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127  Historical Geography of Transportation and Development in Lake County At each spatial level, there is a narrative that places people and environment in an intricate relationship. The race by individuals and families to develop useful livelihoods while establishing communities underscores that relationship . This chapter builds upon the findings of the previous analysis of towns that survived and those that did not in the Sierra Nevada. The environment’s effect on settlement development is analyzed at a small regional level, and the interrelationships of physical geographic factors and changing economic conditions both inside and outside the region that help explain settlement growth are highlighted. Evolving transportation methods, as well as barriers to movement caused by physical features, were crucial elements of the settlement story of California itself, and here their importance will be shown at a more local level (Otterstrom 2003b). Citizens of aptly named Lake County still made their living on the land in the latter half of the 1800s, but instead of primary reliance on gold mining, as with the Sierra Nevada communities, the variety of economic activities and opportunities there was much greater. Because the environment is so crucial to understanding the course of development, the history surrounding this place must not be separated from its underlying geography. In this chapter, I show the centrality of the geographic base component, which is the interface between the functional and spatial perspectives in the migration and settlement model (fig. 1.2). In other words, exploration at the community (county) scale allows us to see how geographic relationships affected the functional growth rate in regard to access, amenities, resources, and capital inputs that drove Lake County ’s settlement growth during the latter half of the 1800s. Getting to Lake County, California, has never been easy. Robert Louis Stevenson, in his book The Silverado Squatters, summed up this fact with his 1880 description of the effort required to reach the south end of the county. Chapter 9 128 This pleasant Napa Valley is, at its north end, blockaded by our mountain [St. Helena]. There, at Calistoga, the railroad ceases, and the traveler who intends faring farther, to the Geysers or to the springs in Lake County, must cross the spurs of the mountain by stage. Thus Mount Saint Helena is not only a summit, but a frontier; and up to the time of writing it has stayed the progress of the iron horse. (Stevenson [1884] 1972, 10–11) This is the story of the central role that transportation improvements played in the growth and development of Lake County in northern California . These changes, coupled with physical advantages, led to the county’s emergence from remote obscurity to a place that is still relatively “out of the way” but has surpassed the population density of its eastern and western neighbors. The relative remoteness of Lake County from the urban influences of San Francisco , Sacramento, and Santa Rosa is due to its distance and distinct physical geography. An appreciation of this particular geography is central to understanding the effect of transportation developments on its settlement history. Settlement Factors A general rule of settlement potential is that the closer a place is to a population center, the greater the propensity for settlement. This basic premise can be greatly modified by the presence or lack of a number of important characteristics . For example, physical barriers, such as mountains, swamps, and large rivers, can impede settlement. Scarce or valuable resources, agricultural potential (e.g., good soils, beneficial climate, market access), and certain amenities increase an area’s attraction. Transportation improvements can facilitate settlement and work toward equalizing the negative effect of physical barriers and distance. Here, I examine how the combination of these factors, especially in relation to transportation eras, influenced the settlement growth of this fascinating California county. Physical Geography Most of the area of Lake County was originally attached to Napa County to the south. Once settlement began to accelerate in the valleys of the northern section of Napa County, the need for a new county was recognized. In 1861, the state legislature approved a petition to form a new county from part of Napa. It was named “Lake” because of its many lakes, especially Clear Lake, which Historical Geography of Transportation and Development in Lake County 129 dominated the central portion of the new county. It was now a completely separate entity, both legally and physically (Coy 1923, 25). Lake County was given well-­ defined borders that were directly tied to its physical...


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