Old St. Hilary’s Landmark
Beginning in 1888, a visiting priest from the parish church of Saint Rafael traveled by horse and buggy or railroad to Tiburon to say Mass every other Sunday. A Mission had been constructed on a prominent hillside site donated by Dr. and Mrs. Benjamin Lyford. Mrs. Lyford, formerly Hilarita Reed, was heiress to a Tiburon portion of the 8,000 acre Rancho Corte Madera Del Presidio. Her mother was Hilaria Sanchez Reed. Not surprisingly the Mission was named after an early saint, Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, France who died in 368 AD.
Saint Hilary’s Mission was constructed on a three-quarter acre parcel in a subdivision known as Lyford’s Hygeia. The architect, if any, is unknown. The architectural style is variously called Victorian Gothic or Carpenter Gothic. Some of the interior carpentry is reminiscent of railroad passenger cars of the period which lends credence to the story that it was built by the railroad workers of Peter Donahue.
In 1919 the church became part of the parish of Star of the Sea in Sausalito. The pastor of Star of the Sea said Mass at St. Hilary’s every Sunday instead of twice a month. This continued until 1951 when a short lived parish was established on Strawberry Point, and St. Hilary’s continued as a mission church. With the construction of a new Saint Hilary’s Catholic Church on the Tiburon Peninsula in 1954 there was no further need for the mission. The last Mass was offered and the old mission was de-sanctified.
The old building was in a sad state by 1959. It was still being used for various parish activities but there was no supervision. After vandals had broken all but one of the stained glass windows the Archdiocese of San Francisco authorized its sale for a sum equal to the annual deficit of the new St. Hilary’s Parish. This happened to be approximately $10,000.
Beverly Bastian of Belvedere and Susanna Dakin of Tiburon formed the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society to raise the funds and take title to the building and grounds. Mrs. Dakin and her husband, donated the entire amount. Old St. Hilary’s was dedicated as an historical monument on October 30th 1960. The pastor of the new St. Hilary’s gave the invocation. The road leading uphill from the church site was named Dakin Lane (the Dakins and six members of their family were killed in a plane crash in 1966.) .
Restoration still continues under the supervision of the Landmarks Society.
The site of Old St. Hilary’s holds a special appeal for the nature lovers of the Tiburon Peninsula. Down-slope is a wonderland of wildflowers, fed by springs located under the church. Some 217 different varieties of flowers have been identified. A few, such as the Black Jewel-flower and the Tiburon Paintbrush, are totally unique to the site. The Landmarks Society set out to protect and preserve this wildflower garden which was named after John Thomas Howell, Curator of the California Academy of Sciences, who helped identify and catalog the collection.
An early step to preserve the garden was to acquire the two acres of land encompassing the wildflower preserve. Two apartment buildings had already been approved by the County for the wildflower garden site. Various public and private organizations and individuals joined the Society in providing the funds to purchase this land in 1961.
Attention then turned to the 1.5 acres on the hill above the building. As the entire area was subject to development it was important to protect the setting of Old St. Hilary’s. With financial contributions from the City of Belvedere, the newly incorporated City of Tiburon, the Federal Government, and the Landmarks Society the land was acquired by the County of Marin Open Space District. It was dedicated to Mrs. Caroline S. Livermore, founder of the Marin Conservation League and envoinmental visionary who had done so much to preserve open space in Marin County.
In 1993 the people of Tiburon voted a bond issue to purchase the remaining 118 acres surrounding the site creating the Old St. Hilary’s Open Space Preserve.
Old St. Hilary’s is available for weddings, concerts, and other community gatherings by arrangement with the Landmarks Society. From April through October it is open to the public on Sundays April through October from 1-4 pm. In 2004, the original 14 Stations of the Cross were returned to Old St. Hilary’s and are on display.
Private parties and group tours may be arranged through the Landmarks Society, please visit http://www.landmarks-society.org or call 415-435-1853 for further information.