11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Ridgewood Ranch, Home of Seabiscuit

Year Listed: 2004
Location: Willits, California
Threat: Deterioration, Development

Ridgewood
Ridgewood Ranch Mare Barn Complex in 2003. Ridgewood Ranch is the Home of Seabiscuit, in Willits, California, It was listed in 2004 as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Credit: Tom Linden

Significance

Nestled among oak and redwood-studded hillsides, Northern California's Ridgewood Ranch was the home –- and is the final resting place -- of a great American horseracing legend, Seabiscuit. . Located in rural Mendocino County, between the towns of Ukiah and Willits, Ridgewood Ranch comprises 4,600 acres of working farmland, forests, streams, and redwoods and a 90-acre central area featuring more than 25 historic structures associated with owners William Van Arsdale (1903-1909) and Charles S. Howard (1921-1951), Seabiscuit's owner. The diverse cultural resources at Ridgewood Ranch include over two-dozen buildings and man-made features such as trails, bridges, a gravity-fed Pelton water wheel and reservoir, a 19th Century stagecoach road and cemetery, and a railway station, as well as vestiges of Native American habitation. These elements all exist in the context of the overarching 5,000-acre ranch and woodland property.

Over time, Howard transformed the one-time cattle ranch into a thoroughbred horse facility unparalleled in California. It was here in the Walker Valley that an improbable winning trio - owner Howard, jockey Red Pollard and trainer Tom Smith - nursed an ailing racehorse back to health in 1939 after a serious injury. Seabiscuit's recuperation at the ranch set into motion events that culminated in his electrifying, third-try, blaze-of-glory finish at Santa Anita Racetrack in 1940. Depression-era America was enthralled; the unassuming brown horse's unexpected winning streak seemed to reflect the fragile hopes and indomitability of a nation subdued by adversity. Laura Hilllenbrand's book Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001), and the later Academy Award-nominated movie based upon it, have introduced new generations to the inspirational tale.