Santa Rosa was a nice place to visit before WWI, but you didn’t want to get sick here; until 1920, there was no real hospital in town.

It may seem odd that the largest town in the area – much less the county seat – would lack something as basic as a hospital, but at that time doctors usually treated the sick or injured in their homes or hotel rooms. (Because physicians spent so much time zipping from bedside to bedside, many were among the first to buy automobiles; in 1908, one doctor even argued that their cars should be exempt from city speed limits because they might be rushing to an emergency.) Doctors and nurses usually rented rooms in their homes for those needing continuing care, and in every town of any size there were convalescent and maternity homes available. For those with a little money, Burke’s Sanitarium on Mark West Springs Road offered quackish cures for what-ails-you; for those with no money at all, there was the County Hospital, which only took in indigents (an excellent history of the County Hospital by Jeremy Nichols is available here). For those with a serious medical condition, there was a train to the San Francisco ferry.

Until its 1908 closing, there was also the “Santa Rosa Hospital” at 741 Humboldt St. – an address that no longer exists, but was directly across the street from the present Santa Rosa Charter School for the Arts. Little is known about it, except that it was founded by a pair of doctors around the turn of the century, as Gaye LeBaron wrote in her second volume of Santa Rosa history. Although the place must have been a whirlwind following the Great Earthquake, the papers only mentioned that so-and-so was at the hospital and “doing nicely” – and, of course, the discovery that a con man was posing as a doctor and swiping stuff from patients and staff. Even the hospital’s closing merited only a single paragraph in one of the newspapers; you had to read the San Francisco press to learn that the two women who owned it had filed for bankruptcy, owing the substantial sum (in 1908 terms) of $2,878.50 to employees and suppliers. Why would the local papers shy from any mention of the Santa Rosa Hospital? Likely because the facilities were small and out-of-date, drawbacks which were not in keeping with the booster image of Santa Rosa as a community that offered all amenities of other Bay Area cities.

The only thing worse than a dinky and old-fashioned hospital was none at all, but that’s what Santa Rosa now faced in June, 1908. There was talk that a Catholic order intended to build a Sister’s Hospital, but nothing came of it. Then late in the year came the happy announcement that the Mary Jesse Hospital was open.

Named after the mother of Dr. Jesse, the hospital was the doctor’s former home at 815 Fifth street, on the corner of King st. It probably wasn’t much larger than the Santa Rosa Hospital – it would eventually offer twenty beds – but it did have modern services, including an operating room and an elevator. Not that these features always worked in harmony; Martha Comstock Keegan, who had her tonsils removed at the hospital around 1943, recalls that lights in the operating room would blink out for a moment whenever someone pressed the button to call the elevator.

For about forty years, the Mary Jesse Hospital – later renamed the Eliza Tanner Hospital – served the community. General Hospital was built in 1920 and Memorial Hospital was established in 1950, after a fund-raising drive led by Hilliard Comstock.

With Santa Rosa General and Memorial, the town finally had the sort of antiseptic, built-from-scratch hospitals that everyone expects to die in today. But gone was the small town charm of recuperating in someone’s former bedroom, tended by a small, tightly-knit medical staff. A story from 1913 reveals what charm was lost:

One of the Mary Jesse nurses apparently couldn’t shut up about the fun she had stealing watermelons from a field. The next day, according to the San Francisco Call, Dr. Jesse “bundled four or five of the girls into his auto and whirled them all out into the country. They climbed cautiously over a fence, swooped down on a patch of fine, big melons and carried them away with terrified backward glances and suppressed giggles. This proved such great sport that the doctor repeated the performance about twice a week.”

The good Dr. James Jesse (!) of course, had previously arranged the “robbery” with the farmer, paying him in advance.

Photographs courtesy Sonoma County Library

(Edited 2020 to correct General Hospital construction in 1920, not 1917.)

Splendid Equipment of the Mary Jesse Hospital on Fifth Street–Ready For Patients

Santa Rosa is now equipped with one of the neatest little hospitals in the state, thanks to the public spiritedness of Dr. J. W. Jesse. It is known as the “Mary Jesse Hospital,” in memory of Dr. Jesse’s honored mother.

The hospital was formerly the large residence of Dr. and Mrs. Jesse at 815 Fifth street which has been entirely remodeled on the second floor so as to provide half a dozen private wards, besides an operating room, drug and bandage closets and sterilizing room, as well as nurses quarters.

The east side of the lower floor has been converted into general wards, one for men and the other for women. The hospital will at present accommodate 16 patients and there is room to add six other beds in case of emergency or necessity at any time. In addition to the patients’ rooms there are three find porches for sleeping and resting which will be enjoyed by convalescents.

The hospital is in charge of Mrs. Jesse and is open to the public and physicians of the city generally on equal terms. There will be no discrimination and it is hoped that the medical fraternity will make good use of the opportunities thus offered them as for sometime past there has been no place where an injured person or one seriously ill could be taking for treatment.

An elevator has been placed in the building so that a patient brought into the hospital in the ambulance can be placed on it and taken direct to the operating room or individual ward on the second floor without any inconvenience or trouble. The operating room is enameled in white and fitted with all the latest appliances for the use of the operators. Miss Helena Liersch, a graduate of the California Women’s Hospital in San Francisco, is in charge as head nurse and will be assisted by a full corps of well-trained and experienced nurses.

Dr. Jesse is complemented on the complete manner in which he has equipped the new hospital. The hospital is not ready and patients will be received after today. A number of applications were received during the past week for admission but owing to the incomplete condition of the equipment they all had to be refused.

– Press Democrat, November 22, 1908

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Want a nice painting to hang above the sofa? Bruner’s was the place to go in Santa Rosa for the first half of the Twentieth Century.

While you could also pick up paint and wallpaper at Clement Bruner’s Fourth St. shop, in the store window was displayed fine art, such as paintings by Grace Hudson, the Ukiah artist who produced hundreds of portraits, most depicting local Pomo Indians in native dress. A specialty of hers were too-adorable views of infants such as the one shown at right, sometimes with puppies thrown in for extra sap. Hudson turned out scores of these popular tableaus, and one of these paintings was sold “for a large price” in 1908, becoming a news item in the Press Democrat.

That year Bruner’s also displayed oils and watercolors of fruits and flowers commissioned by the Cree Publishing Company of Minneapolis, which were to illustrate a 10-volume encyclopedia on Luther Burbank’s “secrets.” The newspaper article also claims that the books were in the window which is impossible, as the series was never produced (read update here), thanks to Burbank’s disorganization and objections by the Carnegie Institution.

One of the still-life artists mentioned was Carl Dahlgren, nicknamed “The Sunshine Painter” because his landscapes usually included a prominent beam of sunlight. Dahlgren specialized in bucolic, idyllic scenes that could bring no offense; a magazine commented that “In hundreds of homes his canvasses are hung, carrying with them, like silent missionaries, their message of sunshine and happiness to lift the gloom and grief that comes inevitably at times into the most ideal of homes.” Reference material on Dahlgren describes him as a San Francisco painter who received a commission from Burbank in 1917, but his associations with Sonoma County nine years earlier are never mentioned; so familiar was he in this area that the Republican Santa Rosa paper referred to him as “Carl Dahlgren of this city.” Also mentioned in the newspaper coverage was a Dahlgren landscape painted from the view at Hood Mansion.

A personal comment regarding Grace Hudson: She was a gifted artist and many of her Indian portraits portray the dignity of her subject, but the unctuous “papoose” paintings trouble me greatly. At that exact same time, Pomo and other Indian youth were being forcibly taken from their families by government officials and shipped off to Indian boarding schools that might be a great distance away. (Googling researchers: Here’s a hard-to-find list of California Indian Schools.) Once there, it was required that the children abandon their birth language and culture and everything else they held dear. It was one of the most shameful episodes in our history as a nation. In my view, Grace Hudson’s infant portraits exploited the children she painted. It might be too much to expect of Hudson to have acknowledged the abuses outright, but it’s another thing to make a living by cranking out mawkish images that betrayed a horrible truth.

{RIGHT: Indian children at boarding school – the portrait that Grace Hudson didn’t paint. One of the infants painted by Hudson could well be revered Pomo basket weaver Elsie Allen, who was born in 1899 near Cloverdale and was snatched from her grandmother around 1910 and sent to a government Indian school. )


C. M. Bruner, the local art dealer, has had a small canvas by Grace Hudson, the celebrated Indian painter, on exhibition in his window for the past few day, which, though only four or five inches square, sold during race week for a large price.

The subject is an Indian pappoose [sic]. and it is handled in Mrs. Hudson’s best style. Mr. Bruner made a special hand-carved frame of oak to go with the picture, the design used being an oak leaf. The purchaser was James B. Smith, a wealth horse man of San Francisco.

Another picture on exhibition at Bruner’s that has been attracting attention is a view on the Kearns ranch near Kenwood. This canvas is by Carl Dahlgren, the Danish painter now in Santa Rosa for the purpose of preparing a series of pictures showing Burbank creations. The orchard and meadow are shown in the foreground, in the middle distance is the old homestead, and Mr. Hood towers majestically in the background.

The work of reproducing fruits and flowers in all their various shadings and colorings is very tedious, and for relaxation Mr. Dahlgren has made a number of fine sketches in the vicinity of this city, as well as several in the Guerneville region, some of which are also on exhibition at Bruner’s store. Mr. Dahlgren is very enthusiastic over the beautiful scenery in Sonoma county, and says he will put as much of it as possible on canvas before he leaves.

– Press Democrat, August 6, 1908


Two paintings now on exhibition at Bruner’s art store are attracting much attention from the people who make it a point to notice such things. One is a large scene near the headwaters of Los Alamos Creek, with Mount Hood in the background. The other is a little sketch on Santa Rosa Creek, not far from town. Both are splendidly done, although the treatment in each is entirely different.

Both canvasses are by Carl Dahlgren, a German painter, who sent here some two or three months ago by the Cree Publishing company to do some of the more important of Burbank’s creations from life in oils and watercolors, so that they may be reproduced in colors in the 10 volume history of Burbank and his achievements which the Crees are now getting out.

The general opinion among local art critics is that the two paintings mentioned are among the very best Mr. Bruner has ever had on its exhibition at his store. Mr. Dahlgren has done one or two others in this vicinity, and hopes to find time to do two or three more before leaving. He said yesterday that he had no idea there is so much beautiful scenery in this part of the state. “Oh, in your coundy it iss beautiful, b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l!” said Mr. Dahlgren yesterday, as he have closed his eyes and gazed dreamily out towards the Eastern Hills.

– Press Democrat, June 21, 1908

The Cree-Binner Company, which is engaged in the production of a splendid work on the creations of Luther Burbank, has a display of the books in the window of Bruner’s art store, which is certainly attractive. There is a large amount of the oil and water color painting of the various fruits and flowers which have been the subject of Mr. Burbank’s efforts, and then several pages of the books with the binding in handsome leather are to be seen. The paintings are by Carl Dahlgren of this city, and C. L. Starks and Mr. Hudson of the east.

Mr. Binner, who is spending the winter here and looking after the interest of the work in this city, states that a widespread interest is being taken in the books and already many applications have been made for its reproduction in foreign countries. The work is to be the most exhaustive ever issued upon the life and works of Mr. Burbank and will be the most modern and complete acquisition to the botanical libraries of the world. The display is well worth seeing and Mr. Binner deserves special credit for the attractive form in which he has made the same. The fine large window affords a particularly good place for the arrangement.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 24, 1908

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I tell you, this automobile fad might catch on. About 4,000 spectators crowded the Santa Rosa racetrack in 1908 to watch the fastest cars on the West Coast zoom around the dirt track at the inconceivable speed of 60 MPH.

Some details of the races appeared here earlier in the profile of Fred J. Wiseman, who won the “Santa Rosa Cup” in the Sunday 25 mile race. At one terrifying point, it appeared that an accident had occurred. The Santa Rosa Republican reported: “While the Stearns machine was in the lead, one of the hind tires blew out, causing the machine to skid close to the fence while coming around the three-quarter mile pole, and the machine hit the [inner] fence. The machine skidded across the track directly in front of Wiseman’s machine, and in the clouds of dust it seemed that a collision had occurred. When Wiseman emerged from the dust everybody breathed easier.” When the Stearns auto limped across the finish line, part of the fence was still hanging on the car.

(RIGHT: Fred Dundee in the White Steamer that set a speed record at the Santa Rosa Fairground race track in the first day of the 1908 races)

Although this wasn’t the first auto race at Santa Rosa (there was a small exhibition race in 1906), it was the first time the town was packed with tourists since before the Great Earthquake. “It was a gala scene,” enthused the Press Democrat. “Several hundred automobiles, each with its merry crowd, were lined up on both sides of the track. In addition there were scores of characters. It was a well behaved, courteous crowd. Among those present were many of the prominent people of San Francisco and the bay cities. In fact, all roads lead to Santa Rosa on Sunday. The hotels were crowded on both Saturday and Sunday.”

Not everyone welcomed the influx of racing fans, however. On the day of the big race, police officers in Petaluma stopped and arrested several drivers for speeding, and quickly word spread in Sonoma and Marin Counties to “Beware of Petaluma.” Amid griping that the business for the town’s restaurants and hotels had suffered because of the crackdown, the Petaluma Argus sniped, “Now that the city authorities have made an example of several outside automobilists, it would be well to punish half a dozen local mahouts who daily violate the speed ordinance.” (Like “chauffeur,” “mahout” was slang for anyone driving an automobile.)

The Petaluma Courier also worried that motorists would boycott the town in the future, and they probably had some cause to worry. Many examples have appeared here of the auto clique resenting any restrictions placed upon them, from speed limits to the requirement of headlights after dark.

But an incident later in 1908 found the newly-formed Sonoma County Automobile Club acting in a newly responsible manner, offering a $25 reward for information leading to the ID of a reckless driver. Near Kenwood, a horse frightened by the car reared back and broke its neck, also injuring the man driving the attached buggy or wagon. The auto drove on without stopping. “Such conduct as related on the part of the chauffeur is inhuman and should not be tolerated,” the club announced in a statement.

“Comet” Wins Four of the Events Yesterday

Automobile racing is a great sport and it arouses much enthusiasm. This was demonstrated at the track on Saturday at the first days races under the auspices of the some Sonoma County Automobile Association. There was a great assemblage of people, men, women and children, and they all entered heartily into the sport. The grand stand was filled and along the fences on both sides of the stretch there wer scores of automobiles, each car crowded with spectators, while hundreds of other people sat or stood and mingled discussing the respective merits of the machines tearing off the fast miles in the various events.

A new track record was established for Santa Rose on Saturday by the White Steamer, driven by Fred Dundee, which reeled off a mile in 1:01. The previous track record was driven by Al Pipenberg at 1:02.


– Press Democrat, August 23, 1908
Fred J. Wiseman Wins The 25 Mile Free-For-All

The greatest crowd of people ever gathered at the Santa Rosa race track, conservatively estimated at 4,000 people, witnessed on Sunday afternoon some of the best automobile racing ever given on this Pacific Coast. They saw two spectacular miles by the little Comet, in which the car broke the Coast record. Each of the miles was reeled off in 58 seconds. They saw a magnificent contest in a 25 mile free-for-all as well as the most amusing novelty race, in addition to the other equally interesting events.

Any question as to the popularity of automobile races was removed on Sunday afternoon by that vast crowd of men, women and children, all keenly interested in the sport. The track, grandstand and all places of vantage were occupied. It was a gala scene. Several hundred automobiles, each with its merry crowd, were lined up on both sides of the track. In addition there were scores of characters. It was a well behaved, courteous crowd. Among those present were many of the prominent people of San Francisco and the bay cities. In fact, all roads lead to Santa Rosa on Sunday. The hotels were crowded on both Saturday and Sunday. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the outing and the sport.

The Stoddard-Dayton car proved the victor in the 25 mile free-for-all, after one of the best contested and most spectacular races ever held in the state.

Six cars lined up for the start and the Stearns went out in front at the first turn. Before a mile had been traversed the Comet, the car which made a sensation on Saturday by capturing four events and which had already won two races Saturday, went to the front with the phenomenal burst of speed, and at the end of this first mile it was 30 yards to the good. In the second round it had to stop and the Stearns again went to the front. With the Stoddard-Dayton hanging on an eighth of a mile behind, the Stearns reeled off the miles at a 1:02 clip. In the twelfth mile the Stoddard-Dayton began to creep up and a thrilling race ensued for six miles.

In the fifteenth mile the two cars came down the stretch together, but the Stearns had the pole and held the lead until the eighteenth. Coming into the home stretch Bonney, who had been driving a splendid race, cut the corner too fine and the car crashed into the inner fence, tearing away a part of the fence, and swerving across the track. The spectators held their breaths as the Stoddard, which had turned wide, swept along and escaped hitting the Stearns by what seemed from the stand to be a few inches. Bonney had to stop and the Stoddard-Dayton kept on by itself and won a popular victory, as Fred J. Wiseman, its driver, is a Santa Rosa man. The Comet injected a lot of excitement into the race by resuming after it had lost six miles. The little car went at a wonderful clip and was timed several miles in one minute flat. It gained on its rivals, but the lost ground could not be recovered.

The ten mile race for autos listed at $1,500 resolved itself into an exciting duel between the Comet and the Buick and the spectators were kept in a high-state of excitement as the cars raced around close together; first one and then the other took the lead. The Comet went to the front in the ninth mile and going very fast in the last half won out by a hundred yards.

A great race was expected in the ten mile event for cars listed at $2,500 and over, but it proved to be a procession with the Stearns acting as the band wagon all the way. Four cars lined up for the start– the Stearns, Peerless, White Twenty and Stoddard Dayton. The White Thirty was entered, but did not start. Bonney, in the Stearns, drew the pole and immediately took the lead, and in the first three miles he opened up a gap of half a mile. The Stearns reeled off the first five miles in 5:19, which equals the state record made by the same machine a year ago. The Stearns ran smoothly all the way and finished over half a mile ahead of the White Twenty.

In the novelty race in which of the drivers had to run 100 yards, drove their car a mile and then run another hundred, Frank Free, in the Comet, easily took the honors. The drivers were lustily cheered during their sprint and seemed to like the sport equally as well as the spectators.


– Press Democrat, August 25, 1908

Regarding the arrest of auto drivers in Petaluma on Sunday, the Courier of Monday night says:

Vigorous complaint has been made by the Petaluma business people today over the action of the local authorities in holding up automobiles Sunday.

The ground assumed is as follows: They say it is notorious that local automobiles are often driven at a great pace without interference.

The action Sunday has been construed as discrimination against strangers who should have been merely stopped, warned and allowed to proceed.

Those who were detained telephoned to Santa Rosa and the county seat was posted with notices. “Beware of Petaluma.” The result was that fully 150 autos avoided Petaluma and there was considerable loss to Petaluma hotel and restaurant people. It is feared that Petaluma will be avoided by strangers in the future.

The news was also flashed San Rafael way, for Harry Smith receive a warning while down there.

Steiger Bros. sent out their auto to warn the autoists. Loss of revenue to the town was the chief complaint.

The Petaluma Argus says:

Now that the city authorities have made an example of several outside automobilists, it would be well to punish half a dozen local mahouts who daily violate the speed ordinance. Names do not have to be mentioned. Everyone knows them.

– Press Democrat, August 25, 1908

Reward of $25 Offered for Discovery of the Identity of the Careless Chauffeur Near Kenwood

The Sonoma County Automobile Club will not stand for careless and inhuman conduct of chauffeurs in driving of machines, the kind who after causing an accident drive ahead and do not stop to see whether anyone has been hurt or whether help is needed. They will stand back of the prosecution of such offenders.

After reading the reports of the accident on the canyon road leading to Warm Springs, near Kenwood, the other day, in which Mr. Dugan of Kenwood was rendered insensible and the horse he was driving killed by the animal taking fright at an approaching automobile, and rearing back, breaking its neck, after which the chauffeur drove on without stopping to see what damage had resulted. President J. Rollo Leppo of the Sonoma County Automobile Club and Director S. S. Bogle held a consultation.

The result of the conference between the president and local director of the club was the offering on Saturday night of a reward of $25 for the discovery of the identity of the chauffeur, and the promise that the club would stand back of the prosecution of an action for damages.

“Assuming that the facts of the accident as reported are correct, will you please state for the Sonoma County Automobile Club that we hereby offer a reward for the discovery of the identity of the chauffeur, and state further that the club will stand back of the prosecution of such cases. Such conduct as related on the part of the chauffeur is inhuman and should not be tolerated. The club will not uphold it, I can assure you.”

Any information regarding the subject matter mentioned leading to the identity of the chauffeur can be forwarded to District Attorney Lea, President Leppo, Director Bogle or Secretary Don C. Prentiss. The public will undoubtedly approve of the action of the president and directors of the Automobile Club.

– Press Democrat, November 29, 1908

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