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When Deanne Violich would arrive at her grandparents’ ranch in northern Mendocino County as a kid in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it meant an all-night train ride aboard the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. Her family would travel from their home overlooking the Presidio in San Francisco to the train station in San Rafael, loaded with enough luggage to last them a few weeks on the ranch that straddled the Mendocino and Trinity county lines.

The train would steam north while the family slept — until about 1 or 2 a.m. when it rolled into a station on the property’s southern edge, and cowboys from her family’s Lone Pine Ranch would meet it to guide them the rest of the way.

Violich’s grandfather was stock market titan Dean Witter, founder of the eponymous investment bank that merged with Morgan Stanley in 1997. The historic, 27,000-acre plot of land where his family would vacation was put on the market last month, with a $31 million asking price.

Violich, now 74 and living in Montecito, owns the property along with 12 other family members, ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s and scattered across the United States. Just four of the owners still live in California.

“It just seemed the time was right (to sell),” she said.

An acreage of rolling terrain nearly the size of San Francisco, the working ranch features cattle and timber operations; a 10-bedroom, 5-bathroom main house; and a 16.5-mile stretch of the Eel River. It also includes four other homes; two bunkhouses; and the requisite corrals, barns and other outbuildings.

The 800 head of cattle are being sold separately.

Home to blacktail deer, pigs, elk, bears and quail — and the salmon and steelhead that swim in the Eel River’s waters — Northcoast Regional Land Trust executive director Dan Ehresman called the property “incredibly significant” from an environmental standpoint. It is a rarity in a time when such massive tracts of land are increasingly broken up into smaller plots and sold off to cannabis farmers, seeking to cash in on the crop.

The Witter family hopes the property will go to a buyer that will care for it and respect the land in the same manner they have for more than 70 years, Violich said.

It is the place where she learned to ride a horse as a girl; where she and her cousins would carry a metal canoe down to the cool waters of the Elk River; where her dad would go in the fall for hunting parties; where she would head out with the cowboys on roundups; and where the Southern Pacific Railroad bell notched in a tree near the main house would ring every day, 15 minutes before meal time.

Formed through three separate purchases in 1942, family legend has it Witter was looking for land because it was the middle of World War II, and raising beef cattle might be a way to help the war effort.

“It is an extremely significant property, given its size,” Ehresman said. “I mean, we really don’t see any properties like this coming on the market very often. It really does represent a very unique opportunity from the land trust perspective.”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @SeaWarren.

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