VIGNETTE > Homestead Mansion

In 1889, the Tamalpais Land & Water Co. took over ownership of the 14,000-acre Rancho Sausalito in southern Marin. It was heavily mortgaged. Annual rents of $20,000 from dairy ranches leased to Portuguese men from the Azores Islands did not pay current expenses. TL&WC’s business plan was to subdivide land in the Valley of the Mill and sell the lots. The plan succeeded. In 1900, the town of Mill Valley was incorporated. TL&WC then subdivided the area to the south, i.e., Almonte and Homestead Valley.  In 1904, Harry Wilhelm bought a 2.2-acre hillside lot in Homestead bounded by Ferndale, Ridgewood and the pedestrian lane that connects the two streets. By 1907 he had built two houses as shown in the photo. The small house on Ridgewood was across the street from a Rancho Sausalito water tower. The three-story mansion had 14 rooms, indoor plumbing, lighting fixtures fueled by gasoline, a wood-fired kitchen stove and central heating with a coal-fired furnace in the basement. The barren land had been cattle pasture since the 18th century. Note the Tavern of Tamalpais, built in 1896 to serve mountain railroad arrivals.