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Rosie's Retribution

An intriguing story, a romantic ending and a house on a barge.



Dated 1957.

Courtesy of the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmark Society

IN 1872, HILARITA REED married Dr. Benjamin Lyford, a former Civil War medic; they developed the Eagle Dairy on land she’d inherited from her father, the Marin pioneer John Thomas Reed. Their property, which fronted Richardson Bay, was on the Tiburon Peninsula. Once Eagle Dairy was operating, they built a magnificent Victorian home on their land. Thirty years later, Hilarita and Benjamin passed away, having willed their Strawberry acreage and the Victorian to Hilarita’s nephew John Paul Reed. And that’s when things got, well, intriguing. It seems John Paul had a ranch manager named Manuel Rodrigues da Fonta, who had a daughter named Rose, and while John Paul’s wife, Clothilde, wouldn’t allow Rose, considered hired help, to set foot inside the home, young Rose and John Paul were becoming close friends, possibly lovers. So smitten was John Paul with Rose that when he died in 1919, he left her 11 acres on the other side of Richardson Bay. Fast-forward to the 1950s: John Paul Reed was dead, and Rose was 74 and raising goats on her bayfront property (she became known locally as “Rosie, the Goat Lady”). Meanwhile, across the bay, the once-magnificent Victorian had fallen into disrepair. In 1957, Rose bequeathed her land to the National Audubon Society, on the condition that she could live on it during her remaining years. In turn, Marin residents, seeking to preserve a landmark, asked Rosie if they could place the Victorian — the one she’d been forbidden from entering — on her scenic land. She agreed, and the structure was barged across Richardson Bay and beautifully restored. Yet Rosie, possibly in reaction to the snub decades earlier, never resided there; instead, she stayed in her weather-worn cottage. Rosie died in 1964, and the magnificent Victorian, the Lyford House, still stands at 376 Greenwood Beach Road in Tiburon, where it serves as the reception hall and wedding site for the nearby Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary. Rosie’s bayfront land is the setting for the fall fashion feature on page 44.

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