A Brief History
Named after William Anderson, an early European settler to the area, Anderson Valley is a sparsely populated region of western Mendocino County, located approximately 100 miles north of San Francisco near the alluvial terraces along Anderson Creek and other tributaries to the Navarro River.
The Native American inhabitants of Anderson Valley were speakers of two of the seven Pomoan languages. Those living in what is now the Yorkville area spoke the Central Pomo language, whereas the Tabahtea (Tah-bah-tay) Pomo of the area stretching from Boonville to Navarro spoke the Northern Pomo language. These residents occupied nineteen known village sites, with an estimated population of 600 in 1855.
The early European American settlers of Anderson Valley arrived after 1850. They practiced subsistence farming and soon expanded into resource extraction based primarily on logging and ranching. Some of the first settlers included Henry Beeson (who took part in the Bear Flag Revolt), his brother Isaac Beeson, and their stepbrother William Anderson, for whom the valley was named.
John Gschwend established the first water-powered lumber mill along the Navarro River in 1857, and Thomas Hiatt built the first steam-powered mill in 1877 near present-day Boonville.
In 1880, a population of around 1,000 maintained 75,000 head of sheep and 20,000 head of cattle. Commercial production of apples and hops began before the turn of the century. This period also saw the development of Boontling, the widely celebrated local folk “language,” or argot.
The 1940s and 1950s were boom years, when industrial automation and modern highway transportation enabled rapid liquidation-logging of the remaining old-growth redwood forests. Many commercial lumber mills were established to support the brief timber boom.
By the 1960s, the sheep, timber, and apple sectors of the economy were in decline. Large tracts of land were removed from production and subdivided, many of which saw rapid redwood regeneration. The back-to-the-land movement brought new people into the region, including many identified with the hippie subculture. The first commercial vineyards for wine grapes were planted at this time.
By the 1980s, the local timber industry had been reduced to two small specialty mills (producing lath and decorative fencing), only four working sheep ranches of modest size remained in operation, and apple farming had been whittled down to small fraction of its former size. But rural revitalization proceeded in other directions.
In 1989, for example, Sean Donovan of Boonville established KZYX, a community-based non-commercial, National Public Radio affiliated station. KZYX currently serves a vital role in generating community cohesion across the greater Anderson Valley region.
The Anderson Valley wine boom also began in earnest in the 1980s. This led to the establishment of the Anderson Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area), specializing in Alsatian varietals, pinot noir, and sparkling wine.
The wine industry is now a dominant contributor to the Anderson Valley economy. The major annual wine events are the Pinot Noir Festival the third weekend in May and the International Alsace Varietals Festival in late February.
High-quality beer is another local specialty, produced by the Anderson Valley Brewing Company, located on the outskirts of Boonville. As is the case elsewhere in Mendocino County, the hospitality industry forms a natural adjunct to boutique alcohol production.
Fine restaurants and quality lodging are in good supply. The pleasant natural environment and rural lifestyle attracts artists, writers, musicians, and a variety of skilled craftspeople. Tourists from across the state and increasing from around the world enjoy the cultural sophistication of this beautiful and rustic region.