The question, “Who was the White of White’s Hill”? is rarely given a satisfactory answer. There isn’t much information on Mr. and Mrs. White’s days in San Geronimo Valley, yet their name has been affixed to the Marin landscape since 1850: in addition to White’s Hill between Fairfax and Woodacre (officially called White Hill due to past bureaucratic decisions), the valley bore the name White’s Valley for decades and the landowning Mailliard family retained the name White Ranch during their many years there. The family that so firmly implanted its name here was, ironically, in residence at the valley for less than six years.
Massachusetts-born Lorenzo Eastlick White spent his early life in upstate New York until catching gold fever at the age of 20. Lorenzo and some friends chartered the sailing brig, Henrico, sailed to Panama, and then canoed and walked the mule trails to the Pacific. The bark John Ritson delivered the men to San Francisco on May 11, 1849. The trip took 95 days and the men were itching to touch gold. They purchased a $300 whale boat that took them up the Delta and the Tuolumne River to reach the mines. Lorenzo White was overtaken with illness and returned to San Francisco after only two months in the gold fields.
One can imagine the thousands of people heading to the mines and passing Marin County, gazing west from the boat at the beautiful vista. What a fine land, many would have thought, and filed it in their memories. White may have been one of these observant people; upon arriving back in the Bay Area he journeyed to Marin County and took over the 10,000-acre Rancho Cañada San Geronimo for owner Rodman Price, who had left the valley to become Governor of New Jersey. White carried on raising cattle and crops in this verdant valley. White grew potatoes, as previous owner Joseph Revere had done a decade earlier. An old survey map depicts “White’s Potato House” adjacent to the redwood forest on today’s Flanders ranch, as well as the Whites’ residence, located not far from the current junction of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Nicasio Valley Road.
White married Jane Sheridan, who had arrived in San Francisco from England, in 1850 and brought her to live at White’s Valley where they ran the ranch and farm for five years. The couple moved to the Corte Madera rancho in 1855 where a daughter was born. Two years later they returned to Rancho San Geronimo, this time settling at Lagunitas (there were no established towns at this point).
It is likely that White cut timber in the San Geronimo Valley, as he later took to that business elsewhere. White was beset with financial difficulties while at Lagunitas and after a short time there drove his herd of 1,000 cattle up the coast to Elk in Mendocino County. After three years’ residence on Clift’s Hill above Elk, White entered the lumber business at Albion, purchasing timberland and eventually moving to San Francisco where his L. E. White Lumber Company thrived. The company had five lumber schooners built that hauled railroad ties from Greenwood and Point Arena to San Francisco, flying White’s flag: a large blue W with a life-sized railroad tie.
Lorenzo White died in Cazadero on July 1, 1896 and was buried in Oakland. When the L. E. White Lumber Company was sold twenty years later the holdings included 85,000 acres of timber, grazing lands, mill towns, landings, and the fleet of schooners.
Marin County provided Lorenzo White with a place to settle down a while, get to know the California ways, then move on to prosperity: the “California Dream.” The land he worked became the Mailliard, Roy and Dickson ranches, and still looks almost the same save for some houses and a golf course, cut in half by a wide strip of asphalt busy with automobiles heading to or from “White’s Hill.”
This article was adapted from the original that appeared in The Fax, March 6, 1985.