Charles Crocker, founder of the Central Pacific Railroad, built a hunting lodge above the Russian River some time in the 1880s to use as a retreat for his business associates and friends. He most likely purchased the land from the widow of sea captain Henry Delano Fitch, who had been granted the 49,000 acre Rancho Sotoyome from the Mexican government in 1844. Among the guests at the Crocker Ranch were Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Collis Huntington. Crocker and these men were empire builders known to historians as the Big Four. They were responsible for constructing the western portion of the first transcontinental railroad. Ulysses S. Grant, a strong supporter of the Central Pacific, was also a guest at the ranch. The legend of his massive bed remains.
After the earthquake of 1906, the original lodge was removed and a larger one built to host the various heirs, their families, friends and business associates who vacationed at the ranch near the farm community of Cloverdale. As many as two hundred guests would be entertained on an estate that boasted the first swimming pool in Sonoma County. Guests drank liquor produced on site and wine made from grapes grown in the local vineyards. The barn stocked fifty horses for visitors to ride the area’s trails, hunt big game and visit the nearby geysers. In these years, the grounds were manicured by almost three hundred Chinese laborers, initially brought to the area to work on the railroads.
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In 1929, Crocker’s heirs sold the property to two men who ran it for several years as a dude ranch. They put up additional buildings that are now gone. On the meadow across from the current parking area there was a building even larger than the existing lodge that served as the ranch community center. It had a large kitchen, a grand piano, a dance hall and a covered wagon for a bar, where patrons would sit and wait for the bartender to pony up. By 1931, the entrepreneurs had moved on and a rancher named Amos Elliot lived on the property until his death in the late fifties, raising cattle and dealing in surplus from the war.