The First Town in South Lake County
Having 30,000 acres tied up in probate proved pretty frustrating to the heirs of A.A. Ritchie, particularly while upper Lake County was developing rapidly. They hired John Cobb, widely known throughout Napa Valley by 1861, to manage the property and try to lease parcels to willing farmers. The estate may also have started pushing its luck and selling some. And, it’s reasonable to believe that a fair number of pioneers simply took advantage of the ranchos’ near abandonment to settle in Coyote and Loconoma valleys.
Under whatever circumstances, a number of newcomers sparked to the opportunity to settle in this area. In 1860, the U.S. census of the Clear Lake Township tallied 132 residents in the Coyote precinct, spelled Cayoti by the census taker. Boundaries of the precincts were loosely drawn. E. C. Bradford is among the Coyote listings but is known to have lived at the southernmost point in the county where Bradford Mine was developed. The precinct perhaps covered just the rancho properties; the 40 settlers in Cobb Valley appear to have been included in the Lower Lake precinct.
While the Callayomi and Guenoc ranchos lay quiescent in probate, the more northern areas of Lake County were being populated rapidly. Only ten miles away Lower Lake had become a presence, fighting with Lakeport over which would be county seat.
The Coyote precinct was undoubtedly named for a short-lived post office named Kayote located on the old immigrant road, then known as Pope Valley Road; its remnants are now Grange Road. Postmaster John Kean and his brother are included in the census listings. We do not know why the Kayote post office existed only from July 1859 to May 1862, with subsequent mail for this area inconveniently routed to Santa Rosa. Oddly and inexplicably, Kayote appeared on Google maps as recently as 2008.
Kayote probably included a number of families who had settled on the southern banks of Putah Creek about a mile south of the stone house, where Hartmann Bridge today spans the creek on Highway 29. They would be the first inhabitants of the small village of Guenoc, which would be formally platted in 1866.
Two young immigrants from Prussia, Joseph Getz, 23, and his brother Marcus, known as Max, 18, along with Hamlin Herrick, 26, of Kentucky, listed them- selves as merchants; a marginal note reads “store.” There appear to have found too few customers here, and Joseph Getz soon moved the bulk of the enter- prise to Lower Lake, which was growing rapidly, and Herrick soon followed, becoming a farmer. Max Getz remained with the original store, which would be one of the enterprises moved to Middletown in the 1870s. Hamlin Herrick joined him there.
The 1860 census shows more than one-third of Coyote’s residents were children under the age of 12; only four residents were older than 50. Most adults were listed as farmers. Several young men in their 20s and 30s called themselves stock raisers and miners. John W. Lynch, 32, was a saloon keeper. Merchant Josiah Smith, 43, of New York lived alongside the one unoccupied property among 35 dwellings.
William Manlove, whose place is shown in the lower area of Rancho Guenoc on the 1857 survey map, moved on toward Lakeport when he was appointed first sheriff of the new county. A “house” shown on the same map is believed to have been the home of A.H. Butts (or A.J. Butts, the penmanship is unclear), age 33, along with his wife Elizabeth, 30, and five children including a 5-year-old son named Doctor. Butts, who moved on to the canyon that bears his name, was the wealthiest stock raiser, claiming $1000 in real estate and $3560 personal property, which would have included livestock and equipment. George and Hiram Snell, who apparently became the namesakes of a small valley in Butts Canyon, lived nearby. The N.B. Church family, a rancher with a wife and seven children, was a close second in financial stature with valuations of $1000 and $2600; E. J. Church, probably a brother, his wife and three children, reflected more common holdings at $300 and $1994.
In 1866 Jacob Strader and Thomas Ewing Clark built a larger store in the village that was growing on Putah Creek, and soon the community turned into a small town. There was a saloon, of course, run by Oscar Armstrong, and a church. An impressive hall for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows graced one corner. The 1867 Business Directory of the Pacific Coast lists J. M. Hamilton as justice of the peace and notary public; M. Getz as Wells Fargo agent; William Amesbery, lumber manufacturer; Samuel B. Berry, hotel proprietor; W. M. Davis, wheelwright and H.C. Deming‘s blacksmith’s shop.
In those years the waters flowing down Putah Creek became a torrent each rainy season. One report notes that back then — before so many mountain water sources were diverted to create the resorts’ recreational lakes and pools, and to supply a thriving industry in bottled spring water as well as serve a growing population — Putah was sometimes 300 feet or more in width. During the 1860s early settlers joshed that the little community by the creek should be named Tailholt, because during the winter a rider had to “get a good holt on the tail of his horse” to ford the tides. Nonetheless, when a plat map was formally filed in 1866, the new town was named Guenoc.
The Great Register of Voters of 1868 showed that at least 100 males had listed their residence as Coyote or Guenoc during the tallies in 1866 and 1867. Surely a good many of them had wives and children.
This plat map for the town of Guenoc, located on the south shore of Putah Creek at today's Hartmann Rd., was reportedly filed in 1866. The center road is approximately the same location as Highway 29.
The date is somewhat surprising. Most records in the six years following the founding of Lake County in 1861 were destroyed in the burning of the court- house in Lakeport in 1867.
Both the lands of the Rancho Guenoc, on which it was located, and also of the Rancho Callayomi were tied up in the probate following the death of A.A. Ritchie in 1856. Records of the Ritchie probate burned in San Francisco's 1906 fire.
It was reported that "accounts were settled" in 1868, but the probate was not finalized until 1882. The first sales of properties of the estate, on the Rancho Callayomi, were sold in 1870.
See the 1860 U.S. Census of Coyote Precinct
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In 1867, Guenoc was recognized by its own post office, located in the Stone House which also served as the district’s polling place. A. A. Ritchie Jr., the Ritchie’s eldest and only surviving son, moved with his wife and children to Guenoc and became the little village’s first postmaster, serving through 1874. It seems the family lived only briefly in the Stone House but soon had a home on a separate parcel nearby.
In the 1870 census, residents of the Coyote Valley precinct of Lake County numbered 160. A few of its former residents listed in the 1860 census were now tallied in Lower Lake, and in the new and rapidly growing mining districts at Knoxville and ZemZem. The Springston family, who had first settled on the mountain near John Cobb, comprised six of ZemZem’s 40 inhabitants.
John M. Hamilton served as Guenoc’s last postmaster, his final term from March 31, 1876, to December 31, 1879, although the official closing of the post office was August 31, 1880, when all mail was routed to Middletown.
The oft-repeated quote by early historians that the village of Guenoc “picked up and moved bag and baggage to Middletown” once the town was founded in 1871 seems a hasty exaggeration. The 1880 census listed 270 residents still residing in the Coyote precinct. The Middletown precinct, including all the miners and Chinese laborers at the Great Western, Bradford and Oat Hill mines, and a dozen or so other local mines, had grown to over a thousand.
The town of Guenoc is prominently displayed on the 1892 Official Map of Lake County. As late as 1904, engineers still studying the possibility of a reservoir that would have flooded the little town to provide water for San Francisco reported their measure- ments and calculations as made during their stay in Guenoc.