Blithedale, built by Dr. John S. Cushing in 1873, began as a sanatorium and became a hotel in 1879 on Dr. Cushing’s death. Dr. Cushing, one of the first homeopathic physicians in San Francisco, named his sanatorium Blithedale, after a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
People came from far and wide to enjoy the hotel’s beautiful natural setting in Mill Valley’s Blithedale Canyon, at the base of Mt. Tam.
Cottages at Blithedale were built by friends and patients of Dr. Cushing’s who frequented his resort and the cottages bore the guests’ surnames or monikers. Among them, The Rose, The Parlor, The Green Roof, the Moore, Monteagle, Costigan and Thomas cottages.
Mrs. Dollie Jenkins –Dr. Cushing’s granddaughter- remembered spending summers at Blithedale in the 1890s. In an April 18, 1959 Marin I.J. article she said that one of her most vivid memories was of the old adobe which stood on the grounds at Blithedale, whose thick walls made it the perfect place to store milk. She could still visualize shelves holding shimmering pans of milk from which her grandmother skimmed rich cream. “Mrs. Jenkins remembers learning to row on the miniature lake under the redwoods which was bordered in spring by azaleas, thimbleberries, wild tiger lilies [and] carpets of forget-me-nots….”
Mrs. Jenkins also remembered catching 8-inch trout by hand and the famous Fourth of July celebrations “which ended with the parlor cleared for dancing and with strings of Japanese paper lanterns, in which candles burned, hung in the shrubbery of the garden.” There were also frequent amateur theatricals and fancy dress parties with creative homemade costumes. She recollected, as well “the four-horse stage which on rare occasions she was allowed to drive. It met the incoming trains at the station in Mill Valley and was always so full of children enjoying the ride that she wonders how the returning passengers ever found a seat.”
Other fond memories included “hair-raising slides down slippery slopes of brown grass in homemade wooden sleds” and expeditions to the Old Mill, daily horseback rides, picnics at Big Lagoon (today’s Muir Beach) and trips to the top of Mt. Tam via the Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway.
In 1912 the main hotel building, pictured here, was demolished and the land was sub-divided. The main hotel building stood near today’s 195 West Blithedale Avenue.
You can enjoy photographs from the heyday of the Blithedale Hotel on the California Room Digital Archive.