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Jack London State Historic Park
Photograph from Jack London State Historic Park
London Lake 1914

Jack London State Historic Park - Lake

Jack London's Lake

More than one hundred years ago, Jack London designed a stone dam on the slope of Sonoma Mountain, creating a lake at the headwaters of Kohler Creek.  His plan, to capture water for his farming needs and to remediate erosion from the logged out hillsides above, worked well. He also saw the resulting lake as a cool respite for swimming and boating with Charmian and friends during the hot summers.  The early 20th century dam and bathhouse uniquely combined beauty and utility. The four-acre lake was completed in 1914 and became the topic of the first water rights trial in California.  When London won the dispute he invited all the neighbors for a barbeque beside the lake. The floating walkway from the bathhouse to the center of the lake, along with piped in fresh spring water for showering, was state of the art in 1915.

Charmian used the lake to swim her horse, as did other riders on the ranch.  Additional activities at the lake included parties for birthdays and an annual 4th of July celebration. Descendants of Eliza Shepard, Jack’s step-sister who ran the ranch, recall a unique historic event in April, 1945 when dignitaries of the Pan Pacific delegation of the first meeting of the League of Nations came to the ranch.  A luncheon was held in the Winery ruins: guests visited the lake, many in their native dress, and then returned to negotiations in San Francisco to sign the charter of what is now known as the United Nations.

During the Depression, Beauty Ranch was converted to a Guest Ranch that offered fishing, swimming, boating and picnics at the lake. The main cottage and guest cabins were three quarters of a mile from the lake that remained an idyllic destination for hikers, swimmers and horseback riders until the end of the 20th Century. Unfortunately, without regular maintenance to clear the algae and tule reeds along the edge, the lake has become an eyesore and a diminished natural resource.  Many of the mountain animals and birds that used the lake as a water source have had to look elsewhere in recent decades.

In 2010, London’s lake was designated  “one of the ten most threatened cultural landscapes in America”.  An assessment is underway to repair the dam, refresh the lake, and revitalize the adjacent wetland. These improvements will substantially reduce sediment downstream and provide fresh open water and wetland habitat for amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals on the mountain.  Park visitors can still view the graceful stone dam and log bathhouse, and all are most welcome to contribute to the campaign to refurbish the London’s lake for year-round enjoyment.  

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