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The Lytton Study Group
Captain Litton b. 1816 MD > CA

From the Russian River Recorder Winter of 1994 edition, page 5

The Litton Story by John Pruitt

Captain William H. Litton, who developed the property now know as the Salvation Army's Lytton Adult Rehabilitation Center, on Lytton Springs Road, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1816.

At the age of 12 he went to sea. And by the age of 18, he had attained the rank of captain. A superior mariner, he was selected as one of several American sea captains to carry provisions to Ireland, during the infamous "Potato Famine" of 1846. His was among one of the few ships to actually reach Ireland with its cargo intact, as many of the ships in the rescue effort were sunk in a storm at sea.

"Lionized" by the Irish people, Captain Litton eventually traveled throughout the world before arriving in San Francisco in 1849, where he worked as a ship's pilot in the San Francisco Bay.

In 1860, he acquired a large tract of land that extended from the southernmost boundaries of Geyserville to the northern limits of the fledgling town of Healdsburg, with the Russian River serving as is eastern boundary. It appears that this property was originally part of the Sotoyome Rancho land grant.

By 1867, in fact, Captain Litton was considered the fourth largest property holder in Sonoma County. To further cement his ties within the county, he married Agnes Smith, who as a member of a prominent Healdsburg family, had crossed the plains with her parents in a covered wagon in 1852.

Then in 1872, Colonel James M. Donahue, of Donahue's Landing, which was located at the mouth of the Petaluma RIver, built the San Francisco and Northern Pacific Railroad which linked Healdsburg and points north with the bay area.

Eager to attract tourists, Captain Litton and three partners built a plush resort hotel on the Litton Springs site, in 1875 at a cost of $80,000. Able to accommodate approximately 150 guests at a weekly rate of $8 - $12 per person, the resort soon became known as "Litton Springs" or "Litton Station."

The popular name if "Litton Springs" refers to the two naturally occurring springs that are located on the property. The soda springs is located half a mile uphill from the original hotel site, while the naturally carbonated seltzer, or sweetwater, spring lies by the north gate entrance. Both were considered of medicinal value for their mineral properties; yet, there is a third, freshwater spring/well, located between the two springs, which also was potable.

Although Captain Litton and his family resided at the resort, he sold 2,700 acres, as well as a share of the hotel to B.G. Lathrop,in 1878. Then, in 1880, Captain Litton and his wife, and three sons, William, Jr.; Bearse; and Charles - apparently moved to San Francisco while retaining at least partial ownership of the hotel and 12 adjacent cottages.

In 1887, Captain Litton fell from a buggy, and died of head injuries on June 22nd of that same year. He is buried along with his wife, who died in 1933, at Oak Mound Cemetery in Healdsburg.

Yet long after their deaths, controversy continued in regards to the change from "i" to "y", as the accepted spelling of the Litton property. According to the text of "Once Upon a Time by Julius Myron Alexander, the spelling was changed "because it was proper."

Then, in a 1969 Press Democrat article, Healdsburg City Clerk and local historian, Edwin Langhart, offered a different opinion, "It appears the name was changed in error by a draftsman or some other official, and it has stayed "Lytton ever since" Whatever the reason, records show that by 1896, most official documents had adopted the "Lytton" spelling.

It appears that by the late 1880s the Litton family was no longer interested in maintaining the plush resort, and it became a military academy for boys from well-to-do Bay Area families.

Referred to as the "Yellow Jackets" by the local Healdsburg youth, these boys appeared to be the ".....cavalry dismounted" in their elaborate gold-braided uniforms, which included Civil War sabers and "natty" gold-braided caps, complete with striking yellow plumes.

Professor Gamble served as Headmaster of Litton Springs Military Academy, as it was called, with Major Shakespeare, a West Point graduate, serving as instructor of mathematics and military tactics.

Then, in 1889, Agnes Litton, wife of Captain Litton, filed a law suit against railroad magnate Colonel James M. Donahue, for "taking" Litton water from the freshwater source, in order to begin construction of Litton township, which was located on a piece of land he owned abutting the railroad tracks, east of Litton Station.

In February, 1890, Mrs. Litton won the lawsuit, but Colonel Donahue gained ownership of the Litton Station property. Yet before he could fulfill his dream, he died at the Palace Hotel in Ukiah, at age 30, on March 3, 1890.

The Litton property, as part of Donahue's estate, was eventually bought by Charles H. Montgomery, in 1893, for $165,000. He, in turn, sold it to Dr. Burke, of Oakland, who wanted to operate a sanitarium at the site.

At this point, actual ownership of the property becomes obscure. Apparently, however, in 1898, San Francisco restaurant owner, A.W. Dennett and his partner George S. Montgomery (whose wife, Carrie Judd, was a leader in the Pentecostal religious movement), bought the Litton property. Like others before them, they tried to keep the sanitarium idea alive by offering an added attraction; Bible courses, "to afford all who attend an opportunity of acquiring a more practical knowledge of the Word."

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