Then & Now: Tomales Bay Communities

Dairy ranches, oyster farms, small towns, state parks, and the National Seashore surround Tomales Bay, a fifteen mile long estuary. The area has a history of enterprise, development, and conservation. Lumber, dairy, and fishing industries, vacation homes, and ghosts of a faded railroad all left their mark, visible on the landscape and the environment. Yet, it is a resilient region. Natural ecosystems are being restored with help from a variety of agencies and non-profits, and tourism and outdoor recreation is on the rise.

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

Train Running South along Tomales Bay, ca. 1880
A black and white photo of a steam locomotive pulling four cars on railroad tracks that wind along a bay on the left. A color photo of a shoreline of a narrow bay at low tide with trees and a couple structures on the right.
Credit: Point Reyes National Seashore Archives #002220
Credit: NPS / Ted Barone.

The North Pacific Coast Railroad promoted Tomales Bay, its beaches, campgrounds, and hotels. Not many made the journey from San Francisco, however, instead preferring the closer attractions of southern Marin County. Yet, hunters and fishermen were attracted by private hunting clubs along Tomales Bay and in Olema Valley.

Shell Beach, Tomales Bay, ca. 1905
A black and white photo of a man sitting at the stern of a small sailboat as it gently lands on a sandy beach. A color photo of several people scattered along a sandy beach. Relatively calm water washes up on the beach from the lower right and a dense forest rises behind the beach.
A man lands his boat at Shell Beach on the western side of Tomales Bay. (ca. 1905) Credit: Point Reyes National Seashore Archives #000930.
Swimmers and picnickers at Tomales Bay State Park's Shell Beach. (2019) Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone.

Inverness July 4 Running Race, ca. 1905
A black and white photo of eleven young men running a race on a dirt road past with a crowd of people and buildings in the early 1900s. A color photo of a white pickup truck and a maroon S.U.V. on a paved road with a blue two-story building on the right.
Credit: Point Reyes National Seashore Archives #002110; Courtesy of Jack Mason Library.
Credit: NPS / Ted Barone.

Fourth of July races have been an Inverness tradition since 1904. Following a reading of the Declaration of Independence, children and adults would participate in footraces, three-legged races, and more. Now, the races are held on Inverness Way by the fire station, instead of on the main street (e.g., Sir Francis Drake Boulevard).

Inverness was envisioned by attorney James Shafter as a large resort community—the Brighton of the Pacific Coast. He converted 640 acres of his land into small lots in 1889, but few were purchased due to its remoteness—it took nearly a day to get there from San Francisco. Later promoters of the Inverness resort community boasted that it was "fully restricted"—meaning it was open only to white, Christian buyers.

Picnic at Hearts Desire Beach, ca. 1906
A black and white photo of a cookout attended by men and women on a beach as boats float in the bay in the background. A color photo of a couple dozen people at a beach with water and hills in the background.
Picnickers at Hearts Desire Beach. (ca. 1906) Credit: Point Reyes National Seashore Archives #12147.62.
Visitors at Tomales Bay State Park's Hearts Desire Beach. (2019) Credit: NPS Photo / Ted Barone.

Visitors from San Francisco and surrounding counties traveled by train and boat to reach the western shores of Tomales Bay for picnics, swimming, fishing, and hunting.

Point Reyes Station Train Depot, ca. 1920
A black and white photo of people milling about a steam locomotive that is parked on tracks adjacent to a one-story-tall train station on the right and a dirt road on the left. A color photo of modern-day cars parked along a paved street with a one-story-tall post office on the right.
Passengers disembark from and board the Northwestern Pacific Railroad train at the depot on A Street in Point Reyes Station. Credit: Point Reyes National Seashore Archives #002030; Courtesy of Jack Mason Library.
The train depot is now the home of the U.S. Post Office. Credit: NPS / Ted Barone.

"The depot is in a wilderness!" exclaimed a passenger on the first train to stop at the new depot in Olema Station on January 7, 1875. Located in the middle of Mary Burdell's cow pasture, there were no hotels or saloons. Within five years, the town had a hotel, saloons, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable, and a butcher.

Passengers disembarking from the Northwestern Pacific Railroad train at the depot would usually be greeted by the Inverness Stage, as well as the bar at the Hotel Point Reyes across the street.

The first post office opened in 1882 and the town changed its name to Point Reyes. This led to some confusion, however. There was already a Point Reyes post office at the F Ranch on the peninsula. Mail was frequently sent to the wrong post office. So, in 1891, the townsfolk decided to change the name of their community a second time, this time to "Point Reyes Station." The U.S. Postal Service would later convert the train depot into the town's post office.

Hotel Point Reyes, ca. 1920
A black and white photo of a two-story brick building with seven ten-foot-tall ground-floor arches along its facade. An early 1900s-era automobile is parked in front of the building. Two men stand in the rightmost archway. A color photo of a two-story-tall brick building. Seven arches along its facade have been covered with plywood, upon which murals have been painted and flyers and bulletin boards have been placed. Modern automobiles are visible in the foreground.
The Hotel Point Reyes. Credit: Point Reyes National Seashore Archives.
Now the structure is referred to as the Grandi Building. Credit: NPS / Ted Barone.

The Hotel Point Reyes was built in 1915 on the site of its predecessor, the A.P. Whitney store, which was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. The hotel was a brick building featuring a restaurant of the first floor and a dance hall and hotel rooms on the second. Among the hotel's guests is Lieutenant-Colonel Dwight Eisenhower, who stayed in the hotel in 1940. The hotel closed in the 1950s, after which the building housed the town's post office and a hardware store until the 1970s.

Last updated: June 11, 2020

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