The Church the Bohemians Built

fBy Daniel J. Demers
©Copyright 2013

It’s a 307 church monte riostory that has become a legend.

The Bohemian Club was founded in 1872 in San Francisco. It was founded as a gentlemen’s club by a group of journalists, artists and musicians. It quickly gained business, political and military members. Among the founders were Ambrose Bierce and Brett Harte—two writers with international reputations. Other prominent writers involved with the club include Mark Twain, Charles Stoddard, George Sterling, Jack London, Henry George and Joaquin Miller. Over the years it has boasted an international membership of the world’s movers and shakers. Examples follow: Six U. S. Presidents (Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Hoover, Nixon, Reagan and George H. W. Bush), several Secretaries of State (George Shultz, James Baker and Colin Powell), Secretaries of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld, Casper Weinberger and Harold Brown), Secretaries of the Interior (William Clark) and Secretaries of the Treasury (Nicholas Brady) and Secretaries of Health Education and Welfare (Joseph Califano, Jr), Congressional leaders (Lamar Alexander and Barry Goldwater), entrepreneurs (Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, David Packard and Bill Hewett), University Presidents, actors (Clint Eastwood, Eddie Albert and James Woods), Businessmen (Robert Mondavi, William Randolph Hearst, William Crocker and Charles Schwab), musicians (Tennessee Ernie Ford and Jimmy Buffett), artists, NASA administrators and the like.

The Club maintains a 2700 acre camp in Monte Rio set amongst old growth Redwoods. Every summer the camp hosts about 3,500 members and guests who come to the very private and heavily secured camping site to meet and enjoy one another’s company.
Around 1910 or so a “prominent” guest of the Bohemian Club, “was missed one Sunday morning at breakfast.” The members panicked turning the camp upside down looking for the missing man. “Very late in the morning, in the midst of their frantic search,” he suddenly appeared walking up the railroad tracks (now Highway 116 (River Road)). When asked where he had been, he simply stated: “I had to go to Mass.” The nearest Catholic Church at the time was in Guerneville.

Within a few weeks a delegation of Bohemians called upon the Archbishop of San Francisco seeking his support to build a church in Monte Rio. Sonoma County was then a part of the San Francisco Archdiocese. The Bohemians, prominent personalities in San Francisco, got the Archbishops immediate attention and within a short while a church was under construction.

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Our missing Bohemian would have attended this version of St. Elizabeths. This church was built in Sebastopol and was shipped to Guerneville to replace the smaller original church seen below.
Musical fund raiser for church
Dances and musical entertainments raised funds for the new church. From “Guerneville Early Days” by John Schubert.


St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, Guerneville, CA 1906
The original St. Elizabeth’s was quickly outgrown. “The district was part of the parish of Santa Rosa. In 1904, arrangements were made to say Mass during the summer months, first in private homes, and the in the social hall of the Central Hotel. Residents were eager to have a “year round” church, so in 1904, a drive was started which raised $550 for permanent facilities. A building site on the outskirts of town was donated by Ivon and Elizabeth Clar, and with volunteer labor, the excavation was begun. Fifteen feet of hillside had to be dug out and leveled off in order to start the foundation. With the help of two young men who were vacationing in the area, Ivon Clar, Leland Boland, Walter Motts and Walter Kelly accomplished this in just two weeks! Materials were donated or bought at cost, all hauling was done for nothing. The building was enclosed and shingled before the winter rains began. Heavy doors and an ornate cross were donated by Father Cassin of Santa Rosa, and Mr. J. Sullivan secured a bell from the Santa Fe Rail Road which is the same bell in use today. Approximately four month after the foundation was poured, the church was completed. So well was the slender fund managed, and so generous the cooperation and donation of materials, labor and furniture, the church was completed at a cost of less than the $550 originally subscribed. It was late in the summer of 1906 that Mass was celebrated for the first time in the new church. It was named St. Elizabeth in honor of the patron saint of Mrs. Elizabeth Clar who was one of the prime movers in its establishment.” From “History of St. Elizabeth’s” 1998 Directory

Catholic children attended local public schools.




Children in the immediate Monte Rio area probably attended the Sheridan School.
Scotta School in Duncans Mills
Children from west of Monte Rio might have attended the Scotta School in Duncans Mills. Images of the schools are from the exhibit “A Western Idyl: Early Schools of West Sonoma County” at the West Sonoma County Historical Museum, curated and designed by St. Elizabeth’s parishioner, Irene Deem.
Monte Rio’s hotel (right side) featured the only elevator in the county. The steam train brought vacationers from San Francisco to enjoy the sylvan beauty of the Russian River town and tourism replaced lumber as the primary industry.
Advertisement for the Redwood Branch of the SF and NPRR featured the Korbel saw mill and picnic grounds.
Exhibit “A Western Idyl: Early Schools of West Sonoma County” 2016, West County Historical Society & Russian River Historical Society curated and designed by Irene Deem.
Christopher Queen Galleries in Duncans Mills features works of the early artists of the Bohemian Club in its permanent collection. Owner Christine Ferreira and Director Tiare Giardina will be happy to help you find works of early California artists as well as contemporary painters and sculptors. This is an invitation to an exhibit of the early artists of the Bohemian Club whih was a benefit for the Russian River Historical Society.