Lyfords’ House and Tower, California

The San Francisco area is a beautiful place to go to during the summer. Weather in Northern California can reach up to 100 degrees and the best way to escape the summer heat is to travel to either San Francisco or to the nearby cities.

Golden Gate Bridge from Tiburon

Desiring to stay away from all the traffic and tourists, my sister Deelow, Aunt Bing, and I crossed the bridge over to the city of Tiburon. Once a beautiful rural area, it is now a bustling residential place, where the other rich people of the city lives.


The Lyford House

In this post, I will not be explaining about Tiburon starting from its beginnings about the Spanish exploration of Alta California, followed by its farmlands and finally to its incorporation to a city. But instead, I will discuss about one of its early inhabitants, Dr. Benjamin and Hilarita Lyford, and according to Wikipedia:

“The Lyford House on Richardson Bay in Tiburon, California, was the home of Benjamin Lyford (1841–1906), a doctor in the Union Army who was born in New Hampshire and raised in Cabot, Vermont.

Historical Marker

He migrated to San Francisco after the American Civil War to practice medicine. He married Hilarita née Reed (1839–1908), the daughter of John Reed, an Irish immigrant who was granted the Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio, literally “the place where wood is cut for the Presidio”, which today comprises the peninsula incorporating Tiburon, Belvedere and much of southern Marin County. 

The Lyford House is a Victorian mansion erected in 1876  and was originally located at Strawberry Point as part of Lyford’s Eagle Dairy Ranch, but was moved by barge in December 1957 when threatened with demolition and is now owned by the National Audubon Society.

Transferring the House

The Benjamin Lyford House is part of the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. In December 2002 the house was damaged when a tree crashed through the roof. It was closed for a year of restoration, reopening in 2004.” 

Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to go inside, but we walked around the area, passing by  the banks of the bay, until we finally reached an orchard, leading us to a cottage.

Rosie’s Cottage

Rosie was the daughter of Manuel and Mary Rodrigues de Fonta, Portuguese immigrants. The Rodrigues de Fonta family leased these eleven acres from the Reeds in 1886, when Rosie was just three-years old. Manuel first worked for the new railroad to Point Tiburon, then on the Reed Ranch.

Rose Rodrigues da Fonta Verrall received this property in 1919 by John Paul Reed, an heir to the Mexican land grant, as a token of his affection shortly before his death. Their youthful romance was thwarted by the disapproval of John Paul’s Clothilde, for whom Rose had worked in the nearby mansion on the big Reed Ranch.

When Rosie was fifty, she married Arthur Verrall, a printer from England. They lived together in this cottage for 25 years until his death. Remnants of the small orchard tended by Rosie and her husband can be found just North of this cottage. Over the years this orchard become a thicket, providing habitat for small birds and animals here at the sanctuary. During their later years, Rosie and Arthur took a kid goat to San Francisco to appear on the children’s TV show, “Trudy” each Saturday morning, a tradition Rosie continued by bus even after Arthur’s death. Rosie is a great walker too. During the last 10 years she walked every day to downtown Mill Valley to have lunch at Meier’s Bakery. When she developed a leg ulcer, against her will she was checked into the now defunct Ross General Hospital. At the first opportunity she slipped away, still in a hospital gown, and walked all the way home to Tiburon. Rosie lived in the cottage by herself for the rest of her life dying in 1964 at 81.

Rosie’s Cottage

In need of cash, Rosie sold 4 of her 11 acres. As development increased in Tiburon, however, she become concerned about the fate of her remaining land. Rosie was introduced to the president of Marin Conservation Leagie, Caroline Livermore, by naturalist Elizabeth Terwilliger and in 1957 donated her remaining land to the Marin Conservation League. In return for the land, Rosie was promised life tenancy and basic needs, including medical care. Dr. Martin Griffin, a local physician interested in conservation, agreed to be Rosie’s pro bono physician. A few years later, the Conservation League transferred the property to the National Audubon Society as a bird sanctuary in perpetuity. Finally, in 1968 Dr. Griffin persuaded Harry Marshall, who owned the 4 acres Rosie had sold and understood the need to conserve the property, to donate his four acres to National Audubon.

In addition to the 11 acres, 900 acres submerged tideland is leased and protected by the Audubon Society. Grand plans had been filed with Belvedere and Marin County to shovel hills into the Bay for residential development. Numerous locals, encouraged by Rosie’s significant gift and led by Mrs. Livermore and the Martin Conservation League, rallied to acquire the Bay tidelots and prevent development.


There was plenty of information about Rosie of Tiburon that provided us with in-depth insight about this woman such as how she cared for the preservation of nature she lived in and how she wanted to share it to the future generations. Even though her personal love life was difficult at first, she did manage to find it later in life. As we were left with those food for thought, we drove to our next destination, Dr. Lyford’s Stone Tower

Dr. Lyford’s Stone Tower

The parking lot to our next destination, Dr. Lyford’s Stone Tower, was easy to find. Located to the right, we parked nearby and walked around the tower mostly filled with vegetation of shrubs. Inside, there is a marker stating;

The Stone Tower (also called the Stone Lodge, the Castle or just Lyford’s tower) was designated and built about 1889 by the San Francisco architect Gustav A. Behrnd for Dr. Benjamin F. Lyford, retired inventor, physician and scientist, as the gateway to the southern portion of his Utopian tract, “Hygeia, or goddess of Health.” Originally a stone archway crossing Paradise Drive was attached to the tower, but it was removed in the 1920’s. The open space under the roof was enclosed as a wood-framed office with shingles painted in striped patterns.

Original look

Architecturally, the tower is a fine example of the simplified form of Richardson Romanesque built in local cut ashlar sandstone, according to Dr. Joseph A. Baird, Jr., architectural historian.

Dr. Lyford’s “Hygeia” was the first subdivision of the Tiburon Peninsula. Married to the owner of the land, the former Hilarita Reed, his tract skirted the edge of the Bay for several miles at Point Tiburon. Part of the Mexican land grant Rancho Corte Madera dei Presidio, “Hygeia” was planned for a townsite and suburban homes. Streets were given Spanish names that survive today. “Vistazo” for view, “Solano” for sunshine, “Diviso” for dividing, “Mar East” for east sea.

Through the efforts of the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society, a campaign was launched to preserve the Stone Tower. It was designated the first historical land mark in the Town of Tiburon, California, on Nov. 25, 1974, and was listed on the National Register of Historical Places on Dec. 2, 1976 by the National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.

Since there was nothing more to see in that area, we left and went to our next stop, the Tiburon Railroad Depot.

Tiburon Railroad and Ferry Depot (The Donahue Line)

At the Tiburon Railroad Depot, it was kind of difficult to find a parking spot but we eventually did. This trip occurred on the weekends during a beautiful, sunny day. It was a refreshing morning as the sun was shining brightly and the wind was neither cold nor hot. There were a lot of people walking, bicycling, and jogging by the Shoreline Path. We first came across the Train Depot and tried getting in but it was locked. All we could do was look inside the window while reading the marker outside:

Train Depot on its heyday

1884 San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad Depot – In 1869, the San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad was founded by Peter Donahue, a San Francisco industrialist. The southern terminus, Donahue’s Landing, was near Lakeville on Petaluma Creek in Sonoma County. In 1884, Donahue extended the railroad and provided ferry service by moving the southern terminus of the line to Point Tiburon. Thus Tiburon, a California railroad town, was created on the Mexican land grant by Hilarita Reed Lyford.

In 1907, the Donahue line merged with five northcoast railroads to become the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, a subsidiary of Southern Pacific Company. The 400 miles of track through the Redwood Empire connected Eureka and San Francisco via Tiburon. In 1967, the last freight cars left the Tiburon yard. Thereafter, the railroad bed along Richardson Bay was converted to a multi-use pathway.

By 1996, the 42-acre railroad yard from Racoon Strait to Mar West Road became the site of a condominium housing, businesses and town center. The waterfront of docks and piers became a shoreline park with only a portion of the passenger and freight depot preserved as a landmark and railroad-ferry museum.

Following the Shoreline Path, we came across the Elephant Rock Pier:

“A natural landmark, Elephant Rock Pier juts out into Raccoon Strait from Point Tiburon via a 75-foot ramp that crosses above the water, then encircles Elephant Rock.

Probably named for its size and form viewed from water. It opened in the early 60’s specifically as a fishing spot. A favorite fishing spot for the locals and one of the best in California.

On a chart of 1850, “Pulpeti de Padre” (Father’s Pulpit) may refer to Elephant Rock.”

We would have taken a stroll up to the end of the trail but time didn’t permit us. Thus, we had no choice but to go back to our van and head on to our next destination.

Pictures courtesy of the following links:

and Tiburon in Pinterest


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Say Cheez!



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