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HISTORICALLY SPEAKING Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson and Redwood Retreat “Mrs. Stevenson is a most charming hostess and no one who was present last Saturday evening but felt the wonderful influence of her magnetic presence. Mrs. Stevenson expects to spend her summers here, where, with her relatives and literary friends, she may enjoy the solitude and grandeur of nature’s work.” Gilroy Advocate, September 27, 1902 T he story of Fanny Osbourne Stevenson, who spent part of her later years in Redwood Retreat, is a tale that encompasses love discovered, love lost, and love found again. Her affair, and eventual marriage, to Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson was a story in itself. The romantic backdrop, one of crossing oceans and continents to seek out one another, but added to the drama. The pair first met in 1877 in France. After a short period together, they were torn apart. Still married but separated from her first husband, Fanny reluctantly returned to him and their Oakland home. The ill and impoverished Stevenson went back to his parents in Scotland, where he eventually produced such literary classics as “Treasure Island,” “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and “Kidnapped.” In 1879, learning that Fanny was once again separated from her husband and living in Monterey, Stevenson departed for America. After enduring a long rail trip across the continental United States, he arrived in Monterey, where he found Fanny and her children living in a boarding house. She soon returned to Oakland to file for divorce. Stevenson followed, taking a room in San Francisco to wait for the final decree. The pair was finally married on May 19, 1880. Soon, the happy new family sailed across the Atlantic to 60 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN the Stevenson family home in Scotland, returning later to America to spend a year in New York state. In 1888, they returned to San Francisco, rented a schooner-yacht, and sailed off to explore the South Pacific, eventually settling in Western Samoa. They purchased an estate, which they christened “Valimia,” located on the island of Opolu. Sadly, their overseas adventure was short- lived: Stevenson died in the plantation home in 1894 of a brain hemorrhage. Unable to continue managing the couple’s property, Fanny sailed back to San Francisco, where she resumed her social life with long-time friends. Encouraged by writer Frank Norris, and in search of a quiet summer home with a natural setting, in 1900 she found her summer property in the wooded foothills west of Gilroy, purchasing the acreage from the Sanders family. Soon, in those dawning years of the 20th Century, Fanny Osbourne Stevenson became one of the Redwood Retreat area’s most colorful characters. She devoted herself to constructing an English-style country home, which she christened with the Samoan word, “Vanumanutagi,” or, “Vale of the Singing Birds.” While the cottage was being completed, Fanny’s artist and writer friends would often come along with her from the Bay april/may 2019 gmhtoday.com MUSEUM Written By Elizabeth Barrett