You have heard me blether on about Ravenswood, & the time I spend there each month as a docent, for a number of months now. Since the opportunity to take one of my tours is remote for most of you (although you are more than welcome should the urge ever strike on the 2nd or 4th Sunday of each month) it occurred to me that some of my regular visitors, as well as some new friends who have drifted into my little world, might be interested to learn about the property & its history. (Besides, it will give me a well to draw from when things are a little dry around here, inspiration-wise!)
So, in the immortal words of Julie Andrews (as Maria Von Trapp), “Let’s start at the very beginning; it’s a very good place to start.”
Ravenswood Historic Site is a house museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a State of California Point of Interest, and a City of Livermore Preservation Landmark Site. What is a “house museum”? It is a dwelling, once used as a residence, which has been preserved because of its historic, architectural, or regional importance, & is in itself an artifact, a living snapshot of another era. House museums come in all shapes & sizes, from the humblest of sod shanties to grandest mansions; a few notable examples would be The Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, The Hermitage in Tennessee, & Hearst Castle in California.
Ravenswood is not in the same league as these grand ladies; it was a relatively small property- around 100 acres- purchased in 1885 by a now almost forgotten businessman & political figure by the name of Christopher A. Buckley. It was developed first as a summer retreat for his family, with a small Queen Anne style cottage for the family, a tank house/kitchen, a carriage barn; later, a larger “Main House” was completed in 1891, along with buildings for a winery & brandy distillery.
Ravenswood remained in the hands of the Buckley family until shortly after Mrs. Buckley’s death in 1925; the property was then sold to Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, known as the Redemptorist Fathers. The Order renamed it Villa Saint Clement, & used it as a religious retreat & training center for the next 30 years, while a neighbor & local vintner cared for the vines & orchards. When the Fathers left Livermore in the mid 1960’s, the property was purchased by a local developer, who in turn deeded 33 acres, including the structures, to the City of Livermore.
Over the next several years, a series of tenants & caretakers lived at Ravenswood, but the buildings suffered from neglect & vandalism. At one point in the late 1970’s, the buildings were slated to be burned as firefighter training; fortunately, a local woman, Janet Newton, took up the battle cry & urged the City to restore the property as an historic park. This is when the Ravenswood Preservation League (RPL) was formed & LARPD (Livermore Area Regional Parks District) took over management of the grounds & buildings. It took a number of years, vigorous fundraising, as well as generous individual donations, & innumerable hours of volunteer labor to bring Ravenswood back from the brink of ruin. Today, it is a popular place to have weddings & receptions (which helps keep it a self-supporting entity) & is opened to the public for free tours twice a month. With the exception of the LARPD employees who do the maintenance, Ravenswood is run entirely by a group of dedicated volunteers; there are volunteers from local wineries who have replanted & care for the heirloom vineyard, people who serves as RPL board members (which I may be joining in the near future as Treasurer), costumed docents who conduct tours & run the gift shop, & members would give their time working in the gardens, acting as ambassadors on the croquet team, & serving at fundraising events. I am quite proud of my involvement with this lovely property & these generous people; but most of all, I am pleased to see my son’s growing love of history & appreciation of the value of preserving our history. This, I hope, will be one of my legacies to my family.