Leiss Ranch, Chileno Valley
208 ACRES MALT-PROTECTED SINCE 2003
Gladys Leiss and her husband Bill moved to this 208-acre Chileno Valley ranch in 1945. Though the house was nothing more than a shack then, the beautiful ranch with its native perennial grasses and its bay, madrone, buckeye, and oak woodlands appealed to the young couple. The ranch’s hills are still freckled with serpentine rock and blanketed with wildflowers—shooting stars, tidytips, buttercups, goldfields, and poppies. “Bill liked it, and so did I,” Mrs. Leiss recalled, so they made up their minds to buy the place.
Before her marriage, Gladys Jacobsen taught at the one-room Halleck School. She and her husband started their married life in 1934 with one cow and 12 chickens—wedding gifts from her father. By the time they moved to the ranch, that lively dowry had increased to 2,000 laying hens and 32 cows, which was just about enough to make a living on the grassy acreage. They milked cows, raised chickens, constructed ponds, built bridges, fashioned a milking barn from handmade bricks, and turned it all into a good business. It was hard labor, but Bill loved to work, “…and that’s why this place grew,” Mrs. Leiss said.
Bill and Gladys raised two daughters, Betty and Nancy, as well as Gladys’ brother’s two sons on the ranch. Bill died in 1992 and in 2003 Mrs. Leiss sold a conservation easement to MALT to permanently protect the land she loved from subdivision and non-agricultural development. Because of its proximity to Petaluma, the ranch was especially vulnerable. Funds for the purchase of the easement were raised entirely from MALT members and contributors.
Following Gladys’s death in 2007 at the age of 96, her daughters Nancy and Betty took over management of the ranch. Nancy still lives in the house their parents created together at Leiss Ranch. Currently, the pastures are leased out for livestock grazing—beef cattle regularly provide entertainment as they stroll by Nancy’s dining room window—and Nancy is exploring other ideas for putting the ranch’s considerable natural and agricultural resources to good use. In the meantime, Nancy welcomes the public onto her ranch once a year for MALT’s annual wildflower walk.