Please enjoy reading the history of Lake Leonard and family.
Anyone who comes to Lake Leonard may wonder how this place came into existence and what humans originally walked on this land.
A USGS core sedimentation study of the lake bottom indicates that the lake was created about 5,000 years ago by a landslide blocking the creek ravine fed by mountain springs. In Mendocino county it is the largest natural lake and the westernmost headwaters of the Russian River.
The first human residents of the area were Yukian, whose traditional homeland was Round Valley in the Eel River watershed. Bands of Pomo from Clear Lake may have moved westward into the upper Russian River watershed, displacing the Yuki groups there. The native group that lived in this area at contact with colonizing Europeans were the Northern Pomo. Records about native use of the Lake are scarce, and we have come to terms with the idea that the Pomo story of the Lake may remain a mystery. Since it appears to involve sacred beliefs, perhaps this is appropriate.
John Hudson (husband of painter Grace Hudson) made notes during his travels and identified the Pomo name for the Lake as Kasusu (waters malevolent or bedeviled, likely due to the Pomo association of bodies of water with a powerful and feared spirit) and nearby Coston’s Pond as Kasut (waters slimy), and these remain the only direct Pomo references that historian Dot Bravarny was able to find in her research on Reeves Canyon. Russian River Pomo groups traveling to the Coast for fish and other ocean resources probably visited the Lake and it likely played a role in Northern Pomo religious life. This period ended with the coming of white settlers after the gold rush in the 1850s, when local militias and the US Army rounded up natives to move to reservations in Fort Bragg and Round Valley. It was a time of great brutality.
The first white settler on the land was a homesteader who sold his claim to John Leonard of Potter Valley (great uncle of Grace Hudson) “for a horse, saddle and bottle of whisky” in 1874. Leonard established the claim and ran it as a sort of resort, then sold the land to a flume company that intended to make a gravity-fed chute down the canyon to bring harvested timber to market. Thankfully the company failed and the land went into foreclosure. It was bought by Henry Boyle of San Rafael in 1885.
The Boyle family owned it for the next 68 years. Una Boyle, the youngest of six children, became known as ‘the lady of the lake.’ She lived at the Lake with her animals and staff between 1921-51, running it as a resort in the summers. She developed close relationships with neighbors, including Americus Napoleon Poe, Hazel Dickensan Putnam, and other characters who settled in nooks and crannies of the land. In 1953 it was bought by Richard and Susanna Dakin of Belvedere, Marin County.
Richard and Susanna enjoyed the lake for 13 years. "The lake" and the two old houses on its shore quickly became the family's geographic anchor -- its main place of retreat. The family became attached to the trees and animals, and loved having family and friends visit. As Susanna noticed the logging operations’ effect on the land, she became determined to save the old growth trees and began adding more acreage to their initial purchase. From several hundred acres, it became the almost 4,000 acres it is today.
A few days before Christmas, 1966, Susanna Dakin, her husband Richard, her eldest son Roger, her eldest son's wife Joan, and all but one of the eldest son's young children - Alex, Zac, Matthew and baby Roger - were killed in a plane crash. They were on their way to Baja California for a holiday. Eight members of the Dakin family perished, but luckily, four family members were not on the plane: siblings Henry, Sue and Mary (now Mira) Dakin, and their young nephew, Sam Dakin.
The accident was devastating to the surviving members of the family and friends. Sam was only 12 years old when he lost his four siblings, his mother and father, and his grandparents. He went to live with his cousins in Oregon. Mary, at 19, left America and moved to India, let her name be changed to ‘Mira’, got married there, qualified as a physician in Mumbai, gave away her inheritance, became an Indian citizen and continues to live there. Henry had just turned 30. He gave up his post-doctoral position at UC Berkeley Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and left a career in physics. Sue at 34, suddenly the matriarch, was just starting her own family and career as an artist.
Over the next 50 years they managed the Lake with an eye toward honoring their parents’ and siblings’ memories. The lake is still the place of retreat it always was -- many of Susanna and Dick’s grandchildren and great grandchildren have spent childhood summer months there, and had their own weddings there. The Lake has the pull of an ancestral home to which they all periodically return. Henry died in 2010 and his ashes are scattered at the Memorial Grove high above the lake.
After the accident, Henry Dakin introduced idea of the Lake being run as a club for all the many friends of the family. Naman and Doris Little were the property managers; Naman died in 1975. Doris was alone at LL for a year or two more, and then Ric Grieve started as a caretaker. Ric and his wife Sandy lived there for many years, and raised their kids at the Upper Ranch, also called Heth Ranch, where Americus Poe had his homestead. Ric started building a house at the Upper Ranch over many years in the hope that Sandy would come back to live there. The house still stands unfinished. Julia Dakin, daughter of Henry and Vergilia, and Jon Frech took over from Ric Grieve and started working at Leonard Lake in 2007. They left in 2012, when Christy Buttery started managing the property. The Dakin family is still actively involved in the stewardship of the business and land, with help from Sande Marshall, who first laid eyes on the lake when she was six years old. Sande Marshall and her mother Charlotte accompanied Susanna and Mary on one of their first visits to the lake in 1953.
As far as the buildings at the Lake, the Barn was converted to a residence over three years in the early 1980’s. The Big House burned down in 1895 and was rebuilt by the Boyles, and then renovated in the early 1980s by Ric. The Beehive is the oldest unrenovated structure, probably built in the 1870s. The Knoll House was built over three years, starting in 2003.
In the late 1990s, the Dakin family decided to put an easement on the land. The easement prohibits commercial logging, subdivision or further real estate development. In light of family history, this ground is sacred -- and so it is fitting that it will be a nature retreat in perpetuity.
Click below to read through "Recollections" -written by Sandra Marshall which includes interviews with some local patrons of the lake.