Guess which of these men is fake. Hint: It’s the one whose smile actually seems genuine.

Between 1971 and 1998, Santa Rosa had a Ripley museum near downtown. No, it wasn’t one of the amusement halls as can be visited down on Fisherman’s Wharf, with its shrunken heads and other curiosities. This was a museum dedicated to the memory of Robert Ripley, whose popular “Believe it or Not!” syndicated cartoons made him a celebrity. He was also a Santa Rosa native and is buried in the Odd Fellows cemetery.

Despite his fame, it’s a bit of a puzzle why anyone would want to create a museum in his honor. A biography was published a few years ago which I reviewed here; Ripley, I wrote, was “a creepy, manipulative jerk that seemed to fundamentally dislike people, probably himself most of all.” He had few (if any) friends and when he died in 1949 he passed mostly unmourned, with hardly anyone turning out for his funeral other than immediate family.

Still, his was a household name even after death and Santa Rosa enthusiastically endorsed the idea of the museum. No surprise; after all, if this city is known for anything it’s for leeching off the names of famous people who lived here, so Robert Ripley slips in neatly post-Luther Burbank and pre-Charles Schulz.

A Ripley museum had been proposed twice while he was still alive, both times by Ripley himself. And he specified it had to be in a particular building – the Church From One Tree.

Portion of the "Believe it or Not!" cartoon published on Nov. 5, 1928
Portion of the “Believe it or Not!” cartoon published on Nov. 5, 1928
Even before Ripley was born in 1890, the church was a local landmark and a West Coast tourist attraction (see sidebar below). It was actually the First Baptist Church, located at the corner of Ross and B streets, and the Ripley family were members – well, his mother, at least. His father Isaac was among those who helped build it in 1873. The church gained much wider recognition when Ripley included it in one of his cartoons that appeared in newspapers everywhere.

Ripley’s first bid for the church came in 1940, when he wrote to the pastor and political leaders that he wished to buy it “to house the relics, records and mementoes of early California days” alongside his own “exhibits sufficient to make a complete and interesting museum.” (Decades later, Hugh Codding tried the same feint by claiming he planned to donate a museum to the Historical Society while just a “remainder would be devoted” to his taxidermy collection, which ended up glomming most of the building.)


Before the Ripley museum and even before Ripley’s Believe it or Not! cartoon with the church, it was a tourist attraction; by the turn of the century they had a gift shop selling souvenirs and postcards, such as the one seen below.

The original redwood tree was as tall as a 25 story building and was logged in 1873 by the Murphy Bros. company in Guerneville. Knowing they had an order for wood to be used in building a church from ground up, Rufus Murphy kept lumber cut from that tree separated. Only when the church was dedicated the following year did he reveal it all came from a single tree.

In the mid-1890s an article in Pacific Baptist magazine questioned the origin story. By then the church was so well known that disputing item was widely printed nationwide. To refute the charges, Santa Rosa attorney Thomas J. Butts, who had worked at the sawmill as a youth, published in 1900 an affidavit (reproduced at the end of this article) specifying all particulars related to the tree and the millwork, including names of all men involved. Butts wrote the Murphys decided to use the tree in order to promote California redwood as high quality lumber and also “as an advertisement for his mill,” which was then lagging behind its Guerneville competition as the #3 sawmill in the area.


A year passed before it was agreed the city would buy the land and Ripley would move the church elsewhere. Gone was any mention of objects of historical interest; now the whole museum would be Ripley’s “curioddities” which the mayor gushed would make it “one of the principal tourist attractions in the state.” Ripley was expected to arrive here in a few days to seal the deal – but everyone forgot about it five days later, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Ripley’s next bid came in 1947. Now it was proposed to be “a shrine in memory of the cartoonist’s mother” while “housing a museum of California pioneer life,” according to the Press Democrat, and moved to an undetermined city park. Robert L. Ripley died before this plan was seriously considered.

Anyone who lived in Santa Rosa during the mid-1950s will recall the next chapter of our story. The Baptists had outgrown the church and planned to build a new one at the corner of Sonoma Ave and Yulupa Ave (today it’s the New Vintage Church). The city, meanwhile, really, really, wanted the B and Ross street location for a new parking lot. Thus in 1956 it was agreed Santa Rosa would buy the property while the church would give away the building to any non-profit, non-sectarian group that vowed to preserve it (or any portion of it).

But this time there was no Robert Ripley ridin’ to the rescue – no group said, “yes, please, we’d like to move an 83 year-old building which is already known to have structural problems” and that the Baptists refused to consider offers from other churches certainly cut down on the already limited options. As time passed it increasingly looked like demolition was in store.

The city of Santa Rosa finally agreed to take the building, justifying the donation of a church because it was an historical monument and tourist attraction. There was still no firm decision on where to put it; the leading contender was Franklin Park, followed by Burbank Gardens, the Junior College and Juilliard Park. One letter-writer to the PD suggested leaving it where it was, just raising it and building a parking lot underneath.

Also, the city council said it would not use public money to pay the projected $13,500 moving costs (about $138k today). To its credit the Press Democrat spearheaded a major fundraising campaign, publishing dozens of stories about the effort and listing names of donors. The biggest single event was a gigantic rummage sale on the west side of Courthouse Square, where $3,300 was raised. Among items sold were women’s fur coats and an automobile; it was considered to be the largest event of its kind ever held in the North Bay.

An estimated 5,000 people attended the June 1, 1957 rummage sale to raise funds for moving the Church From One Tree. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library
An estimated 5,000 people attended the June 1, 1957 rummage sale to raise funds for moving the Church From One Tree. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

The rummage sale was held less than three weeks before an option would expire on a choice parcel adjacent to Juilliard Park, and the fund was still short. The PD redoubled its efforts by running coupons for 1,000 readers to send in one dollar to save the church, donor names to appear on a “permanent plaque”. It was a nail-biter, but the fund crossed the threshold a single day before the deadline. The building was moved to its present location (technically 492 Sonoma Avenue) during the autumn of 1957.

At the close of the 1960 Rose Festival there was an official dedication ceremony and about a hundred visitors per day stopped by during the monthlong open house. Then after that…zip. It was available for $5/day to educational or cultural groups, but if there were any events they weren’t publicized. The rest of the 1960s went by with hardly any mention of it in the papers aside from “on this day in the past” nostalgia items.

Come 1970, when the Church of One Tree was more likely the Church of Many Cobwebs for having sat undisturbed over a decade, someone recalled how Robert Ripley was hankering to use it as a museum. Santa Rosa was already Ripley-curious; in 1967 Ripley International Inc. opened its “Believe It Or Not” museum at Fisherman’s Wharf and the PD reported “plans are being made to bring part of the museum to Santa Rosa. It will be placed on display in a downtown location.” While that didn’t happen, a deal between the city and the corporation was made with remarkable speed, and by October 1970 it was settled the church would be rechristened as the “Robert L. Ripley Memorial Museum and Library.”

ripleycouponA group calling itself “Friends of Robert L. Ripley” was formed. Together with the Sonoma County Historical Society and Press Democrat, they declared “a worldwide search is underway for Ripley letters, cartoons and other items to display in the church,” the PD reported. For months the paper published the coupon shown at right to solicit donations.

Mementoes and ephemera trickled in but the gleanings were thin. Ripley’s nephews donated christmas cards received by his sister and snapshots of his homes. There were autographed copies of his cartoon books. Someone had letters an armless boy wrote to Ripley. There was a note sent to him by a Santa Rosa man asking why there was a Ripley street in town; Ripley replied it was named after himself (that was a lie – the street dates back at least to the 1870s).

Items loaned by Ripley Int’l were mostly photos of Ripley globetrotting or schmoozing with celebs in nightclubs. The museum borrowed a suitcase with stickers from all over the world, his pith helmet and the Chinese dressing gown and slippers he liked to wear while drawing. For some reason known only to himself, Ripley hung onto the front door from his childhood home at 117 Orchard street and now that was coming back to Santa Rosa, too.

And then there was the creepy wax figure of Ripley sitting at a drawing board.

It didn’t look much like him; as I wrote earlier, what defined his appearance were his buck teeth, which flipped outward in such a disturbing manner it appeared he was wearing something from a joke shop. The eyes and nose were also wrong and the real Ripley had a doughy face. In short, the wax model was extremely flattering to how he really looked. And then there was the bizarre expression, simultaneously wary and bemused.

The Ripley museum opened June 1971. What few photos can found of the interior shows the walls lined with standard museum display cases and blowups of some of his cartoon panels resting on easels. A panel told the history of the church. There were also some oddities on loan from the “Believe it or Not” collections including a fur-covered trout, a porcupine fish and a stuffed calf with two heads.

ripleyraccoon(LEFT: Crawford Brooks looks on as raccoon owner Drew Goetjen makes a paw print in front of the Ripley dummy. Press Democrat, Sept. 9 1971)

The museum had a promising start; in the first three months the Ripley museum drew over 5,000 visitors. Curator Crawford Brooks had a talent for dreaming up PR stunts, such as establishing the world’s only “museum pet register.” Brooks appeared on Johnny Carson in 1973 and a few years later several people who had been immortalized by Ripley were invited to the museum for a photo op. The star was Plennie Wingo, who walked from Santa Monica to Boston – backwards. (He made other backward treks in Europe and backwalked again from California to Texas.)

But there were also problems. Someone stole the left arm off the wax figure in 1972 and in 1974 two 16 year-olds broke in and ransacked the place, turning over display cases and pulling both arms off the Ripley figure after stripping it. (I am astonished those boys didn’t think to steal the head. All the young punks I knew when I was that age would have realized it was an opportunity for some truly epic prank.)

ripleyvandalized(RIGHT: Vandals disarmed the Robert Ripley wax model. Press Democrat, April 14 1974)

Attendance steadily dwindled over the following years. There was a call for volunteers to become docents but it appears no one wanted to. It was no longer open seven days a week, hours became restricted to midday and it was closed except during warm weather months. It wasn’t open at all for most of 1984 because repairs were being made after a fire damaged the steeple and roof. (It started on the outside wall by the men’s restroom and believed to have been arson, but never proven.) The interior and Ripley exhibits were unharmed, including the wax cartoonist.

By 1988 there was talk at City Hall about either moving the church again or kicking out the museum so it could be rented for weddings, concerts and such. City Manager Ken Blackman told City Council the building “will never amount to much” at that location, and $20k was approved for a consultant to study the issue (of course).

ripleypostcardIn fairness, some measure of those problems were the city’s fault – the place wasn’t easy for visitors to find. There was no signage and out-of-towners were given directions it was “across from Burbank Gardens” or “in Juilliard Park.” People were upset enough about this that they wrote letters to the Press Democrat once they were back home.

The Robert L. Ripley Memorial Museum and Library closed in 1997 or 1998. The exact date isn’t known because its closing wasn’t noted by the PD – it hadn’t been mentioned in the paper for years, in fact.

Moving the church – sans museum – came up again in 2001. (When it was being considered earlier, Gaye LeBaron’s city-hall-know-it-all, Sam the Shark, quipped they should just put the thing on rollers and start promoting it as the “Church Built on Four Wheels.”)

This time the proposal was to send it three blocks east to Rae Park as part of a new “Heritage Park” that would stretch from the Burbank Gardens to E street on the south side of Sonoma Ave. Also to be moved there was the Hoag house, which has since been demolished. The project received unanimous approval from the city Planning Commission but the estimated $1.5M price tag was too much for even our spendthrift City Council.

With the Church From One Tree about to celebrate its 150th birthday in 2023, the Old Dear is probably ready for another century-plus after recent major renovations to stabilize the structure and restore the stained glass windows. It can be rented via the Santa Rosa city website, which also has a very good virtual tour of the interior.


(TOP PHOTO: “Believe it or Not” TV shows have been a mainstay of the broadcast industry since 1949, when the earliest version was hosted by Ripley himself. This photo was from the 1981 revival on ABC, when host Jack Palance filmed a segment at the Santa Rosa museum. Palance is most remembered as the gangster or cowboy who killed someone and/or was killed himself in that movie you watched for a few minutes on TCM some time ago.)




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A segregated school for African Americans in New York City. Engraving, 1870.

JOHN RICHARDS (Hidden Lives I)

With all the interest in correcting the historical record by pulling down monuments to racists and traitors, let’s talk about honoring someone, too: He was Sonoma County’s first civil rights activist and a lonely patriot in Santa Rosa’s swamp of Confederate sympathizers. His name was John Richards and he had a radical notion: African-American children were entitled to receive a basic education.

Nothing apparently was more important to Richards than the “colored school” but under 1860 California law, “Negroes, Mongolians and Indians shall not be allowed into public schools” so parents like John and Philena Richards had to pay for a private school or send their children away to board with someone where a school was available. Petaluma was among six communities in Northern California that bucked the law and created a public school for black children in 1864, and nothing stopped Santa Rosa from doing likewise, if it had the will.1

Since Richards was a man of means, he hired teachers to educate the town’s black children, including his two adopted kids, Ella and Frank – even though he was also paying $70 a year in county taxes to underwrite public schools for whites.2

(This is the first profile in the series, THE HIDDEN LIVES OF BLACK SANTA ROSA.” It will be helpful to read the introduction for background.)

By trade Richards was a barber, which was one of the better occupations open to African-Americans in 19th century white America. Santa Rosa’s weekly newspaper, the Sonoma Democrat, typically flung racist epithets at blacks as a race, white abolitionists and Lincoln Republicans, but Richards was never demeaned in editor Thomas Thompson’s Democrat, likely because his business was a regular advertiser and he was a wealthy man. But just because the Democrat didn’t target Richards does not mean Thompson treated him with respect. In an 1869 screed against the Democratic Party not sufficiently defending a “White Man’s Government,” a contributor sneered he “would rather marry John Richard’s wife, if a widow, than the widow of a democrat.” Thompson added helpfully, “[This is a negro family in Santa Rosa.]”

Instead of openly insulting Richards himself, Thompson ghosted him by ignoring his remarkable deeds. The only time Richards’ school was mentioned in the newspaper was a grudging nod via reprinting a tribute from one of San Francisco’s African-American weekly newspapers. It was written by Judge William Churchman, a local abolitionist – which Thompson exploited by adding a preface claiming it showed the town wasn’t as hateful as everyone said: “It may seem a little remarkable to some intensely loyal people, but the fact is nevertheless true, that Santa Rosa which has long enjoyed the reputation with loyalty of being a perfect hot bed of traitors and negro-haters should afford one of the best schools for the education of negro children to be found in the State.” The Democrat did not even acknowledge, however, that Richards was sponsoring the school.

And, of course, Thompson didn’t reprint another part of the same article that revealed some white Santa Rosans were apparently attending the graduation ceremony looking to pick fault with the children’s learning, yet came up short themselves:

There was quite a number of white friends present, as also a number of ladies and gentlemen of the Copperhead order. One lady that I know is a personal negro-hater, as the writing-book and drawing of the scholars was passing around for inspection, she handed it to a gentleman that sat beside me, and pointing to a map of North America, drawn by the scholars, asked him what kind of a flower that was. I never did believe that our race was more ignorant than any other, nor were beyond redemption; and I now verily believe that there are those whose comprehensive facilities are inferior to ours, and they need education as much as we do. No, we are not alone in ignorance, and never will be.

You may have heard of John Richards before; he was rediscovered in the late 20th century, although most of the nice things written about him weren’t very accurate and continued to skip over his school and other deeds which were truly noteworthy. The most familiar part of the story told today about John Richards is that he was a barber who took in former slaves.

richardsadsRIGHT: John Richards ads from 1857, 1861 and 1873 (top to bottom)

As shown in the fifteen-year series of Democrat ads, his business was mainly a bath house – a far more important service at the time than cutting hair – and also note that the ads quickly turn to mention that the barbering was done by “experienced workmen.” In his later years he also opened branches at Ukiah and Lakeport; the Ukiah operation appears to be only a bath house (although there are too few newspaper resources available from that period to be sure). So calling him simply a barber is like saying an entrepreneur who owns a chain of restaurants is just a cook.

As for hosting ex-slaves, the 1860 census shows two people living in his house from slave states and in 1870 there was one. Eda Sanders, a 19 year-old male from Kentucky was one of the 1860 residents along with a California-born 3 year-old girl and a baby boy, all named Sanders. It was these children who the Richards’ would adopt.

In 1873 Richards also owned 134 acres next to the modern fairgrounds which would later become the South Park subdivision. It’s been claimed in recent years he turned that into some sort of refuge for destitute ex-slaves, but I find no record – and surely the Democrat would have howled in outrage if it were so. An article transcribed below has him describing the crops he grew there and it was legally recorded as farmland at the time of his death. He additionally had a chunk of undeveloped land in Petaluma at East Washington and Baylis streets.

His main property in Santa Rosa was his home and business, which occupied half the corner block facing Main Street between First and Second (where the Bank of Marin building is now). This was prime real estate during the 1860s as it was next door to Santa Rosa House, the saloon/hotel which was the town’s stagecoach stop. Yet all was not smooth for Richards in Santa Rosa; for reasons unknown, in 1862 he spent months trying to sell the business and lease the building through ads in a San Francisco newspaper. He also apparently lived in Lakeport during the mid-1870s, although he remained listed as proprietor of the business here.

1862 drawing by Grafton Tyler Brown showing the east side of Main Street between First and Second, with John Richards' home and bath house on the left. The drawing, presumably commissioned by Colgan as part of a series on notable Santa Rosa businesses, exaggerates the size and position of the hotel, as maps show Richards' corner property occupied three parcels while Colgan had two
1862 drawing by Grafton Tyler Brown showing the east side of Main Street between First and Second, with John Richards’ home and bath house on the left. The drawing, presumably commissioned by Colgan as part of a series on notable Santa Rosa businesses, exaggerates the size and position of the hotel, as maps show Richards’ corner property occupied three parcels while Colgan had two

Richards was born a slave in 1824 Kentucky. According to a sympathetic obituary in another Santa Rosa newspaper, he escaped and went to Massachusetts, where he met his wife Philena. In the early 1850s he bought land in Springfield, Mass. which he still owned at the time he died. He and Philena also lived in Ontario and Michigan (where he had something to do with steamboats on the Great Lakes) before coming to Santa Rosa in 1856.

Richards made a considerable amount of money by heavily investing in U.S. government bonds during the Civil War – a move which had to be motivated by patriotism as much as financial gain, as the government had trouble selling them.3 From the Santa Rosa Times:

…During the war of the rebellion his faith in the triumph of the Union was so strong that he invested nearly everything he owned in the bonds of the United States, at rates of from 35 to 50 cents on the dollar, and held them undismayed through the dark days of the struggle. His fidelity was rewarded in the end by the large gains on his investment…

During the war there was another passive-aggressive swipe at Richards in the Democrat paper, this time concerning the 1864 charity appeal for slaves freed by the Union army sweeping through Virginia and Georgia. Donations were needed to help feed and shelter the “contrabands” and $19 was raised in Santa Rosa (Richards contributed $5, which is about the equivalent to $150 today). The Democrat mocked that abolitionists should be more generous because they “brought those sad calamities upon the unfortunate negroes.” Yet without a fleck of irony, in the same issue and even on the same page, Thompson reprinted a lengthy plea to “collect funds for the relief of the sick and suffering rebel prisoners.”

Between 1865 and 1873, civil rights activism took up much of John Richards’ time, as he traveled around the Bay Area and to Sacramento – but you didn’t hear a peep about those doings in the Democrat or find mention in any of the modern profiles of his life.

He was the Sonoma county representative at many conventions or meetings to advance the cause of equality; he was elected vice president of the Phoenixonian Institute in San Jose, which was the only secondary school in the state for African-Americans (open to male and female students). He was involved with (but apparently did not attend) the 1865 state convention of the “Colored Citizens of California” and an 1872 appeal to the state supreme court for public funding of schools for all races.

Probably his greatest achievement was his role at a 1873 convention at Sacramento for the purpose of electing delegates to the historic National Equal Rights Convention to be held at Washington that December. He was the co-representative from the county along with Jacob Overton (see the intro article) and elected to the finance and education committees. Richards was among those nominated to be a national delegate.

Richards monument in Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery
Richards monument in Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

John Richards died in 1879. “A number of colored friends of the deceased came up from San Francisco to serve as pall bearers,” the Democrat reported, demonstrating again his prominence in the larger African-American community of the Bay Area. Philena died the following year.

The monument by their graves was so distinctive it became a topic of its own in the Democrat – garnering more column inches than the paper ever spent on Richards. The stonework company even signed its name at the base of the steps, something I’ve not seen elsewhere at the cemetery. From the description transcribed below it has been considerably vandalized; there were urns with doves perched on the rim, all in white Italian marble, with a statue of a “faithful dog” at its base. It surely must have been something to see.

Time is long overdue for Santa Rosa to give John Richards a measure of the respect he deserves for being our own civil rights trailblazer during some of America’s darkest years. It’s probably too much to ask for a street to be renamed, for the city to commission some work of public art or even order an interpretive plaque, but it certainly would be nice if Parks & Rec could find a few dollars to clean his monument at the cemetery. Properly done, it will call out to us like a beacon of hope and courage. (UPDATE: Volunteers have cleaned the monument.)




1 The 1870 state school law loosened requirements slightly: “every school…shall be open for the admission of all white children, between five and 21 years of age…” but for blacks and Indians a separate school if at least 10 students.” In 1876 the Democrat reported, “There is one colored scholar attending the public school here. He is taught separately, during hours of recess, and does not occupy a seat in the building during school hours. His teacher receives additional pay for instructing him. He is reported to be a very smart boy.”

2 Tax payment per John Grider’s Century: African Americans in Solano, Napa, and Sonoma Counties from 1845 to 1925 by Sharon McGriff-Payne, 2009

3 Richards most likely held “seven-thirty” bonds, which paid 7.30% interest compounded annually. (More about the different types of Union Civil War bonds and the difficulties of financing the war.)




On Tuesday morning last, about 10 o’clock, our citizens were suddenly called into the streets by the fearful cry of “fire.” We dropped our “stick,” seized a bucket and hurried to the place of alarm, where we found, as might naturally be supposed, the wildest excitement; for although our citizens will not heed the old adage, “In time of peace prepare for war,” when the enemy is upon us they try to meet him to the best of their ability. The fire, on Tuesday, proceeded from a frame building on the corner of Main and Second streets, owned by a colored man, named John Richards, part of which is occupied as a barber shop. The room adjoining the shop is a bed-room, and a little girl, three years old, the child of one of the occupants of the house, was alone in the room at the time the fire broke out. A box of matches had been left on a table, close to the bed where the child was, and it is supposed that the little one in attempting to light a match, set fire to some articles of clothing, which were on the table, and it was soon communicated to the canvas ceiling. The child ran out of the room, screaming, which alarmed the inmates of the house — and on entering the room to see what was the matter, Richards found almost the entire ceiling in flames. He immediately commenced tearing down the canvas, and that, together with the force-pump and hose, of Mr. Colgan, of the Santa Rosa House, soon extinguished the flames. We could call the attention of those who have ridiculed the idea of having a Fire Engine in this place to the service rendered by the hose of Mr. Colgan, on Tuesday. No particular damage was done to the house, but Richards had his hands badly burned in tearing the canvas from the ceiling.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 20 1860


Mr. John Richards, of Santa Rosa, is in town. Parties wishing to bargain with him for the lease of his Barber-Shop and Bathing Rooms, can see him at our office.

– Pacific Appeal, May 3 1862


FREEDMEN’S RELIEF. Last week one of the Burlingame tribe, who at one time resided in this county, and was an abolition candidate for representative — but didn’t get elected, visited Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, soliciting contributions for the relief of starving contrabands. At the former place he delivered a lecture, but his old friends couldn’t see the point, and the pitiful sum of four or five dollars was all that the miscegenationists of Healdsburg contributed. He came to Santa Rosa next, and although he had been announced to address the public in behalf of his cause, from some reason best known to himself he did not do so, but suddenly took his departure, thereby disappointing a large number of our citizens who would really have been pleased to hear what he had to say. As we are informed by a highly respectable Pub, but not a miscegen, only four gentlemen contributed anything here, as follows: W. A. Eliason, $10; John Richards, $5; Jeff Cocke, $3; and Green, his son, $1; the latter three of African descent. We think Capt. Eliason’s position in the matter is the correct one. It is but just that those who brought those sad calamities upon the unfortunate negroes, should alleviate their terrible sufferings. The Captain is at least consistent. Burlingame and Dr. Haynes lectured at Petaluma on Monday evening and realized from that loyal city only $123.50. Petaluma probably contains fifteen or eighteen hundred persons who have prayed and payed and begged for the abolition of slavery, and yet they only contribute $123 to save half million of their wards from starvation. How unpatriotic! [Ed. note: The same issue contains a lengthy appeal on efforts to “collect funds for the relief of the sick and suffering rebel prisoners”]

– Sonoma Democrat, June 11 1864


School Examination in Santa Rosa.

We have received the following communications, describing the examination of the colored school in Santa Rosa. This school is now in charge of Miss A. E. Vincent, whom all acknowledge is a very capable and efficient teacher. We publish the communications with pleasure, and only wish there were more of the same sort.

Santa Rosa, Feb. 11, 1866.
Mr. Editor:—Permit me through your columns to express the gratification I experienced at an examination of the colored school in Santa Rosa, on Tuesday, February 6th, taught by Miss A. E. Vincent. This is the second examination of the colored school in this place I have attended within the past year, the first being taught by Mr. Amos Johnson, and if pleased with the first (which I was), I was no less delighted with the second; and whilst Mr. Johnson laid the foundation, the superstructure has rapidly advanced under the able and evidently indefatigable zeal of Miss Vincent, to whom too much praise cannot be awarded for her untiring devotion in raising the young minds under her charge to the proper standard, and implanting and cultivating those germs of future usefulness and honor, of which the colored portion of our wide spread population have heretofore been unjustly deprived.

The scholars in Miss Vincent’s school have rapidly advanced, and show a precocity of intellect and an analetic [sic] understanding that is truly praiseworthy, and deserves the highest commendation, as to both teacher and pupils. The examination in orthography was good; in reading, arithmetic, and grammar, better; and in geography and history, best of all; while in penmanship, drawing, composition and declamation, and singing, it was excellent. Miss Vincent certainly has the faculty of imparting knowledge and governing a school to such an extent as to recommend her as a teacher to the colored population of our State, and elsewhere.
W. Churchman

Santa Rosa, Feb. 12.
Mr. Editor :—The protracted quietude of this little town was agreeably interrupted on Tuesday last, February 6th, by an examination of a school under the superintendence of Miss A. E. Vincent, which I had the pleasure of attending. Exercises commenced at 10 o’clock a. m., as follows: Vocal music, orthography, practical and mental arithmetic, and grammar, geography, history, and reading. The scholars answered with rapidity and accuracy the many questions that were put to them. It was interesting to see the different classes take their place at the black-board. The first class worked with a great deal of care and thought, which reminded one much of the old adage, “Slow, but sure” while the second and third classes were not only interesting, but amusing. They were very expert in figures, worked to excel each other, and made but one mistake. After the course of examination was finished most of the scholars lead their compositions. The first subject, “The Scholar’s Hope,” by P. G. Cox, was a well written essay, and read accordingly. The last composition, read by Miss W. J. Cox, subject, “Valedictory.” This young lady portrayed in her composition the love and pride for her instructress and school-mates, exhibited her regret at bidding her teacher and school-mates a long farewell. Her composition was indeed quite interesting, and was based upon facts — knowing the many changes which we creatures of a moment are liable to. The scholars received the most rapturous applause for their compositions. After the reading of the last composition, the scholars sung “Love of School,” and then the declamation of each scholar, which was interspersed with many favorite songs — such as ‘Northern Star,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Glory, Hallelujah,” etc. “The American Union,” by Master F. Richards, the smallest boy in the school, and as heroic I as you would wish to see a boy. If he continues he bids fair to be a man of high intellectual endowment, and useful in society. The children all spoke very well, and received much credit and encouragement. The examination was surprising to both parents and spectators to realize the progress which they have made under their noble teacher, in the different branches of studies, since August last, — Miss Vincent has not only taught her scholars the above, but, after school hours, she has given them many useful lessons in industrial habits, and has made herself generally useful, during her stay with us, in our Sabbath School; so that it is evident that this young lady has not spared her moments.

After the examination was closed, there were some remarks made by Hon. Judge Churchman, Rev. P. Killingworth, John Richards, and your humble servant. Judge Churchman remarked that he was at the examination prior to this, and he supposed might be called a judge in the matter, and that if he should say that the children had not improved he would speak falsely; and that they had improved, and he was surprised and truly gratified to find such an advancement in the children, especially in grammar, arithmetic, geography and history. Too much praise cannot be awarded the young lady for the faithful discharge of her duty as teacher; also, her kind and gentle manner to the children under her charge, by which she has gained the love and affection of her scholars. Judge Churchman was quite lengthy in his remarks, and elicited much encouragement for the education of the rising generation, and how very essential it is that all parents and guardians should endeavor to have their children educated. There was quite a number of white friends present, as also a number of ladies and gentlemen of the Copperhead order. One lady that I know is a personal negro-hater, as the writing-book and drawing of the scholars was passing around for inspection, she handed it to a gentleman that sat beside me, and pointing to a map of North America, drawn by the scholars, asked him what kind of a flower that was. I never did believe that our race was more ignorant than any other, nor were beyond redemption; and I now verily believe that there are those whose comprehensive facilities are inferior to ours, and they need education as much as we do. No, we are not alone in ignorance, and never will be.

On Wednesday evening 7th inst., Mrs. Richards and Mrs. Cox, gave the children a farewell tea-party, which was superintended by Miss Vincent. As some of them were preparing for their respective homes, Mr. Johnson and myself, were invited to participate in the festivities of the evening. Mr. Johnson favored us with good music which was an quite an addition to our little group, and the hours whiled away like minutes. We then marched around the table which was so sumptuously spread, and the children were as merry as birds singing Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” We had a merry time indeed. Miss A. E. V., also looked very sweet and charming.
T. B. Pinn.

– Elevator, February 16 1866


Mr. John Richards has recently refitted his bath-house and barber shop and fixed everything up in first-class style, so that persons wishing baths can be accommodated with as much comfort and style as in San Francisco. College students and others will do well to observe the very liberal terms offered to clubs of six. For further particulars see now advertisement In to-days paper.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 22 1873


A State Convention of the colored citizens of California was held in Sacramento Tuesday and Wednesday, November 25th and 26th. Sonoma county was represented by John Richards and Jacob Overton.

– Russian River Flag, December 4 1873


John Richards of Santa Rosa seems to be doing a good business, his shop occupies a prominent position on the main street of the town.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 18 1874


John Richards now visiting Santa Rosa, informs as that the storm was very severe In Lake county.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 31 1874


John Richards who is down from Lakeport informs us that Jerry Ridgway Jr has purchased the Taylor Hotel in Upper Lake…

– Sonoma Democrat, February 13 1875


Rich Men.
We continue the publication of the assessment roll of Sonoma county, by townships, giving the names of all persons who pay taxes on assessments amounting to $10,000 and over;
John Richards (colored) $10,447… [Ed. note: His highest assessment was in 1887 for $12,685]

– Sonoma Democrat, August 7 1875


There is one colored scholar attending the public school here. He is taught separately, during hours of recess, and does not occupy a seat in the building during school hours. His teacher receives additional pay for instructing him. He is reported to be a very smart boy.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 29 1876


On his way home [Captain T. Bundy] dropped in to see us this week with John Richards and we enjoyed a brief chat with him on the subject of Clear Lake and its picturesque piscatorial and other attractions.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 8 1877


Harvest Notes.— John Richards threshed the grain cut from fifteen acres of wheat and eight acres of barley, and has 138 sacks of wheat, 100 sacks of cheat and 113 sacks of barley. On our inquiring what use the cheat was he informed us that he seeded the low damp land with it for hay, and intimated that it was a common practice among the farmers here.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 27 1878



The deceased came to Santa Rosa about the year 1856, and has resided here ever since. For a few years his health has been failing, and he thought there were premonitory symptoms of paralysis, heart disease, or other troubles beyond the reach of medicine. Not more than a week ago he was on the street, but quite feeble. His death was unlooked for by all but himself. The doctor had been called in and administered a potion, but soon after he sat up on the side of his bed and exclaimed “I am going,” calling upon those present to chafe his limbs. Immediately after he bade all good bye and expired. His death occurred on Sunday, the 20th inst., and his funeral took place on Tuesday following from the Baptist Church, of which he was a member.

John Richards was a notable man in his generation. He was born a slave, in Kentucky, about fifty-six years ago. Escaping from his master, he made his way to Massachusetts, where he soon after married. It is said his estate owns property there yet. He was a man of good common sense and judgement. His manner was inoffensive and quiet and he was much esteemed by all who knew him. During the war of the rebellion his faith in the triumph of the Union was so strong that he invested nearly everything he owned in the bonds of the United States, at rates of from 35 to 50 cents on the dollar, and held them undismayed through the dark days of the struggle. His fidelity was rewarded in the end by the large gains on his investment that made him an estate valued at from thirty to sixty thousand dollars. His wife survives but there are no children. He thought of leaving a fund in some shape for a charity or otherwise, to keep his memory green, but we understand there is no will. His death makes a void in the ranks of good citizens here. But we believe when the recording angel makes up all our accounts that of John Richards, African though he was, will be as free from blots as most others.

– Santa Rosa Times, April 24 1879


Death of John Richards. —The subject of this sketch, John Richards, (colored) the pioneer barber of Santa Rosa, is an illustration of what energy combined with perserverance and integrity will enable even a colored man to make of himself. He was borne in Hopkinsville, Christian Co. Kentucky, April 10th, 1824, in the condition of bondage in which at that time a majority of his race were held in the South. Securing his freedom, he emigrated to Canada, and after remaining there awhile he went to Boston, Massachusetts, where he was married in 1852, and then settled in Springfield, in the same State, where be acquired, and at the time of his demise still owned some of the most valuable property in that city. Leaving them, he went to St. Louis, Missouri, remaining for a short time, and then settled in Windsor, on the northern bank of Lake Ontario, in the province of Ontario. After residing there a year be went to Michigan, and was connected with steamboat running on the great lakes. In 1854 he came to California, settling at Shasta, and in 1856 settled in Santa Rosa — opening a barbershop on the corner of Main and Second streets — and has been identified with our city ever since. The field here not being large enough for his energetic spirit, he opened branch establishments at Ukiah and at Lakeport, running both in connection with his establishment here until he retired from business, a short time since. During a residence of twenty-two years continuously in this city, in which time he accumulated considerable wealth, the deceased commanded the friendship and respect of all our citizens. For some time before his decease, he had been afflicted with dyspepsia, but was not considered dangerously ill until just before his death on Sunday morning, which was sudden and unexpected. He leaves a wife, two adopted children and a brother in Santa Rosa, and a sister in St. Louis, Missouri. The funeral from the Baptist Church on Wednesday, the Rev. S. A. Taft officiating, was largely attended. A number of colored friends of the deceased came up from San Francisco to serve as pall bearers, and the remains, enclosed in an elegant metallic casket, were escorted to their last resting place by many of our best citizens from the surrounding country and from the city.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 26 1879


A Handsome Monument, the marble work placed above the remains of the late John Richards in the Santa Rosa Cemetery deserves more than a passing notice. The lot is enclosed with a wall of Folsom granite, two feet in height and handsomely finished. The base of the monument is of Folsom granite two feet in height, surmounted by a moulded marble base eighteen inches high, then comes the die cap, two and a half foot in height, and surmounted by a cap ten inches in height, and above this is an urn two feet two inches in height, the whole forming a most handsome piece of monumental work, and all except the base is of Italian marble. From the base of the monument to the entrance of the lot is something we have not seen in another cemetery in this county, a marble walk forty-two inches wide and thirteen feet in length. It adds greatly to the appearance of the grounds. There are two urns about three feet in height, tastefully disposed about the lot representing a laver. on the rim of each is perched a dove, all of beautiful white Italian marble. At the foot of the grave is a foot stone with the initials “J. R.” tastefully worked, and at the head is one of the urns above mentioned, and a statue representing a faithful dog deposing at the base of it. The whole grounds are most tastefully arranged, the marble and granite work, costing not less than $2,000, and are well worth a visit. The workmanship is that of A. C Thompson. Petaluma, who took the first premium at the recent exhibition of the Sonoma and Marin Agricultural Society.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 25 1879


Sudden Death.—On Saturday evening Mrs. Philena H. Richards, relict of the late John Richards, died at her residence in this city. She had been unwell for some years, and her demise, though sudden, was not unexpected. Judge Brown summoned a Jury to inquire into the cause of her death, and on Sunday last they rendered the following verdict: We, the undersigned, jury summoned by J. Brown, J. P., acting Coroner in and for Sonoma county, State of California, to inquire into the cause ol the death of Philena H. Richards, deceased, do find that she was a native of Connecticut, aged from 63 to 68 years (and that her maiden name was Philena H. Richards); that she died in the city of Santa Rosa, county and State aforesaid, on the 15th day of May, 1880, and that her cause of death was apoplexy…

– Sonoma Democrat, May 22 1880

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