You took a risk driving, riding a buggy, or even walking at night in Santa Rosa’s 1908 neighborhoods; streets were frequently dark because the electricity was off, and unwary travelers might crash into wet-cement barriers or hit the piles of building materials that were obstructing streets and sidewalks. So bad was the situation that the Press Democrat – loathe to expose any flaw in the town whatsoever – openly called for contractors to put out 19th century kerosene lanterns to alert the public to the dangers.
The PD was prodded to mention the issue after a woman was thrown from her buggy and seriously injured when the horse became spooked by an unexpected encounter with a pile of stuff blocking the street. The newspaper also complained that there was some sort of wire fence across the freshly-poured sidewalk at College and Mendocino Avenues “which could not be seen even with the light burning, [and] was a snare when the light was out.”
This item states that “the electric lights [are] going out nearly every night for a time,” and the previous article revealed there was a steam whistle for summoning a lineman to “answer lamp kicks at all hours of the night” (“kick” was common slang for “complaint” at that time,
so I presume that meant customers were reporting electric outages and providing light bulbs was a service of the electric company).
Santa Rosans were understandably angry that the power company couldn’t keep the lights on, and a couple of weeks after these incidents, the Chamber of Commerce demanded answers from the superintendent of the Santa Rosa Lighting Company. Alas, he told them, he only did as he was so ordered by a PG&E engineer in another county: “I receive a message from Napa to cut out the street lights until further notice. Out they go.”
WARNING LIGHTS SHOULD BE PUT OUT
A number of building and sidewalk contractors are growing careless and indifferent regarding the matter of putting out lights at night where obstructions are left in the streets and sidewalks. The matter is one of importance as was shown last Saturday night when a runaway was caused which resulted in a lady receiving a compound fracture of her arm and a fine buggy was demolished.
With the electric lights going out nearly every night for a time, contractors should use lanterns. A wire fencing was left across some new walks on Mendocino street at College avenue Thursday night which could not be seen even with the light burning, was a snare when the light was out. A number of other obstructions were left unguarded in different parts of the city.– Press Democrat, October 2, 1908