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New Book on historical Thompson property by local authors

Odd how history can morph in unexpected ways. In this case, from the Wild West to the Outback of Australia and back again.

By BJ Blanchard

William Alexander “Redwood” Thompson, tall and bearded, arrived as a young man in this area by horseback in 1852 from Kentucky, and homesteaded along what is now Enterprise Road. Successful with his grapes, grain, orchards, milk cows, and livestock, he and wife Fredonia raised eight children there. Their cabin, and later the impressive house he built for his family, still stand. With the fruits of his labor, he was able to purchase the Miller Ranch, downhill. His holdings then extended from above Enterprise Road down to Sonoma Creek.

It was there, on the banks of Sonoma Creek, that he was neighbors with Jack and Charmian London. Thompson housed London’s ranch-hand, Swede Martin Eden, on his land (Eden’s one-room cabin, restored, still exists under the oaks). Several London characters are thought to be based on “Redwood” Thompson and his son George, as well as on the quiet, hard-working Martin Eden.

That swath of land at the confluence of Sonoma Creek and Graham Creek, just where Warm Springs Road meets Sonoma Mountain Road, was all Thompson property (and where several Thompsons still live in 2021). When Thompson land along Sonoma Creek became available for purchase around 2000, an American-born woman with years of adventure in Australia decided to build on it.

Linda Dodwell valued this historical property, and decided to blend two treasured aesthetics in the house she would build there. She loved the wide-porched homes of the Outback, with their corrugated iron roofs and breezy verandas, and planned to marry that style with the 19thcentury American West.

Dodwell has designed and built four resplendent buildings on the old Thompson property, capturing the spirit of the Australian Bush while honoring the prior pioneering custodians. Two original Thompson shacks have also been restored. The property stands to the right as you drive north along the creek, where Martin Eden used to stab a salmon dinner with a lantern and pitchfork.

Dodwell is an adventurer. She spent her early years in New Jersey and Connecticut as a registered nurse, and became mother to daughter Maida Lynn, now a documentary film producer. In 1983, she completed a bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Obtaining a motorcycle license in 1989 at age 43 led to an unexpected introduction to Australia. Dividing her time between Melbourne and San Francisco for nearly two decades, she managed to explore all four corners of the Island Continent, starting with a round-trip solo ride across the southern boundary between Melbourne and Perth. Over time she added forty more countries to her motorcycle “belt.”

Knowing that the bi-hemispheric life would eventually come to an end led her to Glen Ellen in 2000, where similarities to the land of Oz were palpable. Five acres, five buildings, five years later stands a testament to her two most favorite places on Earth.

Linda and local ecological historian Arthur Dawson have put together a noteworthy book, titled What a Place to Call Home: The Story of the Thompson/Dodwell Property, about her property. Part history, part adventure, with lots of historical photos, it catalogs the land’s adventurous transition from early American Rustic to a hint of the dry Australian Outback. It contains many photos of the Thompson and Miller families in early Glen Ellen, reports from five generations of the Thompson family, and some photos of the Australia House property at 3820 and 3823 Warm Springs Rd.

“Oh, what a place for a home,” declared Jack London in Valley of the Moon, speaking of the area. And indeed, it is.

Dodwell has given rights to the Glen Ellen Historical Society (GEHS) to sell the book. It can be purchased through the historical society at PO Box 35, Glen Ellen, 95442. The book will soon be available through the GEHS website and at local bookstores.