Last week I shared Part 1 of my Sonoma Valley trip, with our hike up Bald Mountain in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. In Part 2, I share a family-friendly stroll with historical significance.
Jack London was a journalist, author, adventurer, and a farmer. He loved the Sonoma Valley, and had planned to build a sustainable farm where he and his wife Charmain could settle. His property in the “Valley of the Moon” — as he called Sonoma Valley — became a state park in 1960 with 39 acres, a museum, London’s gravesite and the ruins of Wolf House. The Jack London Historic State Park was saved from closure through the Jack London Park Partners.
Our first stop was a short walk up to the House of Happy Walls. Now a museum, the house was originally built by London’s wife Charmian after his death. She lived here until her death, and the home now houses a number of London’s belongings. I hadn’t read any Jack London since high school, and it was eye-opening to learn more about his life and career.
The trails are paved, and well marked. We soaked in the history and learned about the life and untimely death of Jack London, then followed the sign toward the Wolf House ruins.
The Story Behind Jack London’s Wolf House
“Jack and Charmian Londons dream house began to take shape early in 1911 when a well-known San Francisco architect, Albert Farr, created the drawings and sketches for Wolf House. Farr supervised the early stages of construction of a grand house that was to remain standing ‘for a thousand years’.
“By August 1913 London had spent $50,000 and the project was nearly complete. On August 22 final cleanup got underway and plans were laid for moving the Londons’ specially designed custom furniture, thousands of books, collections from travel, and personal belongings into the massive stone and redwood residence. That night, a ranch hand noticed a glow in the sky half a mile away. Wolf House was burning. By the time the Londons arrived by horseback the house was ablaze, the tile roof had collapsed, and even a stack of lumber some distance away was burning. Nothing could be done.” – from Jack London State Historic Park
Jack London actually planned to rebuild Wolf House, but loss from the fire was a big financial setback. On top of this, his health deteriorated. Ultimately, he died before Wolf House could be rebuilt. All that remains to day are the foundations and heavy walls crafted from volcanic rock.
We walked around the house, amazed by the size and scope of the home. Check the gallery below for more photos and floor plans (including a “Stag Party” room on the first floor).
From here, we walked out to Jack London’s gravesite. It’s a humble site shared by he and his wife, marked by a mossy covered granite stone and surrounded by a picket fence.
Heading back to the parking lot, we walked along the back of the property. All the the trails are quiet and beautiful, with glimpses of neighboring vineyards.
There is more to the park that we didn’t get to this trip, including his cottage, a small lake and other buildings that date back to his original farm. We opted instead to head for a warm dry local winery, and will revisit the other parts another time. This was an easy walk, but enriched by history and architecture. A very worthwhile visit in Sonoma Valley.
Jack London Historic State Park Trail Map
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Jack London Historic State Park Resources
- Jack London Historic State Park – official park site maintained by the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association
- Park address: 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442