Bodega Bay & Beyond is now offering rooms at the Chanslor Ranch.
While some archaeologists believe that Sir Francis Drake landed in Bodega Bay in 1579, the first generally accepted visit by Europeans to Bodega Bay was in 1775 by Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Cuadra. On a voyage towards Alaska, hoping to find a strait that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Spanish captain arrived aboard the 36-foot “Sonora”. Captain Bodega recorded that the coastal hills were covered with grasses and that trees covered the inland hills.
The next European visitors arrived in 1790, when Englishman Edward Colnett and his crew anchored in the vicinity of Campbell Cove, just inside today’s Bodega Harbor, to take refuge from heavy seas and gather provisions. In 1792, British Captain George Vancouver came to the area and recorded that it had potential for British interests. He returned a year later with a delegation from the Hudson Bay Company interested in developing the harbor as a collection point for sea otter pelts.
When the Spanish heard of this, they sent Juan Batista Matute to establish a settlement at Tomales Bay, just a few miles south of Bodega Bay. Mistaking Bodega Bay for Tomales Bay, his ship ran aground on a sand bar. His party departed some time later without establishing a permanent settlement.
Alexander Kuskof, an agent of a Russian fur company that had been doing business in Alaska, arrived in the area in 1809 with 40 Russian men and about 150 members of the Alaskan Aleut tribe. Kuskof and his men erected temporary buildings in Bodega Bay, and planted and harvested a crop of wheat up Salmon Creek near what is now known as Bodega. The company returned to Alaska with the harvest and 2,000 sea otter skins.
Largely because of the abundant sea otters, Kuskof established the first permanent settlements on the Sonoma Coast in 1812. Fort Ross was established approximately 22 miles north of Chanslor Ranch, Port Rumiantsev in Bodega Harbor, and an inland farming community named Kuskof was established at what now is known as Bodega. The Salmon Creek Canyon Trail runs along part of the road that connected the coast to Kuskof.
The Spanish were not happy about the Russian settlements, but lacking the resources to evict them, allowed them to hunt sea otters in return for a percentage of the profit. The sea otters 7 were hunted mercilessly and their numbers plunged in · a short time. Agrarian pursuits did not fare much better due to lack of farming expertise and gophers.
Mexico acquired California after it gained independence from Spain in 1821, and tensions rose between the Mexicans and Russians. In 1841, the Russians sold their holdings to Captain John Sutter who was a vassal to the Mexican General Vallejo of Sonoma. The Russians soon departed.
During that time, Massachusetts sea captain Stephen Smith met with General Vallejo in Sonoma. For promising to build a steam mill and develop the coastal area, Smith received a land grant of 35,000 acres reaching from the Estero Americana (just south of Bodega Bay) north to the Russian River called Rancho Bodega, including what is now Chanslor Ranch.
Captain Smith and his Peruvian wife, Manuela, established their homestead a few miles up Salmon Creek at Bodega. He built the first steam mill west of the Mississippi, as promised, along with a tannery and a distillery. His enterprises flourished and he also built a successful shipping trade. The great Gold Rush of 1849 was on and large quantities of supplies were needed in San Francisco. Smith sent tanned hides, lumber, grain and liquor overland and down Salmon Creek on rafts to Bodega Bay for shipping to San Francisco by sea. Lumber from the sawmill was floated down Salmon Creek through the 1870s. Lumber barges tied up in what was then deeper water where the marsh now exists at the mouth of Salmon Creek.
Captain Smith died in 1855. During the late 1850s through the 1860s parts of Rancho Bodega were sold off. By the 1890s Irish, Italian and Portuguese immigrants were running smaller farms that raised crops and ran dairy and beef cattle and sheep. The old ranch house at Chanslor Ranch was built during this time, circa 1877.
A village at the mouth of Salmon Creek existed in the late 1800s. It had a post office served by a stagecoach line that connected to Jenner and Duncan’s Mills on the Russian River. The coach road ran along the sand dunes west of the ranch and is still visible today.
Bodega Bay became a major commercial fishing port, and tourism grew due to stagecoach and rail transportation. The Russian River area was also becoming a destination resort area for San Franciscans. Numerous parks were formed in the area, and in 1934 the Sonoma Coast State Park, adjacent to Chanslor Ranch, was established.
In 1948, John Chanslor, son of a wealthy industrialist in San Francisco, bought the property and created a country retreat and guest ranch. The land continued to be used for grazing livestock by tenant ranchers. Chanslor died in the late 1960s and the property passed to his heirs. In 1972 the Bodega Salmon Creek Company acquired the ranch. Dave Heiman and Tom Taylor were managing partners and initiated environmental protection programs for the more sensitive areas of the property. The property was also used for guest accommodations, horse rentals, a dairy and livestock grazing.
In 1992 the property was sold and its management taken over by the Chanslor Wetlands Wildlife Project which currently runs the property. The goal of the Chanslor Wetlands Wildlife Project is to create an educational facility financially supported by public recreation, hospitality and tours.
— Chanslor Wetlands Wildlife Project