The vineyard speaks
It is the last week in October, a very early harvest is done and packed up, and I am getting my thoughts together for the November “Journey to Harvest.” As I ponder, I keep hearing the voice of the ranch: the trees and stones and soil that not only abide the comings and goings of the more fleeting elements of nature, like people, but absorb their energy as well.
Since the day we bought this ranch 41 years ago – Admission Day, Sept. 9, 1974 – the land has been speaking to us, telling its story. We have been finding a huge number of small and large artifacts around the place since the first day we arrived, each providing a clue to the past, presenting as a giant jigsaw puzzle we have been piecing together for many years.
We first noticed hundreds of scraps and pieces of local, igneous, dark gray or black basalt rock that we continue to find everywhere on the property. The footings of a small house built by the first European family here were built with worked-over pieces of basalt. These small, tooled rocks were our first clues to the history of stone working that is so deeply infused in this property. The ranch soil is full of various sized stream-washed boulders, but there are none in the footings of the small house – only scraps of processed chunks of basalt. It would have been much easier to build that footing using the larger stream-rounded stones and boulders.
As we cleared the soil of stream rocks, planted vineyards, built our house and a new barn, more evidence appeared. At every turn, chunks of hand-worked basalt kept turning up. Eventually, we learned that the original name of our ranch was the Lawndale Hill Quarry.
Signs of the commercial quarry are everywhere. We learned that millions of square and rectangular basalt paving blocks were handmade in the north part of the Valley of the Moon, from a six-mile stretch of stone running from Annadel south, including this ranch.
We found the remnants of a huge barn that housed 10 or 12 giant draft horses. That barn burned to the ground 50 years ago. We still find lots of giant horseshoes from those horses that hauled wagon loads of finished stones to the railhead, where they were shipped to pave Oakland’s and San Francisco’s muddy streets from 1890 to 1915.
In Jack London’s novel, The Valley of the Moon, the hero worked at this quarry, loading basalt pavers onto railroad cars for shipment to Oakland and San Francisco. There was a railroad siding on Lawndale Road, and the railroad itself ran through our ranch. Today, we cannot imagine how those young Italian men could hand-make millions of paving blocks in any kind of commercial way.
Just when I needed an answer, the phone rang. In that wonderful way of synchronicity that seems to happen so often in the Valley of the Moon, our neighbor and Kenwood historian Dee Sand gave us the name of a friend whose family had been in the paving block business for many generations. He referred us to North Bay Monument Company and Gary Galeazzi, whose family has been working in stone for four generations.
Gary, whose son Kyle represents the fourth generation at North Bay Monument, was kind enough to give us a first-hand demonstration of old-time stone cutting, using hand-made tools on stones we brought to Gary’s business, North Bay Monument in Cotati. Gary made it clear that stone cutting is a dying art, with too little demand to keep it going for much longer. He is one of a handful of people in the whole state who can do this work.
He showed us what it takes to cut slabs of rock from the side of a hill, hand drilling holes and tapping away with a steel wedge and inserts, tap tap tapping until the stone breaks into workable pieces that eventually brought civilized roads to one of the world’s great population centers.
The young emigrants from northern Italy could usually make 100 to 150 of these basalt paving blocks per day. They are often incorrectly called “cobblestones,” but they are true paving blocks.
During the peak years over the turn of the last century, millions of these paving blocks were made and shipped out of Sonoma County by nearly 7,000 workers. In spite of my two degrees in geology, I just could not figure how this could be possible in a commercial sense. Gary Galeazzi showed us how it was done.
There are almost invisible, thread-like seams present in most basalt, stone that slowly cooled from its initial molten state. These seams are structural weak points that can be used to easily split and form the finished basalt paving blocks. While both young and experienced eyes can see these faint seams, I found it really hard to see them. But now I know how those men produced the incredible numbers of stone pavers from these basalt hills, using little more than hammers, drills, and wedges, and a lot of hard work.