A unique architectural jewel built in 1856, the John Marsh Stone House – the first stone mansion erected in California – is the focal point of the newly designated Marsh Creek State Park and tangible symbol of the fascinating cultural, historical and environmental diversity of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Stone House is where visitors of all ages will learn the story of the trailblazing Harvard graduate, pioneer doctor and Native American agent John Marsh, whose efforts helped California’s quest for statehood become reality.
Augmenting the history of 19th-century California is the 7,000-year-old archeological record buried just yards outside the walls of the Stone House. The site provides insight into the lives of the ancient Windmiller people and the more recent Bay Miwok, who lived with Marsh on his Rancho Los Meganos. The site also tells the story of the Mexicans who once owned the land, and the vaqueros who worked Marsh’s vast herds of cattle. Visitors will also learn of the site’s significance as the destination of the first pioneer wagon train on the great Overland Trail from Independence, Missouri.
The Stone House is being restored to its original 1856 structural condition except for the tower, which was repaired following an earthquake in 1868. Sections of the Stone House and site will be restored and furnished in a way that reflects their mid-1800s character. Others will be used to display artifacts such as medical utensils and farm tools. The Stone House will be a destination for youth groups, families and school field trips. It will also serve as a venue for special events, lectures, celebrations, weddings and receptions.
The adobe John and Abby Marsh inhabited for 20 years prior to completing the Stone House will be rebuilt and the rancho’s original gardens, orchards and vineyards replanted to reflect the Marshes’ contribution as Contra Costa County’s first farmers. A Miwok village will be recreated to commemorate those Native Americans’ arrival on the site in the wake of the secularization of Spanish missions – and their mutually beneficial relationship with Marsh.
Incorporated into the story of the adobe is the story of the site as a former Mexican land grant, and the contributions of vaqueros who provided the human resources without which Marsh could not have operated his Rancho Los Meganos. The little-known saga of post-mission era, pre-Gold Rush Alta California was lived out along the banks of Marsh Creek, and is one more intriguing facet of the record preserved in Marsh Creek State Park. The juxtaposition of the Stone House, adobe and Native American dwellings and artifacts can lead to a better understanding of the relationship between early California settlers, Hispanics and Native Americans. Rancho Los Meganos also represents the link between historic sites such as Sutter’s Fort, Gold Rush sites and other significant houses built in the late 1800s.
The site also brings to light the Stone House’s unique architecture and construction methods used to preserve it. The partnership involving numerous agencies, the private sector and the nonprofit community that has helped make it happen will also be emphasized and celebrated.
The preservation of the John Marsh Stone House is crucial to the preservation of the rich local, state and national history of the Marsh Creek State Park – all in the service of the public’s educational and recreational benefit.