Anderson Springs residents ponder future after Valley fire
In a perfect world, most of us would still today have no idea what or where Anderson Springs is.
Off-the-radar remoteness and quietude are primary charms of the wooded, mountainside enclave between Middletown and Cobb that was born in 1873 as a hot springs resort. Ask full-time or second-home residents what else they’ve loved about Anderson Springs, and they’ll speak of the neighbors who’d do anything for you, the hilarious bocce games, the potluck suppers, the conspicuously clean air and water, long summer days in the communal swimming hole, outdoor movie nights and myriad other benefits of a tight, true, old-fashioned country community.
“It was a miracle of a place,” resident Angelo Parisi said. “An old-school kind of place.”
He and some of his neighbors describe Anderson Springs as a jewel that time passed by.
If only the Valley fire had, too. Media watchers around the world know that two residents of the historic little settlement off Highway 175, about 5 miles northwest of Middletown, perished when the firestorm roared through on Sept. 12 as though spewed by a blowtorch of the gods.
The inferno came close to obliterating Anderson Springs. Only a few of the approximately 200 homes and cabins remain. The recreation center, pavilion and snack shack that are treasured remnants of the 19th-century resort founded by Dr. Aleck Anderson of Vallejo likely would have burned but for the valor of resident Steve Shurelian, who fought off flames with a pair of garden hoses.
“That guy kept Anderson Springs’ heart beating,” said Parisi, who so adored this place that he commuted daily to his job as a postal carrier in Kenwood.
Only days ago, the homeowners and renters of once idyllic Anderson Springs were allowed to return and behold the hideous devastation. They ask themselves and each other, what now?
Some, such as Andrew Keeler and his wife, Sharon Gillenwater, are determined to rebuild their home, a vacation getaway for the past nine years, and to do whatever they can to bring back Anderson Springs.
Keeler, a Web and graphic designer living in San Francisco, said that to his family the primary attraction of Anderson Springs is not a now-destroyed home but a cherished rural location and community. “We were just so lucky to be part of it,” he said.
In the wake of the historically fast-moving and enormous fire, most of the residents of ravaged Anderson Springs today are scattered geographically. But they’re linked by social media, emails, informal gatherings and a desire to communicate about what the future holds for them and their neighborhood.
“I haven’t heard of anyone who would not come back,” Keeler said.
His wife Gillenwater, founder of a startup called Boardroom Insiders, would not relish constructing a new home in an Anderson Springs that lost many of the people who lived there before the fire. She said she knows some residents will not return, but she’s encouraged by the resolve of many neighbors to rebuild their homes and neighborhood.
“We thought we had a strong community before,” she said, “and it’s stronger than ever.”
Still, just two weeks after the fire, there are displaced Anderson Springs residents uncertain whether they want to go back, or if they’re up to taking on the regulatory and financial obstacles to reconstruction.