Dreaming of the Wolf House

Jack London’s Legacy in the Stone and Soil of Sonoma

Born 138 years ago on January 12, 1876, Jack London, America’s great novelist and short story writer, escaped the City for the solitude of Sonoma, California at the top of a beautiful mountain above the Valley of the Moon. Country living ushered in a prolific period for Jack. He wrote White Fang, The Sea-wolf and The Cruise of the Snark in Sonoma.

This literary icon also planted the seeds of progressive agriculture in Northern California. He and his wife, Charmian, developed their property into a sustainable farm, adapting new methods for tilling and draining soil, crop rotation and use of new machinery. Almost all his fortune went into the cottages, winery, barns and even a pig palace.

But it was their dream house he really wanted to build there, which he called Wolf House.

Jack London oversees construction of the Wolf House on his property above the Valley of the Moon, Sonoma. illustration by Bill Russell

They chose a site among tall redwoods, and drew up plans for a rustic, yet state-of-the-art, 4-story structure of volcanic rock and timber; but a month before completion, on a hot summer evening in 1913, a fire destroyed this dream to the core. Although spontaneous combustion in some oily rags workers left around proved the cause, London believed it was arson caused his enemies.

London never recovered from the loss of Wolf House; and he died 3 years later at the age of forty. Remnants of the Wolf House stand amongst the redwoods in silent testimony to their dream unrealized, but London’s writings remain his legacy for future readers of adventure.

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