History of the McFarland Ranch
John McFarland was born in Starlingshire, Scotland, on March 4, 1823. He emigrated from Scotland to Canada. After McFarland turned 15 years old he learned the trades of carpentry, joiner, and machinist. In 1838, he worked in Buffalo, Chicago, and Cleveland. In 1850, McFarland traveled by horse team to Placerville California where he tried his hand at mining. He not only successfully engaged in mining but was also one of the first men to sell water for mining purposes in El Dorado County.
McFarland came to the Sacramento Valley in 1857 where he bought 3,500 acres in Galt. McFarland was a man of prominence among the people in the area. When the railroad came through the Sacramento Valley he was asked to name the small town. He choose "Galt" named after a town in Canada where he had lived as a youth. In 1878, McFarland began building a home on his ranch. Other improvements around his homestead included a tank house, a carriage house, blacksmith shop, a barn and corrals, a chicken coop, and three sheds near the house. He also built a bunkhouse for the local area Miwok Indians that he hired to work his fields.
McFarland's success afforded him the opportunity to contribute to the development of the community. He funded the construction of the First Congregational Church in Galt and built the first store in Galt, the Brewster store (now, the IOOF Hall). McFarland also took a civic interest in the town, and was especially interested in its schools. For 20 years he acted as a school trustee for the Galt Grammar School District.
The Galt Area Historical Society and McFarland Ranch
The McFarland Ranch, originally a part of the vast land holdings of John McFarland, is now owned by the Sacramento County Department of Parks and Recreation, and a portion of it is leased to the Galt Area Historical Society to be preserved for the people of the Galt area. When John McFarland died, he willed all his land and his lovely two story home to his niece, Mrs. Mary Orr. When she died, she left the land and home to her daughters. One of her daughters, Beatrice Smithson, who was born on the ranch, remained there until her death.
At that time, the entire estate was sold to the Nature Conservancy, with the understanding that the home of John McFarland would be preserved for history. The Nature Conservancy sold a portion of the land and the house to the Sacramento County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Open Space. Knowing how important the home was to the history of the people of the area, the Sacramento County Department of Parks and Recreation Director, Gene Andal, approached the Galt Area Historical Society to see if the members would be interested in working with his department to preserve the home and 35 acres of land around it.
The society has agreed to a 99-year lease and have negotiated to create a "Living History Ranch" on the site with the home of John McFarland becoming an area museum. The ranch will offer an opportunity to children and their families to experience the life of pioneer farmers as it was at the turn of the century.
On March 13, 1999, the McFarland Living History Ranch on Orr Road had its official Ground Breaking Ceremony. About 100 people attended the ceremony and heard the guest speakers share some history of the ranch as well as offer visions of what is to come.
Speakers for the day, introduced by the Society's first President, Louise Dowdell, were Ron Suter, Director of Sacramento County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Open Space; Supervisor, 5th district, Don Nottoli; and the great-great-grandniece of John McFarland, Charlene Mathews.
Also present among the members and guest were Gene Andal, former Director of the Sacramento County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Open Space; Galt City Council Members Jeff Bryant and Christina De La Cruz; Mike Eaton, Director of the Consumnes River Preserve; Laura Svendsgaard, Fund Development Officer, Sacramento County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Open Space; and Winifred Ehrhardt, great-great-grandniece of John McFarland.
The McFarland Ranch is considered a "Living History" ranch that will provide a tangible way for visitors to learn about farming as it was in pioneer days, and times in history that are no more.