timetrip2

LET’S GO, 1870!

Thank you for the ticket purchase to   SANTA ROSA, CA.   in the year 1870. We just KNOW you’re going to enjoy your visit back then!

Your costume will be arriving by drone shortly (DO NOT WASH OR HAVE CLEANED). Prior to departure from the atavachron station, the purser will issue you $ 52 in replica gold coins which will have the purchasing power of approximately $1,000 today.

To make the most of your trip, it’s helpful to be as knowledgable as possible about local topics. As many events carry over from the previous year in your time window, our bots have prepared this overview of 1869-1870 by scanning a local newspaper,   The Sonoma Democrat. Selected tips and advisories from previous time travelers are also included.

TRAVEL ADVISORY   Those with asthma or other respiratory difficulties should note that air quality will be very unhealthy to hazardous throughout Sonoma and Napa counties during the Great Fire, October 15-22 1870.

GENERAL   Santa Rosa is a frontier village on the cusp of becoming part of the greater San Francisco Bay Area. In the space of two dramatic weeks between October 15-31 1870, railroad service begins, the first streetlights appear and there will be fears that a wildfire is poised to destroy the town. Aside from the 1906 earthquake and the 2017 Tubbs fire, these are the most impactful days in Santa Rosa history.

FROM CORY298: When the topic of Santa Rosa comes up in Petaluma, shake your head sadly, tsk-tsk or optionally chuckle; if Petaluma is mentioned in Santa Rosa, shake your fist and cuss.

The population of Santa Rosa is about 1,800 with the overall Santa Rosa Township approx. 3,000. Petaluma, the other major community in the area, has around 4,500 residents. A significant rivalry between the towns began a dozen years earlier and in 1870 there will be a renewed call to split the county in half, with Petaluma intended to be the county seat for the southern section. You will be expected to express your feelings about this rivalry generally.

Santa Rosa is roughly 30 square blocks with an open plaza in the center (see 1866 map below). Salmon run in the adjacent Santa Rosa Creek, but the waterway is not navigable in 1869 due to obstructions from two buildings that collapsed into the creek bed. Small corn and wheat fields surround the village on the other three sides. Santa Rosa has no library, no bank (until November, 1870), no water, sewer, or gas utility services.

All streets are unpaved and plank sidewalks in front of businesses or homes are at the prerogative of property owners. Until late 1870 there are no streetlights so a lantern or the company of a local resident is recommended when walking at night. In November the downtown area after dark is transformed by the addition of lamp post lights fueled by “gasolyne” (essentially large gasoline-fed bunsen burners). As a result, the Santa Rosa newspaper states, “Main street at night looks quite brilliant.”

TRAVEL   San Francisco can be reached via steamboats/ferries departing from Petaluma/Vallejo. Stage coaches to those towns may not connect reliably with ship departure schedules, so an overnight layover may be required.

All roads are unpaved and during rainy periods the Petaluma and Sebastopol road is sometimes nearly impassible. 1869: “…[there are] two or three swimming holes, almost deep enough to drown horse and rider.” 1870: “…[there are] lakes deep enough to admit of gondolizing upon their muddy surface.” When a stage becomes stuck in mud, all passengers are expected to assist in pushing it out.

THE RAILROAD   The train will not actually arrive in Santa Rosa until mid-March, 1871, but daily service begins Oct. 22 1870 as stages shuttle passengers back and forth from the downtown hotels to the terminal point of the approaching track (MORE details). The objective is to connect Santa Rosa to Petaluma immediately (preferably direct to its steamboat pier) with rail extensions further north to come in following years. Work is intermittent in 1869 due to the developer having financing and supply difficulties; by the end of the year there is only 1½ miles of track laid north of Petaluma.

Since the rail line will eventually connect to the ferry in Sausalito, there is a widespread conspiracy theory that Petaluma is somehow responsible for the slow progress. Supposedly interests there wish to block or delay construction because a direct train connection to the Bay will lead to a dropoff in steamboat passenger and freight traffic.

FROM RAILROADGUY-SF: The excursion departs San Francisco at 8:30AM and there will be no food, drinks or bathroom breaks until the party returns to the steamer at 5PM, so be prepared.

A new developer takes over the project in August 1870 and work resumes swiftly. The first San Francisco excursion train to Santa Rosa is announced for December 31 and over 1,200 people will take the trip, riding open freight cars fitted with seats. Unfortunately the tracks terminate a mile south of Santa Rosa and the train will start its return to Petaluma an hour after it arrives at the end of the line. There will be only a few buggies and wagons waiting to transport visitors into Santa Rosa, so those wanting to visit the village will have to dash for it. As this is the most popular event in this venue, arrive early and please refrain from gambling on the running excursionists with other time travelers.

POLITICS   Avoid generally, but understand most in Santa Rosa still view everything through the prism of the Civil War. Sonoma county was one of the few places in the state which never voted for Lincoln, and Santa Rosa remains a hotbed for Confederacy sympathies in 1870. In Santa Rosa it is not the “Civil War” but the “War for Southern Independence.” The Democrat newspaper will regularly denounce the government as a fanatical mob of revolutionaries who have divided the nation and trampled on the Constitution.

Travelers not on the women’s suffrage tour will be interested to know this venue includes a Jan. 21, 1870 lecture by nationally famous activist Laura de Force Gordon in Petaluma. Women’s suffrage is the main political topic in this time window, as Wyoming gives women the vote in December, 1869 and the 15th amendment is ratified as part of the Constitution in March, 1870, which grants citizens the right to vote regardless of race, but does not include women.

Other names which will be heard mentioned on the subject include Anna E. Dickinson, arguing forcefully for women’s rights and considered one of the most eloquent speakers in the nation and Emma Webb, an actress who opposes suffrage (and also gave speeches in support of slavery during the Civil War). During 1869 there will be evening Lyceum debates over suffrage at the Santa Rosa courthouse in April (decision in favor suffrage) and May (decision against). There are no women participating in either debate.

Trigger alert: Those wishing to avoid exposure to extreme misogyny should avoid reading coverage of these events in the Sonoma Democrat.

THE GREAT FIRE   The “Great Fire” of 1870 matches the pattern of the 20th century Hanly Fire and 21st century Tubbs Fire. It begins in the Calistoga/St. Helena area and burns through Knights Valley and the Mark West Creek watershed towards Santa Rosa, driven by high winds. On the night of October 16 the fire is three miles from the village and a collection is taken to pay three men to stay up all night and sound the alarm if needed. No lives are lost, but farms are destroyed with some livestock killed (MORE details).

LODGING   Santa Rosa has an acute housing shortage in 1870, in part because of anticipated rapid growth once the railroad arrives. Finding a room in a boarding house or private home should be a high priority as the hotels are expensive (if rooms are even available), charging about $1 per day and 40¢ per meal. From the March 12 1870 newspaper: “There is scarcely a day passes but that some person calls at this office and wants to know ‘if there are any houses to rent in Santa Rosa?’ Although there have been several new buildings erected within the past year yet we do not know of a house to rent in our town at the present time.”

FUN & GAMES   There is great excitement on April 27, 1869, when the first velocipede arrives. Purchased by a group of young men for about $60 in San Francisco, a crowd will gather in the plaza to watch them attempt to ride it, and fail. By the end of the week they are accomplished “velocipedestrians” practicing on the Sonoma road. In June some will open a velocipede school which closes after two days because everyone who wants to learn already has. By July the paper reports “the velocipede fever, which prevailed here a few weeks ago, has now entirely died out. Even the boys have come to the conclusion that there is too much work in managing the machine, and have given it up in disgust.”

October 1869 will see the formation of Santa Rosa’s first Base Ball club, which will begin playing as soon as instruction books on the rules arrive from San Francisco. On December 4 they challenge any nine who show up at their field as long as they are residents of Santa Rosa.

DRINKING   Santa Rosa is already on its way to becoming a saloon town in 1870, with six bars in the village. There are breweries in Healdsburg and Petaluma but none in Santa Rosa. Isaac De Turk’s winery in Bennett Valley produces 6,000 gallons of wine, most or all of which is shipped to San Francisco.


POKER NO, FARO YES

Card players should expect to play faro, which is by far the most popular game throughout the West until the early 20th century. It uses a regular deck of cards but suits don’t matter; just bet on any of the 13 ranks – a king, 4, etc. The “bank” deals two cards pushed up from a spring-loaded shoe as in blackjack. The first card turned over is the loser, and the second is the winner. It’s the simplest card game possible but every dealer has additional rules on betting.
Faro is popular because it is fast moving and a social game like roulette, where there are often onlookers placing bets during the course of the game. Betting on the order of appearance for the final three cards remaining in the deck has the highest stakes.
Faro game in Bisbee, AZ, 1900
This card game is also famous for cheating. From an often reprinted 1882 booklet titled “Faro Exposed”: “…all regular faro players are reduced to poverty…almost every faro player has some peculiar system which he strives to believe will beat the bank, but in the end all systems fail.” For more on faro, see the comprehensive “Faro: A 19th-century gambling craze.” Other popular card games include monte-bank, chuck-for-luck, seven-and-a-half, keno and rondo.

Public drunkenness is scorned but not against the law in Santa Rosa. In late 1870 the City Marshal will construct a Calaboose behind the jail to hold intoxicated men until they become sober. Previously the Marshal had crated drunks. (Crating is a traditional prank children in this era play on drinkers whom they find unconscious, placing a Queensware crate over them and weighing it down so the victim cannot easily escape.)

There is no temperance group in Santa Rosa akin to the Dashaway Associations of the early 1860s and the Blue Ribbon Clubs of the late 1870s. This will be a disappointment to experienced travelers who know those popular non-religious meetings are great opportunities to mingle with locals, find lodging and even employment, if desired.

GAMBLING   Wagering at card games is a preoccupation for many men, but caution is strongly urged. Violence can erupt over trivial gambling disputes, and in 1870 a man named Charles Coburn is stabbed repeatedly at a card game in Sebastopol. Also that year a man known only as Clark is stabbed in the neck at Santa Rosa’s Rialto saloon over cards. Travelers will not desire to experience emergency medical care in this time window.

Often any opportunity to place a bet is welcomed. In Sept. 1870 an imitator of Edward Payson Weston calling himself Prof. Western wins $5 here for his prowess at long distance walking. Young men are racing their horses on the road to Petaluma “for anything from a jack knife to a two bit piece.”

Depending upon the time of your arrival, there are any of six horse tracks in the vicinity: The Petaluma Race Course, the Santa Rosa race track, the Sotoyome Race Course near Healdsburg, Watson’s race track near Bodega, Gannon’s track at Sebastopol and the James Clark race track south of Santa Rosa. Having so many racing venues in the area is a point of local pride. A racing program consumes most of a day, including amateur scrub races and sometimes foot races.

FROM TAILROTEEL: Bet on the raccoon.

Be advised many travelers find an event on Jan. 11 1869 at the Santa Rosa plaza upsetting, as a large crowd of men and boys form a ring to watch a raccoon fight “all the dogs in town.”

CHILDHOOD ACTIVITIES   For travelers not part of the “Tom Sawyer” tour, expect to see lots of youths in 1870 Santa Rosa. There are 581 school age children (exactly one-third of Santa Rosa’s population) and the newspaper complains frequently about the lack of parental supervision.

Besides gambling on scrub horse races on the Petaluma road, boys eight years old and younger are often seen riding at full gallop. Mobs of small boys roam the streets late at night, sometimes making a racket with homemade musical instruments. The 1869 velocipede fad is followed by 1870 stilt walking, with children wobbling around the main streets on stilts up to five feet high.

Map of 1866 Santa Rosa

 

 

Great Sport.—On Monday last there was quite a large crowd of men and boys congregated in our plaza for the purpose of witnessing an encounter between a coon and all the dogs in town. A ring was soon formed, and the friends of the combatants took their positions. The betting seemed to be in favor of the coon, although there was no limit to the size and number of his antagonists. Among the canines present, “Ephraim,” the cat-exterminator, was the favorite, and a number of his friends thought Eph. would get a notion into his head that the coon was nothing more nor leas than one of his particular admirers belonging to the “Thomas Cat Serenaders,” in disguise. If this should happen, the coon would get a “head put on him sure.” Everything being ready, the coon was pitched into the ring, and a shout of joy went up announcing that the sport had commenced. His first opponent was a canine of ordinary pedigree, and as soon as he came in sight the coon got his back up,” and assumed a hostile attitude, ala Joe Coburn. This round did not amount to much. The second dog was brought forward, and he eyed the coon closely. All at once the coon fastened on him, and in a short time he beat a retreat. Great shouts of victory were now heard arising from the coon’s corner. Some half dozen dogs were then put on him at once. But this resulted the same as the former ’bouts, and those backing the coon could not help but cheer over this last grand victory. Things bad gone one way long enough, and loud cries were heard for Ephraim. Eph. was led towards the ring by a little urchin, exclaiming as he approached, “Here’s Eph., now let that darned critter get him back up!” In a minute Eph. had Mr. Coon down, but he could not hold him long, owing to the interference of other canines, resulting in a general fight and race around the Plaza. The crowd then dispersed much pleased with the sport. – January 16 1869

Why are They not Removed?— For some months past there have been a couple of old buildings lying in the bed of the Creek, almost at the very entrance of the town, and it is a question to many why the Trustees do not have them removed. Almost the first thing that meets the eye of the stranger as he enters the town, are these miserable old dilapidated wrecks, which certainly does not tend to make one form a very favorable opinion of the town. We hope the city trustees will take this matter in hand, and attend to it without further delay. – March 13 1869

Velocipede.— As the velocipede mania is extending all over the Slate, it has at last reached Santa Rosa. Mr. Henry Allen, a mechanic, of this place, has commenced the construction of one of these new “hosses.” It is a three wheeled one, and runs either way. Some time next week, it will make its appearance on the Sonoma road. – April 24 1869

Bad Roads. — Every winter loud complaints are heard about the dreadful condition of the public roads in this county, and the season just closed has proven no exception. At this time it is not only difficult, but dangerous, to travel between Santa Rosa and Petaluma or Sebastopol. On the first several adobe quagmires are encountered, which threaten to mire the horses and pull the buggy or wagon to pieces. On the latter are two or three swimming holes, almost deep enough to drown horse and rider. We are aware that considerable work was done last summer on both the roads mentioned, but not sufficient to keep them in proper condition for travel. This is a matter of great importance to the county. Many a man, intending to settle among us, has turned back and gone elsewhere, discouraged and disgusted with the terrible roads. It would be better to expend three times as much annually on the roads than to have them in their present condition. – March 27 1869

The wonderful velocipede “hoss” arrived in town on Tuesday last, direct from the city. No sooner had it been taken off the stage than a large crowd of aspirants for velocipede honors, surrounded the wonderful animal and earnestly gazed at its strange appearance. To all those who made a thorough examination it appeared to be perfectly gentle and decile, exhibiting no kicking or “bucking” propensities. It was led into the Plaza, followed by a large crowd, when a person possessing quite a reputation as a rider was induced to try it and see what it could do. No sooner had be mounted than be got “bucked” off. He tried it again, and met with the same fate. Other owners in the “critter” tried it and they too met with similar results. Since its arrival it has became quite gentle, as there are now a number who can ride it without the use of spurs. Every afternoon, on the Sonoma road, this strangely constructed beast goes through a course of exercises, and creates great amusement for those who witness its “fantastic tricks.” – May 1 1869

The velocipede fever has abated at this burg. The new machine from the city, purchased at a cost of fifty or sixty dollars, is now used up and laid aside, while the one built here only serves for the amusement of boys. Our folks evidently think velocipeding too much like work to be good fun. – May 29 1869

Woman Suffrage. — It will he remembered that the question of female suffrage before the Santa Rosa Lyceum, several weeks since, drew on a denserly [sic] crowded house and elicited an able and interesting discussion. The champions of the “strong minded” succeeded on that occasion, obtaining a decision in their favor. But the supporters of the negative have never been satisfied, and so last Saturday night they threw down the glove for another contest on the same subject. The other side, confident of victory, promptly accepted the challenge, and this (Saturday) evening has been fixed upon to “fight their battles o’er again.” The question reads: “Resolved, That women are entitled to the right of suffrage.” Affirmative— Barclay Henley and John Ferral; Neg. Major Brown and Wm. McCullough. A rattling discussion is anticipated, and we advise ail who can to be present. – May 29 1869

Miss Emma Webb, a beautiful and talented young actress, intends to take a the stump against female suffrage. With such a Webb we should be able to catch all the young fellows who have gone off after Annie Dickinson, and other strong-minded females. – June 5 1869

Getting it Down to a Science. — There are quite a number of boys around this place, who on velocipede riding are becoming immense. They prefer the two wheeled one, on account of it being the most difficult to manage, and are trying to see how many different ways they can ride it. So far the youngsters have got along admirably, and perform some expert movements, but one of these young velocipedestrians, Master Pope, proposes to cap the climax by standing on his head on the saddle and working the cranks with his hands. Pope is determined to beat young Seigrist, of San Francisco, or “any other man.” – June 12 1869

Velocipede School. During the past week a velocipede school has been organized at this place, under the control of Millett & Co. These gentlemen have fitted up a room, near the now Presbyterian Church, and have some ten or twelve new velocipedes, of all sizes, constantly on hand for the use of those who desire to learn. The velocipede is excellent for exercise, and we advise all who want to harden their muscles and promote digestion to give Millett & Co. a trial. – June 19 1869

The Velocipede school, started at this place, last week, closed up business in a day or two, as the boys around here were experts in Velocipede riding. – June 26 1869

The velocipede fever, which prevailed here a few weeks ago, has now entirely died out. Even the boys have come to the conclusion that there is too much work in managing the machine, and have given it up in disgust. – July 24 1869

We observe that Master John Dougherty, the “Little Giant” of Sebastopol, has at last got into the papers, and is hailed as a rival of Gen. Tom Thumb for lilliputian honors. Master Johnny is now fifteen years old, and yet weighs only thirty pounds, and is but four inches shorter than the General. The Herald was the first to bring our little friend before the public, a reporter having noticed him while on a recent visit to the city. – September 25 1869

Base Ball Club. — A number of the young men of this place met a few nights ago in the Board of Supervisors room and organized a base-ball club, styling themselves “The Young Wide-Awakes.” They have sent to the city for books of instruction, and intend in a short time to take the wind out of the sails of the Red Stockings. – October 23 1869

Be Careful. — There are a number of young boys around here, scarcely any of them over eight years of age, all of whom have horses, and make it a practice of riding at full speed up and down the roads. We fear if these daring juveniles don’t slack their speed we will be compelled to chronicle an accident before long. – November 13 1869

Challenge. — The first nine of the Lightfoot Base Ball Club desire us to state that they will play against the field, or, in other words, any nine outsiders, residents of Santa Rosa, who will meet them on their grounds this afternoon, Saturday, at 3 o’clock. – December 4 1869

On the Rampage. —Laura de Force Gordon, of Oakland, is going to stump the State in favor of Female Suffrage. She has challenged Miss Emma Webb to meet her and discuss the merits of the question. Miss Emma, were she to agree to meet Miss Gordon, would always have the best of it, for she claims that every lady can be a woman and every woman a lady, while Miss Gordon wants to make every woman a man and every lady a pot-house politician. – January 8 1870

Woman’s Rights. — We understand that Mrs. Laura de Force Gordon intends lecturing at the Court House this (Saturday) evening on the subject of Woman’s Rights, but as we have not been officially notified of it we can not say positively that such is the case. If the report is true, we can only say “let her rip” — howling female dervishes are at a discount, and petticoat nuisances will sooner or later be abated. Such women can do more good by staying at home and raising a family than by going around over the country showing their boots, breeches, stockings, shirt buttons, etc., to curiosity-seeking crowds. – January 22 1870

Dear Editors — A large, intelligent and appreciative audience, last evening, listened to a most eloquent and cogent appeal on behalf of woman suffrage, by Mrs. Laura De Force Gordon. She showed most clearly the manifest injustice of a republican government in denying to one-half its citizens (?) no ! not citizens, but one half the people, the right to a voice in its laws. Women are taxed equally with men. They are alike amenable to law, yet are classed with criminals, idiots and pauper’s. Her argument on this head was unanswerable.

She also showed in strong terms that women do want the ballot and that they will have it.

Her last argument was clear and forcible as to their need of the ballot in regard to the care of themselves and their children in earning, owning and disposing of property.

Mrs. Gordon is an exceedingly pleasing and interesting speaker and commands the entire attention of her audience. She was compelled, by press of engagements in San Francisco and vicinity, to postpone her lectures in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg until after the Woman Suffrage Convention which meets in San Francisco on Wednesdav next. We hope that Sonoma county will be largely represented and an interest awakened in this important subject.

Mrs. Gordon will lecture again here, in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, as soon after the Convention as arrangements can be made. We send from this town a petition of four hundred names, of some of our best men and women to Congress and our State Legislature for the enfranchisement of woman. If the Democrats in our Legislature are as rational and consistent as those in Wyoming we shall soon enjoy all the rights of citizenship m a free republic. Justitia. Petaluma, Jan. 22d, 1870. – January 29 1870

None to Rent.— There is scarcely a day passes but that some person calls at this office and wants to know “if there are any houses to rent in Santa Rosa?” Although there have been several new buildings erected within the past year yet we do not know of a house to rent in our town at the present time. – March 12 1870

Pretty Good.— Three of our citizens, who are experts at trout fishing, went up to Mark West Creek one day during last week, and returned home in the evening with three hundred of these fine fish. This is what we call pretty good work for one day. All of the streams in this vicinity are visited daily by parties who are fond of fishing. – April 16 1870

Horrible Noise.— Some few evenings since the youngsters of our town who keep late hours, favored the citizens with a serenade which was not appreciated by anybody. They had with them a number of instruments of a peculiar kind, and the way the serenaders bandied them was a caution. We are fond of music, but hope that the youngsters will not annoy our citizens with any more of just such musical treats in the future. – April 16 1870

Female Suffrage.— Mrs. Carrie T. Young lectured at the Court-house on Wednesday evening last, in favor of Woman Suffrage, We regret that her talents are not employed in promoting some worthier cause. – April 23 1870

Horse Racing.—A number of scrub horse races came off here during the week, on the Petaluma road, just below Santa Rosa bridge. The boys of our town had the management of them and they would run for anything from a jack knife to a two bit piece. – May 21 1870

Stabbing Affray. —On Tuesday evening last a stabbing affair occurred at the “Rialto” saloon, in this place, in which a man by the name of Clark was stabbed in the neck by a man named Willis Cockerill. From parties who were present and witnessed the difficulty we obtained the follow)ng information about it. The parties were engaged in playing cards together when a dispute arose about a trifling sum of money. One word brought on another until at last it came to blows. They were separated by outside parties, but soon clinched again, when Clark drew his pocket knife out. Cockerill then drew his knife and cut at Clark, the blade entering the neck below the left ear. The wounded man fell to the floor, and bled profusely. Dr. Allen was immediately called in to his assistance, and proceeded to dress the wound. Cockerill was arrested by Marshal Park, and had his examination before Justice Brown on Wednesday morning. He was found guilty of simple assault. The injured man is out on the streets again, and expresses a great astonishment at the arrest of Cockerill for the commission of such a trifling offense. – June 18 1870

Cool Customer. — Clark, the man who was stabbed here on Tuesday night last, has learned to take such things cooly. While lying on the floor, covered with blood, he calmly asked for a “chaw of terbacker,” and next day invited the party who did the cutting to take a drink with him. – June 18 1870

The Social Evil.— St. Louis, following in the wake of Paris, Berlin, and other European cities, has concluded to deal with the “social evil” in a practical manner, by licensing houses and providing medical examiners, etc. Santa Rosa hasn’t any of that kind of evil, so we don’t feel particularly interested in the license question. – July 30 1870

Great Walker. —A huge bilk, calling himself Prof. Western, the “greatest walker in the country,” gave an exhibition of his agility in that line in this town on last Wednesday night. He never stopped walking to settle his bills, and victimized us to the amount of five dollars. Look out for him, for he will walk off with a red-hot stove if he gets a chance. – September 3 1870

Our Calaboose Our town authorities not having authorized the building of a “lockup,” the City Marshal is often at a loss to know what to do with troublesome reprobates. He cannot arrest one who is beastly drunk and keep him until he sobers off. because no place has been prepared in which to stow him away. But on Thursday morning last, as there was a man who could not take care of himself, and, besides was making himself a common nuisance, the Marshal took a queensware crate, and turned it into a temporary calaboose, and in it confined the inebriated individual. It served very well for the purpose. – September 17 1870

Calaboose. — Workmen are now engaged in putting up the calaboose in the rear of the jail. Although this is an institution that is but little needed here, it is well to have one on hand for the accommodation of all persons who would disturb the peace and quietude of our town. – October 1 1870

Keep Them at Home. — There is a number of small boys in our town ranging from eight to ten years of age, who are out on the streets almost nightly to a very late hour. We would suggest to parents that there is no place where children are as safe from temptation at such hours as home. A little precaution in this matter may save much trouble in the future. – October 15 1870

New Gas Lamps. – Within the past week a species of gas called the gasolyne has been introduced into our town, and so far has proved satisfactory to those who have used it. No chimney or wick is required, and each lamp has a patent burner which generates the gas. There is no danger whatever of explosion as the gas is consumed as fast as it is made. The town trustees have had four gas lamps put up in the Plaza, which are a great convenience to all persons who have occasion to be out at nights. The Kessing Hotel is lighted up nightly with this gas which is a great improvement on coal oil. Both livery stables have adopted it, and as it is much cheaper and safer than coal oil, its use will soon become general. Frank Coe has purchased the extensive right to sell these lamps in this county and Napa, and will attend promptly to all orders left at the Hotel. – October 29 1870

More Buildings. — Since the completion of the railroad to this point, there is scarcely a day passes but what strangers are looking for vacant houses. Many of them are energetic men, and have not the means at command to buy homes for themselves and families. They desire to rent and locate among us, and by their labor and industry assist in building up the interests of our county. Those of our citizens who have a surplus of capital on hand, should take cognizance of this matter, and not allow worthy men who come here with the intention of making Sonoma county their home for the future, to go away and locate somewhere else. Here is a chance, gentlemen, to show your liberality and enterprise. – October 29 1870

Calaboose. — This institution in the jail yard is now completed, and ready to accommodate all disturbers of the peace of our town. At present there is little if any necessity for it, but as the town is growing so rapidly in population, it is well to have one on hand. Two or three persons here already been confined in it, for having turned the sidewalks into lodging apartments. Our Marshal is ever on the look out, and all can rest assured he will make no distinctions among law breakers. There was a party of noisy individuals out late on last Sunday night, and if they make a few more such trips to town, they need not be surprised if the Marshal gives them free lodgings for the remainder of the night. – October 29 1870

The New Gas.— Last week we mentioned the fact that gasolyne had been introduced into our town. It has worked to such perfection that almost every house in town, especially the business portion of the community, has adopted its use. A number of new gas lamps have been put up, and our Main street at night looks quite brilliant. The great charm about this gas is that it is much cheaper than kerosene oil, and will not explode under any circumstances. Coe, the popular hotel keeper, is kept busy filling orders both here and in other portions of the county. Frank has secured the agency for Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties. – November 5 1870

Rapidly Changing. — Our town is rapidly changing from its former rural appearance, and beginning to assume the life and activity of a young city. The streets are usually crowded to a much greater extent than formerly, and the mode of travel by pedestrians is assuming the Montgomery street style. We understand that two omnibusses will soon put in an appearance at the depot, When we will hear the cry of “Free bus to Colgan’s Hotel,” “Right this way for Kessing’s Hotel,” “Take your baggage free of charge,” etc. No less than eight stages are running here daily. Who says the railroad has not thrown new life into our town? – November 5 1870

New Buildings. — In strolling over town a day or two ago on a “localizing” tour, we observed a number of new frame buildings being erected. Even on the outskirts of town the evidences of industry were apparent on all aides. Several gentlemen owning land just outside of the city limits have erected large and handsome residences thereon, and otherwise greatly improved their premises. No one will deny, now, that in a year or two Santa Rosa will be one of the handsomest interior towns in the State, and as far as educational facilities are concerned, she stands second to none other. – November 26 1870

Crowded. — Both of the hotels at this place, although large and commodious structures, are now crowded to their utmost capacity. The travel through our county has increased to such an extent within the past month, that our land lords are kept busy day and night providing accommodations for their numerous guests There is some talk on the streets about the erection of a large brick building to be used as a hotel. None can doubt but what it would pay, and before long some enterprising persons will take the matter in band and commence work in earnest. – November 26 1870

The Plaza. — Now that our town is attracting considerable attention throughout the State, and numbers of persons are visiting it from a distance, for the purpose of taking observations, and perhaps making it their home, would it not be well for us to endeavor to make the town present as creditable an appearance as possible? It looks well, now, but yet there are many things that can be done which will add greatly to its beauty, one of which is to take hold in earnest and improve the plaza — lay out gravel walks through it, plant some nice shrubbery, and give the fence a new coat of paint. We are under the impression that this would add greatly to the appearance of the town, while the cost of the work would be but trifling. As the case stands now, the visitor, in passing through, finds but little worthy of admiration in it. If we are. to have a plaza, let us keep it in good condition, or abolish it entirely. The matter is in the hands of the citizens, and it rests with them to say whether the work shall be done or not, – November 26 1870

Real Estate. — Considerable business is now being done in real estate in and around Santa Rosa. Parties are in town almost every day, making inquiries in regard to the price of land, location, soil, etc. During the past week quite a number of small tracts have changed hands. Negotiations were under way for the disposal of the two hundred acre tract which faces the property of Mr. John Ingram, but the sale was not made on account of some misunderstanding, Buyers complain of its high price asked for land, which, in some cases, we believe they are correct. Use a little more liberality, gentlemen, and sales will be mere numerous. – November 26 1870

Horrible Condition. — The streets of our town are now in a most horrible condition, and in many places are almost impassable. On the low grounds the water has lodged in such quantity as to form lakes deep enough to admit of gondolizing upon their muddy surface. In fact there is scarcely a good crossing to be found anywhere? Can not our town officers take some steps to drain or in some other manner improve their condition. Should they continue much longer as they are now, it will be found necessary for every man to provide himself with a mud scow to get around to attend to business. Besides this it is now impossible for the ladies to go out “shopping,” a little amusement which is generally very popular with them, but seldom meets with the hearty approbation of their liege lords. If something is not done in their behalf soon, our town officers may expect to hear “Rome howl” ere long. – December 10 1870

Base Ball. — The young men of Santa Rosa have organized a base ball club, which promises to be an active and efficient institution. They may never rival the Red Stockings, but the exercise will do them good and afford much amusement. – December 10 1870

Fell Down. — A young urchin, who was perched on a pair of stilts some three feet high, which were tied to his feet, fell down on Third street, on Monday last, and severely sprained one of his ankles, there is quite a number of little boys in town who can be seen daily perched on high stilts and some of them, we fear, will meet with a severe accident yet. Older heads have suffered by too hasty endeavors to get up in the world, and our ambitious juveniles will learn that stilts from three to five feet long are a little too much too high. – December 31 1870

Read More

Mazama

I’LL BE RICH, I TELL YOU, RICH

 When the big book of Sonoma county history is writ, there should be a special chapter on some of the remarkably dumb business ventures that were tried here and flopped spectacularly.

 Near the top of the list would be Jack London’s eucalyptus obsession, which caused him to squander a fortune. London wasn’t alone in the mistaken belief that blue gum trees would be a valuable cash crop but he was probably the largest investor, planting about 100,000 seedlings. The trees proved worthless (plus a fire hazard, to boot) and just made London’s Beauty Ranch stink like cheap menthol cough drops.

London only wasted money with his dream of a eucalyptus plantation, but in the 1870s a Glen Ellen farmer inadvertently launched an environmental disaster. In 1871 Julius A. Poppe set up a fish farm but he didn’t stock it with Steelhead or Rainbow Trout or another native fish; instead, he imported common carp all the way from Germany.

Often called a “trash fish,” common carp could be the eucalyptus of the piscatorial world. They grow big very fast, spawn prolifically and crowd out any other species in its vicinity. And like blue gum trees, they are mostly worthless – very difficult to clean as well as eat because of their tiny bones, not to mention being also an acquired taste. Yet it was a traditional food for German/Central European immigrants and carp ponds became a local fad, with Poppe selling breeding fish to more than a dozen farmers.

Big winter storms caused some of the ponds to overflow and by the middle of the decade carp were found in creeks, rivers and the Laguna. That was the death knell for commercial carp farming in Sonoma county, although Poppe also sold stock to farmers in Southern California, Hawai’i, and even Central America.

But there seemed to be an upside to the release of the fish into the wild; carp fishing in the Laguna became a popular sport and a tourist draw. In 1879 the State Board of Fish Commissioners even supported carp by introducing catfish, which would eat the “water dogs” – newts of the now endangered tiger salamander – which preyed upon juvenile carp.

Shift forward fifteen years and attitudes are flipped. Sportsmen realized the carp were forcing out trout and other types of fish which people actually liked to eat, while carp were also reducing the food supply of migratory ducks. Thus in 1896 the state introduced largemouth bass into the Laguna to eat the carp (“all the carp which are now in the stream will eventually be destroyed, as black bass are death on carp” – Sonoma Democrat, 4/24/1897). Two years later the bass itself had become such a nuisance that someone began trying to wipe them out with dynamite: “Every few days a stick of powder is touched off under the water and as a result dead bass in great quantities can be seen floating on the surface,” reported the Sebastopol Times in 1898.

What a fine example this was of the Unintended Consequences Law; in less than a quarter century, a modest side business of a few farmers ended up wrecking an entire ecosystem. Even today, catfish and bass appear to be in all our local waterways, while Mr. Poppe’s carp can still be found in Green Valley Creek, Estero Americano, the Petaluma River and elsewhere.

Although the carp and eucalyptus projects didn’t make any money (or at least not much), at least they moved the ball forward; Poppe successfully imported fish from Germany and sold some. London indeed planted a carpload of trees which no one wanted. But John M. King badly fumbled between the dreaming and the doing. John M. King wanted to become the first steamboat captain on the Russian River.

A 1908 steamer with the same dimensions as King’s Enterprise

 
 

Nothing is known about King – whether he had any experience aboard ships or even how old he was. “John King” and even “John M. King” was a surprisingly common name at that time. From descriptions in the weekly Russian River Flag newspaper we know he indeed built a very small stern-wheel steamboat in 1869. There are no photos but it must have resembled the Mazama steamer shown above. Named the Enterprise, King’s little ship was only fifty feet long and sat high in the water, with a draft of only a foot and the paddles dipping in merely ten inches. Although it was so tiny that it probably looked like somebody’s hobby boat, the specs were a good match for the shallow Russian River except for one issue – the very first article about him mentioned “…in the season of high water the Captain expects to run to Healdsburg.”

Paddling around the lower Russian River and piloting a boat through the bendy twists of the river around Healdsburg are two very different goals. Yes, his dinky steamer was more maneuverable than a larger craft, but that’s not gonna help if that part of the river dried up completely (or nearly so), as it did every autumn back then. The river was only legally declared navigable in 1976 by a court revising the meaning of “navigable” as not necessarily allowing passage year-round. And closer to King’s day back in 1886, the state Supreme Court had declared specifically that “the [Russian] river is not navigable for boats larger than canoes, skiffs, etc., and is not in fact navigable for commercial purposes.”*

Captain King built the Enterprise just downstream from Heald and Guerne’s lumber mill, which is to say a mile west of today’s Safeway store in Guerneville. He also built two barges to tow with his steamer; he had a contract with the mill to carry shingles and lumber to the mouth of the river, where presumably an ocean-going ship would connect to take the barges down to San Francisco. But before he began barging or making his quixotic run to Healdsburg, King wanted to show off a bit.

King took out an ad in the Flag announcing an “excursion” from Guerneville to Duncan’s Mills. “…The trip will afford one continuous panorama of the most beautiful and romantic scenery,” he burbled, as well as the chance to see lumbermen’s camps – which seems to me a bit like the SMART train trying to draw riders by promising scenic views into junky backyards and homeless encampments.

Alas, a cancellation notice quickly followed. “The excursion trip is postponed for a few days, owing to an unavoidable accident which will be soon remedied, when all will be right again.” As the summer and autumn of 1869 passed, King continued to tinker with his boat and just before Christmas the Flag reported that he was actually towing cargo. The excursion to Duncan’s Mill and back (with dancing on the barges in tow) supposedly happened Dec. 23-24, but nothing further appeared in the paper.

He failed to meet his goal of reaching Healdsburg before Christmas, but told the Flag he “intends next Summer to make regular trips – three times a week — from the month of the river to Healdsburg.” Besides working on his boat, “the Capt. has constructed a dam and lock, which gives the river a three foot rise above the dam,” reported the Flag. “He will open the lock and let the boat ride through to the sea on the accumulated waters.”

Then sometime after the New Year with the river around its winter peak, he made a run for Healdsburg. He sank two miles past Guerneville.

“The indomitable Captain has got her afloat again,” reported the Flag a few weeks later. King was aided by someone from the Mare Island Navy Yard as well as fifteen men clearing obstructions in the water. “Capt. King’s steamer, ‘Enterprise,’ will probably reach Healdsburg today. as she is now but a short distance below town,” the paper reported on March 24.

He didn’t. The ship ran aground again and this time could not be budged. It stayed wherever it was for months, maybe years.

In November of 1871 a visitor was told “…she twisted off her shaft and went to the bottom; and how the hulk now lies half-buried in the sand — a warning to any man so presumptuous as to attempt steamboat navigation on a river along which there is not yet enough traffic to have made even a decent bridle-path…”

Hannah Clayborn, who writes some about the steamboat in the “Roads, Ferries, and Bridges” chapter of her Healdsburg history page, suggests it got no farther than the Windsor area, but Dr. Shipley’s “Tales of Sonoma County” says King almost made it to the summer dam:

She struck hard aground and fast, the water went down and left the tug high and dry on the bar and it had to be abandoned until the next high water when the fall rains set in, at which time she was repaired, re-caulked, and with the crew who brought her up the river the spring before, they sailed, or rather steamed, down the muddy water back to the sea…

Why he risked – and ultimately, lost – his river hauling business at Guerneville is a mystery. What was so important about reaching Healdsburg by water? His steamer was so small he could not have carried much cargo aboard, and he certainly could not have gotten his barges through the channel. And even in the middle of the rainy season, Healdsburg was not cut off by road, or at least no more than other towns. A January, 1870 letter from a Healdsburger who went to Vallejo remarked, “the road to Santa Rosa was so so – very fair for our county; from thence to Petaluma it was too abominable to talk about to strangers.”

My guess is that King’s venture was bankrolled by Thomas W. Hudson, who owned considerable property on the southern end of Healdsburg. A one-term member of the state Assembly 1869-1871, the only bill he tried to get passed was to declare the Russian River navigable so state money could be spent on improvement. “This is intended to encourage and protect the indomitable enterprise of Capt. John M. King,” the Flag noted. Hannah Clayborn wrote, “…declaring the river navigable would have served Hudson’s interests, as he owned the west bank of the river and half of a ferry system throughout the 1860’s, a natural location for a proposed Healdsburg Wharf.”

There’s an odd little Believe-it-or-Not! twist to the sad tale of steamboat captain John M. King, and I’m not sure what to make of it. About two months after the (final) sinking, he wrote a letter to the Flag informing them he was now running a sawmill near Cloverdale, and would return to the Russian River soon and build a new ship which he would name the “Perseverance.” Alas, he wrote, Heald and Guerne were trying to break him and had attached the Enterprise for money owed. They had even attached his dog, Gipsey, “which I valued more than money.” The pooch was supposedly sold for $200. “This seems like a large sum. but I would not have taken twice that amount for it.”

The next week Tom Heald wrote the paper. “Heald and Guerne have not attached the boat as represented by King, and, as to his dog ‘Gipsie,’ I never as much as knew he had such a dog. Heald and Guerne do not wish to ‘break’ J. M. King, nor to ‘keep him broke,’ but suppose we will have the pleasure of seeing the ‘Perseverence’ when she comes along.”


* The 1976 case was Hitchings v. Del Rio Woods Recreation & Park District. One of the lawyers in the 1886 Wright v. Seymour suit was this journal’s favorite antihero, James Wyatt Oates.


The Steamboat “Enterprise.” — This boat now being built at Heald’s Mill by Capt. John M. King, will be launched next Saturday the 15th. The machinery is all aboard now and the boat will be completed within two or three weeks, when she will make an excursion to Duncan’s Mill on the Coast, going down one day and returning the next. As many of our citizens will want to join the excursion the Flag will give timely notice of the day set for it to come off. The livery stables will run stages down to the landing twelve miles from Healdsburg. Capt. King has been running a barge on the river, drawing from fourteen to twenty-six inches, according to the load. He has made six round trips from Heald’s Mill, carrying, in the aggregate, 200,000 shingles and 20,000 feet of lumber, besides considerable farm and dairy produce. He has built another barge drawing only twelve inches when loaded. He is now building the “Enterprise” to tow these barges. The boat is 50 feet long; 10 foot beam on the bottom and 14½ on deck; Engine 15 horsepower; draught 12 inches; depth of hull 44 inches; dip of paddles (stern wheel) 10 inches. She is built in a superior manner and fitted up with a cabin and all necessary conveniences for carrying passengers. Capt. King having a contract for carrying the lumber from Heald & Guern’s Mill the regular trips of the boat will be between that point and the Coast. In the season of high water the Captain expects to run to Healdsburg. This would give us cheap freight between Healdsburg and San Francisco while the mud road to Petaluma was at its worst. We hope Capt. King’s enterprise in building the “Enterprise” will be richly rewarded.

– Russian River Flag, May 13 1869

Particular attention is likewise invited to the advertisement of Capt. John King, of the new steamboat “Enterprise.” He proposes an excursion which will give every one an opportunity to enjoy the delightful scenery along the navigable portion of Russian River, and also to visit the coast on the first steamboat ever built or run on this river. We hope the Captain may have an encouraging benefit on this occasion. His pioneering energy should be well rewarded. It is twelve miles we believe to the Mill from which the excursion starts.

– Russian River Flag, May 20 1869

Read Capt. King’s advertisement carefully once more and decide whether you can afford to lose the trip. — We learn from Capt. King, and you will learn from our correspondent “Visitor,” that the excursion is postponed for a few days. Be ready for another announcement.

– Russian River Flag, June 3 1869

Letter from “Big Bottom.” Big Bottom, May 29th, 1869.

Mr. Editor: The most important event of th« day to the people of Lower Russian River, is the successful launching of the steamboat “Enterprise” built at Heald’s Mill by Capt. J. M. King. The scene was witnessed by many of the citizens — ladies and gentlemen — who met there on the occasion. The little boat sat on the water beautifully, and promises all that her sanguine friends could have anticipated of her. The excursion trip is postponed for a few days, owing to an unavoidable accident which will be soon remedied, when all will be right again. When ready, due notice will be given to all. – Visitor

– Russian River Flag, June 10 1869

The steamer Enterprise, Capt. John King, has steam up again and is running. It will make a trial trip to the mouth of the river this week. The Capt. has constructed a dam and lock, which gives the river a three foot rise above the dam. He will open the lock and let the boat ride through to the sea on the accumulated waters. — Capt. King says that three locks would be sufficient to make the Russian River navigable to Healdsburg the whole year; also that we may expect to see his boat up here the first Fall rains.

– Russian River Flag, August 12 1869

We visited the steamer Enterprise, lying one mile below the mill. Capt. King is quite confident that he will visit Healdsburg by steam before Christmas. Says he intends next Summer to make regular trips – three times a week — from the month of the river to Healdsburg. Next Saturday he intends making his first trip to the mouth of the river.

– Russian River Flag, August 26 1869

Capt. King of the steamer Enterprise was in town last week having some repairing done to the machinery of his boat, which will soon be skimming over the waters of Russian River.

– Russian River Flag, September 2 1869

A Success. – The new steamer Enterprise recently constructed by Captain King for navigating the Russian River, made her trial trip on the 23d ult., and we are glad to learn, proved a success. Her speed was some ten miles an hour.

– Petaluma Argus, October 7 1869

The Steamer Enterprise. — We are pleased to learn from Mr. J. W. Bagley that Capt. King’s boat, the Enterprise, is now successfully running on Russian River. She left Heald & Guern’s Mill on the 16th with several passengers for Duncan’s Mill, with barges in tow loaded with charcoal. On her next trip she will carry hoop poles and several thousand Christmas trees for San Francisco. At last, after several unsuccessful attempts, Russian River is navigated by a live steamboat, and we hope, when the river rises, to see the little vessel throw out her bow lines and stern lines and spring lines to the Healdsburg wharf! Captain King is entitled to great praise for his indomitable pluck and perseverance under difficulties and we hope his “Enterprise” may prove a great success. Since the above was in type we are informed that the boat will leave Heald & Guern’s Mill today at 12 o’clock on a pleasure excursion to Duncan’s Mill and return at noon tomorrow. Fare down and back, $2.50. Two barges fitted up for dancing will be in tow.

– Russian River Flag, December 23 1869

Mr. Hudson’s bill declaring Russian River navigable and providing for its improvement, has passed the Assembly. This is intended to encourage and protect the indomitable enterprise of Capt. John M. King, who has built a steamboat to navigate Russian River, and it will no doubt become a law. It will be of great benefit to our county.

– Russian River Flag, February 17 1870

The Enterprise. – Some weeks since Capt. King attempted to make a passage to Healdsburg with the “Enterprise,” but a little above Heald and Guern’s mill the pilot backed the boat upon a snag and sank her. This occasioned delay and considerable expense, but the indomitable Captain has got her afloat again and with the experienced help of his friend Capt. Parker, of the Mare Island Navy Yard, he will make the first voyage to Healdsburg as soon as some obstructions can be removed from the river, which he is now engaged in doing, with a force of fifteen men. The boat is now above the mouth of Mark West creek about ten miles below Healdsburg. The captain has bought new sixty horse power engines for her and he will keep her here when she comes up until they are put in.

– Russian River Flag, March 10 1870

Capt. King’s steamer, “Enterprise,” will probably reach Healdsburg today. as she is now but a short distance below town.

– Russian River Flag, March 24 1870

The Russian River Boat.

We have learned with considerable regret that Capt. King’s boat the “Enterprise.” is, for the present, a failure. The Captain has met with many serious difficulties in his undertaking, the chief of which lately, seem to have been the summary manner in which some of his creditors have secured their claims, whether rightfully or not we have no knowledge, and of course have nothing to say upon that head, though we had hoped that the Captain’s energy and perseverance would be rewarded. At his request we publish the following letter:

Eds. Flag: — I take this opportunity of thanking you for the many favors you have done me during the time I have been endeavoring to prove that Russian River is navigable. Although I differ very widely from you in politics, yet as long as I can use a hammer and cold chisel you may consider me one of your subscribers. Messrs. Heald & Guern have attached my boat, but that will not prevent me from making a living, as some friends have engaged me to run the Perseverance Saw mill, which is located thirteen miles above Cloverdale. They also attached my dog, “Gipsey,” which I valued more than money. They sold the dog for $200. This seems like a large sum. but I would not have taken twice that amount for it. They may break me, but they cannot keep me broke. The first of August, I will commence building another steamboat, at the mouth of Russian River, to be called the “Perseverance.” Again thanking you for past favors I ask that you do me one more by publishing this letter. Respectfully, yours,

John M. King.

– Russian River Flag, May 5 1870   

A Card From Mr. Heald.

Eds Flag: — If I may be permitted the space in your paper to correct some errors in the card of John M. King, in your issue of May 5th, I will be thankful for the favor, as it seems to throw the blame of the failure of his boat where it does not belong. I think, however, the fact of his trying some four weeks to get the boat to Healdsburg over the shoals, with the river falling every day, without any probability of a rise till next December, and only making twelve miles, should convince any one that the “Enterprise for the present is a failure,” and Heald and Guerne not wholly answerable tor it, if they had lately attached the boat; but the facts are, that Heald and Guerne have not attached the boat as represented by King, and, as to his dog “Gipsie,” I never as much as knew he had such a dog. Heald and Guerne do not wish to “break” J. M. King, nor to “keep him broke,” but suppose we will have the pleasure of seeing the “Perseverence” when she comes along.

Thos. T. Heald. May 8th. 1870.

– Russian River Flag, May 12 1870 

IN THE REDWOODS.
Life among the Lumbermen – How the Redwoods are Cut and Hauled, etc.
[Correspondence to the Bulletin.]
Stumptown, Sonoma Co., Nov. 20th

…Two or three hours I listened to these heavy stories, and to my hosts narrative of his financial shipwreck through a rash steamboat venture up Russian river with one King; how she twisted off her shaft and went to the bottom; and how the hulk now lies half-buried in the sand — a warning to any man so presumptuous as to attempt steamboat navigation on a river along which there is not yet enough traffic to have made even a decent bridle-path…

– Russian River Flag, November 30 1871

Read More

1870cartoolFB

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

Read More