National Register of Historic Places in Marin County

The Stewart Ranch in the Olema Valley Dairy Ranches Historic District 24 September 2020

Nelson Olds Woodside Ranch The Nelson Olds Woodside Ranch c1868 before it was purchased by the Stewart family in 1924 and renamed Stewart Ranch.
Photograph courtesy Point Reyes National Seashore Archives
(Click Photos to Zoom)

National Register #100002286
Olema Valley Dairy Ranches Historic District
Shoreline Highway
Olema Valley

The Olema Valley Dairy Ranches Historic District contains nineteen contiguous ranches that contributed to the development of the dairy industry in Marin County. Thirteen ranches retain their ranch buildings: Cheda, Hagmaier, Giacomini, Lupton/Five Brooks, McFadden, McIsaac, Randall, Rogers, Stewart, Teixeira, Truttman, Wilkins, and Zanardi. Six ranches retain historic features, such as fences, corrals, windbreaks, and grazing lands: DeSouza, Edwin Gallagher, Genazzi, Jewell, McCurdy, and Neil.

In the 1850s, the first dairy ranches were established when settlers from the American east coast, Eastern Europe, and other parts of the world immigrated to Oleama Valley to own or work on the ranches which had been Mexican ranchos. In the 1860s, Swiss Italian, Irish and Portuguese immigrants arrived. By the 1870s, the dairies prospered by exploiting the lush valley grasslands to produce large volumes of milk, cream, cheese and butter.

The Olema Valley ranches were renowned for the quality of their butter which rivaled that produced by nearby ranches in Point Reyes. Olema Valley included the first dairies in California to secure trademarks for their butter stamps, several years before James McMillian Shafter and Charles Webb Howard trademarked the Point Reyes brand. Marin County dominated the state’s butter production until the 1890s, when other coastal counties took the lead.

The ranches underwent little change until regulations in the early twentieth century ended the on-site production of butter and cheese and prompted the gradual construction of Grade A dairies to produce milk under modern sanitary standards. All but five ranches added the new smaller, standardized dairies between the 1930s and 1950s.

The creation the Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962 and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1972 authorized the National Park Service to purchase the Olema Valley ranches at fair market value. The ranchers continued to operate through agreements with the Park Service. In the 1970s, most ranches switched from dairy to beef production.

Sources: The NRHP nomination submitted in 2018 and A Good Life: Dairy Farming in the Olema Valley

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