Then & Now: Point Reyes Ranches

Shortly after the Gold Rush, significant portions of the Point Reyes Peninsula were turned into dairy ranches, which exported the Point Reyes brand of butter and cheese to San Francisco. Tenant ranches were rented by Irish, Swedish, Swiss, and Azorian families. Coast Miwok families found work on the ranches, as did Chinese, Canadian, Filipino, Mexican, and German immigrants. By 1867, Marin County produced the largest yield of butter in California.

Click and drag the circle at the center of the photos left and right to compare the then and now images.

Horse-drawn Wagons approach Schooner Landing, ca. 1900
A black and white photo of horse-drawn wagons traveling along a dirt road that leads to a building and a dock on a body of water with hills in the background. A color photo of coastal grass- and scrublands with water and hills in the background.
Horse-drawn wagons approach Schooner Landing on Drakes Estero. (ca. 1900) Credit: Point Reyes National Seashore Archives #001980.
Drakes Estero's Schooner Bay. (2019) Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone.

Like many of the ranches that had access to a calm, protected waterfront, F-Ranch established a landing on Drakes Estero to ferry products to market.

White Gulch, Pierce Point Ranch, 1902
A black and white photo of thirteen people in a rowboat adjacent to a dock on the left. Low headlands rise above the far end of the bay. A color photo of a blue-colored bay with a barnacle-covered, small, metal wheel and a wooden post at the water's edge in the foreground.
Landing at White Gulch Pier. (1902) Credit: Point Reyes National Seashore Archives #006360.
White Gulch with a remnant of the old pier. (2019) Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone.

Boats would ferry dairy products, family members, employees, and visitors between Pierce Point Ranch on the west side of Tomales Bay and various ports along the east side. In 1904, the Tomales Point Gun Club leased a two-story home and three out-buildings south of the Pierce Point Ranch wharf at White Gulch. Members took the railroad to the town of Hamlet and boated across the Bay to the gulch where they hunted quail, pheasants, and ducks.

Pierce Point Ranch School, 1916
A black and white photo of a teen-aged boy holding an American flag while standing in a doorway of a white building as a line of children salute the flag. children, a flag, and school house. A color photo of a closed and padlocked door and two windows on the side of a white building.
Children line up for school at Pierce Point Ranch. Credit: Point Reyes National Seashore Archives #024700.
The historic schoolhouse at Pierce Point Ranch. (2019) Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone.

Several of the ranches across the Point Reyes Peninsula established small schools for the benefit of family members and employee's children.

Bear Valley Ranch, ca. 1940
A black and white photo of dirt driveway passing over a cattle guard. Painted on white fences on both sides of the driveway is "Private Entrance. Bear Valley Ranch." Beyond the cattle guard are a number of white buildings, beyond which are tall trees. A color photo of a paved road on the left, a white building on the right, numerous green-leafed trees in the background, with a red-leafed tree and a yellow-leafed tree in the right half of the photo. Numerous modern vehicles are visible in a parking lot.
Credit: Point Reyes National Seashore Archives #022360.
Credit: NPS / Ted Barone.

The Bear Valley Ranch (given the letter W in the Shafter dairy organization of the 1860s) was established in the late-1860s and is currently the site of the National Seashore’s administrative headquarters and visitor center. Its proximity to the railroad and population centers made it a popular destination for tourists. The ranch is likely located near the site of the adobe home and ranch of Rafael Garcia, the original Mexican land-grant recipient.

In the 1920s, the Bear Valley Ranch became one of the first "certified" dairies in Marin County. Certification was the precursor to Grade A labeling, where sanitary standards were upheld in order to produce milk for popular consumption. The milkers wore white uniforms and the milk was sold on contract to hospitals and restaurants in San Francisco.

The National Park Service purchased the ranch in 1963 and established its headquarters in the bunkhouse and dairy foreman's house.

What is now the Bear Valley Trail was an access road from Olema to the coast and was built before 1873. It is now a popular trail used by hikers, bicyclists, and horse riders.

D Ranch, ca. 1940
A black and white photo of men sitting outside at a table eating with a building behind them. A color photo of a building with a dead tree in the foreground.
Credit: Point Reyes National Seashore Archives.
Credit: NPS / Ted Barone.
A group of workers gather around a long rectangular table eating and drinking with the “D” Ranch house in the background. “D” Ranch was built some time between 1862 and 1872. A dairy ranch, it shipped its products via the F Ranch wharf in Schooner’s Bay until trucking became accessible in the 1920s.

Last updated: May 5, 2020

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Mailing Address:

1 Bear Valley Road
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956


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