History of a Neighborhood
By Judy Coy
San Anselmo Historical Commission
These chapters tell the story of the ownership of land in the area of San Anselmo known as Barber Tract. This is a work in progress.
The Barber Tract, long considered a prestigious address by San Anselmans, is noted for its history, its architecture and the civic and cultural contributions of its residents.
Most of the Barber Tract is situated on a hill overlooking the main part of San Anselmo as well as the prominent peaks of Mt. Tamalpais. Although this area had little vegetation when houses were first built, now grown trees shelter most of the houses from view. Though many of the houses were originally built on lots of an acre or more, they were often placed quite close to other houses. A number of lots were eventually subdivided and more houses were built.
The Barber Tract represents an era in the Bay Area when towns were deluged with refugees from the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. Within ten years of this event, many of the older houses in this area were constructed; some originally constructed as summer homes, became permanent residences. People built their homes near their relatives and friends. Some of the houses in the Barber Tract were built by architects who went on to fame and others by local architects in the style of the bungalows and shingled houses of this era. Many of the houses were built to take advantage of the view and natural light, an uncommon design approach at the time. Some famous architects represented in the Barber Tract include Bernard Maybeck, Julia Morgan, and Ernest Coxhead. Local San Anselmo architects Harris Osborn and W. Garden Mitchell also designed houses in the Tract.
The Barber Tract is part of what was originally a two square league land grant, Punta de Quintin Corte Madera, la Laguna y Canada de San Anselmo, given on September 24, 1840, to sea captain Juan Bautista Rogers Cooper by the Mexican governor Juan B. Alvarado in payment of a debt. In 1850, the property was sold to Benjamin Buckelew for $55,000. Buckelew, in debt, sold the land to James Ross in 1857.
James Ross died in December 1862 leaving behind his widow Annie Grayling Ross and children James, Annie Sophia Esther and Rebecca Jane. Annie Sophia married George Austin Worn and their daughters were all to own property in Barber Tract.
To settle the complex will of James Ross and meet the cash obligations, much of the land was sold including 41.10 acres in 1866 adjacent and to the south of today’s Lincoln Park to J. D. B. Stillman for $1,644; 71.13 acres in 1866 adjoining Stillman’s to the south to William Barber for $2,840; and 22.47 acres in 1867 adjoining Barber’s to the south to Frank Hinckley.
Jacob Davis Babcock Stillman, known as JDB, was a true California pioneer. He was a physician, born in Schenectady, New York in 1819. He came to California in 1849 via Cape Horn. He wrote an account of his journey, Seeking the Golden Fleece, the first of several books about his travels. Stillman was a friend of and partners with Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker, and James Flood. He founded the first hospital in Sacramento and the first medical society in California; was the Coroner of the City and County of San Francisco and a San Quentin physician; was the personal physician to Governor Leland Stanford and his family; was one of first medical professors at UCSF; and was a botanist and viticulturist who produced some of the earliest wines in California. In 1880 he retired from medicine and moved to Redlands where he farmed 800 acres. JDB died March 2, 1888 in Redlands.
Frank Hinckley was born in Rhode Island and came to California via the Isthmus of Panama in 1863. He became a civil engineer for the government in San Francisco and worked as a surveyor for the Western Pacific Railroad in and around the Bay Area until 1872, when he became foreman of the Meek Ranch in Hayward, owned by his father-in-law, William Meek. Like Stillman, Hinckley and his family moved to a ranch near Redlands, California, in 1883, where he lived until his death in 1890.
William Barber, a San Francisco attorney, expanded his Ross Valley holdings by purchasing the Stillman Tract in 1875 for $8,000 and the Hinckley Tract in 1876 for $3,500. Thus Barber’s lands, totaling 134.75 acres, extended from the current day northern boundary of Barber Tract south along Ross Landing/Red Hill Road (Sir Francis Drake) to “Rocky Point”, the boundary with the Kittle Lands. Rocky Point is identified today by the large retaining wall just past #46 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Ross as you head north toward San Anselmo.