Johnsons Beach on the Russian River

Guerneville Memories

Russian River Chamber of Commerce Published Wednesday, Aug 2018

Echoes of History in Guerneville

In 1847, the census recorded 79 structures in San Francisco, including tents and shanties. The 1848 discovery of gold in the Sierra foothill town of Sutter Creek brought thousands upon thousands to San Francisco, the launching point for those who dreamed of striking it rich. Banks, railroads, saloons, purveyors of food and clothing took root. They all needed commercial buildings and homes.

Just north lay vast, old growth coastal redwood forests. The oldest trees were twelve feet wide and 300 feet tall. It took teams days to fell one tree. Originally dubbed “Stumptown”, an 1877 map of Guerneville shows property owned by loggers Guerne, Heald, and Murphy who, along with the Korbel brothers, had flocked to Sonoma County to provide the wood that would build San Francisco. Another gentleman, Levi Strauss, also owned property in our town on the site of today’s Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. By the early years of the new century, the logging industry ebbed but this beautiful area had been discovered. By the early years of the new century, “Vacation Wonderland” was born as the new passenger trains brought the well-to-do to our shores.

Today you can take a walk through time, visiting the places where the town founders and vacationers came to stay.

Start with the tour of Korbel Champagne Cellars. Here you’ll get to hear and see the story of the three Korbel brothers, escaping unrest in Bohemia, starting a lumber operation near Guerneville, and discovering the perfect terroir for pinot noir grapes. Come see where the grapes are grown, hear the story of the Korbel brothers, and enjoy the delicious results in the tasting room.

Next, drive into downtown Guerneville and turn right onto Armstrong Woods road where you’ll find a living reminder of the magnificent primeval redwood forest that covered much of this area before logging operations began during the 19th century. Preserved due to the vigorous efforts of Colonel James Boydston Armstrong and his family, a walk through the majestic old growth trees in Armstrong Woods State Nature Reserve is an inspiring experience.

River-goers enjoy the sun and water at Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville, California on Sunday, September 6, 2015. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Bring your family to one of the original beach resorts in town, Johnson’s Beach. Celebrating it’s 100th anniversary this year (2018), Johnson’s Beach has been hosting family vacationers to swim off the gravel beach and boat on the river along with festival go-ers who come up for annual music events.

Enjoy a sweet end to your day by stopping by The Guerneville Bank Club, located in the Historic Bank of Guerneville building built in 1921.

The original architect, Carl I. Warnecke of Miller and Warnecke, was the father of John Carl

Warnecke, one of the great modernist architects of the 20th century and the building has been restored to glory by it’s owner, Bob Pullum. The Guerneville Bank Club is now home to the rotating exhibitions from the Russian River Historical Society, Inizi Wines tasting room, Chile Pies Baking Company, Nimble & Finns Ice Cream and Jam Jam arts and jewelry company.

Through the years Guerneville continues to be a place to enjoy stunning natural beauty, relaxing times on the river, and tasty locally produced wines and food.

~contributor Mary Cowan Baker