This endearing vignette of Saturday nights in 1905 Santa Rosa is a treasure; our local history would be rich if only Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley had spent more time writing such lyric first-hand observations.

Every other year or so, the PD produced a promotional section designed to be mailed outside the area, describing all the wonders of Sonoma county in hopes of luring new residents and businesses. Wedged between crop reports, glowing descriptions of prosperous industries and praise for local churches (and pictures of the more popular saloons) were a few thumbnails of places and characters such as French Louie, the frog king, who lived near Sebastopol’s Lake Jonive (“strangers will take notice that it is pronounced ‘Ho-nee-va,'” the PD noted, adding a syllable lost today), and events like these weekly downtown shopping concerts.

For those not tempted merely by brass bands on the courthouse balcony, Finley offered another item revealing that local women and girls didn’t wear bonnets during these outings, which would’ve been considered scandalous elsewhere. “In their ‘summer-girl’ garments, and without hats or bonnets, your Santa Rosa women reveal the quintessence of feminine charm,” leered a visitor from the hinterlands.

Summer Saturday Nights’ Diversion In Sonoma County’s Capital

Saturday evenings in Santa Rosa are bright and lively throughout the summer and the early autumn months. Five evenings each week the stores and markets close at 6 o’clock; but on Saturdays, the doors are open until midnight or thereabouts, and the town does its belated shopping.

Summer and autumn are the seasons when the population of the town is greatest. All the factories are busy; those in the fruit-packing business employ at least a thousand people at that time. Of Saturday evenings these draw their weekly wage, as likewise the employees of the tanneries, the woolen mills, the wineries and all the other factories. Most of them are relieved from duty an hour earlier than usual. Then working clothes are laid aside, and “Sunday best” is donned without waiting for Sunday to come. After the evening meal, it is the custom for all the family to go “down town” together. No matter if there is no need of shopping (although generally there is), the head of the household, “and the missus and the kids,” all want to go and listen to the band.

Each Saturday evening in the summer and the early fall, Parks’ band gives a concert on the north balcony of the Court House, which overlooks the junction of Fourth and Mendocino streets. These thoroughfares are thronged for several blocks and so is the Court House park; and around the square, on Exhange avenue and Hinton avenue to Third street, promenaders fill the sidewalks, the streets are blocked with vehicles, and the stores and markets busy with buyers.

The concert program is generally of ten numbers, varied to please a wide range of musical tastes. Always first there is a military march, frequently one of Sousa’s or Pettee’s. Next, a waltz and a polka, or sometimes a schottische. Then an old ballad tune, a fantasie, a medley or a potpourri; a solo for concert or trombone or piccolo, something classic from Wagner or Mozart or Mendelssohn, or perhaps the “Anvil Chorus” from “Il Trovatore”; then, by way of contrast a bit of rag-time. Always, at the end, a frisky galop, giving a homeward hurry to the heels of the multitude.

Parks’ band is one of the “institutions” of Santa Rosa. It was organized in the ’70s by S. L. Parks, who is still its leader. Few towns of Santa Rosa’s size have so good a band, or one so large. Besides the customary reeds and brasses of the ordinary town band, it musters a saxophone, a French horn, an oboe and bassoon, and kettledrums with all their accessories. Its players are all “readers at sight,” and most of them solo performers. This band is frequently called upon to play for parades and other events at a distance, and acquits itself creditably in comparison with musical organization from the great cities. The people at home appreciate Parks’ band and are proud of it.

The Saturday-evening concerts are given under the patronage of Santa Rosa merchants, and the courtesy is an acceptable one to the townspeople, who enjoy doing their shopping to music; also to the promenaders, and to the children who frisk and frolic and dance on the Court House lawns upon the only night when such trespass is permitted. But before the hands of the Court House clock in the dome have drawn together in token of midnight, the music ceases, the bright lights fade, and the shoppers, the promenaders and the children all go home, to sleep against the dawn of Sunday morning.

– Press Democrat promotional insert, November, 1905

Hatless Girls

“The prettiest sight imaginable, and one that I have seldom seen outside of California, is the promenade of your beautiful girls and young women on the streets of evenings without any sort of head covering,” said an Eastern visitor who was watching the throng and listening to the band concert one Saturday evening in this city. “To my mind it is one of the neatest, most picturesque and fascinating customs that the fair sex ever adopted, and it seems to have reached the acme of development right here in Santa Rosa. In their ‘summer-girl’ garments, and without hats or bonnets, your Santa Rosa women reveal the quintessence of feminine charm.”

– Press Democrat promotional insert, November, 1905

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No frog gigger enjoyed a greater paradise than “French Louie” had on the banks of the Laguna de Santa Rosa. His favorite food was at his doorstep, easily caught by his own hook or bought cheaply from local children. And whenever Louie needed some scratch for good wine, he could always sell a few dozen of his leftover catch to the Gilded Age restaurants of San Francisco — although that was usually more work than he cared for.

More about the competitive world of frog farming can be found in an article about the Stege frog ranch, complete with pictures, from the July, 1904 issue of “Out West” magazine. (Jack London fans: don’t miss the following article in the same issue, where Charmian Kittredge argues against women riding side-saddle.)

Much Money May Be Earned by Raising Frogs for Market.

This advertisement, taken from a Sebastopol paper of recent date, presages the revival of an industry once followed in a small way in Sonoma county, but which lapsed with the death of its founder.

FROGS! FROGS! We want all we can get. Now boys, as you go to school all week, why not get out on Saturdays and have some fun and make money too? 5 and 14 cents each for frogs. Wurdig & Co.

Frogs’ legs have ceased to be a distinctively French delicacy. Americans have learned the flavor, and now the largest frog markets in the world are the American cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota. The business has been of rapid growth. Five years ago no frogs were shipped out of Minnesota. Now the exports amount to more that $100,000 a year. Minnesota frogs are in great demand in New York, Nevada, California, and in face every state north of St. Louis; and the demand is constantly increasing.

California, however, claims the largest and most systematically-conducted frog farm in the world, where frog-raising is carried on the same as chicken-raising on a poultry ranch. This is at Stege, a flag-station near Berkeley. Ther proprietor is Miss Edith Stege, whose father was an early settler there.

The frog farm on the Stege ranch covers more than six acres. Last year Miss Stege marketed 2,600 dozen frogs’ legs, from which she netted nearly $2,000 profit. Prices ranged from 26 cents to $2 the dozen, according to the seasons of the year. There is a demand for frogs the year round, but they are more easily caught in some seasons than in others.

“French Louie,” an old veteran of the navy of France, had a frog farm on the banks of the Laguna de Santa Rosa several years ago. He didn’t have to propagate the frogs; they were there by thousands, and Louie used to catch them with a fish-hook baited with red flannel. None of his neighbors ate frogs, but occasionally some wayfarer who stopped for a glass of wine (Louie had good wine) would betray the possession of an epicurean appetite, and would be rewarded by an invitation to a feast of frogs’ legs cooked by Louie himself, and to a glass of wine and a dish of sa-lad (with the accent upon the last syllable.)

Louie shipped frogs to San Francisco, but he was distant from a railway, and he found it too troublesome to go to town every day; so he sent his consignments whenever it pleased him, unheeding the clamor of the restaurant men in the city, who would take all he wished to send and still asked for more. But Louie preferred to stay at home and eat his frogs and drink his wine himself. When he died the frog business died with him. A few frogs are still taken along the laguna, to supply the restaurants of Santa Rosa; but not many of Santa Rosa’s bon-vivants favor the bachtrian-delicacy, and for most of the time the raucous murmur of the marshes is undisturbed.

In the Laguna de Santa Rosa and in many other streams in this county there are countless thousands of frogs, which will find a ready market if shipped to San Francisco. French Louie used to catch ten dozen in a day, at an average profit of five dollars…all the details of frog-farming are easily learned and there is no doubt that there is opportunity for somebody to make money by going into the business on the banks of the laguna…Many people have never tasted frogs, but after they have eaten them once they become steady customers for the delicacy.

– Press Democrat, November, 1905, promotional insert

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Did Jack London possibly have a happier year than 1905? He was acclaimed as an author, journalist, popular speaker, and was finally married to his soulmate, with whom he purchased a farm near Glen Ellen that he first called “Land of Dear Delight,” later to be expanded into his beloved “Beauty Ranch.” And if it wasn’t for the fact that he was a damned Socialist, Jack might have presented Luther Burbank with serious competition for the throne as Imperial Sonoma’s favorite son (adopted).

London at the time was not only the author of two recent runaway best selling novels, The Call of the Wild and The Sea Wolf, but won due respect for his exclusive coverage from the 1904 Russo-Japanese War front while other top-name reporters from Western newspapers were sequestered in Tokyo hotels. Writing for Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, London and his small troupe of guides rode hundreds of miles on horseback in winter through countryside that had never seen a Westerner — only to be turned away by the Japanese command a few miles from the combat.

Early 1905 found Jack London at odds and under stress. He was in the middle of a divorce from Bessie, the mother of his two girls; his publisher, Macmillan, was demanding a new hit book, and even threatening to charge him interest on the advances paid so far; and worst of all, his doctor discovered a tumor (specific details unknown). London had surgery in March, and the tumor was found benign — and to his doctor’s dismay, London resumed smoking cigarettes immediately. But there was still a month or so of recuperation, where Jack and fiancee Charmian Kittredge spent quiet days together.

By spring, Jack London was in Glen Ellen at Wake Robin Lodge, where Charmian lived with her aunt and uncle. London had an adjacent two-room cabin which he shared with two dogs including one named “Brown,” an Alaskan Husky with a limp that he had been given to him by relatives of “an old Klondiker.” In her memoirs, Charmian wrote that the dog was slow to bond with London, which became the topic of a short story, “Brown Wolf,” about the original owner’s ironic return. As Jack was then starting to write White Fang (the companion novel to Call of the Wild, about the domestication of an Alaskan dog-wolf), Brown undoubtedly played a part inspiring that work as well.

Jack was well enough in May for a 50-mile roundtrip horseback ride to Santa Rosa and Mark West with Charmian. They dropped by to pester Luther Burbank — “an old friend of my family,” Charmian later claimed — and the Press Democrat item below noted that Brown was also part of the entourage, as well as remarking that Jack and Charmian strangely did not wear hats. (Although the PD was normally a stickler for the Journo 101 rule to ALWAYS spell names of local people correctly, she was called “Charmion” in their 1905 coverage.)

Two weeks later, Jack and Charmian visited for the first time the farm that would be the core of their celebrated ranch outside of Glen Ellen, and the next day London made an offer to buy it. Soon thereafter the Press Democrat announced that the couple was engaged, and that Jack had hired a local contractor to build an elaborate “barn” where they would live until their “summer house” was built. The house-barn was never built; the project was abandoned by autumn. Worth noting are the shared architecture between the barn and later design of Wolf House, with heavy peeled-log beams, tile roof, and insistence that everything be almost fire proof.

Jack and Charmian instead lived, on and off at Wake Robin Lodge, shown at right in a detail from an undated photo (courtesy The Bancroft Library), until moving to the old cottage on their ranch in 1911. Charmian later devoted a chapter of her memoir to that halcyon summer of 1905:

“As the weeks warmed into summer, campers flocked to Wake Robin, and the swimming pool in Sonoma Creek, below the Fish Ranch’s banks, was a place of wild romping every afternoon. Jack taught the young folk to swim and dive, and to live without breathing during exciting tournaments of underwater tag, or searching for hidden objects. Certain shiny white doorknobs and iron rings that were never retrieved, must still be implanted in the bottom of the almost unrecognizable old pool beneath the willows, or else long since have traveled down the valley to the Bay.

“There were madder frolics on the sandy beach at the northern edge of the bathing hole, and no child so boisterous or enthusiastic or resourceful as Jack, ‘joyously noisy with life’s arrogance.’ He trained them to box and to wrestle, and all, instructor and pupils, took on their varying gilds of sun-bronze from the ardent California sky that tanned the whole land to warm russet.”

When he otherwise wasn’t writing best-sellers, recovering from surgery, and adventuring with his fiancee, London was highly active in politics that year, running for mayor of Oakland (he received 981 votes, and later said, “I wouldn’t let my name be used if I thought there was the slightest possibility of winning”). He lectured often on the merits of socialism, leading the (usually) labor-friendly Santa Rosa Republican to denounce him as a “dangerous member of society.”


Jack London, the well known novelist and war correspondent, rode to town on horseback from Glen Ellen, where he is rusticating, on Thursday and paid a visit to Luther Burbank with whom he discussed evolution and inspected for the first time many of the new Burbank creations in fruits and flowers. He was delighted with his visit.

In the party of callers with Mr. London was Miss Charmion [sic] Kittredge of Glen Ellen. From here they rode to Burke’s to visit some of Mr. London’s friends here.

Two automobile loads of people were also callers upon Mr. Burbank…

Jack London was accompanied by the dog he brought with him from Alaska, and the animal attracted considerable attention. London came to town hatless, so did his fair companion, that being the prevailing style among equestrians at the present time.

– Press Democrat, May 19, 1905


When some weeks ago Jack London the novelist rode horseback to Santa Rosa from Glen Ellen to visit Luther Burbank, hs fair companion, also on horseback, was Miss Charmion Kittredge. It was then hinted in the story of the visit that Miss Kittredge was London’s betrothed. Ther had been rumors for some time that the novelist had won the hand and heart of the attractive girl, who has been spending considerable time at Glen Ellen with relatives and who has also resided at Berkeley.

Miss Charmion Kittredge and Mr. London are now said to be formally engaged in an announcement that came from Sonoma on Thursday. London has purchased a tract of land in the mountains near Glen Ellen from Robert P. Hill and it is stated that he will build a summer home there. Frequently during the past two or three months Mr. London and Miss Kittredge have enjoyed horseback rides all over the Sonoma Valley and to Santa Rosa. Both are passionately fond of horseback riding. Miss Kittredge us a literary woman and has done some writing.

– Press Democrat, June 9, 1905

Jack London’s Fine Barn

Hoyt Brothers of this city have been awarded the contract for the fine new barn that Jack London, the author, about to erect at his summer home near Glen Ellen. This barn is something new in barn construction, it will be almost fire proof. The roof is to be of red tile, and the frame will be of heavy rough beams, stained. The whole structure inside and out will be plastered with the beams showing. The floor to the upper loft will be in the celebrated Roebling wire construction with cement floor on top. Taken as a whole the building will be something entirely novel and unique and will be a very substantial structure. Mr. London will erect a fine dwelling on his place next year.

– Press Democrat, August 13, 1905

Attention was recently directed in these columns to the refusal of the school directors in the City of Oakland to permit Jack London, the author, to lecture before the students of the high school upon socialism. At that time it was argued that the action of the directors was justified because London is an extremist, and such men are not the best to mould the minds of immature students.

Bit it has remained for London himself to supply the evidence which labels him an anarchist rather than a mere extremist, and proves conclusively that the school directors, by their timely forethought, saved the high school pupils from association with ideas which literally smack of treason so socially revolutionary are they if logically followed out.

In his “War of the Classes,” London strives to identify labor unions with socialism and says this of the leaders of that movement: “They intend to direct the labor revolt to the capture of the political machinery once in their hands, which will also give them control of the police, the army, the navy, the country, they will confiscate, with or without remuneration, all the possessions of the capitalist class, which are used in the production and distribution of the necessaries and luxuries of life.”

Now if that does not approximate anarchy, what does? It need not be argued that London, in attempting to place the labor organizations of the country in the attitude of destroying property, does that class of intelligent citizens a very grave injustice. However, he speaks as the representative, not of your true socialist, but of a radical, lawless, and turbulent coterie of so-called advanced thinkers whose theories have outrun their judgement.

If this is to be the character of London’s future literary work, he is doomed to certain and early eclipse. His stories of sea life and Alaskan scenes have won for him a great vogue, for his is a virile, bold and striking style. But success apparently has turned his head so that his socialistic notions have actually run to seed placing him quite outside the pale of that large class with whom he was proud to associate.

A very natural question is raised by reason of London’s strange preachment: “Would his ravings about the war of the classes, with their pointed invitation to lawless agitation, command even serious consideration outside of a very limited circle of ultraradicals if London, as a writer of successful romance, had not caught the popular fancy as a rather clever young man?” He is not yet 30, though that is not against him, and from press comment, enjoys almost as much respectful attention when speaking or writing upon his peculiar doctrines as do men twice his age who have spent thirty years in studying the various phases of socialism.

We have reason to set Mr. London down, in view of his theories, as a dangerous member of society, for he who strives by word of mouth or use of pen, to foment disturbances and riot among his fellows with such suggestions as the confiscation of property with or without remuneration, is an enemy of his kind.

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, May 13, 1905

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