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Old Redwood Highway: Market and a roadhouse with a reputation

Saturday, May 11th, 2013 | Posted by

Phil Henley has been a regular customer at Mark West Market for the past 20 years. (CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat)

By JAMES LANARAS  / Windsor Correspondent

Ethel Costner remembers visiting her grandparents when she was 12, taking the ferry with her family from their home in Richmond, then driving along the Old Redwood Highway to Geyserville.

On the way, one of the roadside attractions they passed was Windsor Castle, a roadhouse with a rowdy reputation.

“Windsor was the place to be for having a good old time,” she says 66 years later from her home just south of where the Castle once stood.

“My father had five girls and a son. It was like a curse word to mention it. There was not to be a conversation about it,” Costner says.

Like many other small towns along the road to the redwoods, Windsor merchants took advantage of its location by providing travelers with services of all kinds.

About the time Costner was visiting her grandparents, the Mark West Market was opening at the intersection of Old Redwood Highway and Fulton Road. Current owner Derek Patel traces its roots back to at least 1947.

“It used to be called a country store. A butcher worked in the back,” Patel said.

The prune field across the street is now a vineyard, but inside the store, time stands still.

There is still a wood ceiling fan made by Wadner Electric Corp inside the front door, and the market’s distinguishing feature is its red, neon Clover Brand Dairy Products sign on the roof.

The interior of the store is white cinder block and white wood with a black and white square tile floor. Beer, lottery tickets and snacks sell well, and Patel also has a license to sell spirits.

Although U.S. 101 took traffic off Old Redwood Highway when it was built in the 1950s, business at the market was good until 2008, Patel said. Other businesses didn’t fare as well.

The Windsor Castle closed in the 1950s, leaving legends behind. It was financed by an Italian, built by a local American contractor, painted by a Swede, employed a German bartender and was given an English name, Barbara F.Ray writes her book, “Images of America.Windsor.”

That international pedigree might account for the two-story structure’s Spanish-style architecture, stucco finish and the Dutch windmill in front.

A photograph taken in 1930 and provided by the Windsor Historical Society is included in Ray’s book. The caption informs the reader that anti-Prohibition bootleggers built the roadhouse and acquired some fast cash selling “hooch.”

In 1933, the Healdsburg Tribune reported a raid on Windsor Castle by federal prohibition agents and the arrest of the Guido Converso, the chief chef on duty at that unfortunate moment. Agents found some bottled wine and a pint of gin in a field behind the resort, according to the Tribune report.

Converso was arraigned on a charge of liquor possession and was released on property bonds. Two of the federal agents in charge of the raid told Windsor authorities that two-dozen federal agents were being discharged from duty at midnight. They said it was the end of raids based on information provided by “undercover agents,” the Tribune reported.

By the time Ethel Costner and her husband Joe bought their house at 9890 Old Redwood Highway in 1962, Windsor Castle was gone. A 12-foot driveway now separates their home from the fenced, residential property where Windsor Castle once stood.

TheCostners’ house once served as the Bear Flag Restaurant. The building next door was the Bear Flag Texaco station, and the area where the gas pumps were located can still be seen today.

“My front room was the bar,” Costner said.

During their early years, “there was very little traffic on Old Redwood Highway, just the locals. As the town began to grow, it got busier,” she said. Any pets the family had were hit by cars. “It was a scary place to be.”

Joe Costner installed railroad ties in the ground in front of the house to prevent speeding cars from using the area as a driveway and to protect their four children. A self-employed tree trimmer and musician, he died in 2004 after 54 years of marriage to Ethel.

Sometime in the late 1960s, Costner remembers pulling out onto Old Redwood Highway with some of her children in the car. She saw a car coming and tried to back up onto her property, but the drunk driver hit them anyway. Her teeth were knocked out, and she suffered fractures and internal injuries. Her children were not injured.

As Windsor grows, so does the traffic on Old Redwood Highway. To this day, Costner says, her family does not want her crossing the road to pick up her mail.

Read about key stops along those early day Sonoma County roads in the special May 12 issue of Towns:

Santa Rosa’s Cloverleaf Ranch


Cotati’s Inn of the Beginning

Cloverdale’s barnside medical advertisement

Geyserville’s Pastori Winery

Petaluma’s Poehlmann Hatchery and Cinnabar Theater

Penngrove’s ‘Electric Hatchery’

Kenwood’s railroad depot

Guerneville’s former Murphy’s Guest Ranch

Stewarts Point to Point Reyes Station: The winding legacy of Highway 1




Writer Spotlight

James Lanaras is our Windsor correspondent.
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