We’re thrilled to be hosting this year’s Nature’s Inspiration at Jim Wickett’s redwood-forested ranch. Jim is a longtime member of Committee for Green Foothills, and over the decades has provided outdoor education on the property for youth in San Mateo County. The 400 acre ranch, above the town of Woodside, is surrounded by old-growth redwood trees with pastures that look down to the Pacific Ocean. The site not only hosts spectacular scenery, but a rich history as well.
The Successful Career and Questionable Death of Purdy Pharis
The property was home to Purdy Pharis from the 1850s through the 1880s. Purdy first arrived in the area as a lone pioneer who had headed west for the gold rush, and ended up as the “Shingle King” and the largest employer in San Mateo County. He was also the largest private landowner in the County, owning over 6,500 acres of forest on which seven different shingle mills operated.
Because of people like Purdy, San Mateo County became home to the largest timber industry surrounding San Francisco, and the deep water port in Redwood City provided a way to move lumber from the Peninsula to build San Francisco, both before and after the 1906 earthquake.
Purdy died at the age of 56 in his home. Although his death was ruled a suicide, many believe he was murdered by the local stage coach driver who later purchased some of Purdy’s landholdings. His suspicious death and the investigation that followed have become somewhat of a local legend, and are still widely known and speculated on by people in the community to this day.
The Wickett Family’s Conservation Legacy
Years after Purdy’s death, in the early 1950s, Jim’s father, John Wickett, bought much of the property and also harvested timber, but in a selective fashion which was careful to preserve the old growth trees. In fact, John built and operated the last sawmill in the county.
Thanks to the work of Committee for Green Foothills and our supporters like Jim, both of whom worked to make the county’s timber harvest laws more environmentally sustainable, Purdy Pharis’ property– once in the heart of San Mateo County’s logging industry–is now surrounded by permanently protected land, including the El Corte de Madera Creek and Tunitas Creek Open Space Preserves.
From the beginning of the timber industry, to the last operating sawmill in the county, to Jim now hosting Committee for Green Foothills as we celebrate champions for local nature, the site’s history is a great reminder of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. It’s amazing to think that where Purdy’s house once stood (and where a double band saw and old saw-dust burner still remain) is where this year’s honoree, Joe Cotchett, will speak.
The Wickett Ranch is sure to provide the perfect backdrop for our annual Nature’s Inspiration event on September 22, 2019, thanks to its history and stunning scenery. We hope to see you there for this once in a lifetime event!