Reasons to avoid downtown Santa Rosa in 1910: Parking was a headache and it was too dark at night. So apparently, was ever thus.
The parking problem then was really a hitching problem, as posts for tying up horses were not included in the landscaping around the new courthouse. “Every convenience that a judge, a lawyer, a supervisor could ask for is there inside,” complained a Forestville fruit farmer in a humorous letter to the newspaper, “But outside, the old time privilege, dear to the farmer’s heart is taken away.”
As he circumnavigated courthouse square in a forlorn search for a hitching post, he sketched a neat little portrait of downtown Santa Rosa, its streets busy with trolley cars, dray wagons, “benzine buggies” and a steamroller “that noisily rolls a noiseless pavement:”
On Fourth and Mendocino is where the circus begins…Turning this corner with skittish horses, dodging the dangers named, not forgetting to throw one eye up to the clock tower in the new bank building, and then dropping it to the lesser dignitary in front of Hood’s jewelry store, to see which is the nearest correct in time, and the while looking out with the second best eye that none of the citizens on foot are run over — all this makes Fourth, Mendocino, Hinton avenue, and Third streets quite an interesting locality.
The Mystery of the Missing Hitching Posts was never resolved, but it was in line with other efforts by the City Council to make the town auto-friendly as fast as possible, which meant making the town horse-unfriendly. “I drove all around town,” bemoaned the farmer. “Mr. Editor, the thing came to me like a slap in the face. Bewildered, humiliated, a drive around the palatial building, vainly searching for posts. None was there. I drove all around town. Hitching places were at a premium–all homesteaded by serried ranks of teams. Warning notices attached to sundry trees, electric light poles, etc., drove me away.”
(RIGHT: Postcard of downtown Santa Rosa, 1910. The viewer would have been standing near the current entrance of the “Forever 21” store in the Santa Rosa Plaza. Photo courtesy the Larry Lapeere Collection)
While they were chasing away horses, it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn downtown was still being illuminated at the time by 19th century arc streetlights. Besides being dim, the lights needed frequent attention because they burned out after about 175 hours and would sometimes all turn off unexpectedly, as the public angrily complained at a 1908 meeting.
But that changed dramatically at the end of April, 1910, when the new incandescent light system was switched on along Fourth street, from Railroad Square to E street. “About 8 o’clock the current was suddenly cut in the street was lighted up as if by magic to the delight of everybody,” reported the Press Democrat. So exciting was the prospect of a well-lit street that “A large number of citizens, hearing of the lighting up of the street for the first time came down town during the evening to enjoy what all agreed was a fine change.” The lights were probably only 100 watt bulbs, but it was far better than the system they had before. Or, for that matter, superior to what we have today in many parts of downtown.
NOTES: A few points in the articles merit further explanation.
Farmer Pilkington’s joke about the horse trough refers to the Woman’s Improvement Club raising the height a little in 1908 to make it easier for horses to drink (an action parodied by the Squeedunks at the Fourth of July parade that year).
The PD called the new illumination system “electroller lights” but that was an error; they were “electroliers.” The 1910 paper should be forgiven because the names for streetlights were not at all settled at the time. Generally an electrolier was like a big candlestick with several globes that cast light on both the sidewalk and street. A “utilitarian” streetlight hung over the roadway and was usually attached to an overhead wire or to a power pole. (See this 1912 article for more detail on the differences.) But the article says both that there were globes and they were mounted on the poles for the trolley; which type was used in Santa Rosa? If you enlarge the image to the right, you can see they were clearly electroliers with two globes.
A PLEA FOR HITCHING POSTSFarmers Entitled to More Consideration
To the Editor of the REPUBLICAN:
A few days ago I hitched up my nags and drove to Santa Rosa.
With lungs filled with the tonic air of a Sonoma January, feeling at peace with all the world; calling no man enemy — (and only one woman, and that my old opponent, Madame Grundy) — I enjoyed that drive along the fine roadway from Vine Hill to the county seat.
Along College avenue I held my course, whistling to such dogs as I had picked up a barking acquaintance with, on many previous trips, noting with interest the building and other improvements, commending or criticising these, as they pleased or offended my sense of the fitness of things. In due time I reached Mendocino avenue and halted at the watering trough, the one whereon is inscribed the pleasing legend, “Ponies, please take the elevator.”
That water trough is surely a happy inspiration, a great convenience — and I have wondered this long time why the infernal masculine hasn’t ere this given credit where it is due, to the eternal feminine, through whose influence it was erected.
In pure shame for my sex I hereby thank the Ladies’ Improvement Club for the kindness of heart, the enterprise and motives in general which led its members to have the troughs placed for the convenience of the public. Should the thanks be scornfully received because of the lateness of the day in which they are given, I humbly beg pardon for myself and the 9999 others behind me, by hastening to assure that august body that the thanks were in the heart of us all from the beginning — even if the tongues and pens have been lax.
From the trough to the court house the nags always made a fine burst of speed, the chug-chug of the autos being mainly responsible for this performance.
On Fourth and Mendocino is where the circus begins, the nags having a great antipathy for the trolley cars, benzine buggies, Lee Brothers’ warehouse on wheels, and that monster of an iron hermaphrodite, that noisily rolls a noiseless pavement, but which some people call a steam roller.
Turning this corner with skittish horses, dodging the dangers named, not forgetting to throw one eye up to the clock tower in the new bank building, and then dropping it to the lesser dignitary in front of Hood’s jewelry store, to see which is the nearest correct in time, and the while looking out with the second best eye that none of the citizens on foot are run over — all this makes Fourth, Mendocino, Hinton avenue, and Third streets quite an interesting locality.
After all this is the peaceful port, on Third street, where for years and years I have hitched my horses — when in town. What I’ve done for years in freedom and with no man to make me afraid, I wanted to do again this January day in 1910, so I drove up with a final flourish to the hallowed spot to memory dear, the old hitching place by the court house — and “be gorra,” as my friend, Pat Daly, would say, “yez cud hav knocked me doon wid a — crowbar. Divil a bit av a hitchin’ post visible nor invisible wor there to mate wan’s mortal vision.”
Mr. Editor, the thing came to me like a slap in the face. Bewildered, humiliated, a drive around the palatial building, vainly searching for posts. None was there. I drove all around town. Hitching places were at a premium–all homesteaded by serried ranks of teams. Warning notices attached to sundry trees, electric light poles, etc., drove me away. I got to wandering in a circle — got lost. Met with Uncle Josh and Aunt Manda from the Forks of Green Valley “Crick,” who were also lost. Held a council of war, decided to drive out into the country, find a convenient tree, tie thereto and tramp back afoot in town. Couldn’t find a tree. All converted into stove wood. Finally found a place, warm hearted merchant on Second street furnished us what we were looking for.
And now, I want to know who is responsible for the removal of the tying places on three sides of the court house? Who has done such a thing?
Every convenience that a judge, a lawyer, a supervisor could ask for is there inside that pride of new Sonoma, the court house; but outside, the old time privilege, dear to the farmer’s heart is taken away. I am told that there are cut glass cuspidors for (though I don’t believe it this yarn myself). But hitching posts for farmers? Not on your life! A half million (so rumor putteth it) for a building and furnishings!! But fifty cents for posts? Not a cent! Oh, the good old farmer — doesn’t he get it in the neck every time? Isn’t he turned down when he petitions for a privilege?
Isn’t he? Ha! Ha! Bet your life!!
THOS. J. PILKINGTON
– Press Democrat, January 11, 1910
4TH STREET NOW A BLAZE OF LIGHTNew System Tried Last Night and Hundreds of Citizens Express Great Pleasure at Change
Fourth street was lighted for the first time Thursday night by the newly-installed incandescent electroller system from E street to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad depot, and presented a very attractive appearance.
No announcement had been made of the intention to turn on the lights, and when about 8 o’clock the current was suddenly cut in the street was lighted up as if by magic to the delight of everybody. Pedestrians on the street and people in the stores and hotels, who were attracted to the walk, expressed their pleasure at the great improvement over the old arc system.
The movement to install the electroller lights originated with the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, which presented the matter to the City Council and jointly the scheme has been successfully worked out, The city defrayed the expense of making the change from arc to incandescents, the poles of the electric railroad being utilized, by permission, to carry the wires and lights.
The globes are on the way from the East, and when they are put in place there will be a marked improvement even over the first display. A large number of citizens, hearing of the lighting up of the street for the first time came down town during the evening to enjoy what all agreed was a fine change.– Press Democrat, April 29, 1910