Rancho del Oso is a site rich in history as well as nature. The area was frequented by Native Americans, who managed the land in order to benefit from the bountiful landscape and encourage the proliferation of game.
Spanish sea expeditions visited the Waddell Valley as early as 1543. The Portola Expedition stopped there in 1769, on its way along the California cost from San Diego to San Francisco Bay. Members of the expedition were dying of malnutrition when they first arrived in the valley. However, the berries and game in the valley quickly restored their health, inspiring them to name it “La Cañada de Salud” (The Valley of Health).
A number of farming families settled in the lower part of the Valley in the early 1800s. In the mid-1860s, William Waddell (for whom the creek and valley are named) conducted an extensive timber harvesting operation in the area, which included a mill above the Waddell Forks, a lumber-hauling tramway from the mill to the beach, and a wharf in the lee of Point Año Nuevo. Some remains of these are still visible. The lumber was used extensively in the post–gold-rush building boom in San Francisco. Waddell died in 1875 from an injury inflicted by a grizzly bear, and his timber operations were soon discontinued.
A major forest fire in 1904 devastated much of the Monterey Bay North Coast, including the Waddell Valley. Several selective timber harvests have been conducted since then, in part to correct the damage left by Waddell’s harvest and the numerous forest fires.
Farming in the lower Waddell Valley, which began before Waddell’s time, has continued until the present. In addition to the grazing of sheep and dairy cattle, a variety of crops has been grown at various times, including artichokes, sugar beets, oats, hay, dairy products, and the present growing of organic vegetables.
In 1912, Theodore Hoover (Dean of Engineering at Stanford and brother of President Herbert Hoover) bought a majority of the Waddell Valley from over a dozen small land owners. Hoover built the “Brown House” in 1913 as a family vacation house (a role it still serves) and named his holdings Rancho del Oso. In 1925 he built a large Spanish-style residence, “The Casa,” for his family across the creek from the Brown House. Although the Casa was destroyed by fire in 1959, several of Mr. Hoover’s heirs still have residences at Rancho del Oso.
In 1977, California State Parks acquired approximately two-thirds of the original Rancho del Oso land, together with Waddell Beach.
In 1985, Hulda Hoover McLean sold her personal residence, and its 40-acre lot, to the Sempervirens Fund, who in turn gave it to California State Parks for use as the “Theodore J. Hoover Nature and Conference Center.” Subsequently, Mrs. McLean was very active in organizing the Waddell Creek Association.
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