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Following Josepha Wagner Kolmer’s death, her son John Kolmer continued to live on the farm. A year later, in preparation to sell Fort Ross, Wilhelm Benitz transferred ownership to friends and family the small pieces of his property on which they were living. His brother-in-law, John Kolmer, received title to the Kolmer farm.
On the 28th of August, 1866, “in consideration of the natural love and affection which he the said Wm. Benitz hath and herewith unto the said John Kolmer as also for the further maintenance and support and livelihood of him the said John Kolmer hath given granted and confirmed unto the said John Kolmer all that piece parcel on tract of land situate lying and being in the State of California and County of Sonoma and bounded and described as follows, to wit: Beginning at a stake in the shore of the Pacific Ocean… [and many chains later, see map -to be added-] …to place of beginning containing two hundred and fifteen acres of land more or less. To have and to hold all and singular the premises hereby granted and given with all and singular the appurtenances hereto belonging, in trust nevertheless for the sole use for the said John Colmer [sic] and if the said John Kolmer should die without lawful issue then the above described tract of land together with all and singular the appurtenances thereto belonging or in anywise appertaining is to revert back to the Wm. Benitz his heirs and assigns.”
John Kolmer (or Coleman on 1877 maps) lived on the farm until his death in 1890 - shot by a neighbor. He apparently died without any “lawful issue” because following his death, as per the above agreement, the farm reverted back to Wilhelm’s heirs, that is Josephine K. Benitz.
James B. Williams and Elizabeth Howard, eldest child of Caroline Kolmer Howard, lived next on the farm, until 1912. In 1898 Josephine visited California for a few months, and on the 30th of September of that year she sold the farm for US$10 (gold-coin) to her three surviving sons. Preserving the Kolmer farm was apparently important to her and she continued to collect rent on it until her death in 1912 ( per letter from W. C. Morgan, of Old Fort Ross, July 10, 1912). According to a 1908 map of Sonoma County, today hanging in the Sonoma County Library Genealogy Annex in Santa Rosa, the farm was then owned by W. O., A. A., and J. E. Benitz (William, Alfred, and John). We haven’t investigated how long the Benitz brothers continued to own it but title was eventually transferred to their cousins, the Williams and Adams families, descendants of Caroline Kolmer Howard.
The original farm no longer exists as such and has been split up. It included much of the area occupied by the present day village of Timber Cove. According to a newspaper article published in 1951 (see below), the original Kolmer farm house was abandoned and was about to be demolished. The article is confused on its Benitz facts prior to 1900 but nevertheless is still very informative. In 1951, Lee Williams had just completed building a new (third) house on the property. Another cousin, Gideon Adams, had a home nearby, and the cemetery was then on the property of Mr. Cooms, director of state parks along the Sonoma coast. Today, much of the farm east of the coast highway, including the farmstead, has been replaced with summer rental cottages. On the western, coastal part there is today a motel (Fort Ross Lodge) and several private homes.
This newspaper article was kindly provided by Robert Douglass who is researching Timber Cove property ownership. The article appeared in a Sonoma newspaper in 1951 and contains colorful details and anecdotes about the Kolmer and Howard families.
Note: The article is wrong on several of its Benitz facts (including the spelling of the name): The house was the home of Michael & Josepha Kolmer never that of William & Josephine Benitz; William Benitz arrived in California in about 1842 not 1850, from Texas not New Jersey; Michael Kolmer's wife's maiden-name was Wagner not Wangler, they arrived in 1845 from Missouri; and John Kolmer died on December 24 or 25, 1890, not February 25, 1890.
TIMBER COVE — An old Sonoma County landmark is doomed to destruction. Termites and decay have made it unsafe for anyone to enter the old William Benitz home in Timber Cove.
Built in 1850, just 101 years ago, the house has been unoccupied for nearly half that time. It served as a storehouse until recently. Originally a 3-room dwelling, a lean-to was added to make 2 more rooms. It is just north of the Timber Cove Lumber Co. mill, and on the north side of the cove.
Constructed of heavy, hand-hewn timbers with mortised corners, it made a solid, well-built structure. The roof is sharply pointed and covered with shakes, but some have come off.
SAILCLOTH FROM an old 4-master ship that used to ply up and down the coast covers the walls in the front room. The joists are peeled poles, uncut or squared except at the corners. A steep ships ladder leads to the attic.
William Bentz, born in Edingen, Baden, Germany, came to the Coast from New Jersey in 1850 and was joined by a former townsman and his family from North Carolina where they had settled after leaving Germany. The 2nd man was Michael Kolmer.
Later the Bentz family moved to Oakland for the children could go to the city school. The Kolmers stayed on the ranch. After the Bentz boys grew up, they sold out their claim and moved to Argentina where their descendants still own vast cattle ranches.
ON THE point of land forming the north side of the cove, across the highway from the old home, is the family grave yard. Only a few can be identified now. Neglect and weeds have combined to cover the marks of the graves. There are about 25 people buried there but markers for only 5 or 6.
Here is the resting place of Michael Kolmer, his wife and son. His daughter put up the headstone and the fence around the plot.
The inscription reads as follows: “In Memory of Michael Kolmer, born in Edingen, Baden, Germany, Died at Timber Cove February 11, 1858. Also Josephine Wangler, his wife, born in Edingen, Baden, Germany, died February 22, 1864. Also their son John Kolmer, born in North Carolina, died at Timber Cove February 25, 1890. Erected in their memory by Josephine Kolmer Bentz. God Is Love.”
JOHN KOLMER was shot to death in front of his house by an angered neighbor with whom he had an argument. An iron stake was driven in the ground to mark the place where he fell.
The grave yard is on the Cooms family property. Mr. Cooms is director of state parks along the Sonoma Coast. He plans to clean up the plots, remove the excessive growth of callas and ferns and renovate the fences.
The stake marking the spot where John Kolmer fell is only a few feet in front of a home built in 1908 by his niece. This is the 2nd home on the ranch. It also has been emptied and is in need of repair.
Lee Williams, a descendent of the 2 families and cousin of the Argentina family, is now the owner and has just completed the 3rd home on the place about a block south of the other 2. He is building a large double garage with an apartment upstairs beside it.
ANOTHER DESCENDENT and cousin, Gideon Adams, and his wife Bess Adams, have built themselves a summer home nearby. “Gid” Adams is also related to “Dutch Bill” Howard, pioneer settler of Occidental. His uncle was “Spud” Howard, stage coach driver between Cazadero and Seaview.
He can remember his uncle telling of being held up by Black Bart and other gangs of stage robbers. His father once ran a store at the Markham place, now Willigs.
Portions of timbers, old improvements, and other relics of interest from the old home have been placed on display at Fort Ross in the old Commandants quarters. A marker of some sort will be placed on the spot, but the house itself will disappear. Time and termites have done their work.
© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)