Mountain Home Ranch Resort…a History – Part 1
A PLACE FOR GATHERING
1913 – 2013
FAMILY OWNED AND OPERATED
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MOUNTAIN HOME RANCH
As the winds of war began to blow across early 20th century Europe, the recently married Ludwig Orth, like many of his contemporaries, looked for a haven in America. A cousin with a ranch in Colorado sent him money for passage. Ludwig spent his days working off his debt to his cousin, but as a cabinet maker he was able to find additional work in the Pullman factory making the eponymous railroad cars. He soon was able to send for his wife Emma and son Richard. Their daughter Emmy was born in Denver in 1911.
The Orth’s dream was for land in California, and when there was an opening at the Pullman factory in the San Francisco Bay Area, they moved west, buying a house in Richmond. Soon, they heard of a potential homestead in the hills outside of Calistoga in 1913. Under the terms of the Homestead Act, a citizen needed only to build a cabin, fence off part of the area, and live on the land for five years and the government would grant title to the land. The cabin had been built, but the owner decided to sell before his five years were completed. The Orths bought the cabin for and moved to the country with their two children Emmy and Richard, and Emma’s brother, Gus.
Ludwig Orth continued with his job at the Pullman factory, walking the six miles to Calistoga on Sunday evening to catch the train to the Bay Area. Before “progress”, there were several trains each day between Calistoga and the City. Ludwig would return each Friday, and usually brought several of his co-workers to visit his “mountain home”, hike in the redwoods, and soak in the warm mineral spring on the property. Emma, the businesswoman of the family, soon put her foot down: if she was expected to cook and clean for Ludwig’s guests, she would be paid. Mountain Home Ranch Resort was born.
The resort flourished, but next door the Franz family farm was having difficulties. They had lost the water in their well in the 1906 earthquake. To keep their orchards alive, they purchased a pump that had been used to fight the fire in San Francisco, placed it in the creek, and pumped water up the hill. For several years this solution worked, but made the orchards unprofitable. The pump is still beside the creek, but has been replaced by a new well. In 1915, the Orths sold their Richmond home to use as a down payment on the Franz farm and moved the resort out of the canyon to its present location. Ludwig was now able to take summers off to work on the Ranch, and commute into the city only during the winter months. Now the trip to the train in Calistoga was not on foot, but in a horse and buggy. Guests would also come by train for the buggy ride to the Ranch. Often the hill was too steep for the horse to bring the guests and their luggage, and a return trip to town would be necessary. Soon, the Orths bought a Model T with power enough for both guests and luggage.
Young Emmy was an avid hiker and would lead guests on hikes through the canyon to the springs, or over the hill to the Petrified Forest. Once, the five year old girl was hiking alone in the canyon and encountered a young bear. The young bear and young girl ran in opposite directions. We do not know what the bear told its mother, but young Emmy reasoned that if she told her parents, either she would not be believed, or worse, would not be allowed to hike alone in the woods any more. She decided to keep the encounter as a secret.
In 1917, Emmy was ready to start school. The closest was a one-room schoolhouse in Franz Valley, two miles away. The walk did not bother her, but she had another problem: she spoke only German – not the language of choice in 1917 America!
Emmy mastered English, and went on to earn a degree at the University of California, where she met her husband Bob Fouts.
Soon after they were married, the depression threatened the Ranch. To save the “family farm”, Bob and Emmy moved their rapidly growing family back to the Ranch to help out, and never left. They raised their eight children on the Ranch and Emmy lived there, actively involved in Ranch operations until her death in 2006 at age 95.
During Emmy and Bob’s tenure, the Ranch was right out of the movie “Dirty Dancing” — a dozen or more teenagers working the summer serving three family-style meals a day; [guest children fought over the coveted jobs when they turned 16]; activities every night ranging from square dancing to a talent show to a hay ride into town; and Mom and kids staying for several weeks during the summer. Dads would come up on the weekends.
The Ranch has always been a haven for all. It was one of the first, if not the only, resort to welcome all races and religions – well before the Civil Rights movements of the 50’s and 60’s. Labor Union leaders during the turbulent times of the 30’s and 40’s found refuge at the Ranch. Harry Bridges, the founder of the Longshoremen’s Union, spent his vacations here as did various Matson Line executives. Who knows how many strikes were averted over discussions under the trees.
Emmy’s eldest son George was hired by the Matson officials to work on the cruise ships that used to sail from San Francisco to Hawaii. In Hawaii he met his wife, Joey, and after their marriage they moved back to the Ranch to run the Ranch with Emmy, giving the Ranch a Hawaiian flavor to its German heritage.
The Ranch continued to run as a summer resort under George and Joey’s tenure, but after Joey died from cancer, and with George battling cancer of his own, the Ranch fell on hard times. A summer resort simply could not support a Ranch with year-round expenses. So changing with the times was necessary and a good thing for the Ranch. Suzanne and John Fouts, the next of the third generation stepped forward with a different vision: expand the operation to feature group retreats. On a leap of faith, both quit their professional jobs and took over the operation of the Ranch.
Today the Ranch operates year round with both groups and individuals enjoying the beauty of the land. With two large meeting rooms and some smaller gathering areas, it is ideal for family reunions, spiritual, corporate or personal retreats or training sessions. The food is prepared with the freshest local ingredients, some of which is now being grown on the land. The operation has an eco-friendly focus. From the cleaning supplies, CFL and LED lights, to the permaculture land practices with the goal to leave the land cleaner than it was found.
The trails have been expanded on the 340 acre resort. A new trail uncovered an old growth redwood some 34 feet around. What something that old (estimate at over 1,000 years) has seen in its life time is thought provoking along with the 3.4 million year old petrified wood scattered about the land. It helps to put things in perspective. There is now, also, a trail around the ¼ mile long lake, opening up a whole different habitat to explore. And the best part, the fourth generation is now working at the Ranch to continue the family tradition.
Celebrating our centennial, we give thanks for the vision of Grandma and Grandpa Orth for starting a family tradition that has lasted. Third and fourth generation families continue to come to the Ranch as well as many groups for around the US and families from around the world. Join us and begin a family tradition of your own.