A Brief History

Before The Bishop’s Ranch

The beautiful and fertile land upon which The Bishop’s Ranch now stands has a long history of occupation and ownership. Pomo peoples who called themselves Kataictami, had a village located near the Ranch called Kala`tken. The Ranch, itself, is at the Southern portion of land grants to Don Enrique Domingo Fitch by the government of Mexico in 1841 and 1843. The land later passed through several families in the area, and in 1930, the estate of Emily B. Hopkins, widow of Moses Hopkins, (brother of Mark Hopkins on the “Big Four” of the Southern Pacific Railroad), sold the Ranch to Aileen Dowsett White and Osborne E. White. The Whites built the Ranch House for their family home upon acquisition of the property. Mrs. White was inspired by the Spanish/Mexican frontier buildings in the town of Sonoma and this style was incorporated into the building. The 8,000 acre “White-O-Rancho” became one of the showplaces of Sonoma County with its Percheron horses, cattle, a dairy, timber logging and lumber mill, 5,000 chickens and one of the first swimming pools in Sonoma County. The Whites also bred show dogs –great Danes and Irish Terriers.

Beginnings of The Bishop’s Ranch

In 1947 the White Family sold 63 acres including the Ranch House to The
Episcopal Diocese of California. “El Rancho del Obispo,” The Bishop’s Ranch was the realization of a dream of Bishop Karl Morgan Block. The Chapel of St. George, was in 1955 and is dedicated to Bishop Block. The Ranch functions both as a place of refection and worship for those who seek time alone as well as a place where people come together and grow in community. Since the purchase, additional buildings were added to create a retreat setting that fosters spiritual renewal. In the 1950’s and 60’s, in addition to the Chapel of St. George, generous financial support helped build the Refectory, sleeping cabins and Kip Cottage. The Ranch House was converted into a meeting place with sleeping accommodations. Franciscan brothers managed the Ranch from 1972 to 1982. Under their leadership, the Friary (the western annex to the Ranch House) and the Casita near the Chapel were constructed.

Expansion and upgrading begun in the 1990’s

Expansion and upgrading of the Ranch began again in the early 1990’s under the vision and direction of Bishop William E. Swing and an active
Ranch Board of Directors. Buildings constructed during this period included
The St. John’s Meeting House (1991), Webb Lodge and Graupner Room (1994), and Harrison House (1996). The cabins were remodeled and upgraded in 1991 and named the St. Stephen’s Youth Village, and in the summer of 1998 the Refectory was completely renovated. The Ranch House, the retreat center’s original structure, was renovated in 1999. In 2002 the Friary was renovated for use as staff housing. The William and Mary Swing
Hospitality Pavilion was completed in 2008 and dedicated to the Swings
through the leadership and support of current Bishop Marc Handley
Andrus. The entire pool area, originally constructed using the White’s Percheron horses in the 1930’s, was renovated in 2013.

The Bishop’s Ranch is much more than buildings. The Ranch leadership is
committed to the wise stewardship of God’s land. In 1993, the diocese of California purchased 180 acres adjoining the original 63 acre parcel. This new parcel includes canyons, sunny hilltops, a lake, creek and forests. An additional 100 acres was purchased in 1999 to bring the total Ranch holding to 342 acres. Efforts have been made to restore the native oak woodland and redwood habitats on areas where these occur. These efforts have been made with the cooperation of many Foundations, environmental groups, and volunteers to help foster an understanding of the land, its place in the larger Russian River watershed, and provide opportunities for education about this precious resource. A few examples include: planting native plants and trees to reduce soil erosion and enhance the fishery in streams and creeks; using sustainable and green building practices and materials where possible in construction projects; and working with neighbors and the school system to provide the Gina’s Orchard Watershed Education Program to elementary age students.


The Bishop’s Ranch leadership is working on an updated master plan to help guide the Ranch through the next season of ministry, to meet the needs of our guests today, and continue to serve in our changing climate.