West Marin historian tackles new book

09/28/2017

West Marin’s most trusted historian, Dewey Livingston, has undertaken the task of creating a comprehensive history of the area. With the working title “Point Reyes—A History of the Land and its People,” his latest book will provide a detailed reference for the Point Reyes Peninsula and Tomales Bay watershed, illustrated with both historical and contemporary photographs, maps and graphics. 

Copies are expected to hit the shelves by next spring, but Mr. Livingston will offer a taste of the book in an illustrated history talk this Sunday, Oct. 1, at the Dance Palace, a fundraiser to help complete the project. All ages are welcome. 

“I started writing this book two years ago, but I think I’ve really been working on this project for over 30 years,” Mr. Livingston said. A West Marin resident for 34 years, Mr. Livingston has authored over a dozen publications for the National Park Service as well as commercial history books and oral history projects. 

Since the death in 1985 of Jack Mason, a retired newspaper editor who began chronicling local stories in the 1960s, Mr. Livingston has helped organize, identify, copy and catalog the extensive collection of photographs, archives, objects and books contained in the museum named after Mr. Mason. 

He is the county’s go-to historian (and, following closely in his predecessor’s footsteps, a regular and paid contributor to the Light). “When anybody asks for the foremost expert on Marin County, for breadth as well as scope, I always direct them to Dewey Livingston,” Laurie Thompson, the librarian at the Anne T. Kent California Room at the Marin County Civic Center, said. “With his decades of accumulated knowledge on the area, Dewey is able to see and understand things in a way that other people cannot.” 

Much of the research for the new book was conducted during previous projects, but Mr. Livingston has recently delved further into local and regional archives, including a full survey of Mr. Mason’s collection. And though the book will be “comprehensive,” it will not be as detailed as some of his denser texts, he said. 

With a target of 300 pages, he hopes it will be accessible for residents, scholars, schoolchildren, visitors, local old-timers and newcomers alike. 

The book will span prehistory to the 1970s, with a closing chapter on the complex developments during the last 40 to 50 years. It will tell the stories of people “both prominent and ordinary” through the use of journals and oral histories, covering topics such as the natural environment, the Coast Miwok, the development of local culture, agriculture, transportation, recreation, commerce, government facilities and the communications industry and land conservation. 

Mr. Livingston will also give special attention to how humans have shaped the environment since the first white settlers arrived in the mid-1800s, documenting and interpreting the evolution of the landscape from its “pristine” state to its current state as an agricultural, residential and visitor-oriented area. 

“The evolution of the cultural landscape and environmental changes, and the activities that saved this unique and complex area from the forces of suburbanization, are important to write about because in many ways, Point Reyes has been a beacon in national culture,” Mr. Livingston wrote in a description of the book. 

A combination of private donors, fund-raising events and a Kickstarter-type campaign are funding the project, which has an estimated cost of between $67,000 and $79,000. Mr. Livingston has already raised $50,000 in donations, and said further funds will go directly toward publication costs. The Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History, part of the nonprofit Inverness Foundation, is the book’s publisher and fiscal agent, receiving a percentage of the profits. 

Much of the book is already written, Mr. Livingston said. This summer, he took multiple trips to a favorite spot in the Sierras to get away from the daily distractions at home, where he said he gets around half a dozen queries a week. 

At Sunday’s fundraiser history talk, he plans to present a series of old photographs of people and landscapes, “zooming in” to reveal details, faces, stories and mysteries. He will also use “re-photography” to show the changes, over time, in West Marin’s towns and countryside. 

“I hope it’s entertaining,” he said. “I want to show a close-up view of people and really give a sense of the attitudes of the time, of what life was like, what kids were doing, how people related to each other and how different it all is from today.” He added, with a smile: “I’m really a deeply shy person, so it’s always fun to come out and do a public program and see people enjoying themselves. It’s much easier than writing!”

 

Dewey Livingston presents “Zooming In on West Marin’s Past” at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 1 at the Dance Palace Community Center. To learn more about the project, and to donate, visit
gofundme.com/deweys-point-reyes-history-book. Larger, tax-deductible donations can be made with a check to Jack Mason Museum; add “Book Fund” in the subject line and mail to PO Box 94, Inverness CA 94937.