Digging Our Roots: How Glen Ellen got its name
Contributed by the Glen Ellen Historical Society
In the 1850s, around the time of the California gold rush in the Sierra foothills, the place inside the curve of Highway 12 where Arnold Drive and Dunbar Road converge, now known as Glen Oaks, was part of the 3,200-acre Agua Caliente land grant. Owned by General Mariano Vallejo, the busy commander of Alta California who made his home down the road in Sonoma, 1,000 acres or so was traded by General Vallejo to Mr. Andres Hoeppner, a local music teacher, in exchange for five years of piano lessons for the 16 Vallejo children. Hoeppner disappeared and died, and his widow sold the land to Colonel Charles Stuart around 1859.
Scottish-born Charles Stuart had arrived in California from the East Coast via a mule train and prospered in real estate. He bought the land from the Widow Hoeppner and others, and began planting vines. In 1868, he named the 1,000-acre vineyard for his wife, Ellen. The house he built there was of local volcanic white stone called rhyolite, and the property became known as Glen Ellen, “Glen” being the Scottish term for a narrow valley, and “Ellen” for Ellen Mary Stuart.
In June 1872, the U.S. Post Office Department in Washington, D.C., issued a document officially recognizing the “Glenelen Post Office” at “Lebanon,” the settlement a quarter-mile east of Calabazas Creek at what was then the Justi Ranch (on what we now call Dunbar Road). It had a population of 200.
Later that summer, the following notice appeared in the Sonoma Democrat: “Mr. Temple, Postmaster, informs us that he has received official notice of the establishment of a new post office on the road between here and Santa Rosa, to be called ‘Glen Ellen,’ and that Capt. Justi had been appointed Postmaster for the new office.”
Shortly, the little settlement on the Justi Ranch began to be more commonly known as “Glen Ellen” because the post office was situated there. So it was that in 1872, there was the “Glen Ellen” of the Justi Ranch, where the post office delivered mail by Pony Express, and not far away was Colonel Stuart’s Glen Ellen.
In an effort to avoid confusion, Charles Stuart obligingly changed the name of his ranch from the original Glen Ellen to Glen Oaks. By 1880, the village was formally known as Glen Ellen, while the Stuart ranch was known as Glen Oaks, and remains so to this day.
In 2022, Glen Oaks Ranch is the property of Sonoma Land Trust. The old Justi Ranch is a vineyard, and the white barn on that property, with little pigeonholes used by the Pony Express agent to sort mail, stood until 2017, when it burned in Nuns Fire.
Adapted from an article appearing in Spring 2014 issue of Tales of Glen Ellen, a publication of the Glen Ellen Historical Society, and other sources.