Mendocino Redwood Company


Jean Gowan Near Interview

Growing up in Potter Valley on a small dairy ranch, Jean Gowan Near has called Mendocino County home since 1914. At a time when women were generally expected to be homemakers, her father, Judson, encouraged her to go to college. His dream was that she would become a teacher even though Jean herself "loved the soil and the animals." She pursued a degree at the University of California (Berkeley), then married and had two sons. During World War II, with labor shortages in the U.S., she finally did enter teaching. Literally beginning at a "little red schoolhouse" in Covelo, she went on to teach at schools in Potter Valley, Philo, and Mendocino, finally completing her teaching career with 28 years at Ukiah High School. After her second husband's death in 1981, she investigated, for a prospective livelihood, sheep husbandry, even making a tour to New Zealand where sheep still outnumber people 10 to 1. Soon after, she stocked a small sheep ranch in Redwood Valley where she still produces raw fleeces for spinners and crafters.

Jean's great-grandparents immigrated from Ireland to Quebec, Canada around 1842. They had six sons: George, James, Robert, John, Cecil, and Hiram. Jean's grandfather was George Gowan. In 1886, Frederick Weyerhauser, who at the time owned more timberland than anyone else in America, sent George Gowan from his home in Wisconsin to scout out timber mills in California. George spotted a prospect at Russian Gulch on the Sonoma coast, north of Jenner and south of Fort Ross. Weyerhauser was not interested, however, in Gowan's find. Turning from scout to entrepreneur, Gowan bought the mill himself and moved his family to California. Soon he learned of another mill much farther north up the Mendocino coast. George would eventually hold the controlling interest in the Cottoneva Lumber Company (Rockport) from about 1889-1894. For a time, his brother James, who was accomplished at filing saws, joined him, later returning to New York. Two other brothers, John and Robert, also worked at the mill but eventually returned to Canada.

George Gowan had ten children, including eight boys. One of his sons, Cecil, married Alice Studebaker, a distant relative of the car company founders. Studebakers were one of the earliest cars of the 20th century—both electric and gas. The last Studebaker rolled out the factory door on March 16, 1966. Cecil took over an orchard business from his father-in-law, George Studebaker, around 1922, and, with his wife, built it into the Gowan Oak Tree Orchards of Anderson Valley, CA, known locally for its roadside produce stand. .

On May 20, 2008, Jean sat down on the deck of her home in Redwood Valley to reminisce, in part, about her grandfather, the shipwreck of "The Venture", and the town of Rockport.. Particularly touching is the story of Frank Gowan, Jean's uncle, who was born about 1887 or 1888 and spent his early childhood at Rockport. As an old man, when he was near death, he phoned Jean to record his memories of Captain Johnson and the ill-fated Venture..


 Mendocino Redwood Company - Ukiah, California