Who knew? The gristmill stones in the garden of the Outdoor Art Club are probably the oldest historical artifacts in Mill Valley, dating from mid-19th century rancho life in the Mexican territory of Alta California! Found on the property of Irish-born “Californio” John T. Reed’s adobe home site near what is now Locke and LaGoma in 1906, the basalt gristmill stones and a circular saw had been obtained by Reed in a trade with the Russians at Fort Ross on the Sonoma coast for livestock and hides. Reed was the first Mexican land grantee in Marin Co. (1834), and he built a sawmill on Mill Creek to supply the Presidio with building materials. That mill, a replica of which today stands in Old Mill Park, is what gave Mill Valley its name.
When the gristmill stones were found by Scottish-born pioneer John Burt, a surveyor for the Tamalpais Land & Water Co. and subsequently the superintendent of the North Coast Water Co. (now MMWD) almost three-quarters of a century later, he recognized their significance and brought them to his property on Hillside Ave. In 1897 Burt had married the former Cora Gardner, daughter of Jacob Gardner of the Throckmorton ranch, and it was their niece Gene Stocking, one of the founders of the Mill Valley Historical Society (MVHS) who donated them to the Outdoor Art Club in 1974. The small plaque affixed to them at that time disappeared many years ago.
A few years ago, past MVHS president/ OAC rental docent Joan Murray suggested that a new plaque should be made. Current MVHS Historic Preservation committee chair Lauri Harper agreed, and brought the idea to the MVHS board. The unanimous decision was made to gift the Outdoor Art Club with a new historic marker that explains the stones’ provenance. It is but a small token of the History Society’s appreciation to the Outdoor Art Club for co-sponsoring the annual Walks into History for so many years.
A dedication celebration will take place in the OAC patio on Sept. 9 from 5:30 pm until 7 pm, and all MVHS and OAC members are invited to enjoy a glass of wine and view the display. RSVP to email@example.com by Sept.6.