For all that Santa Rosa had to worry about that terrible day of the 1906 earthquake – fighting the downtown fires, rescuing those trapped, tending to the dead and badly injured – no one in town needed to worry about hunger. Within hours of the disaster, wagons began arriving with food and in the following days, more donations arrived. And more. And more. Before long, tons of food was piling up in the warehouse on North street, probably more than the earthquake victims could possibly stuff down in a year. With so much free food available, town fathers did the natural thing: They began to strictly ration it.

First to feed Santa Rosa was the Petaluma Elks Lodge, which canceled a banquet planned for that very evening and delivered to Santa Rosa their dozen roasted turkeys with trimmings. Ukiah the next day sent a train car filled with food, followed by a train load from Reno; Cloverdale sent cartons of oranges, and a barrel of salt pork came all the way from Patterson, New Jersey. Farmers hitched their rigs and delivered wagons of eggs and oceans of milk. So it went. Santa Rosa was smothered with generosity.

The volunteer work in town was no less noble. The Boyd family opened their home to anyone hungry at any hour. A commandeered blacksmith’s shop became a relief station that doled out meals to hundreds of households each day, with Mrs. Smyth and Mrs. Elliott (no relation) loading their buggies with take-out deliveries for those too poorly to come down to the station. In Santa Rosa welled a spirit of community – at least, for the first seventeen days.

Then on May 4, no more free lunch; food donated to help earthquake victims was henceforth available only to “widows, orphans and the sick.” Anyone capable of work was expected to find a job, even if it was shoveling debris at $2 per day for the city. Why the restrictions, given that the warehouse was bulging with food? Was it an attempt to whip a little Puritan work ethic into the laggard class? Did the volunteers tire of running their soup kitchen? Alas, we don’t know anything more; all local newspapers from the early part of May, 1906 are missing. We only know about the crackdown at all because it received a small notice in the San Francisco papers.

At the end of the year when there was hot debate over what to do with the remaining relief money, the Santa Rosa Republican ran an article about the food leftovers. The quantities were astonishing: still sitting in the warehouse was almost two tons of salt pork, 1,300 pounds of sugar, 30 sacks of beans, loads of canned goods, and “soap enough to supply this city a year or more.” What happened to all this stuff is also unknown; while the relief committee would account for every donated penny, it was mentioned only in passing that the committee would “dispense the food and clothing now on hand.” Hopefully, it was all shipped to the earthquake refugee camps in Oakland, where about 5,000 displaced San Franciscans were still being fed by their charitable neighbors.

Only Women and Disabled to Be Fed
Over $30,000 Is in the Relief Fund

SANTA ROSA, May 4–J. R. Edwards, treasurer of the Santa Rosa relief fund, has issued a statement showing cash receipts of $30,921 from the following sources: Standard Oil Company, $10,000… [ 41 other donors] …No Name, 50 cents; total $30,921.

There has been paid out about $3000 as wages to men engaged in cleaning debris from the streets and searching for bodies in the wreckage, while nearly as much more has been set aside to pay the salaries to the city officials and wages to city employees. The later sum will be paid as soon as the banks open for business. The distribution of this large amount of cash has relieved the money stringency and greatly reduced the number of applicants for provisions at the relief station. The free distribution of provisions will be stopped tonight or tomorrow and only widows, orphans and the sick will hereafter be provided with food, as there is now plenty of work at good wages for all who desire it.

– San Francisco Call, May 5, 1906

Approves Relief Work.

SANTA ROSA, May 5–The relief bureau opened here two weeks ago and placed in charge of B. M. Spencer and a corps of a dozen or more volunteer workers has filled orders for groceries on 4089 applicants, representing 20,880 persons. There are a large number of San Francisco refugees here besides the hundreds of local residents made homeless. The relief work has been carried on systematically. After a thorough inspection General Greeley, United States Army, expressed his approval and appreciation of the methods in vogue.

– San Francisco Call, May 6, 1906

The early days of the relief work in this city following the disastrous fire of April 18 and 19, showed the unselfish devotion of citizens of this city in assisting others less fortunate, and the splendid liberality of the people residing in this vicinity in providing for the immediate wants of the people.

It is well to have a record of these things preserved in print, that those to whom credit is due for their efforts may be given the same. At this lapse of time from the memorable occasion many may be prone to forget the fullness of action of those days, and fall to remember the generous giving of time by the people to aid the worthy cause.

In the history of the relief work many acts stand out prominently in the cause, and for unselfish and painstaking work nothing better could be written than the efforts of the corps of ladies and gentlemen who had charge of the work.

On the afternoon of April 18 Mayor Overton called a meeting of citizens at the Methodist Church, South, and arranged for the handling of the situation that presented itself here. S. P. Erwin was made chairman of the committee to take charge of the work of distributing food supplies. B. M. Spencer was secretary of the committee, and its other members were Frank C. Loomis, George F. King, W. D. Reynolds and C. A. Wright. Hardly had the committee been named when two wagon loads of edibles were at Mr. Spencer’s store, sent by the generous people of Petaluma, for the sufferers. Making a necessity for the occasion, the blacksmith shop of William G. Keenan was pressed into service while the owner was absent, and a relief station established. Keenan was performing rescue work at the Grand hotel ruins, and when he returned to his shop accepted the situation with the best of grace. Not only that, he entered into the relief work heartily, and each day was at the station cutting meats that had been sent here for distribution. A fortunate circumstance was that Petalumans had arranged for an elegant banquet to be given on the night of April 18, and all the viands had been prepared. Among other things were a dozen roasted turkeys prepared for the banquet, and these, with tons of edibles, were sent to this city on a special train.

For seventeen days this committee with the assistance of others who are named in this article, performed splendid service in relieving distress. During that time there were 4473 calls for provisions from families, an average of 263 families for each day the relief station was open. All of the people at the relief station worked without wages or hope of reward from early morning until late in the evening. At the expiration of that time the work was turned over to the general committee, and Herbert J. Waters assumed charge of the distribution.

The services of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Boyd and family stand out prominently among the others. They had been through the Johnstown flood and the Chicago fire, and with the experience gained in those calamities were ready in an instant to succor those needing assistance. They threw open their home, took every one in who applied, fed the hungry and kept a portion of their premises open all night long to feed the people who came. They took charge of providing for the special police who were appointed, and arranged to feed the guardsmen and provide them with coffee during the long hours of the night. Theirs was a most unselfish labor, and they kept it up until there was no further necessity for it.

Mrs. Frank Adams was another whose work was more than appreciated. She took to her home the meats provided for the people, and there cooked them nicely, returning them to the relief station for distribution.

Mrs. Newton V. V. Smyth and Mrs. J. B. Elliott came every afternoon and gave the use of their surreys to haul provisions to the sick and needy, and to those unable to come in person. These ladies did a splendid work, and their efforts were greatly appreciated. Unfortunately the taking of the provisions away in the vehicles gave rise to a report that people were coming in buggies and hauling away the provisions, until it was explained that these ladies were devoting their time and strength to the alleviating of suffering.

The farmers of this vicinity showed their generous spirit daily in their donations to the committee. Day by day many farmers drove to the relief station with eggs, milk, butter, and farm produce of all kinds. Their generous wives prepared many dainties and substantial dishes for the sufferers and these were brought in and given the committee. In this manner tons of provisions were furnished, and the committee were more than grateful for their thoughtfulness.

As the schools closed after the disaster for several days, most of the teachers gave their time to the service of those in distress, and none did more valiant service than these instructors. Early and late they were on hand doing everything in their power. Many deserve special praise, but this article cannot give it at this time. Among those who performed good service were …[38 names].

Major Devine, the chief of the Red Cross service in San Francisco, complimented the local committee highly on its work, and the systematic manner in which the distribution was made. From the start the system was complete, and there is a record of every transaction, those who donated and those who were assisted. To those who were so zealous in the relief too much commendation cannot be given.

One of the most noticeable things to the committee was the manhood and desire to help themselves manifested by the people of Santa Rosa. When the first workmen were paid from the relief funds after the disaster, the number of applicants for relief fell off one-half in two days. This showed that while the relief had been accepted, many preferred to provide everything they needed for themselves, and did so at the earliest opportunity.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 12, 1906


The editor of the Republican has made inspection of the relief goods stored in the McDonald warehouse, for his own information and for the information of the readers of this paper. Herbert J. Waters, who has charge of these goods, kindly acted as pilot and pointed out the goods in store.

As stated by us yesterday, there are some two carloads of clothing in the warehouse, part of which is new and part of which is so badly worn as to be of little value. All of this clothing was fumigated last spring and put away in boxes, after the authorities at San Francisco had refused to receive the same. In fact some boxes of clothing bear the name and address of Mayor Schmitz, showing that it had first been sent to the metropolis and forwarded from there to this city.

In the stock of groceries we found more than two carloads of flour, 3500 pounds of salt pork, about 30 sacks of beans, 9 cases and eight barrels of coffee, half a wagon load of sardines, an equal amount of hominy, baked beans in tins, canned corn, 1300 pounds of sugar, a great quantity of condensed milk and soap enough to supply this city a year or more. Many other kinds of groceries are held in like or nearly like quantities.

Mr. Waters receives $75 per month for managing the business and the warehouse storage bill is $25 per month, making $100 per month paid out of the relief funds sent to this city.

We are curious to know the time this condition of affairs is going to continue? How long does the management of this business intend to conduct a clothing and grocery concern? At the rate these goods are going and have been taken the past three or four months the business will last a dozen years or more.

We are not disposed to find fault with what is doing in this matter. It is enough for the present to state the conditions as they exist. The whole matter is in the hands of the city authorities. If it is well done they deserve commendation.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 6, 1906

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Here we go again: another year, another confab about creating an alliance to promote Sonoma County interests. The group formed in 1905 completely fizzled and now in 1906, Santa Rosa’s newly minted Chamber of Commerce became a charter member of the “North Bay Counties Association.” But it’s a wonder they signed on at all, considering the guy behind the effort had also called for splitting the county into three parts in order to screw over Santa Rosa.

With much fanfare, formation of the Sonoma County Progressive Association was announced in early 1905 with the primary goal of organizing a big local presence at the upcoming Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland that summer. The fair was a success beyond anyone’s dreams, but Sonoma County had no official presence whatsoever. No explanation was given, but it seems most likely that the farming communities were reluctant to spend time and money at the Oregon exposition to mainly hype Santa Rosa, which had loudly stated ambitions to become the great metropolis north of the Golden Gate.

Come the 1906 earthquake and Santa Rosa is helpless and literally begging for funds. A huge new bond would be needed to rebuild the downtown county courthouse and other official buildings destroyed in the disaster. Not so fast, said John L. Camm from the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce and others; if the county were to be divided into three sections, Petaluma could build a courthouse for the new southern county, and Healdsburg could be the seat for the new northern part. Although not stated directly, their plan would have left Santa Rosa as the county seat for just itself, Sebastopol, Forestville, and Graton (Wikiup, maybe). No need to build an expensive marble-walled hall of justice for that itty-bitty jurisdiction, no sir.

There was no followup to that meeting in Petaluma, and the only mention of it in a Santa Rosa paper claimed “the sentiment in favor of keeping this great county together as a unit is well nigh unanimous,” and anyway, it couldn’t legally be done. It’s interesting to also note that the article also didn’t mention the justification for the split was the expected extravagant cost of the new courthouse (which ended up costing over $7 million in today’s dollars).

Yet less than two months later, here again was John L. Camm from the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce, this time spearheading the regional association. What gives? Was the split-the-county meeting really a feint to scare Santa Rosa from another attempt to dominate the new organization? Was opposition to the bond settled behind closed doors? Or did some in Petaluma really want to redraw county lines in order to destroy their sibling rival sister city?

Enthusiastic Meeting in Santa Rosa Yesterday
The Constitution and By-Laws Adopted and Officers Named for the Ensuing Year–Delegates Entertained

“The North Bay Counties Association” is the name of the new body organized in Santa Rosa yesterday for the purpose of exploiting in a practical way the resources and opportunities offered by the counties of Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Mendocino, and Lake counties by means of legitimate advertising, the distribution of literature and in other ways.

The Association was formed by representatives from the Chambers of Commerce and other commercial bodies in the counties named at a meeting held at the court house in this city yesterday morning and afternoon. Some enthusiastic speeches were made setting forth the advantages of united effort in the great work to be undertaken in the future.

John L. Camm, of Petaluma, was chosen temporary chairman of the meeting, and after explaining its object business of organization was taken up. The Rev. Robert Newton Lynch of Petaluma was at the secretary’s desk…


– Press Democrat, August 29, 1906


Pursuant to a call issued by J. L. Camm of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce, and upon request of a number of prominent Petalumans, a meeting of local citizens was held at the city hall Friday evening for the purpose of discussing the advisability of inaugurating a “New County” movement. The council chambers were well filled when the meeting was called to order by Mr. Camm, who stated the object of the meeting and outline the proposed new county plan. The project, as stated, was to form a new county, with Petaluma as the county seat, by taking that portion of Sonoma county south from a point north of Sonoma, including Penngrove, Bloomfield, Valley Ford, and Bodega, and by taking that portion of Marin county lying north of a straight line running westerly from San Antonio creek to the ocean including the town of Tomales.

The question was discussed dispassionately and earnestly by a number of citizens, including Assemblyman Cromwell, H. P. Brainerd, A. Kahn, J. E. Olmsted, Supervisor Armstrong, Arthur Robinson, J. W. Horn, L. C. Byce, Mayor Drees, Superintendent Van Frank of the electric road, Thos. Maclay. Mssrs. Cromwell, Brainerd, and Kahn, were of the opinion that the movement is neither feasible nor desirable. Mr. Brainerd thought such a movement would be wrong in view of the disaster recently suffered by Santa Rosa, and Mr. Kahn was like minded. Assemblyman Cromwell was of the opinion that the proposed new county could not be created because of the opposition that would have to be overcome; he also expressed the opinion that our tax burdens would be greatly increased and that the prestige now enjoyed by the big County of Sonoma, politically and otherwise, would be destroyed by the creation of another county largely therefrom.

The other speakers all expressed a desire to further the interests of Petaluma in every possible way, but were not prepared to declare themselves as in favor of launching a movement of such magnitude without further consideration.

As a result of the discussion the chairman was authorized to appoint a committee to look thoroughly into the object, consider all its phases and possibilities and report at a meeting to be held at such time as the committee may designate.


– Petaluma Argus, June 30, 1906


The talk of the county division is not a dream. The idea of the county voting itself into debt again after just getting out of it is not generally favored. To vote a large bond issue to build a new court house, new hall of records when in a few years the natural growth of the county will compell division is not wise. If the county is divided either Healdsburg or Petaluma would furnish buildings free of cost to the county and leave us to start on even footing instead of loading the county with a debt that would mean the paying of increased taxes and be a continuation of carrying a debt that would in the end make us pay two prices for our whistle. There [are] a number of men in Petaluma who would put up $10,000 each for a new courthouse in Petaluma who feel that it is a hefty burden to have to pay on bonds and interest for useless expenditures.

– Petaluma Daily Courier, June 26, 1906

A few days ago the Republican received information to the effect that parties in Petaluma were discussing the project of trying to divide Sonoma county into three parts, as was said of Gaul many centuries ago. It was proposed to make Petaluma the capital of the southern and Healdsburg the capital of the northern section. We did not give the matter great consideration at the time, for the reason that we believed the story to be idle rumor and that if such attempt should be seriously made we had no doubt of its being generally condemned. It is now of record that a county division meeting was held at Petaluma last Friday evening and that it was not a very enthusiastic affair. Three speeches were made against the scheme and the other speakers were rather noncommittal. A committee was appointed to take the matter inder consideration and to report on the same when ready to do so. The three Petaluma men who spoke against the effort to divide the county are members of the committee.

There is no law now under which a California county can be created, and it has not been possible to enact such a statue since the adoption of the constitutional amendment providing that a county can be created only under a general statute. The intelligent people of Petaluma must know this. They must also know that the sentiment in favor of keeping this great county together as a unit is well nigh unanimous. Hence, we do not think them in earnest in the division scheme. They may think it a good advertising project for the time being but this is all they can hope to get out of it.

It is of far greater consequence to all concerned to keep this great and growing county together as one county, than that any particular town may be a county seat. Not many will consent to the divorcement of any portion of our territory. Division would be hurtful to all concerned. This is the imperial county of upper California and the people here will insist on its remaining such.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 2, 1906

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This 1906 birth announcement for the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce finds that town boosters were egged on by Petaluma (sorry) and an upcoming regional meeting to organize a local Chamber. See the following post for more about that meeting and another reason why Santa Rosa may have been motivated to move swiftly.

The only newsworthy tidbit in the items below came from Allen Lemmon, editor and publisher of the Republican newspaper, who remarked that there had been a housing shortage in Santa Rosa since the earthquake and it was expected to worsen.

Enthusiastic Meeting Held Here on Friday Night
Vigorous Addresses Made and Common Acclaim Predicts Greater Prosperity and Progress Than Ever Before

The meeting called for last night brought together a large audience of enthusiastic citizens anxious to promote the best interests of Santa Rosa, and uphold her importance as the county seat of a county that is second to none in the diversity and scope of its products, and also to “boost” the entire county and section.

A number of interesting hearty addresses were heard, and it was decided to form a Chamber of Commerce upon a solid basis, increase its commercial interests, foster industries already here, and encourage the introduction of others, and promote the general welfare of the city.

Captain Houts called the meeting to order and stated the purposes of the gathering. An occasion arose, he said, as the result of the forward movement inaugurated at the meeting under the auspices of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce the other day. The idea was, he said, to have the counties of Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino, and Napa work together through their commercial bodies to advertise the general interests of this and adjoining counties in this section of the state. He told of the advantages to be gained by the lectures and advertising in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other places in bringing to the attention of the eastern home-seekers. To many eastern people, the Captain said, this section of the state with its diversity of interest was an “unexplored region.”

At the meeting held in Petaluma, Captain Houts said, it was decided to hold a session of the representative of the various commercial bodies of the counties named in Santa Rosa and perfect the joint organization to promote the interest of the proposed county organizations. He told of a need of a Chamber of Commerce or similar body here.

He then threw the topic open for discussion…

[Judge Seawell, Judge Crawford, Colonel Julliard, and other notables spoke and agreed that starting a Chamber of Commerce was an excellent idea, and a committee was elected to organize it.]

…Allen B. Lemmon said his heart was thoroughly in the work suggested. He touched on the value of co-operation and organization, and predicted that with a good, live Chamber of Commerce, the results attained would be far in excess of the blow dealt on April 18. He urged proceeding deliberately and carefully in the adoption of by-laws and general procedure of business. He mentioned the fact that there are “no empty houses in Santa Rosa now,” and predicted that by September 15 there would be 150 more houses needed than could be had for rent…

– Press Democrat, August 18, 1906

Committee Makes Appeal for 600 Names

“Don’t Be Pushed–Push
Don’t Knock–Boost.”

Such is the motto the membership committee of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce has adopted in its efforts to enlist the business men and property owners of this city. The committee consists of Captain O. L. Houts, A. T. Crane and Dr. S. S. Bogle and hundreds of letters have been sent out to the “loyal citizens desirous of advancing not only your own interests, but those of your home town,” to secure the enrollment as members so as to be able to take part in the organization Friday evening when officers are to be elected.

In the letter the committee says: That you and other representative citizens of this city may become alive to the objects of this organization, and be ready to act intelligently upon same, the committee respectfully solicits your careful consideration of the Constitution and By-Laws as adopted…

…Let us all join in the common effort. It will cost you at the rate of but $12 per year, that is, $1 per month. So fall in line and help swell the procession for a town whose citizens are united and progressive.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 23, 1906

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