There was something too good to be true about the Andersons. The young English couple burst upon the local social scene in the summer of 1897. “Nobody appeared to know who the H. Francis Andersons were,” recalled one gossip columnist, “but it was evident to Santa Cruzans that they possessed an abundance of the long green and were willing to spend it with lavish hands.”
H. Francis Anderson, heir to considerable wealth, lived large; whether walking his Great Dane down Pacific Avenue or parading through town behind a matched four-horse team. The former Beatrice Maude de Courcy-Corbett, “an Irish beauty,” had retired from a London comedy troupe, “to play a star engagement in the drama of matrimony.” It was said that the. Andersons fell in love at first sight.
According to one story, “they sailed at once for California and finally located in the town of Ben Lomond. Two children were born to the couple and they lived happily.” A society reporter noted that “The Andersons have fitted up a sumptuous residence at Ben Lomond in the style of the country home of the English gentleman one reads about in novels.” Their home, “The Highlands,” was the scene of many lively parties.
The local press liked Mrs. Anderson — “an extremely pretty woman with a vivacity of manner and magnetic chicness.” It was also obvious that she had expensive tastes. A columnist for “Town Talk” remembered “seeing Mrs. H. Francis Anderson at a church fair some years ago freighted with diamonds.” The San Franciscan also noted “her unconventionality.” “She liked to shock prudes by kicking ‘chandelier-wards,’ and doing little stunts that betokened effervescent spirits.”
When Thomas L. Bell sold off his controlling interest in the Rowardennan Hotel, H. F. Anderson stepped in. The resort was, for a change, well-managed, thanks to Benjamin Dickinson, a former employee of the Pacific Mills, and his hospitable wife, Gertrude. Recognizing a potential future in the town for their two children, the Dickinsons would not steal away at season’s end.
Welcoming in the twentieth century at the end of 1900, the Andersons held a grand ball in the Rowardennan dance hall. Mrs. Anderson was bewitching; “ablaze with diamond light.” Mr. Anderson and his guests, including fellow Britisher J. F. Coope of the Ben Lomond Winery, spoke excitedly about prospects for a local boom, wholeheartedly believing that “oil would be struck in the first well” bored in Santa CruzCounty.
Before the end of January, the news was that “the brown liquid is flowing through the pipes,” at the southern extreme of the county, near Sargent’s Station. “Much secrecy is being maintained,” said the Sentinel, “it is reported that the prospects are for a gusher.” It was said that stockholders were turning down offers of $100 per share.
Anderson and Coope sought out R. C. McPherson, a renowned oil expert, who predicted future strikes in the hills above Ben Lomond. Local lore pointed in the same direction. Joseph Kenville advised the Sentinel that, at his Quail Hollow ranch, “Oil is seen in wagon tracks and in ditches.” Anderson had already secured an option on Kenville’s mineral rights. Before the official formation of the McNab Oil Company at the end of February, Anderson, Coope, and a few select friends, had quietly “bonded or purchased all the available land for a distance of four miles along the oil line.”
On the 10th of March, the McNab Oil Company invited “all interested in oil — to see what real oil indications are.” On the eve of the excursion, the Andersons hosted a masked ball at the Rowardennan. Early arrivals heard the sound of hammer and saw, as the resort’s new main building took shape. There would be wings on either end, featuring wide lounging porches. The Sentinel ventured that “Ben Lomond will yet be proud of its Rowardennan.”
The San LorenzoValley offered few such opportunities for social reporting. “The large hall of Hotel Rowardennan was most brilliantly lighted. The host, H. F. Anderson, appeared in a handsome King Charles costume of black velvet and silver lace.” His wife adopted the persona of Carrie Nation, famous for smashing saloons with a hatchet. At midnight, costumes were exchanged for evening wear. “Toasts were given, songs were sung — Cries for “Anderson” were answered by the host. He was firm in his belief of an oil future for Ben Lomond.” The hostess, glass in hand, added a few choice words.
“Then Mr. Hollenbeck, conductor of the Boulder Creek train, gave the one really poetic toast of the evening: ‘Here’s to the oil of Santa CruzCounty, may it run down your mountain sides and through your valleys as freely as the picturesque San Lorenzo to the sea.’”
To Be Continued
Randall C. Brown is a local historian and is a member of the San Lorenzo Valley Board of Directors