Santa Rosa’s water wars ended in 1907, when post-earthquake upgrades allowed it to provide a reliable (albeit foul-tasting) water supply. But water woes continued because the town screwed up installation of the new water meters.

Santa Rosa introduced water meters in 1905 after years of fumbled efforts to enforce conservation. Policemen, firemen and city inspectors were turned into water cops, empowered to write hefty $2.50 citations for leaky faucets. Lawns could be watered only at certain times of the day announced by a steam whistle, and there were additional monthly fees for every water fixture (having an indoor toilet cost 25ยข and was worth every penny). Once meters were installed, each home was supposed to be billed only for water use over 10,000 gallons/month. In theory.

As it turns out, the city inspectors should have been keeping a close watch on the guys installing the expensive new meters. In one case mentioned below, two homes shared the same meter – an arrangement the owners asked the city council for permission to continue, as it would be expensive and bothersome to install separate water lines for each house (the request was denied).

In a far more outrageous SNAFU, it was revealed that five businesses – including a bakery and one of Santa Rosa’s largest saloons – were connected through a water meter for a private residence. The homeowner understandably refused to pay the excess-use water bill, so the city shut off the meter, and thus the water supply to the home and businesses alike. Two of the businesses agreed to pay the flat business rate, but the other two balked, leaving the water turned off. “Without the necessary water, sinks and toilets go without flushing and the neighbors are wondering ‘how about the sanitary condition’ of the block,” commented the letter’s author.


Editor Republican:

Like Banquo’s ghost, Santa Rosa’s free water spook will not down, but comes up to flap its dry cerements around the town. The domestic 10,000 gallons frequently fail to flow, or will flow in a flood, the meters fail to meet the matter and the claims for the excess liquid fall of liquidation. A property owner who is paying his water bond tax had his water shut off and is carrying the question into a court of law. Two citizens appeared before the city council Tuesday night asking that the single meter which marks the gallons of water running into their two separate residences, and into no other, be permitted to do double duty for the present. The petitioners gave as a reason for the request that the change, the laying of extra pipes, the digging of trenches through lawns would cost them fully $30. The extra meter room cost the city about $8. Mr. Ross, one of the petitioners, thought that even if the city would not consider the matter of saving a property owner $30 [in] these rather hard times, by the simple exercise of a little discretion, it might in view of the fact that the public warrants are held up every month by reason of municipal poverty, hold on to that $8.

Notwithstanding the fact of that three practical councilmen were ready to grant the request, it was turned down because the water ordinance called for a meter at each and every residence, and the council proceeded to order $400 worth of meters. Mr. Ross will have a nice new meter in front of his home, which will be $8 off his $30 bill.

On the north side of Fourth Street are five business places–Ketterlin Bros. hardware store, Young Bros. store, Greek-American Candy Kitchen, Santa Rosa Bakery and the Germania saloon, which are all hooked on to the meter in front of the residence on Fifth street occupied by Mrs. Gore. There are no other meters in the bunch of six places. The July excess bill amounting to $14 was sent to Mrs. Gore and the August bill amounting to about $4 went to the same person. She declined to pay the bills on the ground of that she is away from her home all day employed in a restaurant, and her two roomers occupy the building only at night, also that five other places were included. Yesterday the water was turned off at the meter on Fifth street and the six places went dry. Young Brothers and the Germania proprietor finally paid their flat rate bills for the two months, but they are still without water because the other four parties have not settled. The inmates are without the necessary water, sinks and toilets go without flushing and the neighbors are wondering “how about the sanitary condition” of the block. One of the waterless storekeepers says he will stand pat even if the Board of Health takes a hand. So the ghost will not down, the meters will not meet and the free water will not be free.


– Letter to the Santa Rosa Republican, October 7, 1908

Read More


Nearly every year, one of the Santa Rosa newspapers produced a promotional supplement on the wonders of Sonoma County: A great place to start a farm, build a factory, or just settle down. Santa Rosa itself was overflowing with churches, secure banks, Luther Burbank, and prosperous businesses; they would praise the leather tanning companies, the fruit canneries, the flour mill, the pharmacies and even the hardware stores. Yet they never, ever, boasted of the town’s casket factory.

Until 1908, Kobes & Huntington provided almost everything a contractor might need to finish a building – or that a downtown business might need for repairs after Saturday night drunken revelries. The shop, which was in Railroad Square at 115-121 Fifth Street (currently the large, white warehouse across from the Last Day Saloon), sold plate glass and art glass, mirrors, bank and saloon fixtures, stairways, refrigerators and all kind of mouldings and other millwork made on the premises. But from 1908 forward, they turned out one thing only: Redwood caskets and coffins.

Almost immediately the company was the second-largest coffin maker in the state, their assembly line building up to 700 caskets a month under exclusive contract to a San Francisco dealer. It was certainly one of the most successful Santa Rosa businesses and was in the process of expanding rapidly, all good reasons for the newspapers to tout the company in their annual supplements and town boosters to point at it with considerable pride. Yet except for one small article about the changeover – which only appeared in the Press Democrat on a slow news day – locals were quiet about the busy factory on Fifth street. Quiet as a tomb, you could even say.


Between 400 and 700 Caskets Are Made at Kobes & Huntington’s Establishment on Fifth Street Monthly

Few residents of Santa Rosa are aware that the second-largest manufacturing plant for caskets in California is located in the city, and is turning out from 400 to 700 coffins of various sizes monthly. Such is the fact.

Kobes & Huntington, who for a number of years conducted a planing mill and cabinet shop on Fifth street, some months ago secured a contract from the San Francisco Casket Co., of San Francisco, to furnish them caskets and boxes for the next eight years, and the plant was remodeled to make it suitable for the new purpose for which it was to be used. Over $2,000 worth of additional machinery was installed and for some time past now shipments of a car of caskets has been made weekly, and two cars of boxes monthly.

The manufacture of such quantities of caskets requires 40,000 feet of lumber per month, and the firm has now on hand 250,000 feet. The lumber must be bone dry, the steps are being taken to secure a steady supply from one mill during the lifetime of the contract. A steam plant is to be installed this fall for the purpose of having a place to kiln dry lumber, and also furnish a steam room where the boards maybe bench to be used the making of coffins. In trade parlance there is a difference between caskets and coffins.

The firm makes at present four styles of caskets, the square, which is the cheapest grade; the octagon, the elliptical and the chancellor. These all take their names more or less from their shapes. The “coffin” is different from any of them in that it takes the peculiar shape given it while the material is heated by steam before being put together.

The redwood lumber to be used in the manufacture of caskets is cut into various lengths before being taken into the shop and loaded on hand trucks. It is then wheeled to the various parts of the shop where it is to be used and machinery cuts it into the desired shapes, makes the moldings, cuts holes for the various attachments, and then it is taken to the assembling room. Here skilled men put it together rapidly.

There is little or no waste. The smaller pieces are all used in making the small sections and even sticks not larger than good kindling are used in forming the rounded head board confined between two veneer boards and glued in place. In all nine men are employed in the shop and each one does only his part of the work as it passes along from bench to bench.

The caskets when completed are shipped to San Francisco where they are covered and finished into the handsome products seen in many undertaking parlors. The question is often asked what becomes of the caskets made? The State Board of Health reported 2900 deaths for June, and there had to be a casket for each body. The Santa Francisco dealers furnish a large share of the supply for the Islands and Oriental trade, so it will be seen there is a large demand.

– Press Democrat, July 28, 1908

Read More