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SANTA ROSA’S DEBUT WAS A NIGHTMARE

Portrait of a bad dream: After years of dashed hopes, your greatest desire suddenly comes true. You are awarded a great honor, win the lottery jackpot, whatever. Now a thousand of your closest friends as well as VIPs (whom you’ve always hoped to meet!) are on the way to your house. Except your place is a mess, you don’t have enough food or drinks and everyone will have to hike in from a mile away because of work being done on the streets. That pretty well sums up Santa Rosa’s nightmare that came true on New Year’s Eve, 1870.

By that time, Santa Rosa had been yearning for a rail connection to the Bay Area for over five years. Several times it looked like a deal was a Sure Thing, only to have investors pull out or the developer lose interest. Some of those involved were interesting characters with wildly ambitious proposals (building a suspension bridge across the Golden Gate in 1868!) but that’s a complex story too long for today. Besides, I couldn’t tell the story any better than what’s found in “Redwood Railways” by Gilbert Kneiss – the county library has several copies available for borrowing.


HOW WE GOT TO SAN FRANCISCO BEFORE THE TRAIN
Before 1871 it usually took three or four days to make a quick roundtrip between Santa Rosa and the city. First there was the bone-rattling stagecoach to Petaluma over uncertain roads – see the transcribed articles below for complaints about the “horrible adobe flats between this place and Petaluma” where passengers sometimes had to get out and push during the rainy season when the wheels stuck in the mud. Then there was the 2½ mile trip from downtown Petaluma to the dock at Haystack Landing on a little trolley whose “speed resembles more the limpings of an old lame horse.” Or at least that was the scene up to August, 1866, when the train’s boiler exploded and killed four – after that, the trolley was even slower, pulled by actual horses. Petaluma also infuriated “up-country” travelers because steamboat schedules didn’t mesh with the stagecoach/trolley, so they usually needed to stay overnight at a Petaluma hotel. That trip down the Petaluma River ended at the Point San Quentin wharf, where passengers boarded a ferry which would make several stops in Contra Costa before (finally!) heading to San Francisco.

For purposes here, only two bits of background are important: First, the guy who finally made it happen wasn’t a banker or empire-building tycoon, but rather a San Francisco foundry owner named Peter Donahue. It didn’t hurt that his iron works made locomotives and ships.

Also, there were years of heated debate on what route the train should take from the Bay to Santa Rosa and points north. Santa Rosa pushed hard for the train to go through the town of Sonoma and terminate in Vallejo, where there were grain elevators to store Sonoma county wheat. The alternative was a straight shot north/south similar to modern Highway 101, where a ferry at “Saucelito” could take passengers into San Francisco. The route through Vallejo would not connect to Petaluma, so their town would probably wither away. There was a county vote on this in 1868 and the straight shot won.

But a referendum does not a railroad build. Nearly two years passed after vote with little to show; at the close of 1869 there was only 1½ miles of track laid north of Petaluma. Work had been suspended for the entire summer. The developer was having money troubles and a load of railroad track from England sank after the ship rounded the Horn. (There was so much railroading going on nationwide that U.S. iron foundries were at capacity.)

A popular conspiracy theory spread that Petaluma – whose high turnout of voters in the 1868 referendum settled the route question – was working behind the scenes to scuttle the railroad (or at least drag out construction as long as possible). “Cracker barrel gossip agreed the ‘earth scratching’ was just a vaccination to ward off a railroad,” author Kneiss remarked. Petaluma’s motive was supposedly to protect its monopoly on San Francisco travel via paddlewheel steamers.

Then suddenly, in August, 1870: “THE RAILROAD IS COMING! HURRAH FOR THE RAILROAD!” cheered Santa Rosa’s newspaper, the Sonoma Democrat. Voters had approved a $5,000/mile bounty for the first company to lay ten miles of Sonoma county track, and that month Peter Donahue bought the San Francisco & Northern Pacific from the developer who had made such little progress. Donahue’s operation hit the ground running with a crew of fifty Irish immigrants grading the road while schooners – with railroad ties and iron rails from his own foundry – were queued up to unload at Petaluma’s wharf.

Possibly the oldest photo of a train in Santa Rosa c.1871-1873, showing the first locomotive “San Jose” with Hewitt’s Planing Mill on Wilson street in the background. Courtesy Sonoma County Library

 

Everything now was moving fast, and there were lengthy updates almost every week in the Santa Rosa and Petaluma papers. A month after the whirlwind restart, some folks from Santa Rosa went down to check it out and beg a ride on the little construction engine on the rails. “Although there were no cars of any kind yet, when you’re building a railroad you have an itch to ride on it,” quipped Kneiss. He added that later that same week, “Petaluma’s tycoonery [was] clustered over the little engine like flies on a cook tent pie.” (Seriously, you’ll enjoy this book even if you’re not a railroad buff.) The Petaluma Argus had a full account of their September 13 trip:

After a delay of about half an hour, the engine moved out, the bell rang, and at the cry of “get aboard,” the crowd lighted on the engine like a swarm of bees, and it was with difficulty that standing room could be obtained by those anxious to make the trial trip. Convenience, however, was not particularly sought after, and no grumbling was heard as neighbor tread on his neighbor’s corns…

Crowded as they were, room was still made for a ten gallon keg of Edwards’ Cream Ale before the little engine went tootling down the track, stopping a couple of miles from town at Cinnabar Knoll where they polished off the keg with tributes and toasts to all involved.

Before another month passed the rail would be closing on Santa Rosa which was now suddenly a cause for worry – there were no firm plans about where the depot should be built. There were rumors that Donahue was planning to put it somewhere south of Santa Rosa Creek, or was negotiating with property owners to put it between the Creek and Third street. They didn’t settle on the final (current) location until just before Thanksgiving.

Sans depot and with not even a railroad bridge across the Creek, the first passenger train came up from Petaluma on October 22, 1870. “To many, it was a novel sight, as they had never seen one before,” gushed the Democrat, “and they could scarcely find words to express their admiration.” A week later they began running two trips daily, although the rail south of Petaluma – to the depot town named “Donahue” – was still under construction.

Still, the Santa Rosa paper purred with contentment: “At last the good work is accomplished… A new era has been opened in the history of our county, and its future is bright with promises of renewed life and activity.”

And then came the fiasco of December 31.


WHERE WAS DONAHUE?
From 1871 to 1884, the tiny hamlet of Donahue was the gateway to Sonoma county. About eight miles south of Petaluma on Lakeville Highway (there’s a historic marker by a turnoff on the west side) was the Petaluma River landing where paddlewheel steamers from San Francisco docked. From there, passengers boarded a train for Petaluma or Santa Rosa, with the SF&NP railroad in those years eventually reaching Cloverdale. Local produce was also usually aboard on the return trip to the city. A memoir by Mrs. Julia Gregory in the Petaluma Argus-Courier August 17, 1955, recalled Donahue as “a little town of 10 homes, a hotel, a saloon run by a man named Burdick, a stable and dance hall combined.” There was also a one-room schoolhouse with 30-40 children and two laundries. Mainly, though, it was there to offer a train depot as well as the railroad’s repair shops, roundhouse and turntable. Donahue Landing, as it’s called today, mostly disappeared in 1884 when the southern terminus of the rail line was moved to Tiburon, with the railroad buildings dismantled and barged down to their new location.

The Donahue river depot was now finished and ready to receive the first batch of visitors arriving directly from the city. And thus on the last day of the year, a steamer owned by the railroad left the Jackson Street Wharf, “loaded with passengers, among whom were some of the most noted and substantial men of the state,” according to the Argus.

Once aboard the train, they made the short hop to Petaluma, where “an immense concourse of people had gathered at the depot.” The tourists were greeted by the Hewston Guard (yes, that’s the correct spelling) and the Petaluma Brass Band. The cannon in the plaza was fired as well as rounds fired by the militia. It was a grand reception – but now on to Santa Rosa!

“Vague rumors were in circulation, during the early part of last week, that an excursion party from San Francisco was coming up to Santa Rosa on Saturday,” the Democrat explained later. “Nothing definite was known, however…On Friday, however, one point was settled, namely, that some excursionists were coming at the time mentioned, but as to the number all were in the dark.”

So picture this: It’s early afternoon and a “large throng of ladies and gentlemen” as well as the Santa Rosa Brass Band are waiting for the train to arrive. Until train service began a couple of months before some had never seen a train at all and since then, only an engine with a single passenger car and maybe a flat car. And now, here comes the excursion from San Francisco.

“There were, in all, eighteen cars, most of them open freight cars fitted up with temporary seats,” reported the Democrat. Over 1,200 people were on board.

And now the nightmare begins: The train got no closer than a mile from Santa Rosa – think of today’s Costco shopping center, or perhaps more accurately, the Baker avenue/101 interchange.

Making matters worse, the train would be going back in an hour. Worse still, there were only a few buggies and wagons waiting to transport the mob into town. Those who wanted to see Santa Rosa would have to run for it.

As this was suposed to be a day of bigwigs speechifying and drinking toasts, it’s safe to believe they were dressed in their finer clothes, and not prepared for a two mile sprint there and back. “The advance on the village itself was made in a disorderly manner,” reported the Alta California. From the Sonoma Democrat:

Owing to the great number of those present, it was utterly impossible to find vehicles enough to bring them all to town, and many of both sexes were compelled to walk in, a distance of nearly a mile. This was not very pleasant to begin with, particularly as but one hour was allowed to get to town and return in time for the homeward trip. Such a pushing, rushing and scampering down the road and across lots, has not been seen for many a day in these parts.

And still it became worse! Those who made it to Santa Rosa found there wasn’t enough food available. The Democrat continued:

In a short time Santa Rosa was full of people, nearly all of whom had arrived with appetites sharpened by fasting from the time of leaving the city, some six hours before. Again came disappointment, as it was utterly impossible to wine and dine such a multitude without preparation and within the brief space allowed for their stay.

According to the Alta, “…provisions were dreadfully slack in Santa Rosa. The hotel openly confessed its inability to meet the requirements of so great a host; shut up its dining room remorselessly; could not do it; could not begin to do it, but melted when besought for the sake of the Blessed Virgin a cup of tea for a suffering lady.”

“The visit was neither pleasant to our citizens nor to the excursionists,” the Santa Rosa paper admitted with admirable honesty, and “after bustling about for a few minutes in a most disagreeable and unsatisfactory manner, a grand rush was made for the cars to take them home.”

Back everyone went to Petaluma (“the down trip was remarkably jolly, under the circumstances” – Democrat) where they recovered from their Santa Rosa rout for an hour, then returned home to San Francisco on the boat where they enjoyed a banquet catered by Hendrick’s Hotel in Petaluma.

Santa Rosa probably could not have made a worst impression, nor Petaluma a better one. Looking over all that happened, you almost wonder if Santa Rosa had been punked by Petaluma and Donahue – revenge, perhaps, for pressuring the county to choose the route to Vallejo instead of the one that favored them.

 

 

Petaluma railroad affairs seem to have gotten into a muddle. Col. Bee, the Superintendent, and all hands, were discharged last week, and work consequently suspended. We are assured, however, that it will be resumed at an early day, though the prospect is not very flattering. Under the bill, if we recollect right, the Company is compelled to have ten miles north of Petaluma graded, ironed and in running order by November next. We need not disguise the fact that many of our citizens do not believe good faith is being shown in this matter. Since the vote we have endeavored to show that it would certainly be built inside the unspecified time, and regret exceedingly the manner in which affairs have been managed.
– Sonoma Democrat, May 29 1869
September 25 1869 – railroad work resumes
“How’s Your Railroad.”
It appears from a correspondence to the Healdsburg Flag that this question excites the belligerent organa of the people of Sonoma county. If a stranger goes into that county and asks “How is your railroad?” the chances are that he will be knocked down or sadly abused. The truth of the matter is, that the people have been humbugged, and kept out of a railroad till they are far in the rear of the State in the march of improvement. The citizens of Petaluma have always had an idea that a railroad would be injurious to their interests, aud have fought manfully against the construction of one. They did this openly until they saw it was of no use to do so any longer. They then pretended to favor it, and a company was formed, the citizens of Petaluma becoming large shareholders, and thus prepared, they elected the principal officers, to have the management in their hands, and they then let the whole matter go by default. A bill was passed by the last Legislature authorizing the county to donate five thousand dollars per mile towards the construction of the road, provided the people of the county would vote in favor of it. An election was held to decide the matter. By a very clever maneuvre on the part of Petaluma, it was incorporated so that the people should at the same time decide whether the road should be built from Vallejo via Sonoma to Santa Rosa or from Petaluma to Santa Rosa. A spirited canvass was made—the subsidy granted—the Petaluma route gained the victory. It was placed in the hands of a company, that, it is now seen, never intended to build the road and Petaluma is again victorious. Provision was made in the bill that ten miles of the road should be built in a certain time, or the subsidy be forfeited. That time has now about expired, and not a mile of the road is built. Thus a small portion of the people appear to hold the destinies of the balance of the county in their hands. The people, seeing that they are to have no railroad, and have been cheated out of the great advantages they had had a right to expect, feel very sore whenever asked “how is your railroad?” Sacramento Reporter, Nov, 2.
– Sonoma Democrat, November 13 1869
The Railroad Is Coming! Hurrah for the Railroad! This is the exclamation of everybody in this section of the county who favors this most important enterprise. There has been a feeling of doubt existing in the minds of even those who were the most confident that the road would be built, that by some hook or crook the managers of the new company would get into a wrangle over the matter, among themselves, and thereby cause great delay in the completion of the road. But it is gratifying to know that these fears have all been dispelled, and that the people are now confident that the company intend to commence work immediately and push on as rapidly as possible. We are informed by a gentleman who is one of the most prominent business men in Petaluma, that several large schooners have arrived at that place within the past week, loaded with ties for the Sonoma county Railroad. He also stated that it was his impression that a force of some fifty men were now at work on the grade, and that in a few weeks the company would have some two hundred men at work on the line. This looks like business, and it is now a settled fact that Sonoma will soon be linked to the Metropolis by iron bands, and the shrill whistle of the iron horse will ring through her beautiful valleys. With the railroad Sonoma will take the lead ol all other counties in the State, for her soil cannot be excelled.
– Sonoma Democrat, August 20 1870
Railroad Matters.— Since the arrival of a portion of the rail at Petaluma, which are to be used in the construction of the Sonoma County Railroad, things generally in this vicinity have began to brighten up, and we bear no more complaints as to the possibility of our county being compelled to remain in the back ground for the want of this great enterprise. The movements of those who are managing the interest of the company within the past two or three weeks, have completely allayed the fears of even the most skeptical. It is no longer a question of doubt. The iron has arrived and workmen are now engaged on the road. Those who are in a situation to be well posted on the matter, feel perfectly confident that within three months time Santa Rosa will be connected with the Bay by rail. Instead of a man being compelled to take three or four days to go to the Metropolis and transact his business and return home, he can then make the trip in a few hours by a much more pleasant mode of conveyance than the slow and lumbering stage coach. Our citizens are rejoiced that their labors on behalf of this enterprise are now about to be crowned with success. They have waited long and patiently for it, feeling a consciousness that it would rebound to the benefit and prosperity of every section of the county, and when the shrill whistle of the Iron horse announces the approach of the cars, our people will send up a good hearty cheer as they bid goodbye to the horrible adobe flats between this place and Petaluma.
– Sonoma Democrat, August 27 1870
It is Coming —The work on the railroad is being pushed on with vigor. The tents of one of the camps is now five miles this side of Petaluma. A portion of the track has been laid, and a construction car is running. So far all the work has been done bv white men, and it is the intention, we are told, to employ no slavish Chinese labor in the completion of this enterprise the people of our county will award Mr. Donahue the praise that he is deserving of, for employing white men to work on the road instead of Chinese slaves, who contaminate everything they come in contact with.
– Sonoma Democrat, September 10 1870
The Railroad Is Coming.
If there is any skeptical individual in our community who thinks we are not now destined to have a railroad, we ask him to take a ride down the Petaluma road, and ere he reaches within five miles of that thriving little city he will become convinced that it is no longer an imaginary affair, and having an existence only on paper. On Monday last, we had occasion to pay a short visit to Petaluma, and as a matter of course was looking out for the approach of the cars and listening for the startling shriek of the locomotive. The object that attracted our attention was a number of white tents in a field some five miles this side of the city on the ranch of Mr. Ely. Here we found a large number of men busily engaged in leveling the grade preparatory to laying the ties and rails. From this point all was bustle and activity, and soon we hove in sight of that portion of the track which is now completed a distance of three miles. Upon entering Petaluma at the head of Main street, we came upon the main force of workmen employed on the road, and joyfully beheld the first locomotive which was just preparing to start on its trial trip. After a brief stay in the city and finishing up our business, we proceeded in company with Mr. Berger’s well known citizen of that place, out to where quite a number ot people had congregated, to witness the move incuts of the iron horse. In a short time after arriving upon the busy scenes, our guide introduced us to Mr. Harris, the energetic and gentlemanly superintendent of the road. He very politely invited us to get on the engine with him and take a ride. Scarcely had we stepped upon the platform before the bell began ringing and the hissing sound of the steam announced that the time for starting had arrived. We proceeded up the road a short distance and then returned to the starting point, everything seeming to work perfectly satisfactorily. Mr. Fenton, the engineer, has had great experience in railroading, and Mr. Craig makes an excellent conductor. Immense piles of ties and rails are now lying on the bank ot the slough, and more arriving daily. The Superintendent, Mr. Harris, informed us that in consequence of the great amount of carpenter work that is to be done, it will be impossible for the road to be in running order to Santa Rosa in less than six or seven weeks. The construction cars have now arrived, and the track will be completed as soon as possible, which will be one ot the best and safest in the State. The surveyors are now at work a short distance below town, and but a little time will elapse ere our people will bid good by to the lumbering stage and in its place enjoy the comforts and ease of the beautifully finished car…
– Sonoma Democrat, September 17 1870
The Railroad.— Work is being pushed ahead as rapidly as possible on the road, and it is thought by some that it will be completed to this point by the last of October. During the past week Mr. Donahue and a number of other gentlemen connected with this enterprise paid our town a visit. As yet it is impossible to tell where the depot will be, although it is rumored that the company have purchased land on the other side of the creek for depot purposes.
– Sonoma Democrat, October 1 1870
The Depot.— Now that the railroad is nearly within our town limits, much speculation is going on as to where the depot will be located. It was rumored here some weeks ago, that arrangements of a satisfactory character had been completed between Mr. Donahue and Messrs. Boyce and Clark, for the purchase of eight acres of land lying near the creek at the foot of Third street. This, however, turns out not to be the case, as do final arrangements were ever completed between the above named parties. There is a petition being circulated now, and signed by the property owners ot the town, for the purpose of having all the property taxed proportionally, and the sum so realized to go towards the buying of the land we here named, whereon the depot will be located. The chances are favorable for the location to be on the Boyce and Clark property.
– Sonoma Democrat, October 22 1870
THE RAILROAD.
The first passenger car, bearing the name of “Donahue,” arrived at this place crowded with passengers on Saturday last. Considerable rejoicing was manifested by our people over its arrival, and in the afternoon large numbers went to the terminus of the road, about a mile from town to get a sight of the first railroad car that ever made its appearance near Santa Rosa. To many, it was a novel sight, as they had never seen one before, and they could scarcely find words to express their admiration. All seemed fully conscious of its great advantages over the slow, lumbering stage, and were anxious to experience the delightful sensation of ”riding on a rail.” In the afternoon an excursion party, composed of the prominent citizens of our town, in conjunction with a number from the lower end of the county, went over the road on a pleasure trip to Petaluma. Being in charge of Captain Wright, the genial and affable Superintendent of the road, it was impossible for them to have anything less than a jolly good time. The locker was supplied with any amount of champagne, cigars, etc., and many a toast was drank to the health of Mr. Donahue and the rest of the gentlemen connected with the road. Capt, Wright is finishing up the work on the road between this place and Petaluma as rapidly as possible. On Sunday last we had the pleasure of making a trip with him, during which he generously furnished us with all the information we desired. In consequence of the amount of carpenter work to be done on the road between Petaluma and Lakeville, it will be fully a month yet ere that portion of the work will be finished. Until it is completed they will continue to run the one passenger car, in addition to an open car which can be used by those desirous of being out in the open air. The trip will be made regular each day, leaving Petaluma at eight o’clock in the morning, and returning from here at four o’clock in the afternoon. The fare will be one dollar each way. So far the track reflects great credit upon those who have had the management of its construction, and it will bear comparison with any in the State. The time consumed generally in making the trip from here to Petaluma, sixteen miles including stoppages, is aboat forty-five minutes. When the heavy, powerful engines are in operation, it is thought that thirty minutes will be the time made. All on board enjoyed the trip greatly, and returned to town in the afternoon with glowing accounts of having to encounter neither dust nor adobe mud on the way. We desire to return our thanks to Capt. Wright, also, to Mr. Craig, the conductor, for favors shown on the trip.
– Sonoma Democrat, October 29 1870
The New Locomotive.
During the past week the large and powerful locomotive “San Jose” has been put on the route between this point and Petaluma. The cars are now making two trips daily, and connect with the boats for San Francisco. Messrs. Clark & Bostwick, representing the “Fashion” and “California” stables, run their stages daily to the termini of the road, and go crowded each trip. These gentlemen stand foremost among our enterprising citizens and deserve to meet with success. Work is being prosecuted vigorously on the track between Petaluma and Lakeville, and in a few more weeks the passenger trains will be on, and the people of Santa Rosa will be within three hours ride of San Francisco. This is certainly a glorious change for the better, and will be fully appreciated by our people, who have for years in the winter time been compelled to pay a high price for walking through adobe mud and dragging a lumbering old stage to Petaluma, taking at least one day and a half to reach the Bay city. The completion of the railroad has played sad havoc with the arrangements of those who formerly mapped out the course of travel, and now the people in this vicinity can visit the metropolis much cheaper and more comfortable, besides saving a great amount of valuable time.
– Sonoma Democrat, November 5 1870
The Depot Question Settled.—The question which has been uppermost in the minds of our citizens (or the past month as to where the Railroad Company would permanently locate their depot, has at last been definitely settled to the satisfaction of all parties concerned. On last Saturday a meeting was held, and the vexed question brought to a termination. The company is to have seven acres ot land, situated half a mile from the Court House, and lying between Third and Fourth streets. This property formerly belonged to Messrs. Boyce and Clark, each of whom gave $100 toward its purchase for the use of the Railroad Company. The citizens of the town subscribe $300, and the Board of Trustees become responsible for the balance. The company have purchased the property of Henry A. Peabody, Esq., which adjoins that which has lately come into their possession. It is the opinion of Captain Wright that in thirty days the depot will be established on this side of the creek. A pile-driving machine will be brought up from the city in a few days, so that work can be commenced on bridging the creek. The value of the land to be used for depot purposes was estimated by the appraisers at $1,000. The place selected is the most advantageous one that presented itself, and will give universal satisfaction to our citizens.
– Sonoma Democrat, November 19 1870
Railroad.
The cars are making their regular trips daily from this place to Petaluma, and considerable travel and freight are passing over the road. The travel through our county now, although much greater than what it was formerly, will be largely increased as soon as the road is completed and in running order to Lakeville. At present there is but one passenger car on the road, and in making a trip from Petaluma to this place on Monday  last, we were convinced, from the crowded condition of the passengers, that they thought the accommodations entirely too limited. However, all were willing to adapt themselves to circumstances, feeling thankful for having escaped the jolting and adobe mud which they formerly had to encounter when traveling by stage. In a few days more the lower end of the road, which is being worked under the supervision and guidance of that clever gentleman, Captain Wright, the Superintendent, will be completed. The Captain has met with many arduous difficulties in constructing the portion of the work, but his energy has overcome them all, and shortly the snort of the iron horse, accompanied by his long train of handsome and highly finished cars, will be heard at Lakeville. At that place the beautiful and fast steamer Sacramento is now waiting to be called into service. She is a fast boat, and her accommodations for the comfort and convenience of passengers are unsurpassable. The trip from the city into the very heart of old Sonoma—with her delightful climate and fertile fields, will then indeed be one of pleasure and recreation. Hundreds will visit our county then, who, until the locomotive began to traverse our valleys, would never have visited our county. The officers of the road are, with no exceptions, noted for their affability and politeness. Captain Wright, the Superintendent, has made a host of warm friends, and they continue to increase daily. To take a trip on the cars with him is a sure guarantee of a day’s pleasure. Mr. Craig, the conductor, has also become very popular with the people. He is a clever and genial gentleman, and understands the duties of his position thoroughly. The officers are all clever gentlemen, and are always found, as they should be, courteous and polite in the discharge of their respective duties.
– Sonoma Democrat, November 26 1870
two artlcles written by “Handy,” and published recently in the Crescent, in regard to dividing Sonoma County…There should not be any jealousy between our city and Santa Rosa. Petaluma only differed with Santa Rosa in claiming that the railroad must accommodate both towns, instead of passing directly from Santa Rosa to Vallejo. Petaluma has succeeded in getting it where she desired; both towns have the benefit of the road; we are within thirty minutes run of the county seat, and liberal minded men should be satisfied. Nature has given us the best point for trade, while the railroad will tend to equalize the advantages of the up-country towns, and bring them in competition with Petaluma. Santa Rosa is much nearer the centre of the county, and is, therefore, entitled to the Court House. We were in hopes that the railroad would so connect us that all ill feelings between our towns would be dispelled, and we regret to know that even “Handy” desires to disturb our harmony and dismember our grand old Democratic county.
– Sonoma Democrat, December 31 1870
The Railroad —By the beginning of the new year the railroad will be completed and the cars running to Donahue, which will link us to the great cosmopolitan city of San Francisco, For years this has been the hope and desire of many of our enterprising citizens throughout the county. Various efforts were made by them to unite our fertile fields by bands of iron to this great commercial market but their labors signally failed through various causes. But at last the good work is accomplished, and the produce raised by the farmers of old Sonoma can now be transported speedily and cheaply to market. A new era has been opened in the history of our county, and its future is bright with promises of renewed life and activity.
– Sonoma Democrat, December 31 1870
The Excursion on Saturday Last.
Vague rumors were in circulation, during the early part of last week, that an excursion party from San Francisco was coming up to Santa Rosa on Saturday, at which time the first train would run through from Donahue to Santa Rosa. Nothing definite was known, however, and up to Thursday evening, on going to press, we were unable to say positively that there would be an excursion, but gave the report as it came to us. On Friday, however, one point was settled, namely, that some excursionists were coming at the time mentioned, but as to the number all were in the dark.
LIGHT ON THE SUBJECT. The following day cleared up the mystery. A long train of cars came in sight of the depot, with over twelve hundred persons on board. There were, in all, eighteen cars, most of them open freight cars fitted up with temporary seats, and gaily decorated with flags and evergreens. Three bands of music, including the juveniles of the Industrial School, a bright set of little musicians, under the charge of Mr. Pelton, accompanied the party; also, two or three military companies from the city and Petaluma.
THE ARRIVAL. The scene at the depot on the arrival of the party was a sight well worth seeing. A large throng of ladies and gentlemen from our town had gone out to welcome their visitors, attended by the Santa Rosa Brass Band, and the train was greeted with music, cheers and waving of hand kerchiefs, which was returned with interest by the immense crowd of excursionists. Owing to the great number of those present, it was utterly impossible to find vehicles enough to bring them all to town, and many of both sexes were compelled to walk in, a distance of nearly a mile. This was not very pleasant to begin with, particularly as but one hour was allowed to get to town and return in time for the homeward trip. Such a pushing, rushing and scampering down the road and across lots, has not been seen for many a day in these parts.
IN TOWN. In a short time Santa Rosa was full of people, nearly all of whom had arrived with appetites sharpened by fasting from the time of leaving the city, some six hours before. Again came disappointment, as it was utterly impossible to wine and dine such a multitude without preparation and within the brief space allowed for their stay. In consequence of this the visit was neither pleasant to our citizens nor to the excursionists, who, by the way, were as jolly a crowd of good fellows and fair ladies as we have ever seen together, and after bustling about for a few minutes in a most disagreeable and unsatisfactory manner, a grand rush was made for the cars to take them home.
MORE BLUNDERING. Here again came trouble. Many of the people of Santa Rosa desired to accompany their friends on the return trip as far as Donohue, but could net ascertain definitely, until the train was about to start, whether any provision had been made to bring them back, that night. In addition, invitations had been issued with a sparing hand. Consequently, only a small number from this place went down. On whose shoulders rests the blame for all the mistakes and blunders which characterized this excursion, we are not prepared to say, but there is enough of it to go round on all concerned.
HOMEWARD BOUND. The down trip was remarkably jolly, under the circumstances. On reaching Petaluma the cars stopped one hour, giving all an opportunity for a brief visit to the metropolis of our county. At the expiration of that time the whistle sounded, and the train started for Donahue, which was reached in a very short time. At this new town the steamer “Sacramento” was lying alongside the company’s wharf, ready to carry the gay voyagers to the city. A splendid collation was spread on board the steamer, and the manner in which the good things disappeared showed that this was emphatically one of the substantial pleasures of the trip. On the way down the company had a glorious time, dancing and speech-making being, the order of the day.
PERSONAL. Among the visitors to Santa Rosa on this occasion were Peter Donahue, President of the Railroad Company, Senator Wand, Assemblymen Griswold and Homer…and a boat of others, old friends and good citizens, whom we cannot now recall by name.
– Sonoma Democrat, January 7 1871
Going to Work. —We are informed that work is to he commenced at once on the railroad bridge across Santa Rosa creek.
– Sonoma Democrat, January 7 1871
Inauguration of the S. F. & N. P. Railroad
Last Saturday was the occasion of a grand jubilee for Sonoma county. The long-hoped for railroad through her center was built, and the formal inauguration of the same gave an opportunity for a first-class “blow out.” Invitations were pretty generally issued by President Donahue for an excursion from San Francisco to Santa Rosa. Accordingly several from this city availed themselves of the opportunity and went to San Francisco in order to make the first through trip. The Company’s steamer Sacramento left Jackson Street Wharf, San Francisco, about eight and a half o’clock, loaded with passengers, among whom were some of the most noted and substantial men of the state. Two fine bands of music accompanied the excursion, as also the California Guard and Capt. Bluxome, with his celebrated battery, which did lusty service in firing salutes at different points along the route.
PETALUMA ASTIR.
Our citizens knowing that the train was expected here about eleven, kept a sharp look-out across the valley for the train, and all good observatory points contained more or less of humanity, eagerly watching to see the iron horse come up the track. Owing, however, to some detention, it did not arrive until after twelve, and was several minutes behind the time of the steamer Petaluma, whose passengers arrived in this city some minutes ahead. In the meantime an immense concourse of people had gathered at the depot in East Petaluma. Maj. Armstrong, with the Hewston Guard, headed by the Petaluma Brass Band, turned out to welcome the excursionists, and receive their brothers in arms. As the long train, consisting of three passenger and twelve platform cars, came in sight, the cannon from the Plaza fired a salute, and was soon replied to by Bluxome’s Battery. After stopping about three-quarters of an hour, on order to take aboard the excursionists from this city, the train proceeded on its way.
TO SANTA ROSA.
The day was surpassingly pleasant, and every one looked happy and seemed to enjoy the run up, which was made in fifty minutes. The beautiful appearance of our valley, that in passing farm houses, residences, or even single individuals, the enthusiasm would find vent in prolonged cheers, while ladies handkerchiefs waved in profusion. At Santa Rosa the train was met by a brass band, and many citizens in carriages and wagons, while anvils were improvised for cannon, and kept hot with echoing salutes. The people at the County Seat must certainly have fancied they were taken, as the immense numbers poured into the town, filling the streets with a life and bustle, rarely witnessed on Montgomery or Main. The excursionists passed the hour allotted to them there, by wandering around the town, admiring its locality and the many pretty and cosy residences that are observable on every hand. More particularly did the San Franciscans admire and even go into raptures over the climate, whose mildness was such a pleasant and agreeable transit from the bitter winds and cold fogs of the Bay City.
HOME AGAIN.
Stopping at Santa Rosa for about an hour, the train returned, making the down trip between Santa Rosa and Petaluma in thirty-seven minutes. After tarrying at Petaluma long enough for the military to go through with their usual courtesies, proceeded to Donahue, where they arrived about dark. On going aboard the Sacramento, the hungry excursionists were delighted to find an ample dinner spread out for them in the spacious cabin, while received ample attention, as most of the party had not broken their fast since leaving their homes in the morning. After their greedy appetites had been thoroughly satisfied at Hendricks’ well-filled tables, post prandial toasts and speeches were indulged in by the passengers, and remarks made by Mssrs. H. M. Newall, Esq., of San Francisco, Peter Donahue, and others…
– Petaluma Argus, 7 January 1871
DONAHUE’S RAILROAD.
…The crowd at Santa Rosa was hardly less than Petaluma supplied. A score or more conveyances of various descriptions carried a portion of the excursionists to the town; the remaining portion enjoying the delights of a pedestrian trip to same point of destination. Santa Rosa was taken by surprise, it having been announced only that morning that the inauguration was to come off that day consequently Santa Rosa was unprepared to receive visitors, who, after an hour spent in inspecting the streets of the pleasant little village, returned to the cars and turned homeward…
– San Francisco Chronicle, January 1 1871
Opening of the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad.
…A very pleasant ride by the train in an hour or so brought the excursionists, to the vicinity of Santa Rosa, through a pleasant country, but looking rather parched now, in much need of the life giving rains. The advance on the village itself was made in a disorderly manner — partly on foot, and partly in conveyances of every possible character. A well-known railroad man — and as jolly as he is well-known — made his entry into that smiling village with a large party of ladies and gentlemen in a truck, drawn by two very powerful, but deliberate mules. The vehicle, so far as elegance is concerned, could not be pronounced a success, but it rumbled along nevertheless with great effectiveness. There was no other conveyance on the road that could bar its progress at least. Never was such military pageant ever understood before in Santa Rosa — two whole companies of soldiers parading there in all the panoply of war, marching and countermarching on the principal street. In the distance cheerful anvils, handled by resident gunners, sent forth constant explosions as a token of greeting. But provisions were dreadfully slack in Santa Rosa. The hotel openly confessed its inability to meet the requirements of so great a host; shut up its dining room remorselessly; could not do it; could not begin to do it, but melted when besought for the sake of the Blessed Virgin a cup of tea for a suffering lady. On returning to the station, a lunch was provided for the hungry excursionists, to which we need not say that ample justice was done…
– Daily Alta California,  January 1 1871

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THE FORGOTTEN GREAT FIRE OF 1870

In 2017 Santa Rosa suffered the Tubbs Fire and before that, the 1964 Hanly Fire. But way back in 1870, yet another firestorm charged over the mountain towards Santa Rosa. Our ancestors simply called it The Great Fire.

The California fire history maps only go back to 1951 and none of the reports yet published by the state mention the 1870 disaster, although it followed the same pattern as what happened last year. Driven by very high northerly winds, the October 1870 fire started near Calistoga and when it was joined by a blaze from St. Helena it became unstoppable. The Santa Rosa newspaper reported, “soon the flames were beyond control, devouring everything within their reach…and swept along the mountains with such terrible speed that all efforts to check its progress were given up.”

No map was published of the burn area, but the Sonoma Democrat described which properties were hit – see articles transcribed below. A deed search would probably produce a reasonably accurate map, but we know it stopped three miles from Santa Rosa. Measuring from the 1870 city limits, that would mean it burned through Fountaingrove.

Cal Fire map of regional wildfire history since 1951

 

Just as in 1964 and last year, there was also a simultaneous fire on the Sonoma Valley ridge. It burned as far south as Napa City – like the recent Nuns Fire – and on the Sonoma county side the fires also matched the 2017 disaster: “The smouldering stumps and blackened fields can be seen all along the Sonoma road,” reported the Sonoma Democrat in 1870.

The crisis came the night of October 16, the third night of what we now call, “Diablo Winds.” Santa Rosa was on edge because of “the close proximity of the fire on the hills;” a collection was taken up among townsfolk to pay three men to stay up all night and sound the alarm if the fire threatened.

What the Petaluma Argus observed six days afterwards sounds uncomfortably familiar to 2017: “Fires are yet raging through all the vicinity,” and there was “a smoky haze of the atmosphere through this section seldom if ever before seen.”

There were no deaths – aside from 400 sheep – and the properties harmed were remote farms and ranches. That’s probably the reason you won’t find mention of the 1870 fires in any of our local history books – the authors probably thought it was a fluke. (I stumbled across the details only while reading the old newspapers.)

But looking back on the incident now, the Great Fire of 1870 is unnerving to discover. Once can be an accident; twice could be a coincidence.

Three times is a pattern.

 

Forest fire by Paul Landacre (1893 – 1963), circa 1937

 

THE GREAT FIRE.

One of the most extensive and destructive fires of which we have record, has been raging for the past week on the mountains which divide Sonoma and Napa Counties. From all the sources of information to which we have had access, we are enabled to place before our readers the following particulars: Three fires were started at almost the same time – one near the town of St. Helena on the 13th; one at St. Helena on the 14th, and one at Calistoga on the 15th. Shortly after they had been started a high wind began to blow, and soon the flames were beyond control, devouring everything within their reach. The fires of Calistoga and St. Helena formed a junction, and swept along the mountains with such terrible speed that all efforts to check its progress were given up. The following are the names ot the principal sufferers: Jerry Porter—ranch partially burned, fence entirely destroyed, house and barn saved. Mr. Cash—ranch met the same fate as that of Mr. Porter. Bruce Cocknill-ranch entirely destroyed, including out houses and about ten thousand rails. Wilis Cocknill—fence entirely consumed, together with about eight thonsand pickets and a large number of fine sheep. Mr. Coulter—fencing and a large amount of stock burned. Mr. Woodward—ranch on Mark West Creek partially destroyed. As the wind had now ceased to blow so violently, the fire was checked at this place. South of the places above named, the following destruction took place; Jacob Winegardener—ranch, house, barn, out houses, stock and considerable lumber destroyed. Mr. Johnson—ranch and buildings destroyed. Mr, Hoffman—ranch and all he possessed, with the exception of his riding horse, consumed. Mr. Frederick Vent having removed his fencing, saved his ranch, at which point the fire was checked. Nothing is left to mark the course ol the firey fiend but smouldering ruins. The labors of years has been swept away, and many families left in a destitute condition. As to who started these fires in the first place it is impossible to tell, and perhaps will never be known.

The fire found its way into Sonoma Valley, and considerable damage was done before it could be checked. The first place destroyed was the home of Mrs. Lucy Box, a widow lady, who is left almost penniless. The dwelling, furniture, barn, etc., is now in ruins. This is a sad case, and it is a pleasure to us to learn that our citizens are contributing liberally toward enabling this lady to build up another home for herself and children. The next place it reached was the pasture of the Guilicos Ranch, destroying a great amount of fencing. Mr. Jas. Shaw, an estimable gentleman, was the next sufferer. He lost his house, barn, wagons, and a large amount of lumber. Mr. Shaw is now absent from home, and the news of his great loss has not yet reached him. The smouldering stumps and blackened fields can be seen all along the Sonoma road.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 22 1870

 

Town Watched. —In consequence of the high wind that was prevalent on last Sunday evening, and the close proximity of the fire on the hills, it was deemed advisable to have our town patroled throughout the night. For this purpose a number of our citizens subscribed various sums to a purse for the defrayment of the expenses: Messrs. Park, Metzler, and a person whose name is unknown to us, were appointed to stand guard during the night, and sound the alarm provided the fiery elements approached too closely. There being no necessity to arouse our citizens from their slumbers, the “fire extinguisher” was allowed to remain housed.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 22 1870

 

THE FIRE IN THE MOUNTAINS.– For several days past a fearful fire has been raging in the woods and fields in the region of country between Calistoga and Healdsburg, doing immense damage, especially in and about Calistoga, and producing a smoky haze of the atmosphere through this section seldom if ever before seen. During Friday night and Saturday a very high wind prevailed, driving the fire with fearful rapidity. All of the grain fields, fences and woods from Knight’s Valley to Walnut Station, on the line of the railroad toward Napa City, over a distance of twelve miles, were consumed. The fire is still raging in the woods in the mountains. Further down in the valley, and in the vicinity of Napa City, some ten thousand acres of ground have been burned over, in many instances fences, hay, barns and houses being swept away. In Sonoma county quite an extent of country has also been burnt over, and, in some instances, considerable damage sustained. Among the losses which have come to our knowledge is of a Mr. Coulter, a butcher, of Santa Rosa, whose ranch in the mountains was burned out, and four hundred sheep destroyed. Also, a man named Scalis, living about three miles from Santa Rosa, had his barn burnt, and hay and grain destroyed. Also Mr. James Shaw, Mr. Hoffman, and Mrs. Lucy Box, of Guilicos valley, lost their houses, barns, fences, hay, grain, etc. Fires are yet raging through all the vicinity, and will probably burn until there is a fall of rain.

– Petaluma Weekly Argus, October 22 1870

 

St. Helena, (Napa County), Oct. 21, 1870. Editors Alta: …The fires that have raged in the hills between this place and Calistoga, are nearly extinguished; the damages are as yet not fully ascertained, but they will probably foot up $20,000, the losers in every instance being uninsured. In the valley, conflagrations are frequent, and the ranch-holders have been “fighting fire” night and day for the past two weeks; fences are burned for ten miles in every direction, as is also the lumber on the ground to erect new ones. The trunks of the forest trees are so charred that they will be blown down by the first gale. Krug’s wine cellar came very near being destroyed by a fire which broke out in the stubble, on Monday, but with the assistance of the neighbors, the flames were extinguished, a large number of vines being damaged. A cellar, owned by Jock & McCoy, near thia place, was burned a few days ago, and 24,000 gallons of wine lost, together with 100 tons of grapes, crushed ready for manufacture into wine.

– Daily Alta California, October 29 1870

 

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COURTHOUSE SQUARE FOR SALE, CHEAP

It’s too late for the sesquicentennial year, but Santa Rosa should declare every April 15 Gus Kohle Day. On that date in 1868 he became a hero for taking his axe to a building on the town square.

It was the most exciting thing to happen in Santa Rosa that year; as described here earlier, there was nary a whoop of celebration when the town was officially incorporated. Other than a heated debate over proposed routes for the soon-to-come railroad, it looked like 1868 would be completely forgettable.

Then on that mid-April morning, Gus came downtown to open his Court Saloon on Exchange Avenue facing the west side of the plaza (now Old Courthouse Square). There was a commotion because a trio of carpenters and a local farmer were well underway putting up a small wooden building, having worked through some of the night. Gus knew what this was about; everybody in town knew what was going on.

The southwest corner of the Santa Rosa Plaza c. 1870, as seen from Third Street. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library

 

 

The trouble began a few months earlier around Christmas of 1867, when Julio Carrillo couldn’t get a sack of flour.

Santa Rosa – as every local schoolkid knows – was built on the 2,000+ acres Carrillo inherited from his mother, Doña María, in 1849. Fast forward a mere five years and the town (albeit unincorporated) was now the Sonoma county seat, thanks in part to Carrillo and the three other founders offering to build a new courthouse here for free. They also donated a couple of acres for a central plaza, with Julio giving the entire western half. At that moment in 1854 he was likely the wealthiest man in Sonoma county after his brother-in-law, General Vallejo.

About a dozen years passed. Julio Carrillo had lost all of his land and supposedly gambled away the rest of his inheritance. Gaye LeBaron called him a “born loser” which seems harsh, but he was indeed a pauper thanks to his exceedingly bad judgement and boundless generosity – not to mention having twelve children. Thus he found himself being told by a storekeeper that he didn’t have enough credit left to buy a simple sack of flour.*

“Stung to the quick, in the heat of his indignation he re-deeded half of the Plaza,” wrote historian Robert Thompson. And typical of Julio’s lousy dealmaking, he took the lowball offer of $300 for what would have been the most valuable property in town.

The first news about the “re-deed” appeared in the Santa Rosa paper shortly after New Year’s Day, 1868. Yeah, the plaza was looking a mite scruffy, the editor admitted, but it belonged to the town and “Mr. Carrelio” (his name was misspelled throughout the whole item) can’t un-donate it. The three men who gave Julio the money were all locals – two farmers and a butcher – and they would only “waste their money and make themselves obnoxious to their fellow citizens” by trying to claim ownership, commented the Sonoma Democrat.

In March both sides rattled sabers. A crew from the town repaired the fence and installed gates to keep cows and pigs from wandering into the plaza (an ongoing problem) while a San Francisco lawyer, hired by the three who gave the cash to Julio, ordered the work to be stopped.

A month later came the showdown. One of those who believed he actually had a valid deed was Wesley Woods (often misspelled Wood), a farmhand who worked for Barney Hoen. The small frame building he and the carpenters were constructing probably had no purpose other than to claim possession of the land. Although this was never a “squatter’s rights” issue, Woods and the others could point to the structure as an improvement on the property, which would complicate legal matters considerably.

Whether Gus Kohle knew that point of law or not is moot; what’s important is that he spared Santa Rosa a courtroom headache by taking immediate action. “Procuring an axe, he went into the plaza, and in the course of a few minutes completely demolished the new building, leveling it with the ground.”

Woods and the carpenters were arrested. All but Woods were released by the court because they were simply hired workers, but Woods’ San Francisco lawyer got him a jury trial, where he was found guilty and fined $38.75. “This is the first act in the performance. What will be the next step we are not prepared to say,” remarked the Democrat.

Kohle’s timely intervention earned him a cheery salute in the Sonoma Democrat: “Gus. Kohle, of the Court Saloon, feeling extremely jolly on Tuesday [sic] morning last, over his victory gained in the plaza, like the good, clever man that he is, wanted us to feel likewise – so he brought us a keg of Miller & Fried’s superior Lager. Here’s to you, Gus.” That kind of praise wasn’t unusual, however. His saloon (motto: “Beer at reasonable rates”) was next to the newspaper’s office and he was always plying the staff with free booze for plugs. Another example: “Why is Gus Kohle so fat, prosperous and good looking? That’s what’s the matter, There is only one reason for it, and that is that he always comes into our office with lager at the proper time. Gus is a brick, sure.” (That was a joke because Kohle’s family owned the brickyard.)

The group that thought they owned the plaza did not give up, however. Details are sketchy, but they sued to evict Santa Rosa from its own public park – arguing “the town never formally accepted the gift and furthermore, that the conditions precedent to its taking effect have not been complied with.” (Huh?) The court threw out the case. They filed a lawsuit again, this time from Marin county, and again were “non-suited” by the judge. It was now near the end of 1870, probably about two years after they gave the money to Julio Carrillo.

“Returning immediately to Santa Rosa,” the Democrat reported, “they once more entered on the disputed ground, and shortly after daylight, on Friday morning, another rough board shanty presented an ugly appearance on the plaza.”

The paper stated “an old citizen of the town” tried to smash it up but he “was knocked down and driven out of the enclosure in a very rough manner.” That could have been Gus again, as he still had the Exchange street saloon; but he was 50 years old at the time, and it’s doubtful a reporter would call that elderly (particularly after all the free beer he was pouring down their gullets).

Again the shanty was torn down and the men behind it were arrested (Wesley Woods was still the only one named). A trial was held and this time the case was dropped because the work was done at night and there were no witnesses.

That was the end of the matter; the town council had rushed through a new ordinance explicitly making it illegal to put up a building in the plaza and they did not try again.

Some dangling questions remain. None of those caught in the plaza deal were wealthy, yet they hired San Francisco attorneys – in their last trial, a judge – to represent them. One of the later articles mentions “Wesley Woods, Henry Mutz, and several other parties,” although “A. Berry” was the only other person ever named. Were they selling partnerships to pay for their legal defense?

Also, it seems odd that they spent all that money but did not sue Carrillo for fraud. Perhaps Julio – ever the terrible negotiator – did not get his $300 after all because he agreed that the deal would be contingent upon them perfecting the land title.

Regardless, the plaza that would become Courthouse Square was safe from being carved up – or at least it was until 1967, when the city split it down the middle with a road. And as explained in my article about Santa Rosa’s centennial celebrations, our progress-minded civic leaders also were planning to sell off the eastern half of the square for commercial development. Preservationists blocked that from happening, thank goodness, but it might have been harder to prevent if we all woke up some morning to find Hugh Codding had built a preemptive shack on the place.

* The “sack of flour” angle makes the story seem as if it could be apocryphal, but I think it’s true. Robert Allan Thompson wrote about it just 15 years after the event, and his book was published in Julio’s lifetime. A transcript of the entire passage can be found below.

 

1866 map of Santa Rosa; detail from earliest wall map of Sonoma County

 

 

A RAID ON THE PLAZA.— Several years ago, when our flourishing town was in its infancy, it was the recipient of a handsome and valuable gift of a piece of ground, lying ia the heart of the town, for a public square or plaza. Messrs. Hahman and Carrelio were the generous donors. Our old citizens will recollect the high appreciation in which this liberal act was hold at the time. Under the immediate care and personal supervision of Gen. Hinton, since deceased, the plaza became an ornament to the town, and was regarded with pride and pleasure by old and young. Since the old gentleman’s death, however, less care has been given to it, and our public square, though still both a benefit and an ornament to Santa Rosa, is not what it was formerly. This seeming neglect may have operated on the mind of one of the donors, Mr. Carrelio, for we learn he has actually sold and conveyed to certain parties in town all his right, title and interest in the square, and that they design building upon it, leaving simply room for the running of the main street through the same. Of course they will not be permitted to do anything of the kind. We imagine that the “right, title and interest” of Mr. Carrelio in the property mentioned, after donating it to the town for public use, is neither more nor less than that of any other citizen. The parties to whom he conveyed can take no more than he owned at the date of making the deed, which is simply nothing at all. They may possibly, acting under bad advice, waste their money and make themselves obnoxious to their fellow citizens, but in the long run they will be the sufferers by the operation. Santa Rosa, by virtue of a free gift, and long use and occupation, owns the plaza, and under no circumstances will her undoubted right to it be given up. We advise the parties, for their own sake, and the credit of the town, to abandon this vain and unwarranted undertaking. It is only causing ill feeling and useless expense and trouble.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 4 1868

UNDERGOING REPAIRS. —The Plaza is undergoing repairs, the fence being straightened up, new gates put in, etc. We understand that the parties now endeavoring to deprive the county of its claim upon the Plaza have ordered the work to be stopped, but no attention has been paid to it. Let the work go on, and the plaza be properly improved.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 14 1868

…The attorney engaged for the purpose of taking away the plaza from the town ridicules the idea of the matter being contended, and thinks that all be will have to do for his clients is to go up to Santa Rosa and take possession of it. I think the gentleman will find out that he will meet with more opposition in this matter than be anticipates.

–  Sonoma Democrat, March 14 1868

ROW ON THE PLAZA.— Late on Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning some parties entered the public plaza of Santa Rosa, and began putting up a small frame building thereon. Daylight revealed the objectionable structure to the gaze of our citizens, and great was the indignation which followed. Marshal Parks proceeded to the spot and arrested Wesley Wood, James Hayward, Edward Minott and William Harrow. Gus Kohle also had a hand in the business. Procuring an axe, he went into the plaza, and in the course of a few minutes completely demolished the new building, leveling it with the ground. The parties arrested were bound over to appear for trial next Tuesday. Three of the parties arrested are carpenters, who were employed to do the work by others who claim the plaza under a bill of sale, as is well known, and have sent to San Francisco for an attorney to attend their case. The people of Santa Rosa have no patience with such nonsense, and those interested in this attempt to grab the public square have made themselves very unpopular.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 18 1868

Gus. Kohle, of the Court Saloon, feeling extremely jolly on Tuesday morning last, over his victory gained in the plaza, like the good, clever man that he is, wanted us to feel likewise—so he brought us a keg of Miller & Fried’s superior Lager. Here’s to you, Gus.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 18 1868

THE PLAZA WAR.—Last Week we mentioned the arrest of Wesley Wood and three others for unlawfully entering and erecting a building on the public square of Santa Rosa. On Tuesday they were brought to trial before Recorder Middleton, charged with violating a town ordinance. J. W. Owen, of San Francisco, appeared as counsel for the defendants, and P. B. Hood, City Attorney, represented Santa Rosa. The first day was spent in endeavoring to get a jury, great difficulty arising from the line of examination adopted by the defense. The Court finally refused to give the counsel the latitude he claimed in this respect, as it was evident that it would be next to impossible to obtain a jury. Mr. Owen thereupon threw up the case, and left the court room. On motion of the Town Attorney, all the defendants but Wood were discharged. They were simply workmen, and had no intention of committing any offense. Next day the jury was competed, the following persons being sworn to try the case… A verdict of guilty was returned against Mr. Wood. The Court then fined him $38.75, the bare costs of the proceedings. This is the first act in the performance. What will be the next step we are not prepared to say.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 25 1868

GUS. KOHLE.—Our old friend Gus. Kohle has taken up the bet that we offered recently, that he could not furnish us with more lager than we could dispose of. The other day he rolled another keg of excellent beer into our office, and announced his determination to come out of the contest victorious, as he had the Healdsburg brewery to back him. All we have to say is, “let the fight go on !”

– Sonoma Democrat, May 9 1868

Why is Gus Kohle so fat, prosperous and good looking? That’s what’s the matter, There is only one reason for it, and that is that he always comes into our office with lager at the proper time. Gus is a brick, sure.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 18 1869

 

More of the Plaza Troubles.

Some two years since our citizens were apprised of the fact that Wesley Woods, Henry Mutz, and several other parties claimed to be the owners of the public plaza of Santa Rosa, basing their claim, we believe, on the purchase of all the right, title and interest of the original owner, who had previously given the land to the town. It is asserted, on the part of claimants, that the town never formally accepted the gift and furthermore, that the conditions precedent to its taking effect have not been complied with. About the time mentioned Woods and others hastily erected a shanty on the Plaza, and claimed to be in possession. Considerable indignation was aroused by this proceeding, and the building was summarily torn down and the parties arrested for violating a local ordinance. Subsequently they brought a suit in ejectment to recover the land, and were non-suited when the case came up. Then a change was made to Marin county, where the matter rested for some time. Last week, however, the case come up in that county, and again the Plaza “jumpers” were non-suited. Returning immediately to Santa Rosa, they once more entered on the disputed ground, and shortly after daylight, on Friday morning, another rough board shanty presented an ugly appearance on the plaza. The parties, this time, appeared determined to maintain their supposed rights, and an old citizen of the town, who attempted to batter down the structure on his own account, was knocked down and driven out of the enclosure in a very rough manner. The town trustees soon after took the business in hand, a warrant was issued for the arrest of the “jumpers,” and Marshal Park ordered to remove the building, all of which was done in a vigorous and summary way. The parties now await trial for breaking a town ordinance, the plaza is once more free from shanty encumbrances, and “order reigns in Santa Rosa.”

– Sonoma Democrat, December 3 1870
The Plaza Case.

The trial of Wesley Wood and others, for breaking down the Plaza fence, etc., came up before Justice Brown on Tuesday last. Judge Tyler, of San Francisco, appeared for tbe defendants, and Barclay Henley and James McGee for tbe city. After an interesting and protracted trial, defendants were discharged. Although several persons were present at the time the fence was removed, not one could be found who had actually seen who did it, or even knew at whose instigation it was done, Tbe impression prevails that it was a put-up job, one party taking down tbe fence before daylight, and the other going to work to erect tbe building shortly after. So far as the merits of the claim to the Plaza go, tbe case remains just where it did before. The City Trustees, however, have passed an ordinance which will make any attempt on tbe Plaza more certain of conviction and punishment hereafter.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 10 1870
Gus Kohle.

There are in all cities and towns some peculiar persons who are well known by reason of some phase of character to all inhabitants. Such a person was the late August Kohle, who died on Friday last and was burled on Sunday. He was born in Hanover, Germany, Dec. 10th, 1820, and was therefore at the time of his death in his fifty-ninth year. When a youth he shipped from Bremen as a cabin boy and went to Havanna, [sic] where he remained twelve years. In 1849 he came to California and in 1859 settled in Santa Rosa, where be subsequently married and has since resided. By industry as a laborer, brick manufacturer, etc., he accumulated considerable property and at one time owned most of the frontage on the west side of the Plasa. At an early day he took great interest in the improvement of the Plaza, and as Sexton did most of the work in laying out and improving the Cemetery grounds. He was also an original member of the Fire Department, and served many years as Steward of Engine Co. No 1, being at all times one of its most active and efficient members. To attend meetings, and wear the uniform on gala days, was not with him the whole duty of a fireman. Be took hold of whatever would promote the efficiency of his company, whether in the heat of battle with the flame, or in work about the engine and its appurtenances, that it might at the first tap of the alarm bell be ready for any emergency. Gus Kohle had his faults—who has not? but during his long residence here made for himself a good name. He was industrious, charitably disposed, honest in dealing with his fellow-men, and always made good his Word. His sphere was humble; his opportunities were slight; but in spite of these drawbacks he died respected by all who knew him, as was evidenced by the very large attendance at his funeral of the citizens of Santa Rosa, without regard to creed or nationality. He has laid aside the burden of life. His memory, like his face, will soon fade from the minds of men, but he will be remembered by all who have been associated with him in the department as a faithful fireman. He was also a member of the Pioneer Association of Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties, and of the German Club of this city. The companies composing the Fire Department, and the German Club, in a body, escorted his remains to the Cemetery. At his special request his funeral was conducted by Santa Rosa Engine Co. No. 1. At the grave the German Club united in singing “Des Freundes Abschied”—The Friend’s Farewell—and the remains were committed to the grave. A wife and three children mourn the loss of a kind and affectionate husband and father. As an old citizen and member of the Fire Department we pay this tribute to his memory.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 27 1880

…One day he sent [sic. went] to a prominent merchant of the city, and was refused credit for a sack of flour. Stung to the quick, in the heat of his indignation he re-deeded half of the Plaza to Henry Mutz, Wesley Wood and A. Berry for $300 in cash. These parties endeavored to take possession of the property, but were prevented. The matter finally got into the courts, and was decided in favor of the county, to which Carrillo had originally given the land. He claimed, when he re-deeded it to Mutz, Wood and Berry, that the conditions of the gift to the county had not been fulfilled. The case was tried in Marin, and the title of the county to the land was fully sustained.

– Central Sonoma: A Brief Description of the Township and Town of Santa Rosa …
By Robert Allan Thompson 1884 pg. 69-70

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