Want to visit the scene of “The battle of Sebastopol Avenue?” Sorry — it’s completely gone. Yes, the train tracks still cross Sebastopol Ave; yes, you can stand on the exact spot where the steam locomotives equipped with special jets “shot scalding steam and hot water right into the crowd of workers,” and where men from the rival railroads engaged in a tug-of-war with the body of the electric railway’s director. But while the location remains, the place has vanished. Few other parts of turn-of-the-century Santa Rosa has been so inexorably wiped out as these four blocks directly west of Highway 101, between the Hwy. 12/Sebastopol exit and the 3rd St./Downtown exit.
The map to the right below shows what it looked like in late 1904. Streets were laid out in a classic grid. Third Street and a few others had a “W” added in front of the name after they crossed the railroad tracks, yet the streets were nonetheless contiguous; you could walk, bike, or drive a buggy the full length of any of these streets without detour. The south side of downtown was defined by Santa Rosa Creek, shown here in bubbly blue. Three bridges crossed the broad creek and connected the shopping and business district to Sebastopol Avenue — six, if you counted the new bridge for the trolley (not shown here), the steam railroad’s bridge, and the bridge seen at far right, which joined Sonoma Ave. to S. Main Street. In sum, it was a small town with something like a modest river running through it, and everything was within easy walking distance.
Contrast that to a modern map of the same area. The impressive waterway is now a trickle of the “Santa Rosa Flood Control Channel.” Except for Third, all the east-west streets are chopped in half, both by Highway 101 and the shopping mall. Between downtown and Sebastopol Avenue, Highway 12 further wiped out two of the three bridges. Sebastopol Ave. suffered the worst, with its east and west sides split wide apart by the Hwy 101/Hwy 12 interchange.
Today, a 1905 Santa Rosan who wanted to visit the scene of the battle, wouldn’t recognize a single thing. The only possible route from downtown crosses the Railroad/Olive St. bridge, which probably wasn’t a pedestrian bridge when it was built in 1904. Someone now can walk along the new Prince Memorial Greenway for the start of the journey — wonderful it may be now, but that didn’t exist in that day, either. Our 1905 visitor likely would be uncomfortable passing under Highway 12 on Olive Street; with the two-story berm beneath the roadway blocking everything to the east, it is like being inside a tunnel. The Sebastopol Avenue that emerges on the other side is forlorn, a concrete gray no-man’s-land. Never can you imagine this grim blast zone being once a vital part of downtown, alive with comings and goings. The City of Santa Rosa owes the Roseland community reparations for what has been done at this place.
A footnote: this posting on the geography of the “battle” originated as a series of notes and map doodles intended for personal use to work out what happened where and when. But as I read modern-day retellings of the story, I found confusion abounds. Some descriptions suggest there was only one scene of confrontation, merging the crossing on Sebastopol Ave. with the crossing at the brewery spur a few blocks north. Another frequent mistake is placing the brewery close to the location of today’s Chevy’s restaurant; in truth, the brewery was exactly where the Hyatt now stands. The December, 1904 Sanborn map shown at right also has an error; no Railroad/Olive St. electric railway bridge is shown, probably because it was too new — the Oct. 25, 1904 Press Democrat mentions that workers were starting to build the bridge that week. The PD noted on Jan. 9 1905 that “the new bridge was used for the first time” when the trolley began running from Sebastopol Ave. to Second St.