Even as the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair was still underway, excitement was building over the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition that was to be held in Portland, Oregon the following summer. It would be the first expo held west of the Rockies – a part of the country still exotic to most Americans – and also held promise of being a smaller-but-grander successor to the event in St. Louis. President Roosevelt had committed almost a half million dollars (the 12-acre federal exhibit would ultimately cost almost 2x that), the great European nations were planning buildings with opulent displays (Italy’s exhibit was valued at over $1 million), and 19 of the 45 states also would welcome the public via their own pavilions at the fair. California alone spent about $100,000 on its state exhibit.

Throughout California, cities, counties, and large industries were making plans for a significant presence at the Portland fair, and Sonoma County was no different; in March 1905, a civic group was formed to “work to advance our Imperial Sonoma” at the fair, with a board of directors elected at a banquet held at the Hotel St. Rose, attended by 160 of the county’s movers and shakers. “‘Unity’ was the slogan sent out from the assemblage,” the Press Democrat reported Mar. 10, and it looked like old animosities were to be set aside, even the Petaluma/Santa Rosa feud that went back to the Civil War.

Fat chance.

As the October Press Democrat editorial (below) reveals, our newly-unified Sonoma County had no official presence whatsoever at the exposition. Aside from some olive oil sent by the Rincon Heights Olive Co. in Santa Rosa, the only local business representing the county was the Petaluma Incubator Company.

(At right: Views of exhibits in the California Building at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, taken from the state committee’s summary report. TOP: Note that there are bottles and jars on display everywhere, even on the tops of high columns where it would be impossible to read labels. Not counting bottles of finished products such as wine or olive oil, there were over a thousand jars filled with just nuts, seeds, cereals, soils and fruits. MIDDLE: The entrance to the state’s forestry hall. Despite the pavilion’s sturdy construction, it was only a temporary building erected for the fair and was built in less than three months. BOTTOM: Seen to the right is another column encased in bottles. Why there is a stuffed elephant at the back of this hall in the California pavilion is anyone’s guess; there were no taxidermists listed among the exhibitors.)

Unlike Sonoma County, other parts of California weren’t sitting out the dance. Besides contributing to their general regional displays (San Joaquin Valley, Bay Area, Coastal Counties, etc.), fourteen counties had their own representatives at the show to pass out literature and sing their glories. Even Glenn County had a rep in the pavilion – a place so middle-of-nowhere that I defy you to describe where it is or name a single town from memory.

Sonoma’s absence not only failed to promote the county, but also probably hurt the region’s economy. Although hops were the major crop grown here, not a single locally-grown bud was sent the fair. Visitors instead saw an exhibit from a Sacramento grower, which included a tabletop model of a hop farm so impressive that a photo was included in the state’s report.

Sans Sonoma County, the exhibition was a major triumph for the state. Visitors from California wore with pride a yellow badge to announce their presence, with an average of 300 attending each day. State exhibitors took home 518 awards from the fair, over half of them gold medals.

So why did Sonoma County utterly fail to make a showing? The Press Democrat editorial doesn’t even hint at who’s to blame, which is a pretty good clue that the newspaper’s good-old-boy clique was probably responsible. But at that blow-out March banquet, one speaker made a prescient observation: “Judge Seawell said that when he looked over the assemblage one thing was conspicuous to him – there was quite an aggregation of wealth and a great many men of recognized intellect of Sonoma County present at the festive board… the success of the new venture depended on a financial backing, the men at the festival board would put their money forth and make it the success which it deserved to be.”

Also, the big laugh at the dinner apparently was a remark by a representative from the California Northwestern railway, who “urged the disappearance of the ‘knocker’ and playfully remarked that a ‘knocker’ was the kind of a man in following the suggestion of the certain doctor, to ‘be chloroformed.'”

My guess is that both speakers made those comments because they feared it wouldn’t end well. The Santa Rosa interests probably didn’t like the idea of promoting Petaluma egg farmers, and I doubt few outside Santa Rosa supported the town’s wildly ambitious goal of doubling its population from 10,000 to 20,000 in the next five years. I’m sure all factions saw nothing wrong with sitting down over dinner and applauding for “unity,” but paying for it’s another matter.


Sonoma county lost another good opportunity when it failed to take advantage of the chance offered by the Portland Exposition to advertise its resources and advantages to the world. The Exposition is now a thing of the past and we cannot go back and correct the mistake we made in neglecting to prepare a proper exhibit and arrange for the right kind of representation there, but we can at least make up our minds that we will not be left out of such a thing very soon again.

Every county in the state paid its proportion of the $90,000 appropriated by the last legislature to meet the expense of maintaining a state exhibit at Portland, but it was only such counties as augmented the above by special appropriation and individual effort that received any direct benefit. This is the kind of work that appeals most directly to the people. While a very considerable indirect benefit of course results from a general state exhibit, the counties maintaining exhibits of their own and making individual efforts to secure homeseekers are always the ones that first accomplish the desired results.

One good example of the way in which individual effort can be made to apply in instances of this kind is presented in the case of the illustrated lectures given daily in the assembly hall fitted up for that purpose in the California building. Every half hour a different lecture was given and each was illustrated by colored slides and moving pictures. Appropriately worded placards announced the hours at which the views from the different counties would be shown, and anyone interested could, by dropping in at that time, gain a splendid ida of what the location he had in mind was like, besides hearing its advantages entertainingly and intelligently set forth by the lecturer. Alameda, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Ventura, and the Pajaro valley were all represented here, and these are the locations that will be apt to reap the principal benefit from the state’s appropriation. Agents on the ground and kept supplied with good descriptive literature are also important factors in such cases, and in the days to come Sonoma county should remember these things.

– Press Democrat, October 18, 1905

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