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The 2,882-acre Samuel P. Taylor State Park is one of the jewels of the state park system and MCL played an instrumental role in its formation. Read further for an account of how this precious and beautiful land was acquired for the citizens of the State of California.
Lagunitas Creek (formerly Papermill Creek.) Photo by M. Skoffari.
MCL and SAMUEL P. TAYLOR STATE PARK - A Brief History, by Barry Spitz
Samuel Penfield Taylor, a native of New York State, came to California as a ‘49er and collected $6,000 worth of gold. In 1855, Taylor paid original land grantee Rafael Garcia $505 for 100 acres along Lagunitas Creek. There he set up the first paper mill on the west coast. The adjacent stretch of creek came to be known as Papermill Creek.
Despite the site’s remoteness—raw materials and other supplies initially came in, and paper went out, via an ox trail over Bolinas Ridge—Taylor prospered. His Pioneer mill supplied virtually all San Francisco’s newsprint. After a road (today’s Sir Francis Drake Boulevard), and then the North Pacific Coast Railroad (1875), came through his property, Taylor’s transportation woes eased. He added more than 2,000 adjacent acres, and logged much of it. Taylor opened a popular tourist resort, Camp Taylor, and the Bohemian Club held its first summer Jinks there, in 1878. He also developed other commercial operations, including a black-powder mill that blew itself up in 1874. In 1883, the paper mill was converted to steam power, after Lagunitas Dam was built upstream and sharply reduced the creek’s flow.
The fish ladder on Papermill Creek, photo courtesy of the Anne T. Kent California Room
Taylor died in 1886, at age 58, and was buried on the slope of 1,466-foot Barnabe Peak, named for his old mule. His wife, Sarah, and sons were unable to repay $100,000 borrowed from Alexander Montgomery. (Montgomery also donated the money to relocate the San Francisco Theological Seminary to San Anselmo. He is buried in the Seminary’s Montgomery Chapel.) After Montgomery died in 1893, his widow, Elizabeth, married his accountant, Arthur Rodgers, and foreclosed on the Taylors. When Sarah Taylor died in 1907, the Rodgers’ did not permit her to be buried beside her husband. (Sarah Taylor was finally reinterred there, from Oakland, in 2002.)
Samuel P. Taylor's grave marker on Barnabe Peak.
Elizabeth Rodgers held onto the property but basically ignored it, not even paying the property tax. There was some public camping, for a fee, at the old Camp Taylor site, but County Health officers halted the practice in 1939 for lack of sanitary facilities.
Boyd Stewart, who owned an adjacent ranch, visited Elizabeth Rogers in her Fairmont Hotel suite in the 1930’s and wrote:
She owned property all over California—didn’t know where some of it was. Well she told me to go to the [Marin County] Board of Supervisors and tell them she’d give them the Camp Taylor property. ‘I’m not going to pay taxes on it anymore. It’s no good. Nobody wants it.’ I went to the Board of Supervisors and….said that Mrs. Rogers wanted to give Camp Taylor to the county. You’d have thought I’d offered them a rattlesnake. ‘What are we going to do with THAT?’ they asked. They wanted the taxes on the property, not the property.
The 1935 Marin County Plan, which the Marin Conservation League had funded in its first year, had called for public acquisition of lands alongside Papermill Creek. The MCL now began the campaign in earnest. Several years of non-stop effort—Camp Taylor was on every MCL Board agenda for more than a decade—ensued. The complexities of the campaign are now perhaps beyond unraveling. Helen Van Pelt (MCL co-founder along with Caroline S. Livermore, Sepha Evers, and Portia Forbes) recalled one key incident, when she and Evers were to give California Park Commissioners a tour of the site:
It started to rain, and you know the effects of rain on a redwood grove that is shady anyway. They didn’t even get out of the car. They just looked, and our hearts sank. We were sure it was a lost cause. Later, at dinner, a park spokesman announced, ‘Ladies, we can’t thank you enough for showing us that remarkable property that is only 55 minutes from San Francisco,’ and promised to support the project.
The League also succeeded in getting Marin County supervisors to pledge $25,000, the amount of back taxes owed by Rodgers, toward purchase of the property. Next, the MCL prompted Marin’s State Assemblyman, Richard McCollister, to introduce AB2585, calling for the State to match the County’s $25,000. Evers, in particular, made almost weekly trips to Sacramento for several years to argue for its passage. Though the bill did pass, the matter still dragged. And the delinquent taxes grew.
Meanwhile, in the summer of 1942, Helen Van Pelt oversaw the MCL-sponsored Old Orchard Camp, opened on the former Camp Taylor campground. Her purpose was, in part, to prove how agreeable the climate was for recreation. To get the camp started, the League donated $500, matched by a County contribution. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided tents. Youngster aged 10-16 came for 10-day camping sessions. But World War II reduced attendance below the expected 500—only some 25-30 youngsters attended the well-staffed four sessions—and the camp lost money and was closed.
But MCL’s efforts at long last succeeded when, in 1945, the State, County, and Mrs. Rodgers finally agreed. Rodgers’ now $32,000 in back taxes were forgiven, and she received a $32,000 payment. Samuel P. Taylor State Park was born.
In 1957, the Park was expanded to include Memory Grove of redwoods honoring Adeline Kent, with a pledge of $4,000 from MCL.
Samuel P. Taylor State Park is now a popular park for family camping. Photos by Bob Grace.
MCL continues to work on preserving important natural features of Marin. Projects have included the San Rafael Shoreline, Corte Madera marshes, Bahia, Rush Creek in Novato, Bel Marin Keys and other creeks, wetlands and ridges.