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Bodega: Bodega Corners

Historic Landmark 37 Benjamin Ranch

First Settlers

The town of Bodega was known historically as Bodega Corners or Bodega Roads, to distinguish it from the Port of Bodega or Bodega Bay, as it is known today, which is about four miles from Bodega. Bodega and Bodega Bay are named for discoverer of the bay, Juan Francisco Bodega y Caudra, who first sailed into the harbor in 1775. The  area was first settled by the Russians, however, who established temporary settlements at Bodega Bay and the Salmon Creek Valley, in the vicinity of Bodega, in 1809 (Kyle, 2002:504). In 1811 they established permanent settlements in Salmon Creek Valley and at Fort Ross, for which Bodega Bay later served as the port (Kalani, 2004:31). In 1841, however, the Russians negotiated the sale of livestock and equipment and other assets at Fort Ross to John Sutter and left California. Stephen Smith, with whom the town of Bodega is most closely associated, would soon establish his ranch at the Russian settlement of Salmon Creek Village, about a mile northwest of Bodega (Kyle, 2002:54).

The Mexican Era

Bodega Bay was located within the Bodega Rancho during the Mexican era, and Bodega Corners was located east of the boundary of that rancho, in the Rancho Estero Americano. The Bodega Rancho was granted to Captain Stephen Smith and Manuela T. Curtis. It was eight square leagues (35,487 acres) in size and located in the Bodega and Ocean townships. It was granted in 1844 by Manuel Micheltorena. A claim was filed 1852, confirmed 1855, and appeal dismissed 1857(Munro-Fraser, 1880:153).

Early settler Edward Manuel McIntosh was the claimant for the Estero Americano Rancho, which was two square leagues (8,849 acres) in size and located east of the Bodega Rancho. This rancho appeal dismissed in 1857 (Munro-Fraser, 1880:155). Jasper O’Farrell, who established his home in Freestone, bought the land from McIntosh. O’Farrell, a surveyor best known for laying out the streets of San Francisco, was active in Bodega, but it is Smith, whose ranch home was one mile away, who  would historically be most closely associated with the young town.

The Smith Ranch

It is estimated that Captain Stephen Smith first visited the Sonoma Coast in 1839 or 1840, when he anchored at Bodega Bay. When he returned in September 1843 he brought with him a boiler, an engine (reportedly from Baltimore) and the complete outfit for a steam saw and grist mill, as well as other assorted merchandise. He also brought with him several skilled workers, and enlisted the help of several others when he homesteaded his ranch and constructed his mill, which would be the first steam mill in California (An Illustrated History of Sonoma County, 1889:108). Smith lived in the buildings abandoned by the Russians until 1851, when he had a large adobe built, constructed by Stephen Fowler and N. N. Hedges. They also built the tannery, which

was said to be the first successful tannery in the region and was in operation until it burned in 1868 (An Illustrated History of Sonoma County, 1889:290).

Smith chose a location for the mill at the edge of the forest, one mile from what would become Bodega Corners. The opening was widely attended, including an appearance by General Vallejo (it would be in operation until it burned in 1855). Smith was visionary in other ways as well. He encouraged settlement of his lands in return for shares of the crops. As expressed by one early historian, “The drift of early settlement in Sonoma County was naturally toward Bodega because, not only the Russian had demonstrated its fitness for agriculture, but Captain Stephen Smith had established himself there and was in a position to assist immigrants in their venture in agricultural pursuits” (An Illustrated History of Sonoma County, 1889:113). Potatoes and wheat, barley and oats proved to be very profitable in early years, despite setbacks in 1855 due to overproduction and disease. According to early histories the area was also known for its butter at this time.

However, after Smith’s death in 1855, the estate was “dissipated and wasted through the reckless management of Tyler Curtis, who married the widow,” according to the historian who wrote the 1889 history of Sonoma County. Not only was the land mismanaged, but Curtis set off a ‘squatter’s war’ among Smith’s 48 tenants, thereafter remembered as the “The Bodega War” (An Illustrated History of Sonoma County, 1889:133).

Bodega Corners

The town of Bodega got its start in 1853 when George Robinson, who had been a resident of Bodega Bay, established a saloon at the crossing of three roads, which gave the town its name of Bodega Corners. According to Margaret McCaughey Burke, the granddaughter of merchant James McCaughey, the second business was a blacksmith shop built by a Mr. Hughes. Mr. Hughes and a Mr. Bowman built the first hotel. Donald McDonald moved his store from Bodega Port to Bodega Corners as well about this  time, where he joined the merchant Rositer. Stephen Smith was the first postmaster when the post office was established in 1854. The first school was built in 1866 and the St. Teresa of Avila Church was constructed by a shipwright in 1859, with lumber donated by Jasper O’Farrell (Luca, 1995:1859).

Jasper O’Farrell settled in Freestone, where he was evidently successful, as he was elected state senator from Sonoma County in 1858. In 1863, however, O’Farrell sold the Estero Americano Rancho to Benjamin Belloc, a San Francisco banker. H. B. Martin,  the County Surveyor, surveyed and mapped the town of Bodega Corners in October of 1863. He laid out 74 lots, one of which was reserved for the pre-existing Catholic Church. The ‘regular’ lots were 66 feet wide and 132 feet deep. There were a number of irregular lots as well. Mr. Belloc sold first lots in 1864 (Burke, 1993:201).

The town of Bodega Corners was called “the most important town in that section” by the author of the 1873 history of Sonoma County. He continued:

It supplies the farmers and dairymen in the surrounding country; also the lumbermen in the redwoods. It is a great resort for these lumbermen on Sundays. It is connected with Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and Duncan’s Mills, at the mouth of the Russian River, by lines of stages. Its main shipping point is Bodega Port, situated on the Bay of the same name. This latter place has a good wharf, at which vessels of considerable size can load and unload (Menefee, 1873:263).

In his 1877 atlas of Sonoma County author Thompson recounted, “The town  is now quite a prosperous place. It is situated in the center of a rich dairy country. It has three churches and a school-house built at a cost of five thousand dollars. There are one hundred and twenty-five children in the district, and two teachers are employed. There  is also in the town a Masonic, Odd Fellows and Good Templars’ Lodge. There are three stores, one shoemaker, one blacksmith and wagon shop, one hotel and two private boarding-houses, one livery stable, two physicians, and one butcher-shop. J.L. Springer is justice of the peace and postmaster. The population of the town is about two hundred and fifty (Thompson, 1877:24).

The town continued to be populated primarily by farmers, dairymen and merchants and other business people for the remainder of the century. The post office that had been established in Bodega Corners in 1882 was moved to Smith’s Ranch in 1887, and even when it moved back into town in 1901 was called “Smith’s Ranch” until early in the twentieth century (Pappe, 1996:28). At this time the area was still characterized by large dairy and farm families. In the early twentieth century the families in the area were dominated by those of Swiss and Swiss Italian heritage, whereas earlier in the history of the area it appears that settlers reflected a variety of European heritages (U. S. Census, 1900, 1910, 1920).

Movie Legacy

In the last half of the twentieth century Bodega is probably best known for its role in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film “The Birds”. Both the iconic Potter School and the Druid’s Hall appear in one of the most famous scenes in the movie, when the children are running down Stewart Street (Bodega Lane) to escape the attacking birds. The movie company actually rehabilitated the school for the movie, which may account for the condition of the building today. The school had not been used since 1961 and was reputed to be haunted (“The Birds (1963),”The Internet Movie Database,  accessed April 2011). The movie locations, which included scenes in Bodega and Bodega Bay, still attract tourists today.

Children running, scene from the movie the birds
Scene from "The Birds" Shot on Bodega Lane
Source: "The Birds (1963)"

Bodega Today

The town of Bodega today differs from the way it was envisioned in the nineteenth century in several respects, most prominent being the street and block pattern laid out when it was platted in 1863. The extension of Church Street and opening of Potter Street, parallel to Stewart Street (Bodega Lane today) were apparently never realized. The lots within the block bounded by Bodega Highway and Bodega Lane were also not developed, leaving the irregular development pattern evident there today. Nonetheless, Main Street (the central portion of Bodega Highway in the town today) is lined with commercial businesses, as was no doubt intended, and the Catholic Church overlooks the town from its vantage point on the hill. Sometime between 1877 and 1897 the original lots 71 and 72 were set aside for Potter School. These two prominent historic buildings, along with the original Druid’s Hall across from Potter School and the commercial building at the corner of Bodega Highway and Bodega Lane (Church Street and Stewart Street originally) anchor this end of town with prominent, historic structures.

According to architect Dan Peterson, who surveyed the properties in Bodega Bay in 1979/80 preparation for nominating the Historic District, the reason for the town’s intact qualities was that a water moratorium, in place since 1900, prohibited development. He noted, “It represents one of the finest examples of an early California 19th century town surrounded by agricultural lands. The majority of the remaining buildings were all built in the 19th Century” (Peterson, Town of Bodega Historic Resources Inventory, 1979/80). Nonetheless, changes have occurred over time, with the loss of several early buildings, such as one of the groceries and the Presbyterian Church, inappropriate renovation of certain buildings, and new infill development that has occurred. These guidelines will help guide future development while preserving the historic legacy of the town.

Historic Overview

In addition to being considered significant within its historic context, a property or district must possess the physical features necessary to convey that aspect of history with which it is associated. The following is a brief overview of the history and physical features of the town of Bodega. To augment this description, see the Chapter 4 section entitled “Built Environment.”

The Bodega Historic District is a geographically contiguous district consisting of approximately 44 properties located within the town of Bodega. This district consists of commercial, institutional and residential buildings located on the Bodega Highway, Bodega Lane, and Salmon Creek Road in Bodega. St. Teresa’s Church in Bodega is a California State Historical Landmark. The Potter School is individually listed on the Sonoma County Inventory of Historic Resources as a Sonoma County Historic Landmark. It is estimated that approximately fourteen properties in the District were previously considered contributing properties, judging by that fact that a Historic Resources Inventory was completed for these properties in the past.

Bodega was established in 1853 as Bodega Corners, although like many historic communities, some of the earliest buildings have succumbed to fire. As a result, several of the earliest buildings date to the 1870s. Today the community features primarily low-rise, wood-frame, wood-clad residential and commercial buildings in the Greek Revival, Second Renaissance Revival, Gothic Revival and Italianate styles, and vernacular structures dating from ca 1853 to about 1910. Later residential and commercial buildings constructed in Bodega are typically vernacular structures, displaying relatively simple stylistic features. The architectural quality of the Bodega Historic District is in its special nineteenth century buildings, while later and vernacular structures can be thought of as ‘background buildings’ against which its outstanding structures are set. Bodega is also noted for its urban design qualities, natural features and its setting, including the topography, which enhances the special buildings and collectively defines its sense of place.


The text above is excerpted from the following report on file at Sonoma County PRMD: Survey and Design Guidelines, Painter, Diana J., Bodega Historic District, Bodega, Sonoma County, California, March 2012.


  • Burke, Ruth McCaughey, An Intimate History of Bodega Country and the McCaughey Family, Vol. I. Tomales, CA: The Tomales Regional History Center, 2007.
  • Drake, Lorna, Just Before Yesterday, A History of Sonoma County, California.
  • Guerneville, CA: 1990.
  • Harris, Cyril M., American Architecture An Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998.
  • Kalani, Lyn and Sarah Sweedler, Fort Ross and the Sonoma Coast. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
  • Kirker, Harold, California’s Architectural Frontier. Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, Inc., 1986 (1960).
  • Gregory, Thomas Jefferson, History of Sonoma County, California. Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1911.
  • Kyle, Douglas E., Editor, Historic Spots in California. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002 (1932).
  • Luca, Mark, A History of Western Sonoma County. Rohnert Park, CA: Pine Press, 1995.
  • Illustrated Atlas of Sonoma County. Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications Inc., 1998 (Reprinted from Reynolds & Proctor, Santa Rosa, California, 1897).
  • An Illustrated History of Sonoma County, California. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1889.
  • McAlester, Virginia & Lee, A Field Guide to American Houses. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
  • Menefee, Campbell Augustus, Historical and descriptive sketch book of Napa, Sonoma, Lake, and Mendocino . . . Napa City, CA: Reporter Pub. House, 1873.
  • Munro-Fraser, J. P., History of Sonoma County including its Geology, Topography, Mountains, Valleys and Streams. San Francisco, CA: Alley, Bowen & Co., 1880 (reprinted by Charmaine Burdell Veronda, Petaluma, CA, 1973).
  • Papp, Richard Paul, Bear Flag Country: Legacy of the Revolt; A History of the Towns and Post Offices of Sonoma County. Analecta Publishing, 1996.
  • Thompson, Robert A., Historical and descriptive sketch of Sonoma County, California
  • Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co., 1877.
  • Thompson, Thomas H., New Historical Atlas of Sonoma County. Oakland, California: Thos. H. Thompson & Co., 1877 (reprinted by Sonoma County Historical Society, 2003).
  • Wilson, Simone, The Russian River. Chicago, IL: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.


  • California Polk-Husted Directory Co.’s Santa Rosa City and Sonoma County Directory 1908. Oakland, CA: Polk-Husted Directory Co., Publishers, 1908.
  • California State Farmer’s Directory Sonoma County. Sacramento, CA: Farmer’s Directory Company, 1922.
  • Kingsbury’s 1905 Directory of Santa Rosa City and Sonoma County. Santa Rosa, CA: The Press Democrat Publishing Company, 1905.
  • Paulson, Luther L., L. L. Paulson’s Hand-book and Directory of Napa, Lake, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. San Francisco: L. L. Paulson, 1874.
  • McKenney’s 8-county directory of Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Humboldt, Yolo, Solano, and Marin counties 1884-1885. San Francisco: L.M. McKenney & Co., 1883.
  • McKenney’s district directory of Yolo, Solano, Napa, Lake, Marin and Sonoma Counties


  • . . . 1878-1879. San Francisco: L.M. McKenney & Co., 1878.
  • McKenney’s Pacific coast directory for 1883 . . . , Oakland, CA: L.M. McKenney, 1882.
  • Polk-Husted Directory Co.’s Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and Sonoma County Directory 1911. Sacramento, CA: Polk-Husted Directory Co., Publishers, 1911.
  • Press Democrat’s 1913 Directory of Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sonoma County. Santa Rosa, CA: The Press Democrat Publishing Company, 1913.
  • The Press Democrat’s 1924 Directory of Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sonoma County.
  • Santa Rosa, CA: The Press Democrat Publishing Company, 1924.

Government and Other Documents

  • Andrus, Patrick W., National Register Bulletin 15: How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation. Washington DC: US Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1997.
  • Burke, Ruth McCaughey, Walking Tour of Bodega, 1993.
  • California Office of Historic Preservation, California Office of Historic Preservation Technical Assistance Series #6, California Register and National Register: A Comparison, n.d.
  • California Office of Historic Preservation, Instructions for Preparing Documentation for Nominating Historical Resources to the California Register of Historical Resources. July 2001.
  • California Office of Historic Preservation, Instructions for Recording Historical Resources. March 1995.
  • Division of the State Architect, State Historical Building Safety Board, California Historical Building Code, (Title 24, Part 8), 2007.
  • Grimmer, Anne E. and Kay D. Weeks, Preservation Briefs 14: New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings: Preservation Concerns. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 2010 (1986).
  • Grimmer, Anne E., et. al., The Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation & Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings. Washington DC: National Park Service, Technical Preservation Services, 2011.
  • “North Pacific Coast Railroad Western Sonoma County Sawmills.” Allan Tacy Collection, Northwestern Pacific RR Historical Society, Inc. (source: 1897 Historical Atlas).
  • “Open Space & Resource Conservation Element,” Sonoma County General Plan 2020.
  • September 23, 2008.
  • Sherfy, Marcella and W. Ray Luce, Guidelines for Evaluating and Nominating Properties That Have Achieved Significance Within the Past Fifty Years. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 198 (1979).
  • Weeks, Kay D. and Annie E. Grimmer,The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring & Reconstructing Historic Buildings. Washington DC: US Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1995.
  • Winter & Company, Historic District Guidelines Public Review Drafts. Sausalito, CA: City of Sausalito, March 2011.
  • US Census, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920.