It took about 3½ years, but the dust of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake finally settled in late 1909, with symbolic milestones and the ending of legal disputes (mostly).

* There was finally victory in the earthquake insurance wars, after Superior Court Judge Seawell denied the Connecticut Fire Insurance Company a new trial. Poor Frank Loomis only wanted a thousand bucks for his losses in the disaster but he was among a handful of Santa Rosa businessmen who had the misfortune to be insured by Connecticut Fire, which refused every claim because of a policy loophole. The Loomis case was the last to be heard by Sonoma County Superior Court, and his was also apparently the very last of the earthquake suits to be settled. The insurance company appealed the judge’s denial of a new trial, and the matter wasn’t finally, finally resolved until June, 1911, five years and two months after the quake. That’s too bad for Mr. Loomis, but the appeal preserved valuable transcripts of the court testimony with first-hand accounts of the immediate aftermath of the quake. For completeness’ sake and to aid future researchers, here are links to decisions and testimony in the Davis case (settled by the State Supreme Court in 1910, with background discussed here); the Fountain case (settled by the Appeals Court in 1910); and the Moodey case (settled by the State Supreme Court in 1911, with background discussed here and the full Appellate Court decision found in the April 21, 1910 Press Democrat).

* Santa Rosa was getting an attaboy from the Southern Pacific railway, publisher of the nationally-read travel magazine “The Sunset.” Within weeks of the disaster, the popular journal had published a special San Francisco issue spinning a revisionist version of events and claiming the scary earthquake did little damage compared to the fires, a PR campaign that successfully kept the trains filled with tourists. Here the local Chamber of Commerce issued a press release a few months after the quake claiming that Santa Rosa was back to normal, which was a pack of lies. Now that the place was truly pretty much put back to right, the magazine wanted a statistic on building permits. And the numbers were indeed impressive: Over 1,000 permits since the quake.

* A beautiful new county courthouse again dominated Santa Rosa and was nearly finished, but not without controversy. The grand jury complained that the final price was about 45 percent over the contract bid, forcing District Attorney Lea to investigate and report that no, there was no graft or fraud behind the cost overruns, and yes, all that marble and scagliola was more expensive than expected. Hey, once they changed the design from ceramic floor tiles to marble mosaic flooring, naturally they just had to change the plain ol’ flat ceiling into a vaulted ceiling that cost about three thousand dollars more – right?

If the new courthouse was a potent symbol of the future, the temporary courthouse was an unpleasant reminder of the post-quake disarray, and the city was eager to have it torn down as soon as everyone was moved out. There are no photographs of the place (that I know of) but it certainly wasn’t much to look at; from the outside it must have resembled a large farm implement shed with its corrugated iron roof. Together, the temporary courthouse and recorder’s office matched the footprint of today’s U.S. Bank building on the 3rd street side of Old Courthouse Square. It was sold for $576 to a man who wanted to build a large barn in Rincon Valley.

* The strange matter of the Peacock inheritance at last was resolved in 1909 (legal discussion here). Briefly, Mr. and Mrs. William Peacock died together in the collapse of a Santa Rosa hotel during the earthquake but they left separate wills, where each made their spouse first heir. Thus even if they died together, it had to be determined which Peacock died last, as that was the will that would prevail. There was not a great fortune involved but the money was split up differently among their children. The state inheritance tax appraiser declared Mr. Peacock died last, but goddess knows how he made that determination.

Without swimming deep into genealogical waters, it’s impossible to determine who got what. In the 1907 reporting there are two children; in the 1909 story below there are three. The earlier Press Democrat article names Mrs. Ada Baptiste as the wife’s daughter by a previous marriage, and here the PD states she is the husband’s prior daughter. That both Peacocks had children from a previous marriage is just part of the confusion; Mrs. Peacock was the sister of the first Mrs. Peacock, which meant that the two (three?) girls were simultaneously cousins, aunts or nieces.

(RIGHT: Postcard of the entrance hall of the palatial Sonoma County Court House. Note the elaborate compass rose inlayed in the marble floor. TAP or CLICK to enlarge)


At the request of the Southern Pacific Company Building Inspector F. E. Cherry has furnished it with figures showing the number of building permits issued since the earthquake of April 18th, 1906. The railroad company intends to use this data for advertising purposes. In Mr. Cherry’s report it shows that during the year 1906 after the April disaster, there were 322 permits issued and aggregated $759,745. In 1907 there were 300 permits and the value of the buildings was $300,000. In the two following years 891 and 200 permits were granted, making in all 1011 permits issued since the earthquake.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 9, 1909

Do you want to buy a Courthouse? If you do, send in your bid right away to the Board of Supervisors. Tomorrow they are to open bids for the old building, with the natural redwood finish, which has done duty as an administration building sine the disaster of 1906.  There is all kinds of wood in the building. Of course, it will not be vacated right away for in the new building there is quite a little fixing to be done yet.

– Press Democrat, November 3, 1909

Several Bids Received by the Board of Supervisors Wednesday and G. H. Wymore is the Purchaser

The old courthouse, the temporary structure at present occupied by the county officers, was sold by the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday to Geo. H. Wymore for $576. He was the highest bidder.

Bids were opened Wednesday morning and were as follows…

When the old courthouse is vacated for the new Sonoma County Courthouse, Wymore will tear it down. He will have a big pile of lumber. He will use it to build a large barn on the Wymore place in Rincon Valley.

– Press Democrat, November 4, 1909
Ruling In the Case of Contractor and Mrs. William Peacock Who Were Killed Here in April, 1906

Judicially it has been determined that Mrs. Matilda F. Peacock died prior to her husband, William Peacock, a building contractor, both of whom lost their lives in the destruction of the old Occidental hotel in Santa Rosa on April 18, 1906. This determination is reached by the State’s inheritance tax appraiser, who Wednesday filed his report with the county clerk in San Francisco.

On this conclusion of the law Ada Baptist, a daughter of the husband, will receive $4,224.93; Ida Miller, another daughter, $2,793.64, and Margarite Miller, a third daughter, $2,791.64. The relatives of the wife will receive nothing.

Peacock at the time of the disaster was engaged in the construction of a building in Santa Rosa. A few days before the date of their deaths Mrs. Peacock went to Santa Rosa to visit her husband. She was with him in their rooms when the hotel was destroyed.

It has heretofore been a question as to which of the couple died first. Both left wills leaving their estates to one another. The husband left property valued at $21,436 and the wife $8,004.50. If the husband died first then the wife would have inherited his estate and her heirs would come in for their share of the total estate. If the wife died first, then the husband would receive her estate and only his heirs would get the benefits of the joint estates.

The investigation of the appraiser shows that Mrs. Peacock was the first to pass away, and therefore her husband received her estate and his daughters participate in the benefits.

–  Press Democrat, November 19, 1909

Connecticut Fire Insurance Co.’s Motion Denied

Judge Emmet Seawell filed his decision in the case of F. C. Loomis vs. the Connecticut Fire Insurance Company of Hartford, Thursday afternoon in which he denied the defendant’s motion for a new trial.

The case in question is one arising over the payment of a fire insurance policy covering the goods of Frank C. Loomis, and destroyed at the time of the earthquake and fire on April 18, 1906. The policy in question contained a nullifying clase whereby the policy was to become void if the building should fall before the goods caught fire. Under this clause the insurance company refused to pay the fire loss of one thousand dollars, the amount of the policy, claiming the goods were damaged before the fire reached them.

The case was tried in the superior court before a jury which found for the plaintiff. Several other cases have been tried in the courts of this county founded on the same insurance clause and have been appealed to the higher courts of the state which have upheld the decisions of the local Judges.

Following the decisions of the local court in the other cases tried and the decisions of the Appellate courts, which maintain that the burden of proof lies with the defendant to prove that the fire didn’t start simultaneous with the falling of the building or even before. The motion for a new trial was denied.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 19, 1909

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