The AN Lighthouse Window: John Vonderlin asks Russell Towle

Story by John Vonderlin
email John ([email protected])

email Russell Towle ([email protected])

The beam was cool,
but the window is even better.

Hi Russell,

You’ve got a wonderful piece of history, that you can proud that you went to the trouble to save. Just getting back from the Island without breaking it must have been a challenge.

Can you help me understand where it was. The Ano Nuevo Light Station State State Parks website at has extensive documentation about the Island. Below the first paragraph is a link “to view the entire 12 Megs of documentation.” Clicking that opens up access to an impressive amount of historical info about Ano Nuevo and other lighthouses. There is a story about and pictures of nearly every building on the Island. The whole presentation is so thorough I was expecting to see mention of the driftwood structures in the dunes up the beach on the mainland in the early 70s. I think it would be great if you can find a photo that shows your window and mark its position for us. Now that’s an unusual provenance.
Page 32 is a photo of the fog whistle, the first safety device built there in the 1800s. It’s a concrete-lined, circular depression in the ground with a sphere with a hole in its top sitting in the middle. Was that the structure you were talking about that had rats in it?
Anything else you see in the photos that reminds you of something from your Island experiences I’d love to hear about. The Island nowadays, unfortunately, is a true Forbidden Zone that I’ll never have a chance to visit. If that disappoints me too much, I guess I can recall your description of the house with the foot thick layer of sea lions heading back to primordial ooze topped with a generous topping of their feces. That should do it without ever experiencing the smell, the cacophony of their endless barking, and the cold wind that whips across the Island interminably. Thanks. Enjoy. John
Hi John,
From the web page you directed me to:

“Other improvements to the island consisted of a water catchment
basin, together with a cistern and a tank.”

OK, I am sane after all.

The buildings more to the seaward side of the Island would have been
the fog whistle buildings. Apparently there were three different fog
horns or whistles installed over the years.

You know, John, interesting historical resources include, around 1880,
various official California country histories, often published by
Thompson & West. I believe there is a T & W History of San Mateo
County which I used to consult in the early 1970s.

Then there are the General Land Office maps, made over a period of
decades. Around here these begin around 1866. Each map showed a
“township” of thirty-six sections. That is, a township is six miles on
a side. Ideally. These “cadastral” surveys form the basis for all
legal property descriptions in CA. First they laid in the township
boundaries, then the section lines. And the surveyors took notes. So
you can not only consult various generations of the maps but for each
map are the survey notes.

So you might read something like, “Beginning at the SW corner of the
township I go north five chains thirteen links, cross Farmer Jones’
fence, fifteen chains three links find blazed fir witness corner to SE
corner of Rancho Cañada Grande, … .” And so on. All in longhand. The
Bureau of Land Management is the official custodian of these maps and
notes. Most people call them “GLO” maps.


June: Moore & Depue published The Illustrated History of San Mateo County in the 1870s; the book was reproduced 100 years later, and is filled with clean illustrations of ranches and public buildings and includes the town of Pescadero (but not Half Moon Bay) and one of the Steele’s homes.

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