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July 2018

E-NEWSLETTER                                                                                      July  2018


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           Museum News     

 Feature Article  




Residents of Mill Valley were preparing for the upcoming July 4th celebrations when smoke appeared above their town on the afternoon of July 2nd, 1929.  

 The year had been unusually hot and the entire state, like the rest of the nation, was heading into the first year of what would be the longest drought in recorded history. Strong winds blew that afternoon as Alfons Happa, gardener for the Ralston White family, saw smoke above the 16-room mansion named “The Garden of Allah.”  

 Fire Chief Clinton Thoney, appointed just one day before, received a call from the White home and immediately sounded the siren notifying residents that a fire was within city limits. Within minutes, the local fire brigade had reached the Ralston home and found Alfons and a young nephew of Mrs. Ralston battling the blaze. The brigade emptied the pool behind the house and managed to save the structure, but the fire had become a “firestorm” and was heading down Throckmorton and Cascade Canyons toward the town. Large homes and summer cottages on Summit, McGee, Tamalpais, Ralston, and Corte Madera Roads were quickly going up in flames leaving residents just seconds to save their children and pets before the smoke and flames overtook them.  


Mill Valley Fire from Sausalito 

Permission for use granted by the Lucretia Little History Room, Mill Valley Public Library 

Late that evening, as hundreds of fire fighters and volunteers battled the blaze that had nearly reached City Hall, the wind suddenly shifted and began to blow the fire back up the mountain. Over the next three days, 2,000 firefighters, soldiers, sailors, marines, and local volunteers arrived from all over the Bay Area to help save the town and the majestic trees at Muir Woods.  



 Numerous stories of personal sacrifice and courage included:  

  •  Sixty local volunteers who were brought up the "crookedest railway in the world" saved the Mt. Tamalpais Tavern, which was partially burned. 
  • San Francisco firefighters extinguished the Cascades blaze by pumping water through thousands of feet of hose lifted from a reservoir on Mt. Tam after they were unable to hook their hoses up to the Mill Valley hydrants. 
  • Engineer T.J. Johnson of the Mt. Tamalpais railway brought down thirty-four tourists from the mountaintop through the smoke and flames, slowing down frequently to prevent derailing as they passed over burning railroad ties. 
  • Miss Eva Mann and her co-workers at the Mill Valley telephone exchange stayed on the job late into the night, with the fire only two blocks from their building, methodically calling all 1,470 “subscribers” to warn residents, and ask for volunteers to fight the fire or help feed the firefighters and families whose homes had burned to the ground. When Miss Mann retuned home late that night, she found it had been burned to the ground.  
  • Chief of Police Alex Mccurdy, Fire Chief Thoney, and deputy state forester E.B. Gardiner coordinated fire fighting and rescue operations while overseeing the mobilization of thousands of volunteers to feed and protect the residents and property of Mill Valley. 

 In the end, more than 120 homes were lost and over 500 residents were left homeless. The fire burned over 2,500 acres and, although the cause has never been verified, many residents believed that a tossed cigarette or cigar thrown from a Tamalpais Railway train on its way down the mountain started the blaze. 

By Scott Fletcher 


Clarissa Young Bynes and Dorothy Greg on Summit Avenue, Mill Valley  


Permission for use granted by the Lucretia Little History Room, Mill Valley Public Library 


       Faces of Marin        

Clinton L. Thoney 

(March 1, 1904–March 30, 1990) 


Mill Valley Historical Society 1979 


Clinton Thoney was born the same year his parents built their home at 15 Sunnyside Avenue in Mill Valley. He joined the fire department in 1923 and was appointed Fire Chief on July 1st 1929, succeeding his father as Chief on the eve of the most devastating fire in Marin County History.  

 The next day he received two calls that smoke had been spotted above the town. He immediately sounded the alarm and for three days was at the center of the effort to save the town and the famous redwood trees of Muir Woods.  

 At the time, newspaper reports praised Thoney for his work in directing thousands of firefighters. However, he was replaced fourteen months later over concerns of his leadership and for suggesting that the blaze had started due to “rubbish burning” at the Ralston White family home. 

                                                 By Scott Fletcher 


                           Ralston Lovell White 

           (August 27, 1877–September 26,1943)

                                          Marin Magazine 

Ralston White was born to early California settlers Lovell and Laura White. In 1889, Lovell established the Tamalpais Land & Water Company and developed Mill Valley by selling lots on the former

Samuel Throckmorton ranch. Ralston, surveying for his father’s company in 1907, discovered a beautiful knoll above the town with a magnificent view of the Bay and vowed to one day build a house there.  

 Two years later he met the lovely Ruth Boericke at the annual “Blithedale Hop.” The two soon became engaged. Ralston eventually became president of his father’s business and acquired the land he dubbed “The Garden of Allah.” He built a 16-room mansion with a heart-shaped lawn as a wedding present to his wife. Soon after the 1929 fire, the White’s lost most of their fortune in the Crash of ‘29 and moved to Europe for eight years. They returned just before World War II to live once again in the home they dearly loved. Ralston died in 1943 and Ruth in 1977. 

By Scott Fletcher 


Community Events of Interest

Thursday, July 12    7:30

Northwestern Pacific Railroad History Symosium

Elk Lodge, 1312 Mission Ave., San Rafael

 The mainline of the southern division of the NWPRR stretched from San Francisco via Tiburon to Willits. But it began life as the San Francisco & North Pacific, a Sonoma County road running from San Francisco to Cloverdale via Donahue Wharf on Petaluma Creek.

NWPRRHS President Charlie Siebenthal will discuss the history of this line from 1870 to 1906 aided by photos and maps from the society's archives.

Saturday July 28     9:00am                                                 San Anselmo Historical Commission                                    Meet at:  Montgomery Chapel (Richmond Road & Bolinas Avenue

This year the Historical Commission will sponsor a Stroll Through History in one of San Anselmo’s oldest neighborhoods—the Seminary area.The tour will highlight the quiet beauty of San Francisco Theological Seminary, its history and fine architecture. Refreshments will be served along the way.This tour does involve stairs and uphill and downhill walking.

RSVP at  
Free Event. Space is limited.

 At The Bay Model



Museum News, Events, Feature Article, Faces of Marin, 100 Years Ago,  Community Events

Community Celebration 




  Marin Journal     July 1918

Officer O'Brien has Proxy in Trenches

  Officer O'Brien is not facing the Huns in France, but he is certain the Huns will think he is when they get a certain little message that he is sending them by via a friend of his "over there." 

O'Brien today received a postcard from Lieut. Alex Jones, former San Rafael boy now in the artillery. "Dear Friend Peter," Jones writes, "I have just scratched your name on a big shell and sent it hurtling over among the Fritz hordes. That's part of your part in this gig fight. Let's hope she gets fifty of them."

Jones was a newspaper correspondent for the Chronicle and was at one time editor of the Mill Valley Record.    



We can use your help! Have a little time on our hands and looking to help a local non-profit? Below is a list of some of the volunteer positions we need to fill.

Please let us know if any of these look interesting to you by emailing or calling 415-382-1182. We would love to hear form you!


We are starting to create a lot of content for our eNewsletters, social media sites, and future traveling exhibitions and publications. If you like to do historical research and write short articles, we could use your help.


Along with writers, we need editors to give the final article its blessing before it goes to print. This volunteer job can be done from home or on site. Let us know if you have that required eagle eye and grammatical tenacity to tackle this job.

Heavy Lifter

We need a few strong individuals to help move heavy shelving units within the Collections Facility. If you have few hours to spare during the week and could help us move our shelves, we would love to hear from you.

Special Event Assistant

If you enjoy hosting or attending a well-planned party, you’ll be a natural at during the Museum’s special events. We would love to see you help create the party, greet guests who attend, and  keep that friendly and festive feeling going for the whole evening.


Capture the moment for us! Your photos of the Museum’s special events and exhibitions will be invaluable for public outreach, future fundraising campaigns and our institution’s historical record. We could use your help documenting our history!

Are you a student looking for community service hours? Know a student who needs hours before graduating?  The Marin History Museum is a 501(c)3 and can grant students their community service hours.

Let us know and we’ll take care of it!

 Marin History Museum

Marin History Museum - Craemer Family Research and Collection Facility

45 Leveroni Ct Novato CA 94949

Please call for an appointment  


Mailing Address: PO Box 150727San Rafael, CA 94915

For more information:


P. O. Box 150727, San Rafael, CA 94915        415-382-1182    

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