Working Landscapes: Ridgewood Ranch



Ridgewood Ranch is best known as home to America's racehorse icon, Seabiscuit. Ridgewood Ranch is important for a number of reasons, both cultural and environmental. As home to America's Depression-era icon, Seabiscuit, it holds national significance. As a continuing working ranch, it holds value in a state and country whose farmlands are dwindling at an alarming rate. The Ranch's importance as open space will continue to increase as surrounding land is subdivided and developed.


Ridgewood Ranch, Willits, CA


Assembled as a 16,000 acre working ranch between 1859 and 1875 in rural Mendocino County by sheep rancher Rench Angle, Ridgewood Ranch has sustained agricultural uses for almost 150 years. A small succession of owners followed Angle, including engineer and timber entrepreneur William Van Arsdale who purchased the Ranch in 1903, giving it the name Ridgwood. Van Arsdale built key structures and facilities, all of which still exist on the Ranch: a lavish home, carriage house, 340,000 spring fed reservoir, and a powerhouse that electrified the ranch.

The next owner of note was Charles S. Howard, who, in 1921, a decade before buying and beginning to race his renowned horse Seabiscuit, obtained Ridgewood as a second home and cattle ranch. By the 1930s Howard had transformed a portion of the Ranch into a thoroughbred breeding and training operation, building two fine mare barns, a breeding barn, and finally, in 1940, a stud barn for Seabiscuit and the Howards' other stallions. Seabiscuit had spent a year at the ranch while recovering from serious injury in 1939 before his famous comeback at Santa Anita in 1940, and he subsequently retired to Ridgewood in the spring of 1940. Over the course of the next seven years until Seabiscuit's death in 1947, the Howards welcomed thousands of fans to visit their favorite horse at his barn. The Ranch is Seabiscuit's final resting place.

Ridgewood Ranch, Willits, CA

Following Howard's death in 1950, the Ranch was sold to the Welch Brothers, loggers who harvested timber from the property and built a mill on-site to process the wood.

In 1962, an independent church community known as the Golden Rule Church Association (GRCA) bought the acreage and continued agricultural pursuits including a beef and cattle operation, a raw milk dairy, and hay production. Activities in more recent years include stream restoration, a Biointensive organic gardening program in conjunction with John Jeavons' Ecology Action, and timber harvesting under a 100-year non-industrial sustainable timber management plan. Over the past two years, in conjunction with Willits Chamber of Commerce, GRCA has conducted tours of the Ranch's historic buildings with a special focus on Seabiscuit. Currently, this effort is being expanded to address historic preservation of the buildings.


Ridgewood Ranch, Willits, CA


Development and subdivision of portions of the property in the foreseeable future is very likely unless it is conserved. The Ranch's location between the cities of Ukiah and Willits, proximity to Highway 101, topography, and scenic character all combine to make this a highly developable property.

Mendocino Agricultural Commissioner, Dave Bengston recently summarized the level of development pressure in the area: "Working farms & forests along Route 101 between Ukiah and Willits are increasingly being split into smaller parcels and ranchettes, negatively impacting their agricultural and forestry productivity."

At one time GRCA owned 16,000 acres of ranch land. Over time, financial demands have resulted in the sale of 11,000 acres of the ranch. The GRCA is strongly committed to the goal of conserving the vast majority of its remaining land as a working landscape and to protect the scenic, historic, and natural resource values. However, the owners can only do this if they have an alternative source of income. The sale of a conservation easement to the Mendocino Land Trust and the establishment of GRCA's financial requirements and their land use goals will help to preserve Ridgewood Ranch.

How to Help

The public is invited to support the effort of the Mendocino Land Trust to place over 4600 acres of the remaining 5000 acres of Ridgewood Ranch into a permanent conservation easement, preserving open space and working farmland forever. Historic preservation easements will also be placed on the Ranch's historically significant sites, including Seabiscuit's stud barn and mare barn complex. A fundraising campaign for the project is underway.

Land Trust's Ridgewood Ranch project website: