Happy Halloween, 1910! It’s that night when young pranksters are afoot and angry men blast away at them with shotguns.

The last time we looked at Halloween trends was for the year 1907, when there were at least seven fatalities nationwide. Only two died in 1910 but that may have been just dumb luck – there were three accounts of men firing shotguns into groups of boys involved in mischief. One young man was hit in the neck (it wasn’t reported whether or not he later survived) and another had forty buckshot pellets removed from his body. It’s likely there were other incidents like those; non-fatal shootings were local news only, and those three cases were found in the small sample of newspapers currently available through the Internet.

The papers show the country was in a far better mood than that earlier Halloween, which is no surprise considering the 1907 Bank Panic happened just a couple of weeks before the holiday, and many were fearing it was the start of a great depression (Press Democrat headline one week before 1907 Halloween: “FINANCIAL SITUATION IS PANICKY ALL OVER COUNTRY”). But in 1910 jolly Halloween parties were reported everywhere, and many schools and churches threw parties for kids, a transparent ploy to corral the little hooligans.

Pranks were mostly the same as from earlier years. (The whole notion of “trick or treat” as barter against vandalism apparently did not evolve until around 1927.) It was still popular to steal front gates from homes and hoist them high into trees; wagons and buggies were taken apart and reassembled atop a roof.  There were regional variations, too. In the Midwest it was apparently common to dump a load of feed corn on someone’s porch, creating a cleanup mess (think of it as the old-time version of TP’ing trees). The police in Indianapolis were on the alert for vandals throwing putty at passing automobiles. And in Provo, Utah, which became “dry” at the beginning of 1910, prohibitionist pranksters painted the word “blind” and a cartoon of a pig outside the speakeasies (here’s the meaning of “blind pig” for those unfamiliar).

Some pranks also involved a “tick-tack,” about which some deeper research was required. Completely forgotten today, this little noisemaker was incredibly popular at the turn of the century and easy for even a small child to make. Take an empty thread spool and notch teeth on the top and bottom to make the ends into something like a gear. Stick the spool on a pencil and wind string around the core. Pull the string and quickly press it against the outside of a window. Anyone inside the house would be startled by the very loud rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat sound that results. There were more complex versions including a couple of patented gizmos – the image shown at right is from a patent that included suction cups to attach to the window and a metal spring. You can find directions for a rubber band cranked tick-tack in the 1914 book, “The American Boy’s Workshop,” which also includes directions in how to trap a skunk, build a raft (“surely you can find four good stout logs and cleat them with pieces of scantling firmly spiked on”) and several ways to put your eye out. But a tick-tack was not intended to be your everyday ratchet noisemaker; it was meant to terrorize people in the comfort of their home. And so one of the 1910 deaths came to be a sickly two year-old boy in Denver, who had a seizure and died after he was startled by the racket of a tick-tack on his bedroom window.

Here are some other pranks reported in the 1910 newspapers:

  Pranksters remove a guardrail surrounding a excavation pit in Chicago and an unidentified man falls to his death. Also in the grim category is the burning of a freight car in the Rock Island railroad yard, the vandal probably unaware that nearby cars were loaded with timber, coal, and other fuels that might have caused a conflagration
  A Salt Lake City motorcycle cop spots a group of boys dragging away a gate with a rope. As he drives up to them, the boys use the rope to lasso the policeman. The boys spend the night in jail

  A young man in Indiana decides it would be funny for his friends to tell his father he had been kidnapped and would be killed if a ransom wasn’t paid. The group of boys – presumably masked – wake up the surprised dad, who promptly jumps from his second-story bedroom window in his nightgown

The most interesting pranks, however, are the ones that remind us how different things were a century ago.

In the town of Jackson (Amador County) school was cancelled because someone stole the clapper in the school bell, and as everybody knows, school can’t be held unless the school bell rings.

Another school cancelled classes because wiseguys broke into the school, led a cow to the second floor and left it there. This was a two-fer; not only was school called off because of the janitorial mess, but it’s also impossible to lead a cow down a set of stairs – how they got it out of the building is anyone’s guess.

And then there was the teacher in Duncan’s Mill who found her buggy on the top of the barn the morning after Halloween. She demanded her students have it ready for use by the next day and come the following dawn, she awoke to find her buggy still on the barn but now with a goat hitched into position. Anythin’ else we kin do for yer, Ma’am?

 Teachers’ Buggy Placed on Top of Barn Hallowe’en and Tuesday Night a Goat Was Hitched in Shafts

 Some of the practical jokers at Duncan’s Mills had some amusement Hallowe’en and since at the expense of Miss Ethel Piezzie of this city, who is teaching in Ocean district, and living at Duncan’s Mills.

During Hallowe’en night the buggy in which Miss Piezzie drives to and from he school daily was taken up on top of the barn, and her horse taken out of its stall and an old plug put in its place. When it came time to go to schools, Miss Piezzie was compelled to hire a buggy.

Dire threats were made by the teacher as to the results to the jokers unless her buggy was ready for use on Wednesday morning. When Wednesday morning came there was the buggy still on the barn, but hitched in the shafts was a goat which had been secured during the night and taken aloft for the purpose. The affair has created much amusement to all but the unfortunate teacher.

 – Press Democrat, November 3, 1910

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Flip a coin and vote for either the Democratic or Republican candidates; it doesn’t matter because they’re the same guys.

For the second election in a row, the 1910 Santa Rosa election was fixed – the Democrats and Republicans united to offer a “fusion” ticket with the same slate for mayor and city council. The main difference between that year’s setup and 1908 was that the earlier candidates were “chosen” by a sham vote at local party conventions; in 1910, the nominees were selected by a committee of political party leaders.

Having the winners of the upcoming election already settled in a smoky backroom deal was a bit much, even for Santa Rosa’s go-along lumpenproletariat. There were apparently grumbles, addressed by Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley in a pair of editorials. There was nothing un-democratic at all about the process because the committee’s decisions were “authorized by the central or executive committees of those organizations.” And besides, the nominations were only recommendations:

There is no good reason why there should be any opposition whatever to the non-partisan ticket suggested by the representatives of the three local political organizations as the result of their recent conference…Some people seem inclined to object to the manner in which “the ticket was nominated.” They say a mass meeting should have had a voice in the proceedings and contend that the action of the conference committees savors of “star-chamber” proceedings. But as a matter of fact, no ticket has yet been nominated. All that the conference committees did, after getting together and ascertaining that there was no real difference between the three organizations as to questions of local policy, was to recommend that James R. Edwards be nominated for Mayor, and Messrs. Johnston, Forgett and Pressley be nominated as candidates for councilmen.



Santa Rosa voters in 1910 were presented with a single mainstream candidate for mayor and most of the City Council seats, the nominees picked in a secret meeting by the city’s political bosses. Was that actually legal? It probably was – technically – although a judge might have thought otherwise, had anyone challenged the doings. It certainly violated the spirit of the recently passed elections law which was intended to make the process more democratic, not less so.

“Under the new primary law, conventions and mass meetings are things of the past,” Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley explained to voters who were understandably concerned by the doings. Finley was telling a series of half-truths – or maybe he was just unclear about the law himself. California’s 1909 Direct Primary Election Law was a confusing mess, the result of a pitched legislative fight that ended up creating a law no one liked.

The new primary election law was mainly intended to replace the entire reliance on election-year conventions, where party delegates gathered together to select one nominee from a pool of many candidates – a system that had proven to be easily corrupted by special interests, particularly the powerful Southern Pacific Railroad. The new law allowed every voter to directly choose nominees for his party by ballot. Party conventions were still expected to resolve disputes and settle on candidates when there was no clear primary winner.

But direct primary voting quickly proved as corruptible as the convention system. The political machines had inserted a party loyalty clause that made it all but required for candidates to be party flacks. They also found they could swing elections by having tens of thousands of voters under their control switch to a particular party affiliation in order to nominate a weak candidate, as happened in the 1909 San Francisco mayoral race. These and other loopholes were removed when the direct primary law was greatly revised in 1911, which in turn led to the end of the era when the railroads deftly controlled California politics.

Santa Rosa’s “fusion” ticket, marrying the Democratic and Republican parties together along with the Municipal League was unusual, but not illegal. The law is clear, however, that anyone was able to put their name forward as a nominee in the primary as long as they met partisan requirements, gathered a certain number of signatures and paid a fee, just as today. There is no nonsense in the law about party leaders first “recommending” a bloc of pre-selected nominees to voters. After all, it was called the “Direct Primary Election Law,” not the “Rubber Stamp Election Law.”

In his editorials Finley also praised the selection process for “getting rid of the usual election squabble” that divided the town. “Many a time we have fought and struggled through a two-months’ campaign, engendering feelings that lasted for years,” he wrote. That morning, a loud thunk! was probably heard all over Santa Rosa as jaws hit the ground; it was always Finley who instigated the squabbles, viciously attacking his political foes even after the elections were over. Close to his heart he kept his enemies list, and it seemed written in permanent ink. (See “The Many Wars of Ernest Finley” for background.)

But politics can make for strange bedfellows and besides the Democrats and Republicans making the committee’s decisions that Finley deemed proper and praiseworthy, the third party at the table was the Municipal League – the very political group that Finley had hammered two years earlier as lying troublemakers with a secret agenda. The Municipal League of 1910, however, was not the Municipal League of 1908; the progressive faction that wanted reform – the people who always seemed to make Finley feel most threatened – had mostly split off to form a county chapter of the Lincoln-Roosevelt League that was attempting to elbow its way into the local Republican party. (Much more about that drama later.) Apparently the Municipal League was now mainly the church element that wanted prohibition, which accounts for the “fusion” plank that promised there would be no new saloons and existing liquor laws would be enforced. New hotels and restaurants were exempt, of course, and fat chance on the latter.

Although he lacked a proper foe to demonize in this election, Finley did not retire his cudgel. His target now was the man who had the temerity run against the fusion ticket candidate for mayor: Evariste de Bernardi, an Italian immigrant who had operated a hotel and grocery in Petaluma and now owned the Magnolia Hotel in Santa Rosa. Apparently unwilling to openly attack a Santa Rosa businessman, Finley smeared de Bernardi using an editorial page “humor” column from his alter-ego, “Sleepy Bill.” Written in thick dialect supposed to imitate an old-timer, Sleepy Bill longed for a return of the good ol’ days when Santa Rosa was “wide open” and hoped that he and his sort could elect de Bernardi on the sly. “Bernardi’s a cute one, all right, and if youse blokes don’t tie no handicap to him, he’ll fool de talent and make de trip dead easy.”

The libel against de Bernardi continued with asides that “He’s promised seven or eight fellers to make ’em Street Commissioner,” that he was plotting to bring back prostitution, that he was arrested for backroom gambling and that he gouged customers by jacking up prices after the 1906 earthquake:

De good peeps ain’t fergot as how Bernardi was arrested and fined two or three times fer runnin’ a gambling game in his joint after de shake, or how he soaked de price of beer up to a quarter and coffee to a half, and de boys in blue had to call him down. And if I gets it straight, a lot of folks here already knows how he used to run dat hotel in Petalumy. No sir, we don’t want to do nothin’ that will git any of dem stories started around dis burg just yet.

While the dissolute Sleepy Bill hoped de Bernardi was voted into office “afore anybody drops on to what’s doin,” he still wouldn’t knock the fusion candidate for mayor: “Jimmy Edwards ain’t fer no dry town…Jimmy Edwards is all right, but he don’t trot in my class” (‘live the high life like me,’ probably). And, in fact, candidate James R. Edwards invited no rebuke. Like the previous mayor, James H. Gray, he was by all counts an honest man untouched by scandal, and unlikely to exploit his position as Santa Rosa’s mayor.

James Edwards was the assistant cashier at Exchange Bank and after the 1906 earthquake was treasurer of the Earthquake Relief Fund. It was James who drove his father-in-law, Bertrand Rockwell, to a Petaluma bank immediately after the earthquake, where Rockwell cashed a check needed to pay emergency workers. Edwards later became president of the Luther Burbank Company and honorably resigned when the company became mired in disgrace (not of his doing). And as the obl. Believe It Or Not! item for this article, be astonished that he has two graves! One is in the Santa Rosa Memorial Park Cemetery and the other in the Rural Cemetery. James died in 1932 (age 59) and was buried next to his mother at Rural, but his widow, Florence, lived another thirty years – presumably she requested he be disinterred and reburied at her side in the Memorial Park. But the earlier headstone remained behind at Rural.

Edwards also shared with his predecessor, Gray – also elected as a “fusion” candidate – a lack of any experience or apparent ambition in politics. Finley and the Chamber of Commerce bunch probably wanted them in office not because they were supposed to act upon the behalf of special interests, but because they could be counted upon to head a laissez-faire administration. Neither mayor stepped up to the plate as a leader, although Gray tried to mediate a dispute early in his tenure and ended up putting the city at risk of a lawsuit as a result. Edwards offered little or no leadership in his two years, even staying on the sidelines during the battle over moving the tannery, which pitted most of the citizenry against the town’s largest employer.

On election day, Edwards beat de Bernardi 69 to 31 percent, which seems like a huge win until you consider that de Bernardi won a third of the vote with absolutely no support from any political party. The fusion ticket councilmen also all won, although one of them faced a pair of opponents who together received more votes. The anti-fusion votes may have been only a minority dissenting against the town’s status-quo polity but it was dissent just the same, and a sign that a sizable number of voters were no longer marching to the beat of the same old political drums.

Lion and Lamb to Lie Down Together This Spring

The political pot has begun to boil in Santa Rosa already, and there seems to be a general disposition among the parties to eliminate any contest in the coming municipal election.

With that end in view conferences have recently been held between committees representing the fusionists at the last election and the Municipal Leaguers. Certain matters have been tacitly agreed upon, but other matters are yet in the embryonic state.

A mayorality [sic] candidate has not yet been found and a nominee to succeed Councilman L. W. Burris has not been chosen. Councilman Burris long since announced tht eh would not under any condition accept the nomination again.

In the conferences held, as stated, it has been agreed that the Fusionists shall name the nominee for councilmanic honors from the fourth ward, and it is understood that means the selection of Councilman C. Fred Forgett to succeed himself.

The selection of the nominee for the sixth ward has been left entirely to the Municipal Lague, and it is understood that Councilman Robert L. Johnston, the incumbent, is to be his own successor.

In the fifth ward, from which Councilman Burris retires, there are two candidates in the open, with a dark horse who may yet take the lead. The men who have been mentioned for councilmen in this ward are Henry A. Hoyt, the contractor, and Leslie A. Jordan, the insurance man. If a choice cannot be made between these  men by the committee having the matter in charge, a dark horse is known to be in existence.

Representing the parties in the conferences have been seven men, two Republicans, two Democrats and three Municipal League men.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 17, 1910
Edwards for Mayor, Johnston, Forgett and Pressley for Council


For Mayor–James R. Edwards
For Councilman, Third Ward–Robert Lyle Johnston
For Councilman, Fourth Ward–Charles Frederick Forgett
For Councilman, Fifth Ward–Lawrence Adams Pressley


We, the representatives of the municipal organizations of the Democratic, Republican and Municipal League parties of the City of Santa Rosa, pledge our candidates for the offices of Mayor and Councilmen to the following platform:


Impartiality and non-partisanship, in the appointment of all city officers, in the employment of labor, the purchase of materials, and the letting of contracts.


That no bawdy-house district, or public prostitution, shall be permitted to exist within the corporate limits of the city.


The regulation of the saloons, and the orderly conduct of of the same; a strict and impartial enforcement of all municipal and state laws with respect to the sale of spiritous, malt, and vinous liquors; the issuance of no new liquor licenses except to bona fide hotels and restaurants, and the reduction of the number of saloons now existing as opportunity will permit, without undue injury to individuals; and in the event of the forfeiture of a license for any cause, no new or other license to be issued in lieu thereof.

– Press Democrat, February 29, 1910


Much satisfaction is being expressed over the ticket proposed by the conference committee, and there is little question but that it will be heartily endorsed at the polls. Many a time we have fought and struggled through a two-months’ campaign, engendering feelings that lasted for years, only to emerge with a set of officers not nearly so well qualified and not half so acceptable generally. James R. Edwards is a man of high character, fine business ability and sterling worth. He can be depended upon to discharge the duties of Mayor faithfully and well. Messrs. Johnston and Forgett have rendered good service on the City Council, and no mistake will be made in electing them for another term. Lawrence Pressley has occupied numerous positions of responsibility and trust, always acquitting himself with credit. As a member of the City Council he will fully substantiate the confidence that has been placed in him.

– Press Democrat editorial, March 1, 1910

Non-Partisan Nominee for Mayor Outlines Position in Talk With Press Democrat Representative


“The several matters covered in the platform speak for themselves, and seem fair enough to suit anybody. This nomination came to me entirely unsolicited, and I am bound to no party, individual or set of individuals. If elected, I shall try to serve the interests of all the people. As far as I am able to learn, affairs in the various departments appear to be running along in a satisfactory condition, and as the object of this election seems to be to avoid any undue disturbance. I see no reason at this time why any changes should be necessary among the city’s employees. If I should be elected and later discover that any of the employees of the municipality are not doing their duty or giving the city the proper kind of service, they will have to go, and that is all there is about it. A city, it seems to me, is pretty much like a business concern, and there is no reason why it should not be run along business lines.”

– Press Democrat, March 3, 1910


There is no good reason why there should be any opposition whatever to the non-partisan ticket suggested by the representatives of the three local political organizations as the result of their recent conference. The four men recommended for office are all good representative citizens, who can be depended upon to treat all interests with fairness and impartiality; all are well qualified for the positions they have been asked to fill; there  is absoulutely no issue to be fought out; and the best interests of the city demand that the strife and turmoil attending recent municipal elections here be avoided this year if such a thing be possible.

Some people seem inclined to object to the manner in which “the ticket was nominated.” They say a mass meeting should have had a voice in the proceedings and contend that the action of the conference committees savors of “star-chamber” proceedings.

But as a matter of fact, no ticket has yet been nominated. All that the conference committees did, after getting together and ascertaining that there was no real difference between the three organizations as to questions of local policy, was to recommend that James R. Edwards be nominated for Mayor, and Messrs. Johnston, Forgett and Pressley be nominated as candidates for councilmen. The nominations have not yet been made. They are being made now, by petition.

Under the new primary law, conventions and mass meetings are things of the past. And the members of the three committees named to confer regarding the best way to go about handing the election under the new and untried law were all duly accredited representatives of the political organizations for which they acted, and their acts were not only authorized by the central or executive committees of those organizations, but also duly ratified before being made public.

In addition to the facts above set forth, the action of the conference committees has resulted in saving the city the expense of holding a primary election. Less than a couple of hundred electors were registered in time to qualify themselves to vote at the primaries, and the expenses of holding the primary would have been between $1,200 and $1,500.

Taking everything into consideration, it is difficult to understand how any citizen having the welfare of the community at heart can conscientiously oppose the plan that has been suggested for getting rid of the usual election squabble here this year.

– Press Democrat editorial, March 3, 1910


E. DeBernardi has announced his candidacy for the office of Mayor. Yesterday he called at this office and handed in the following signed communication with the request that it be published:

Having been requested by a number of prominent business men and citizens of Santa Rosa to become a candidate for Mayor in the next election to be held in our city on the 5th day of April, I come before you after due consideration and ask your support.

I must say that I come before you with free hands, pledged to no machine nor party, making you no promises, nor trying to mislead you. I do not want you to criticize what I am going to do, but what I have done.

My platform will have no planks (especially if rough lumber one may get slivers), no flourishing words, but only three phrases; honesty of purpose, justice to all, and favor to none.

I want your support and the support of those that love liberty; liberty of thoughts and action, and if by the past you may judge the future, then I have nothing to fear, fully believing that you will entrust to me the care of your city. I have lived among you for nearly a decade, and having been in business all this time, you have had a chance to see more or less of me and judge if I am not worthy of your confidence, and if next April, the 5th you will choose to cast your ballot for me. I will give an administration that you shall have just reason to be proud of.
[signed] E. DeBernardi.

Mr. DeBernardi does not come before the public as the nominee of any organization, political or otherwise, but merely as a citizen willing to occupy this high place and take over the direction of public affairs here if the people so desire. In launching his candidacy he proceeds under the general law, which provides that any citizen may become a candidate for office upon presenting a petition duly signed by at least three percent of the voters. Mr. DeBernardi was out yesterday securing signatures to his petition, and met with good success. He hopes to file his petition today. Mr. DeBernardi has been a resident of this city for several years, and lived in Petaluma for some time before coming here. He is a native of Italy, where he was born 46 years ago. He was naturalized in 1885, in Marin county.

– Press Democrat, March 5, 1910

Well-Known Local Character Discusses Political Situation Straight from the Inside

“Say, what are youse guys a-tryin’ to do, start something?” said Sleepy Bill yesterday, as he strolled into a down-town resort and began to shake hands all ’round after his long absence. “Can’t youse mutts see dat a scrap now is a-goin’ to spoil de game and beat de big bloke for Mayor?” he continued. “Our play is fer to lay low, and shoot Bernardi in afore anybody drops on to what’s doin.'”

“Why, if de choich gang ever gets wise to our man we won’t have no more show dan Jim Ramage has of winnin’ out in de big race meet wid his one-lunger. Say, dey’d make us look like Joe Tarzyn after a game of pool  at de Elk’s Club. De good peeps ain’t fergot as how Bernardi was arrested and fined two or three times fer runnin’ a gambling game in his joint after de shake, or how he soaked de price of beer up to a quarter and coffee to a half, and de boys in blue had to call him down. And if I gets it straight, a lot of folks here already knows how he used to run dat hotel in Petalumy. No sir, we don’t want to do nothin’ that will git any of dem stories started around dis burg just yet.

Bernardi’s a cute one, all right, and if youse blokes don’t tie no handicap to him, he’ll fool de talent and make de trip dead easy. He’s promised seven or eight fellers to make ’em Street Commissioner, and de way dey is out a-leggin for him is something pitiful. Why, when it comes to promisin’ t’ings, he’s got Henry Silvershield beat to a pulp. Tarkey Rains, Little Bill Nichols, Charlie White, Political Dick, Jess Musselman, Charley Holmes and three or four others t’ink dey has got de street job nailed to de cross fer fair. Dey say he promised ’em de place right out. He’s kinder overdid de promisin’ act as fer as de Street Commissioner busines goes, dough. A day or two back, one of de boys heard conflictin’ yarns about who was to git de place, and went and asked him what id meant. ‘Well,’ says Bernardi, ‘I did tell Jess he could have it, but you’re de real Injun, see? I was only a stringin’ Jess, so as to make him feel good.’

“Naw; de Police Chief aint settled on yet. De big one wants to give it to Curley Murphy, but we has promised it to t’ree or four, and I don’t know just how it is a-goin’ to come out. Yes, when it comes to promisin’ dats our strong suit, but if you know who you’re a talkin’ to you don’t take any chances. We promised the good gang dat we wouldn’t stand fer no red lights and den we turned ’round and throwed de gaff into de udder gang and told ’em if dey wanted t’ings put back de way dey was before, dey would have to come across wid de goods. And dey come, you bet. Oh, when it comes to doin’ slick politics, DeB is right dere wid bells, and don’t youse fergit it. Pop Collins learned him de game down in Petalumy.

“Jimmy Edwards ain’t fer no dry town; he says everything is a-runnin’ along all right now. But what we wants is to t’row ‘er wide open, wake up dese chicken-farmers and make ’em circulate dere egg money.

“Me and Dock Reed and Charlie Holmes was a-talkin’ yesterday in de J & M and Dock he says dey has got to be a change. ‘De choich crowd and Rolfe Thompson and his gang has run dis town long enough, and its a dead one alongside of Reno and Truckee and some of them up-to-date burgs,’ says Dock. ‘Jimmy Edwards is all right, but he don’t trot in my class. It’s me fer de swinging doors and de ‘lectric lights–lots of ’em. If de gang had a-put me up, I’d a-made de old town go some, you bet.’

“‘You’re de man what ought to a-had it too, Dock,’ says Charlie. ‘You had no business a-gettin’ cold feet like dat, and lettin’ Bernardi beat you to it.’

“‘You bet, I’d sure a-showed ’em some real speed,’ says Dock.


– Press Democrat editorial page, March 27, 1910

Entire ‘Non-Partisan Party’ Ticket Elected, by Majorities that Vary from 529 to 21


The election passed off quietly, as such things go, although during the day much interest was manifested regarding the probable outcome.

Edwards’ supporters were out early with teams and carriages, and Bernardi had an automobile at work, supplementing this later in the day with a carriage or two. Several of the other candidates also had carriages out.

The voting began early, and the total vote cast was 1427. With one or two exceptions, the election officers were those already announced in these columns.

As usual, the Press Democrat office was the principal scene of activity in the evening when the returns began to come in. The crowd began to gather before seven o’clock. As the messengers came in from the polling places with the return of votes, the results were quickly totalled up and announced, thus keeping the crowd posted as to the progress of the count.

All the returns were in shortly after eight o’clock, with the exception of those from the Fifth precinct, where the count was slow. The fact that there were three men running for Councilmen in this ward may have accounted for the delay there to some extent.

Shortly after nine o’clock all the votes were in and as soon as the result was formally announced a procession was formed and headed for the Edwards’ residence on Mendocino Avenue to congratulate Mr. Edwards on his election. Arriving there, Mr. Edwards was called out, and from the porch introduced by Ernest L. Finley as “the next Mayor of the City of Santa Rosa.”

Mr. Edwards’ appearance was greeted with much enthusiasm, and after the cheering had subsided the crowd called upon him for a speech. Mr. Edwards responded with a few well-chosen remarks in which he thanked the citizens for the honor conferred upon him, and pledged himself to do all in his power to promote the welfare and advancement of Santa Rosa. He concluded by inviting all present to come in and have “something to eat and drink.”

The invitation was accepted with three rousing cheers and the entire gathering trooped inside where Mrs. Edwards and a number of her lady friends served coffee, sandwiches, etc., everybody shaking hands with the new Mayor as they entered the door. After felicitating the new Mayor personally upon his his election and partaking of his hospitality, the crowd departed and later on in the evening, when the meeting of the City Council had adjourned, Mayor James H. Gray and the city officials also called at the Edwards residence and congratulated Mr. Edwards upon his election. The latter party remained about an hour.

About half-past nine o’clock, Mrs. DeBernardi, wife of Mr. Edwards opponent, telephoned to the new Mayor congratulating him upon his election and wishing him a successful administration.


– Press Democrat, April 6, 1910

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It’s election day, 1910: Will you vote for California to create a state highway system? It’s not an easy decision.

Another use for the modern automobile: Dressing it up as a parade float. Florence Edwards, wife of Santa Rosa mayor James Edwards, and her sister Katherine Rockwell driving their entry in the 1910 Santa Rosa Rose Carnival. Underneath all those blossoms was a 1909 or 1910 model Buick Model 10 Runabout, which was a 22.5 horsepower three-seater (there was a “mother-in-law” seat in the rear not visible in this image). The local Buick dealer was Santa Rosa Garage at 216 B Street. Photo courtesy Rockwell family archives 

There were now three auto dealerships in downtown Santa Rosa and judging by the large, expensive ads crowding the pages of both local papers in 1910, the town was more car crazy than ever. Buying a car was usually no longer a newsworthy item, but the gossip columns kept track of whom was driving where for whatever. The first auto fatality was also recorded that year; a nine-year old boy was killed by an auto at the corner of Third and B. The coroner’s jury found the driver blameless – the child simply dashed in front of the car without looking.

But the most significant event of the year was the upcoming vote on the State Highways Act. California voters were being asked to approve a state bond for a jaw-dropping $18 million that would last until the futuristic year of 1961. The bond would pay for the construction of two highways running north-south. One would follow the the Central Valley through Sacramento, becoming more-or-less the route of today’s I-5; the other highway route would be “along the Pacific coast,” although it was left undetermined if that would be a true coastal road such as modern highway 1 or follow the trail of El Camino Real, becoming highway 101. “Several county seats lying east and west” of each highway were promised connections via new branch roads.

At this point, Gentle Reader’s mouse finger is probably getting twitchy; reading about old state bond measures sounds just about as boring as, well, reading about old state bond measures. But there is a point to be made and hopefully you’ll stick around for a few more paragraphs.

James Wyatt Oates, president of the Sonoma County Automobile Association, wrote a lengthy defense of the Act in the Santa Rosa Republican. He argued the new system would probably be more cost-effective (while admitting he didn’t know how much was currently being spent on county roads) and that the system would end the haphazard local maintenance (while overlooking it would be up to the same locals to maintain any new state road construction, and doing so without state financial help).

There were loopholes and other unsavory details in the Act that Oates neglected to mention but were being hotly debated in newspapers around the state. Warnings were sounded over the politically-appointed advisory board that determined the exact locations of the new roads; they would be wielding enormous political power – a sensitive issue in California, which was still trying to wriggle out from under the cloven hoof of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

There was particular concern over the repayment demands. Whenever any bond money was spent in a county, it was required to pay four percent back to the state (the amount of interest paid on the bonds). That sounds fair on paper, but consider that neither highway would cross through bridge-less San Francisco County – the wealthiest part of California – so the region most likely to profit from the new intrastate road system would pay little or nothing. Counties in the path of the highways might gain an income windfall for turning county roads over to state ownership, but that would create holy hell in Los Angeles County, which had recently sold $3.5 million in road bonds; paying the state its four percent for roadwork plus the interest due from those earlier bonds meant that Los Angelenos would be double-taxed. There were many poor, eastern counties such as Amador complaining they would see no benefit at all because they were too far away from the action. For these reasons and more, opposition was stiff. The popular California Good Roads Association and the Automobile club of Southern California campaigned against approval.

With all that it mind, let’s pretend it’s the morning of November 8, 1910, and you are an average Santa Rosa voter (meaning, you are male and have a receipt showing you’ve paid the poll tax). How will you vote?

Before marking the ballot yes or no, further consider this: You and yours can’t expect to personally ever enjoy the new road system. The average household income in 1910 Santa Rosa was around $600, which meant that a car big enough to seat your family would cost around two full years’ pay. Even the tiny Buick runabout shown in the picture above was out of reach (it sold for $900). Yes, the situation would change in the near future, thanks to Henry Ford; five years later, a new Ford would cost as low as $360, making autos affordable to nearly everyone – but 1910 voters couldn’t see into the future. So while the new highways might offer local advantages in trucking crops to market and such, cruising around the Golden State on those endless miles of beautiful fresh pavement was a pleasure reserved for the wealthy. People like James Wyatt Oates, relentless crusader for more roads.

Come election day, Los Angeles voted against it 3 to 1. It won 55 percent approval in Sonoma County and passed statewide.

Passage of the State Highways Act bond was a turning point in California’s history; it’s impossible to imagine the state would have experienced its later decades of explosive growth and agricultural development without those major north-south arteries. Sure, had it failed to pass, the WPA might well have built similar highways 25 years later – or just maybe we would have been stuck with a fractious system of county toll roads that evolved in its absence.

Yet it’s also hard to see California voters approving something like the State Highways Act today. That $18 million might not sound like much to our ears, but it was an enormous sum at the time; with inflation it works out to $8.6 billion in modern dollars, equal to about three-fourths of all California state bonds sold last year. Every special interest in the state would now fiercely lobby against such a proposition simply because it would suck all the air out of the investor’s bank vaults.

Still believe the Act would be approved by modern-day voters? Compare criticism against it in 1910 to recent arguments against funding the SMART trains. Just as then, SMART opponents charged the project is a boondoggle, that it will benefit only a privileged few, that the choices for the route (train stops) will be decided on political favoritism, that it can’t be completed as promised without additional rounds of future funding. It took two attempts to gain voter approval for SMART and it nearly faced a recall. Think back over all those years of heated struggle on SMART funding, then realize that cockfight was squabbling about two percent the relative size of the State Highways Act bond.

The 1910 Act passed because it won approval in counties that expected to gain state highway status – Los Angeles excepted – with a big boost from San Francisco, which at the time had a quarter of the state population. It should be noted, too, that 1910 was near the peak of the Progressive Era, when many people eyed civic betterment as more important than “what was in it for them.”

Skeptics were right, however, in predicting the State Highways Act bond would fall short on money. Additional bonds were passed in 1915 and 1919 to complete the work. Over the course of that decade Sonoma County built roads in a frenzy; by 1913, Santa Rosa was spending over $28,000 a year for highways – among the highest of California cities of its size – and the county was spending almost as much on new roads as larger Alameda County and far more than Marin. For better or ill, Sonoma County was among the vanguard in subsidizing the car culture using public funds.

Roads in Marin County From San Rafael to Sausalito Are to be Improved Soon

Santa Rosa autoists as well as those on all sides of the bay will be glad to know that through the efforts of the automobile owners of San Francisco and Marin county, aided by the proper authorities, steps are to be taken very soon to improve the roads in Marin county, particularly from San  Rafael to Sausalito, a road much used but in a very bad condition.

The Sonoma County Automobile Association, of which Colonel James W. Oates is president, will shortly take up some active work for the improvement of certain roads in the county. The Ukiah Good Roads Association, as has been stated heretofore, is doing fine work on the roads from the Sonoma county line northward to Ukiah. Already they have held two “good roads” days, and the members of the club have turned out in full force to help in the repair work on the roads.

– Press Democrat, April 29, 1910
Splendid Time in Prospect–Anyone Favoring Good Roads Can Join the Association

Today the much anticipated outing, annual meeting and bull’s head breakfast under the auspices of the Sonoma County Automobile Association of which Colonel Jas. W. Oates is president, occurs in Bosworth’s Grove at Geyserville.

All members of the Association and their families are expected to be present as well as all others who become members of the Association prior to twelve o’clock noon–you can join on the field–when the big feast will commence. Anyone interested in good roads, whether he or she be owner of an automobile or not, may become a member of the Association, a prime move of which is to encourage the building of good roads throughout the state.

There will be all kinds of good things on hand for the breakfast menu. The Bismark Cafe proprietors, Bertolani Brothers, have charge of the feast, and they have secured the services of a special Spanish cook of note who will superintend affairs. Saturday night a staff of seven men left here for Bosworth’s Grove so as to get everything in readiness, for the grand breakfast will be enjoyed under the shade trees. The thoughts of that perfectly good feed should be an inspiration to membership in the Association, let alone the splendid object that is to be the strong feature of the meeting following the breakfast, that of boosting good roads.

– Press Democrat, June 5, 1910

Synopsis of “State Highway Act” Now Pending

Santa Rosa, Oct. 19, 1910

I have been requested to give a synopsis of the “State Highway Act,” now pending and to be voted on by the people at the November election.

This act, speaking generally, provides:

1–For the issuing by the state of eighteen million dollars of bonds in serials, to fall due in equal amounts each year until 1961.

2–The funds raised from the sale of these bonds are to be for the construction of two main highways, one to run through the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, and from the Mexican line to the Oregon line; the other to run through the coast counties, both running north and south, and to connect every shire, or country town in the state.

3–These highways are to be constructed under the management and control of a state engineer.

4–The state pays the principal of these bonds by general taxation.

5–These bonds are to bear interest at a rate not over four per cent per annum, and each county in which any part of such highway is constructed is to pay the interest on the bonds represented by the amount of such highway fund expended in constructing such highway in such county.

6–After the construction of any highway inside a county, the management and control of the same is to be turned over by the state to the county in which it lies.

There are other provisions in the act, but they, in the main, deal with mere methods of procedure in putting the act into operation and for paying the bonds.

The way this act would operate in this country would be about this:

The only roads we have that would come under the operation of this act are the present ones from the Marin county line through Petaluma and Santa Rosa to the Mendocino county line, that from Santa Rosa through Sonoma to the Napa county line, and possibly from Cloverdale to the Lake county line.

These roads are now and have been for many years, county highways in more or less good condition, but never, within my knowledge, have they ever been in good condition throughout at the same time.

The construction of the state highway along these routes would be in all probability, by no means the same or as costly as the construction of new roads. In many places they would require much less work than in a new construction so that much of the expense of constructing new roads could be saved. All this, however, would depend upon whether the roads would be entirely reconstructed, and this is a matter of detail to be determined later by the proper authority.

To illustrate, we will say such construction within our county should cost $100,000 of this highway fund. When completed the roads would be turned over to the county government, and the latter would thenceforward have to pay the interest on $100,000 of the bonds, which would not be over $4000 per year at first, and would gradually grow less as the state paid off the principal of the bonds, till in the end the amount would be very small. The county, however, would have to keep up the roads.

From the Marin line to the Mendocino line, and from Santa Rosa by Sonoma to the Napa line is approximately 86 miles of road.

I have tried to find out how much money is spent each year on these roads, but from the present system it is almost impossible to do so. It would not, however, be far from the mark to say that such expenditure is annually not far from $4000 each year, which is the amount we would have to pay at first as interest on the bonds. Under the present system the results are by no means satisfactory. It is not much more than mere patchwork, at best. The system in inefficient and wasteful. Once a good road is constructed, the keeping of it in repair in a good system would not be very costly. Most of the nations of Europe have solved the trouble by letting a good road out to the lowest bidder for a term of years to keep it in good condition, and putting the contractor under bonds. One having a contract say on twelve miles of road, could watch it and by proper care keep it in complete repair at a nominal cost to him and make the upkeep to the county also much less than is expended now in patchwork, with the result of good roads all the time, instead of bad ones most of the time.

The economic advantages of better roads than we have had in America is just now attracting the attention of the people all over the Union; in fact the good roads movement is now on and will continue until a better system of construction and preservation is attained.

Some object to this “State Highway Act” because it is thought it might be better to have such portions of those highways constructed under county control. There are some advantages that might result from county construction, but the disadvantages greatly outweigh them. Inder that idea each county would have its own system of construction, and we would have nearly as many kinds of roads as we have counties. It would result in a huge piece of patchwork, and much of it, no doubt, would be a failure. Constructed under state control we would have at least uniformity of plan, construction and result; and it strikes me we can get that result in no other way. That this is a controlling consideration is obvious.

This plan is intended and will operate as an entering wedge for an improved road system in this state. With such highways through a county lie benefits and economic worth will soon be so manifest as to lead to similar treatment of all other roads in the county, from time to time, as the county can get at them. No one can rationally expect any system of good roads to be adopted and applied to all roads at once. A beginning must be made somewhere on some road, while other roads must wait their turn. In this way those fortunate enough to live on or near the first ones improved would reap an advantage, but under any system such would be the case. Unless some main roads are used for a beginning, all the roads will continue to be as they are.

The people vote in November on this “State Highway Act”; they can vote it up or vote it down; if they vote it up we have taken a long step towards bettering road conditions in the entire state. If they vote it down, we will have to continue to do the best we can with the road system as we have it.


– Santa Rosa Republican, October 21, 1910

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