a few success stories for habitat restoration, and a few places where you can still see San Francisco’s landscape in its original state. And why no San Francisco hiking guide is complete without including Mt Tamalpais.

 Registration highly recommended. Click here to register.


About Alex Kenin

I’m Alexandra Kenin and I’m the founder of Urban Hiker SF. Originally from New Jersey, I’ve lived up and down the East Coast in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. While living in New York in 2004, I took a vacation to San Francisco and realized I didn’t want to come home.

It took three years, but I finally moved to San Francisco in 2007. When I bought my one-way ticket out west, my father bought me a copy of Adah Bakalinsky’s Stairway Walks in San Francisco. At the time, I was a marketing manager at Google and would commute up to three hours a day. On weekends, inspired by the Stairway Walks book, I would take off to explore my new home on foot. One fateful day, a native San Franciscan friend brought me on a walk to the Embarcadero via the Vallejo and Filbert Street Steps. I loved the views from by the stairways, I loved the exercise I got from climbing them, and I loved how they seemed to be a secret to most. From that moment on, I was hooked on urban hiking.

Since then, I have fallen into an entire band of urban hiking enthusiasts. A group of us now goes on monthly day hikes – up to 30 miles in distance. We love finding new secret spots in the city and now I want to share our findings with you!