miserable

OUR OLD SCHOOLS WERE MISERABLE

Pity any ancestor who went to Santa Rosa grade schools around the turn of the century. Besides readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmetic, there was also plenty of squintin’ and crowdin’ and freezin’ by the kids. Classrooms were heated by a single potbelly stove; there often weren’t enough desks and lighting was poor (no electricity). One school didn’t even have indoor plumbing.

Those were some of the shocking details found in a 1904 expose of conditions in Santa Rosa’s three elementary schools. Or perhaps we should say there were six, because each was so overcrowded some students were taught in outbuildings not intended for human occupancy.

Fourth st. school, 1880. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library
Fourth st. school, 1880. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

The flagship of the town’s public school system was the Fourth street school, currently the location known as Fremont Park. (It was renamed Fremont school in early 1906, following a popular trend to rename schools after people rather than a location.)

Built in 1874 and meant to hold 600 students, it was soon packed to the brim; in 1878 – when it was first used as a combined grammar and high school – there were over a thousand. That number dropped by about half after the high school was built on Humboldt street (1895), but the Board of Education was still regularly told the place was overcrowded. Classrooms were intended to hold about forty desks, and a particular class could be smaller or far larger. One year they had to split seventh and eighth grades into morning and afternoon sessions to accommodate all the students.

The 1904 expose found school children still enduring mid-Victorian era conditions. Lighting in the rooms was described as “very dark,” “very bad,” “little short of criminal,” and “vile.” Half of the second graders – fifty kids – were being taught in a “temporary one story building with a low thin roof.” (The reporter probably meant “tin roof,” as the article also says there was no ceiling.)

darkclassroom(RIGHT: Enhanced photo of 6th grade classroom at the Fourth street/Fremont school. Santa Rosa Republican, Dec 9 1904)

All classrooms were cramped, but the worst was the one for sixth grade, where there were 62 students squeezed together so tightly the aisles were “almost impassable.” Some had to share a desk and a few had no desks at all, sitting on chairs and stools. The Republican reporter took a photo of this room but as seen to the right, it appears nearly black on the microfilm copy of the image.

It doesn’t appear the reporter visited the Davis street school (later renamed Lincoln school and at the corner of Davis and Eighth) which was the other main elementary school in Santa Rosa and built about a decade after Fourth street/Fremont.* The two schoolhouses were roughly the same size but Davis st. rarely was overcrowded, its student population usually no more than two-thirds as large. It had an outbuilding classroom as well.

There was also a “small one room cottage” on Third street in the early 1900s used for the overflow of first graders from all schools. From the description in the 1904 article it was in a backyard or behind commercial buildings (it’s not identified on the Sanborn fire map of the same year). References in the papers show it always exceeded its capacity of forty, which was already around twice the average size of a 1st grade classroom today.

But the crème de la crap of the Santa Rosa school system was South Park. Built cheaply in 1887 at the corner of Ware and South Main (today it’s the intersection of Petaluma Hill Road and Ware Ave) it was just outside of city limits, which meant there was no fire protection or sewer hookup. It had no plumbing except for a sink that drained into a culvert in front of the school; 90+ pupils and their teachers shared an outhouse.

southpark(RIGHT: South Park school. Source: Portfolio of Santa Rosa and Vicinity, 1908)

South Park initially taught grades 1-8, but by 1904 kids went to Davis or Fourth street schools after third grade. Still, classrooms were overcrowded as badly as those found at Fourth street, having the additional problem of the place being poorly maintained with evidence of heavy water damage.

That lengthy article on school conditions served two purposes: It announced there was new blood publishing the Santa Rosa Republican, and they weren’t afraid to poke around some of the city’s problems (more about that below). It also helped promote a school bond proposition, which was coming up for a vote in a couple of weeks.

The school bond was to pay for various building improvements and construction of two new grade schools, at 10th and B streets, and at Ellis and South A st. The bond was for $75,000 which was a stretch for 1904 Santa Rosa (it’s the equivalent of nearly $2.3M today).

While the Republican editorialized that it would be money well spent the Press Democrat railed against the bond, saying it was just too expensive. Letters appeared in the PD arguing the overcrowding could be solved cheaply (“let us build a couple of small school houses in the suburban districts”) or didn’t exist at all – why, if you take the maximum capacity for all schools and compare it to the total number of students in the district, we were merely eleven seats short.

Despite the vote happening just a few days before Christmas, voter turnout was high. “The friends of the movement were out in force, six or seven rigs being employed, from most of which the High School colors fluttered in the breeze,” the PD reported. That article continued:

Considerable comment was occasioned by reason of the manner in which the election was conducted. There was little if any secrecy preserved, the “yes” and “no” ballots being arranged on a table in front of the City Hall, where the polls were located, and as voters came up and picked up the ticket they desired to vote, the bystanders had no difficulty in determining their leanings.

The bond lost by 81 votes, 544:381 (a two-thirds majority was required). As a result, the Board of Education met a couple of days later and decreed there would be no new students enrolled unless a seat was available in the classroom.

At a later meeting the Board decided to float the school bond again, this time slashing it to $35,000 – more than half. In March 1905 this version passed easily, 1036 to 108. But it was only enough for additional outbuilding classrooms and the construction of the Luther Burbank elementary school.

Editors of the town’s two newspapers disagreed over the first bond proposal but they kept the tone civil, even respectful. That would soon end; over the following months hostilities escalated and the Press Democrat and Republican were clawing at each other almost daily (see “THE NEWSPAPER FEUD OF 1905“). The progressive Republican paper continued muckraking and exposed serious corruption, while PD editor Ernest Finley denounced his rivals as city-slickers who didn’t understand “country ways” and shouldn’t criticize how Santa Rosa was run.

lyttonclass(RIGHT: A classroom at the Lytton Springs Orphanage in 1909. Note the precarious stovepipe flue. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

As for the old school buildings, they would stay in use for many years to come, although even the PD came to agree the Fremont and Lincoln schools were unsafe firetraps. In 1921 one of the old stoves at Fremont simply fell apart dumping coals on the floorboards; fortunately the embers were almost cold so the old wooden heap didn’t burn down.

Former county schools superintendent Frances McG. Martin said “The Fremont school house has been the lurking place of contagious diseases for more than 20 years, and should fire break out on the lower floor, the faulty construction of this relic of the dark ages would surely cause the loss of many precious lives.”

The original Lincoln school was demolished in 1923, followed by a larger version being built at the same location of Davis and Eighth. There was talk of moving the South Park school “to a point convenient for the pupils of the Roseland tract” but that didn’t happen; the building was sold in 1930 after a new South Park was built at the corner of Bennett Valley and Main.

As for Fourth street/Fremont, the new Fremont school – now Santa Rosa Middle School – opened on September 23, 1924. There was a bit of debate in the following months about what to do with the old building and grounds. It was proposed to sell the building and let a buyer move it elsewhere and the Boy Scouts wanted to take it over as their HQ (it’s unclear whether they were offering to buy it). The Santa Rosa Republican editorialized the city should build a 3,000 seat auditorium there and the PD argued it should remain an open lot to be used for carnivals, religious tent revivals, Rose Festival doings and such.

After the little kids moved into their new digs the district stuffed high school students in there for one last semester as the SRHS building was being finished. The old school was dismantled May-June 1925 and the lumber was sold by the city.

* The Davis street/Lincoln school was built in 1885, but was preceded at that location by a primary school in an existing building. Although “primary school” usually meant just grades 1-3, an article in an 1883 Democrat revealed there were students up to grade 8. There was also a College Avenue primary (location unknown) in the 1880s which similarly went to eighth grade.

 

 

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Overcrowded School-Rooms.

The seventh and eighth grades of the Fourth-street school and the eighth grade of the Davis-street school, are so crowded that it has been decided that in order to do justice to the teachers and pupils it is necessary to divide the session and have a morning and afternoon session. For instance, if there are sixty scholars in a grade, thirty will attend morning session and the balance the afternoon session. It is thought that this is better than to hire extra teachers to commence now in the middle of the term.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 27 1886

 

The Exact Condition of Some of Santa Rosa’s Schools Today

One of the Republican reporters spent a little time yesterday in visiting the various schools of Santa Rosa for the purpose of gathering first-hand data concerning actual conditions. In one or two places matters were not so bad but they could be worse, but in others things could hardly be more unendurable. Following are some of the reporter’s observations:

There is no sewerage at the South Park School building. The water and waste from the sink drain into an open ditch which runs in front of the building. It is through this ditch which passes by the school that the drain from Bennett Valley comes. There is absolutely no plumbing and the old fashioned outside closet is still in use here. There is also no fire protection as it is outside the City limits. A boneyard where the bones of dead animals are ground for fertilizing is less than a block distant. In the summer time especially the place wreaks [sic] with nauseating odors. The walls show signs of leakage where plastering has fallen and been patched. There are 47 children in the first grade and 44 in the second and third grades, making 91 in all.

All children in this part of the city who have passed the third grade are compelled to attend the Fourth and Davis street schools as only the first, second and third grades are taught here. The country is sparsely settled as compared with the city that lies between the school house and the business district. The children have to go from inside the city limits outside to attend school when the reverse should be the case. The building now standing is old and delapidated [sic] and quite unfit for use. Conditions point very plainly for the need of a large building on that side of the creek.

A small one room cottage on Third street has been pressed into service for the overflow of the first grades from all the schools and children living in all parts of the city attend here. The house is located on the rear of a lot with other buildings heavy foliage on all sides. There are 41 children here and the teacher experiences endless difficulty in placing the lessons on the black boards so that they can be read as the lighting is very inefficient. Most of the light comes through two west windows and the children face east. In the afternoon the strong light shines on the blackboard and reflects into the children’s eyes so they can read the blackboard lessons with great difficulty. Their own shadows fall across their desks and render it almost impossible to study.

At the Fourth street school will be found half of the second grade occupying a temporary one story building with a low thin roof. There is no ceiling to keep out the heat and in hot weather the children suffer greatly from the weather. There are fifty children crowded into this temporary structure which is unfit for school purposes. It is very difficult for the teachers to place the blackboard lessons so they can be read in this room. In the high first grade there are 48 children occupying a room whose natural seating capacity is 43. Extra desks and tables have been improvised here to accommodate the surplus. The room is very dark and reading from the blackboards is very difficult. It is very hard to write a lesson on any particular board so all can read. There are three east windows and one north window which admits the light. In another room the other half of the second grade is located in the main building. There are fifty-one children in this room whose natural seating capacity is but 46. Improvised tables and chairs serve as desks and seats for the surplus pupils. The lighting in this room is poor also.

Half of the third grade occupies a room whose natural seating capacity is 42 and there are 47 children crowded in here. There are three west windows. Reflections here are so bad it requires three blackboards used interchangeably to supply a proper light for the lessons.

The other half of the third grade occupy a room whose lighting is very bad the children’s own shadows being cast so heavily on the desk in front of them and it is with great difficulty they study. Reading blackboard lessons is very difficult here also.

In the room occupied by half of the fourth grade there is a natural seating capacity of forty-eight and there are fifty pupils here. The seats are the the old fashioned double ones and there are only three small east windows. The lighting here is vile.

The other half of the fourth grade occupies a small room with very poor lighting.

The fifth grade is located in a small room on the top floor whose seating capacity is forty-eight and there are fifty pupils crowded into this room. Most of the light comes from two north windows and the room is very dark.

Very bad conditions obtain in the small room on the top floor occupied by the sixth and seventh grades. There is a natural seating capacity here of but forty-six and fifty-four pupils are crowded into it and they are very much cramped. An extra row of desks has been placed in front. Four extra double seats have been placed in a space heretofore occupied by a single desk. The aisles in this room are almost impassable and the lighting is very bad.

The worst conditions in the Fourth street school obtain in the little room on the top floor where the sixth grade is located. This room has a natural seating capacity of but forty-six and there are sixty-two pupils crowded into it. The light is extremely poor. There are seven pupils occupying improvised desks and seats on and around the teacher’s desk. Extra chairs and tables have been placed along in front to accommodate the pupils.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 7 1904

 

The Actual Condition in One of Santa Rosa’s School Rooms

The accompanying picture is of the sixth grade at the Fourth street school in this city and was taken as a sample of the congested conditions which now obtain in the Santa Rosa school department. This room is on the top floor of the building and is so crowded that were another pupil admitted he would have to take the teacher’s seat at her desk.

The photograph speaks for itself. The room, which by the way, is a miserably small one for the number of seats in it, has a natural capacity for forty-six pupils. There are sixty-two enrolled.

In the foreground can be seen the unfortunate students who have chairs on the platform grouped around the outside of the teacher’s desk. There are seven of these students — seven to write or study on one side of a desk about six feet in length. They are so situated that their shadows fall across their books or papers and cause them eye-trouble. Moreover, some of them have to double up when studying for they have no desks to lay books and papers on.

Two or three others in the room are seated on stools They are not dunces. They are some of the brightest youngsters in the land, but must perforce because of the failure to provide them with other accommodations, sit on stools and kick and squirm all day long in uncomfortable attitudes.

In the rear of the room, as can be seen by the photograph, are a number of so-called double desks occupied by two pupils. Discipline and order, to say nothing of progress in study, is next to impossible with double desks.

The rows of seats are so closely put together that one has to squeeze in order to get from one end of the room to the other. Were a fire to occur and the children in this room to be taken with a panic, there would surely be many hurt or perhaps killed in the mad rush to get to the door shown at the right side of the picture.

The lighting arrangements in this room are little short of criminal, for the children, as well as the teacher, have to endure all kinds of cross lights and shadows, which have a tendency to strain the optic nerve and bring on serious eye complaints.

We submit the picture and the facts as found by a Republican reporter for the sober thoughtful consideration of the voters of Court House school district. If bonds are defeated on December 20th these conditions will be maintained.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 9 1904

 

 

THE CAMERA SPEAKS TRUTH

On another page is published a photograph taken several days since of one of Santa Rosa’s school rooms showing the crowded conditions which the school trustees are seeking to relieve by being authorized to issue bonds to the amount of $75000 for new buildings and equipment.

Facts stated in cold print may not always appeal to everybody as strongly as they should. But there is no escape from a photograph. The camera tells the truth. Its testimony is unassailable. He who sees must believe whether he wants to or not.

On December 20th the voters of Court House school district will have a chance to wipe that picture out. Is there a voter who can conscientiously say that he thinks it right to continue for another day such conditions as are presented in the photograph? Remember, unless a two-thirds majority be registered in favor of the proposition nearly every room in the department will within a few months present a spectacle as bad or perhaps worse.

A VERY DEAR SCHOOL

Some unknown correspondent, who hides under the convenient nom de plume of “Citizen,” writes a brief communication to our esteemed contemporary on the school bond question in answer to an editorial which recently appeared in the Republican. This correspondent argues as follows: “Let the trustees ask for one-half the amount and build two schools — frame buildings — which will answer all purposes until such time that we can afford to build of stone or brick.”

There is but one reply to that kind of an argument. No city of any size which has any pride or any business foresight puts up frame structures now-a-days, least of all for schools. Of course frame buildings would do, so far as the actual room is concerned. We have a fair sample now of such a building right here in Santa Rosa — the Fourth street school, which something like thirty years old and is rotten enough to be torn down and used for kindling wood. Had Santa Rosa put up a brick or stone building thirty years ago instead of a flimsy wooden structure, the present generation of tax payers, some of whom appear to be more solicitous about their fat pocketbooks than about the education of their children, would not be confronted with the early necessity of bending the city for a structure with which to replace it.

We repeat that it is poor business foresight, left-handed economy to sink the taxpayer’s coin into wooden school buildings here a very little more money will provide a durable, permanent structure of brick or stone that will stand for generations.

However, there is another side to this question. A frame building always stands in danger of being destroyed by fire. Santa Rosa is fortunate in not having had any fires. But other cities have not fared so well. The city of Oakland some years ago had a magnificent wooden high school building. Fire razed it almost to the ground. It was rebuilt in a substantial manner of wood and architecturally was a nice appearing structure. Scarcely a year afterward another fire occurred and again the building was nearly destroyed. A second time was the high school rebuilt, but the second building involved an outlay which would more than have paid for a permanent substantial brick structure. Oakland, however, profited by the lesson of the fires and now her high school students are housed in one of the largest brick school houses in the west.

San Francisco, the largest city on the coast, possessed of some of the finest fire proof buildings in the country, hides her head for very shame when visitors point at her grammar schools — disgraceful tumbled-down rattle-trap wooden buildings where the children are menaced every hour of the day by the dread perils of fire and panic. And San Francisco is paying today for her unwise policy of thirty years ago. She has a collection of decaying buildings on her hands which must all be replaced at the same time and the burden laid upon her shoulders by the past generation falls heavily upon the tax payers of today.

Mr. Citizen’s argument is a specious one, but it is absolutely disproved by experience, and as everybody knows experience is a dear school. In the long run the city will waste money by erecting wooden school houses. It will really be cheaper to build of brick or stone.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 10 1904

 

THE SCHOOL BOND ISSUE

Editor Press Democrat: In discussing the $75,000 school bond question, why is it that the friends of the bond issue seem so disposed to exaggerate the condition and magnify the needs of our public schools? Exaggeration has the tendency to weaken a cause advocated. A writer in the Republican speaks of “the several hundred pupils now without adequate facilities,” and again “in fact they need enough more room to fill eleven rooms.” Is not this gross exaggeration? I take from Principal Cox’s report for this month the following, giving the number of pupils enrolled and the number of seats of the different schools: “High School, pupils enrolled 355, seats 350; Fourth street, pupils 627, seats 599; Davis street, pupils 476 seats 495; South Park, pupils 90, seats 91; Third street, pupils 43, seats 40,” making a total of pupils 1,592, and seats 1,581, or a lack of seats of only 11 for all the schools. I am in sympathy with our public schools and am in favor of voting all the means necessary to put the schools in first class condition, but I do think, taking into consideration the condition of our streets, our sewers and inadequate water supply that $75,000 at this time is drawing the thing pretty strong. I believe that public business should be conducted just as we would conduct our private affairs. Seventy-five thousand dollars would be equal to over $4O for every school child in the district. As a business proposition do we need school room that will cost $75,000? Some of my readers will accuse me of opposing our public schools. It we had been called upon to vote a bond of $20,000 or $30,000 to improve our school facilities none would be more willing to vote the bonds than Wesley Mock.

– Press Democrat, December 17 1904

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THE HIDDEN LIVES OF BLACK SANTA ROSA

There were worst places to live in California than Santa Rosa in the 19th century – there’s always gotta be someplace worse – but if you were an African-American, this town was a really hard place to call home.

There are 23 African-Americans buried at Santa Rosa’s old graveyard, the Rural Cemetery (listed below). We don’t know much about most of them aside from vitals: Birth/death, coroner’s reason why they died, maybe their job. At least four had been slaves, possibly up to seven. Very few had an obituary in any newspaper; what little trace that remains will appear in the revised cemetery book coming out later this year with thumbnail profiles for almost every person there, which will instantly make it the most important work on local history ever published. About half of the African-Americans buried there are lost, meaning the locations of their graves are unknown. Any wooden or temporary markers are long gone.

But four of them have remarkable histories which are explored in the following three articles: John Richards, Edmund Potter and his sister Elizabeth, and Henry Davison deserve to be remembered and honored.

Their stories are intertwined with Santa Rosa as it existed in their day – which is to say, a shockingly racist small town. While it’s always been generally well known that this village was a cheerleader for the Confederacy around the Civil War, little has been detailed about the way black members of the community were treated here in the decades after, often facing routine cruelty and sometimes violence. Yes, Santa Rosa discriminated against the Chinese and like many communities in the West formed an Anti-Chinese League in 1886, but that hostility simmered down. Not so the feelings toward African-Americans.

Other towns in California were sympathetic to the antebellum South, but try and find another place where anger at its defeat burned for decades like a fire which would never extinguish. Read the old Democrat newspaper and enter a world with upside-down racial grievances; everything would be okay if only African-Americans just went away (somewhere); there was sometimes inchoate rage that slaves had (somehow) instigated the Civil War. The Democrat liberally sprinkled its pages with the “n word” and other racial slurs before, during and after the war, often reprinting the most racist filth scraped from Southern newspapers. The hatefulness in that paper was unrelenting and often savage.

The publisher of the Democrat was Thomas Larkin Thompson, and he bears full responsibility for the shameful things that appeared (or did not appear) in his pages. In my opinion he was the most loathsome man in Santa Rosa’s history, and that’s really saying something.

Thomas L. Thompson does not bear the blame alone; he didn’t edit the newspaper after 1882, when he was elected California Secretary of State and moved to Sacramento. After that he was a one-term congressman and after that a diplomat. His name remained on the masthead (and was often the only name mentioned) as “manager,” although the editing and hands-on work was done by his brother Robert, veteran journalist John F. Linthicum and probably others. While there was a sharp drop in the frequency of actual racial slurs after Thomas L. surrendered the editor’s chair, the Democrat never lost an opportunity to applaud Jim Crow or mourn the Lost Cause; there was an 1889 item headlined, “Slavery’s Sunny Side” describing life on a Georgia plantation as “a colored people’s paradise…only kind treatment from Master and Mistress.” A postscript to this series shows the racism in the paper during the 1890s was still as bad as it was in the 1860s, and even followed the same patterns.


19th C. AFRICAN-AMERICAN
POPULATION IN SANTA ROSA

1860   33 of 1,637 total (2%)
1870   9 of 2,919 (0.3%)
1880   22 of 3,467 (0.6%)
1890   26 of 5,120 (0.7%)

All data from census field collections except 1890, which is only available in summary. The larger 1860 count included seven black members of the Sampson Wright family, 5 of whom were Wright’s ex-slaves brought from Missouri (see “THE GRAVE OF THE COLORED BOY“) and Elizabeth Potter/Hudson was mistakenly counted twice.

Why any African-Americans chose to live in 19th century Santa Rosa is a complete mystery – and as the summary to the right shows, few did. And having wallowed in the mud pit of the 19th century Democrat by reading it over many years, I still can’t say whether Thompson and the other editors were molding racist attitudes or were only reflecting the hatefulness already ingrained in this particular community. Our hometown race-haters were anything but passive; as shown in the profiles that follow, the cruelty and animus was dished out by the white citizens of Santa Rosa – women, men and children, the city government and city police.

The drawing of Santa Rosa at the top of this page and below was made in the mid 1870s, when Santa Rosa was about the whitest place in the whitest county in the whitest state. Santa Rosa would not exceed three dozen African-American residents for more than a half century after that. It was drawn, by the way, by Grafton Tyler Brown, the owner of a lithography printing house in San Francisco. Besides being a successful businessman and a gifted artist, he was black – which the Democrat never mentioned, even while praising his talent.

That was typical of what the Democrat newspaper did – it erased everything about African-Americans that did not fit racist stereotypes. And it wasn’t just outsiders who were given that treatment; black members of this community were rarely mentioned except when there were opportunities to make fun of them.

The historical record has suffered because of this racial censorship. To profile the three men in this series it was necessary to squeeze out details from papers elsewhere, particularly the weekly African-American newspapers published in San Francisco at that time: The Elevator and The Pacific Appeal.

Those weeklies revealed 19th century black Santa Rosa was far less provincial than one might have expected. African-Americans in Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties were plugged into a network of Bay Area civil rights activists which included storied men such as Underground Railroad conductors J. Madison Bell and William H. Yates. Also out here were the sons of prominent East Coast black abolitionists David Ruggles and James G. Barbadoes. (A h/t for explaining these connections to Lloyd Belton, who is researching black abolitionists for his PhD at University of Leeds.)

Bordered by Santa Rosa on the north and Stockton on the south, this extended 19th century African-American community organized clubs, societies and committees working on equality issues; we can trace activist travels in the black weeklies and resources such as the 1919 book, Negro Trail Blazers of California. As far as I can tell, there is no historical research into this important chapter of the American civil rights movement; should any historian be looking for an original dissertation topic, this is very fertile territory.

Civil rights organizers from Santa Rosa included John Richards and a man named Johnson, who was considered a particularly good orator.* As discussed in his following profile, Richards’ activism took him to San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento. Much of that happened before the train arrived here, making this no easy undertaking for any of them, nor cheap; they started doing this back when stagecoach trips from San Jose to Sonoma county took at least a couple of days each way.

Coming up here regularly from the Bay Area was Jacob Overton, whose visits to Santa Rosa can be traced over 35 years. He spent much of his time, energy and money as a civil rights activist with his wife, Sarah, who became an important black speaker during the 1911 suffrage campaign. They traveled around the state and Nevada lobbying for African-American schools and joining seemingly every group backing state and national equality causes, forging bonds within black micro-communities such as Santa Rosa. Overton was also a minister and a highly popular restauranteur and caterer around San Jose. He is prominent in two of the profiles that follow.

All three men profiled here had obituaries in the Democrat, and each contained details which revealed the paper knew a good deal about the deceased and his interesting past. Yet none of the obits mention a word about any connections to the civil rights movement, either locally or prior to coming here – even in death that was a forbidden topic in Santa Rosa.

Read through the following profiles and discover the Democrat was guilty of far uglier things than printing rehashed articles tarnished with “n words.” It disappeared African-American townsfolk by not writing obituaries for most of them and avoided mention of any of their doings, not just those which would cast them in a favorable light. Weddings, deaths, births, arrivals and departures were largely ignored. By hiding the lives of our small town’s black neighbors, the paper scrubbed away their identity until all that was left for the rest of the community to see was color.

After 150 years (more or less) time is long overdue to remember who they were, what they did and say their names.

NEXT: JOHN RICHARDS
 

* “Mr. Johnson, a young colored man from Santa Rosa” was identified as an eloquent speaker in The Elevator, July 21 1865. It was probably Amos Johnson, the schoolteacher for the Santa Rosa “colored school” 1864-1865 who was a correspondent to The Elevator and mentioned lecturing at the Phoenixonian Institute in 1867. After 1866 he lived in Stockton, then Sacramento. In 1868 a Henry Johnson was mentioned in Santa Rosa, likely the Henry C. Johnson who was president of the “United Sons of Friendship” at the end of that year in Sacramento (Amos Johnson was the group’s secretary). Amos was mentioned only once in the Democrat, and that in a 1866 reprint of a letter to The Elevator written by Judge Churchman about the “negro school.”

 

AFRICAN-AMERICANS IN SANTA ROSA RURAL CEMETERY

William H. Carter (1877-1913) location unknown
Henry W. Davison (1819-1899) Main Circle 237
Jane Davison (1822-1890) same
Maude G. Johnson (1877-1878) location unknown
Elliott Jones (1892-1960) location unknown
Henry Jones (1840-1879) location unknown
Martha Jones (1845-1879) location unknown
Morgan Kinkead (1872-1941) location unknown
Joe Lee (1886-1934) location unknown
Dolphus Milligan (1874-1944) location unknown
Ruben Milligan (1924-1924) location unknown
William Milligan (1879-1938) location unknown
Edmund Potter (1817-1908)) Main Circle 1
Elizabeth Potter (1826-1876) same
Louisa Potter (1843-1895) same
Martha Potter (1811-1880) same
John Richards (1824-1879) Western Half Circle 60
Philena Richards (1812-1880) same
Loretha Robertson (1962-1962) location unknown
James R. Safford (1872-1915) Western Half Circle 240
George Washington (1816-1886) location unknown
John Williams (1880-1911) location unknown
Davis Wright (1853-1865) ) Main Circle 118

 

Detail of Santa Rosa panorama c. 1874 by Grafton T. Brown (Bancroft Library). The view is approximately from the modern intersection of Morgan and Ninth streets; the tall building with cupola is the Christian College built 1872 at B and Tenth street
Detail of Santa Rosa panorama c. 1874 by Grafton T. Brown (Bancroft Library). The view is approximately from the modern intersection of Morgan and Ninth streets; the tall building with cupola is the Christian College built 1872 at B and Tenth street

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Mr. C. C. Kuchel, the well known lithographer of San Francisco, has just completed a lithographic view of the town of Santa Rosa, a copy of which we have received. The sketches were taken by Grafton T. Brown, Mr. Kuchel’s traveling artist, and the scenes are very correct. Mr. Brown, we understand, will visit Petaluma soon, for the purpose of taking some views in that vicinity. His presence in that city will afford an excellent opportunity to her citizens to get a correct view of Petaluma, as they could not procure the services of any one more competent to perform the work.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 31 1862

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OUR VERY DIFFERENT CHRISTMASES PAST

Visit Santa Rosa 150 years ago and not much will be recognizable, as you would expect. But people are still people, and aside from their funny clothes and lamentable views on race and gender, the ways they lived and celebrated weren’t all that different. There were still cakes for birthdays, Fourth of July fireworks, a turkey with trimmings on Thanksgiving and in every parlor at Christmas there was a tree with presents underneath. Well, all that’s true except for the Christmas part.

This is a quick tour of Christmases in Santa Rosa and other Sonoma county places in the years around the Civil War. While today it’s a private occasion for families and close friends to draw close, then it was the time of the year for blowout community parties.

Between Christmas Eve and New Years there was a ball or Christmas celebration almost every night somewhere in the vicinity, each promising to be the grandest event of the year. A 50¢ admission was common (in 1876 that was the equivalent of about sixteen bucks today) with children half price. There usually was dancing and an entertainment program, party food (hope you like oysters) and eggnog, spiked or not.

(RIGHT: 1857 ads appearing in Santa Rosa’s Sonoma Democrat)

We can all probably imagine ourselves attending a “Grand Ball” back then; although the doings in Sonoma county surely weren’t as glitzy as what we’ve seen in old movies, there was still a punchbowl, live music, a dance floor and no shortage of young people flirting as if their destinies depended upon it. We would have had trouble recognizing the Christmas festivities, however – as wonderful as they seemed to be, they were unlike anything in our modern experience.

Except for small towns like Geyserville which had no real public gathering space, lodge halls and meeting halls were rented by the town’s different church groups. But it appears there was no religious component in those Christmas festivities; in reviewing 25 years of Santa Rosa and Petaluma newspapers, the only reference I found to religion was one year where the entertainment included “the chanting of the Lord’s Prayer by a number of the infant class.” Otherwise, they were so secular they would have caused Bill O’Reilly to spit nails.

It’s difficult to imagine now, but simply having a Christmas tree was a big attraction. It was always prominently mentioned in the ads and the lighting of the tree’s candles was a key part of the event. In that era, having a tree in someone’s home was so unusual there were newspaper items when it happened. The lack of private trees might have something to do with the danger of lighted candles hanging on the branches of a dead evergreen; years later there was a spate of incidents where men in Santa Claus costumes caught fire – see “The Year of Burning Santas.”

Santa Claus was often in attendance, but we wouldn’t have recognized him either; in Forestville he was seen wearing a swallow-tail coat “looking just as ancient as if he had just made his escape from the catacombs of Egypt after centuries of confinement” (what?) and gave a funny speech after throwing peanuts at the audience.

But the most unusual part from today’s perspective was probably the giving and receiving of Christmas presents in front of the whole community. The gifts which had arrived days before – the newspapers always explained where to drop them off in advance – were handed out as the name on each package was read aloud. Remember, this was not your office’s secret-santa party; all (or much) of the town was there, children and adults, and the distribution could take hours.

Heavy drinking was clearly part of the scene, although not openly at the public events organized by church ladies. At the non-church balls it was a different story; at a Healdsburg dance there were “four jugs of ready-made cocktails for the ladies, while the gentlemen were restricted to whisky straight.”

After Christmas the papers often expressed relief the drinking didn’t get out of hand. “Christmas eggnogs and toddies, we suppose, were drunk, but if there was any one the least boosy, we failed to see or hear of it; and if there were such, they kept off the streets,” it was reported one year. On another, “although the usual libations were indulged in, no rioting or rudeness were manifested.”

That was a special concern because there was always an uptick of violence (including murders and suicides) around Christmas time. In 1857 Healdsburg, a man was killed and others wounded when someone began shooting his revolver at a Christmas dance. The Santa Rosa paper was quick to emphasize “the parties most deeply concerned in the matter were entirely sober” and the real problem was “men who carry deadly weapons, frequently give as their reason for so doing, the necessity of being prepared for self-defense.”

LEFT: 1864 ad (note the spelling of “ladies'”) RIGHT: 1865 ad, both from the Sonoma Democrat

 

During the Civil War there were still balls and Christmas festivals, although sometimes admission was higher because the sponsoring church was using the events as fund-raisers for construction repairs. After the war Santa Rosa’s pro-Confederacy Democrat printed a letter from someone in Sonoma, begging locals to take whatever would be spent on gifts and Christmas dinners and donate it “for the purpose of raising money for the starving people in the South.” Without irony, the author implored us not to be hard-hearted and “blinded by prejudice.” Apparently compassion should be reserved for those “hundreds of young girls in the South-—who are as good and as beautiful as themselves.”

In the 1870s the Christmas celebrations became even more entertainment oriented. The Presbyterian Sunday Schools presented a “Mother Goose” concert one year and another time put on a play, “Waking Up Santa Claus.” Santa was too tired to deliver his gifts, the story went, until the Fairy Queen appeared to help him out. A Presbyterian youth group called the “San Greal Society” was formed to help kids socialize and put on these areligious holiday shows.

The single most unusual Christmas event was the 1876 children’s masked ball in Petaluma. The ad made it seem more like a strange Hallowe’en-Christmas hybrid, with dancing (which probably wouldn’t appeal to little kids) and a visit from Santa (which the teens up to the max age of 16 might have found cringeworthy).

Surprisingly, it seems that the masquerade went off quite well. The 75 children joined in holding up a large American flag as a band played “Hail Columbia,” there was a grand march and quadrille followed by a free-for-all with the lot of them running around the stage in costumes having a grand time. Among the girls there were two fairies, three fairy queens, several “Spanish peasant girls” and Kitty Stanley as “pink of perfection,” whatever that meant. Five of the boys were dressed as firemen, Frank Slugley was a Czar and Jake Bernhard went as a “Ku Klux,” and we all knew what that meant.

The common theme through this quarter century was how much those Christmas celebrations were focused on making children happy. Stores ran large, expensive ads promoting a variety of toys and candies and sweets sure to appeal to kids. The community party with the Christmas tree and gift exchange was memorable, even if it was the one held in a Geyserville storeroom with Santa played by a guy everybody in town saw every day.

ALL of that began changing a few years later. Christmas trees in the home became increasingly common in the 1880s (Sonoma county became San Francisco’s Christmas tree farm) and by the turn of the century we entered an Era of Scrooge, with an emphasis on buying gifts which were practical and useful or “had value” (read: were cheap). Stores advertised juvenile overcoats and flannel nightgowns, not wonderful toys and dolls. Judging from the newspaper ads it wasn’t until 1910 before we seemed to again start buying gifts simply because they were intended to bring enjoyment to children.

I won’t pretend to understand what happened, but it seems as if the generation that enjoyed the happiest Christmases as children somehow forgot how to give that experience to their own children. Maybe it’s significant that it happened when those Christmas trees were no longer such a magical sight, and the gifts were now opened in private, instead of among the community where everyone shared in their joy.

“The Christmas Party” by American artist Robert David Wilkie, 1850

HEALDSBURG, Dec. 27, 1857. The evening of the 24th passed quietly away, and the sun went down on hundreds in Sonoma County, who had matured or were maturing plans to ensure a happy Christmas, and I, in common with the rest, was meditating as to the best mode of acquiring the greatest possible amount of pleasure in a given time, the only obstacle preventing a speedy conclusion being the number of places of amusement. My friend, DAVE, proposed that we should remain in Healdsburg, but when I suggested the fact that we were too well known there to make a splurge commensurate with the occasion, he at once yielded the point. We then discussed the feasibility of hiring a buggy from Messrs. Page & Francis, and visiting Guyserdale and Cloverville, [sic, sic] but the price being eight dollars, we found on examination that our finances were a little short, not having enough by seven dollars—-so that idea was immediately abandoned.

Having heard there was to be a Ball three miles out of town, and tickets only four bits, I proposed to Dave to walk out there and save expense, in which event our funds would be amply sufficient to secure our admittance. My friend was satisfied with this proposition, and as no time was to be lost, we hastened to make our toilet; but “there’s many a slip,” &c., for just as Dave was spreading some castor-oil on his very obstinate hair, an officer stepped in and demanded his poll tax. Here was a dilemma, and when the officer picked up Dave’s coat which was lying on the bed, and declared he would sell it within an hour, my friend’s condition can better be imagined than described. With tears in his eyes, and castor-oil running slowly down his checks, he begged that the case might be postponed—-the officer was inexorable—-my unfortunate friend then offered his promissory note for double the amount with three per cent interest, and myself as security; unavailing effort-—the stern, ministerial agent of the law insisted on the cash or the coat. I knew that something must be done and that quickly, or all our hopes of happiness in the society of beautiful girls, in the enjoyment of good music, and all the solids and fluids that are usually found at a first-rate ball would soon be as the “baseless fabric of a vision.” For one minute and three-quarters I thought intensely, and Dave’s coat was saved! I remembered having seen in the Sonoma County Journal some advice as to the best mode of procedure in such cases, and having said confidentially to the officer (to put him off his guard,) that I would go out and get the money, I ran with all my might to consult with Blackstone Coke, Esq., and in ten minutes more we had served an injunction. Dave was so overjoyed that he invited me to “smile,” and when he had narrated the story to the proprietor and a crowd of admiring auditors, three cheers were given for my friend, and one individual who seemed to have been in a fight, both eyes blacked and an under-bit off his left ear, gave vent to his feelings by throwing down his hat on the floor and poetically exclaiming: “Bugger the hodds, as long as you’re ‘appy.”

We went to the ball, and what we saw and did there will, perhaps, be the subject matter of my next letter. Dave, however, is down on fifty cent balls, and although he is too gallant to express his opinion freely, I think I know the reason of his dissatisfaction. The proprietor of the ball had, very justly in my opinion, provided four jugs of ready-made cocktails for the ladies, while the gentlemen were restricted to whisky straight, and Dave is opposed bitterly to any such distinction being made in a republican, democratic country.
Yours truly, MANZANITA.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 31 1857

DEADLY WEAPONS.—The occurrence that has recently taken place at Healdsburg, in which one man was killed almost instantly, and two or three of our most esteemed citizens, were severely hurt, in a public ball room, in the presence and in fact in the midst of a throng of ladies, old and young, tender and refined, and in fact, such as make up social assemblies—is a matter for serious contemplation. It has been reported that the affray mentioned was caused or at least aggravated by intoxication. This, we are assured, is not the case, but little if any intoxicating liquor having been used by any of the assembly during the evening; and particularly, the parties most deeply concerned in the matter, were entirely sober. On the contrary, this calamity, for a calamity such an occurrence must be regarded, was the result of a practice but little if any less pernicious than that of intoxication—it is the practice of carrying deadly weapons in company. We regard the carrying of weapons about one’s person in the ordinary walks of life, while in a civilized community, as unnecessary and censurable at best; but when a man presents himself in a ball room, to mix and mingle in the society of refined ladies, armed to the teeth with deadly weapons, we think he commits a wrong of the worst kind. No matter how deadly a hatred two men may have for each other, or how much cause one may have for revenge, certainly such a place is least suitable for the consummation of such revenge, or the settling of personal feuds.

Such lamentable occurrences, in fact, have repeatedly come to our knowledge, in California society, which gives it probably the worst feature it possesses.—-Men who carry deadly weapons, frequently give as their reason for so doing, the necessity of being prepared for self-defense in ease of deadly attacks by highwaymen, or those from whom they expect assassination. Within the last two years these reasons have become too ridiculous for a reasonable man to make use of, as there is scarcely an exception to the fact, that every instance in which men have been robbed on the highway, a Colt’s revolver, ready loaded, has been a portion of the plunder, which the brave possessor dared not use when a necessity for its use presented itself. We hope the day may come soon, when the practice of carrying deadly weapons, now so common, will be abandoned, particularly the practice of taking them into assemblies composed partly of ladies.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 31 1857

The Ball. —The Ball at the Santa Rosa House, on Christmas eve, was a remarkably agreeable entertainment. There was a good attendance, and everything passed off agreeably. The supper is said to have been one of the best ever gotten up in the place, which did friend Colgan, with all his former popularity as a caterer, great credit. Colgan is celebrated for his good suppers. If you don’t believe it, just give him a trial.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 30 1858

CHRISTMAS FESTIVITIES.–The Santa Rosa Sabbath School will have a Celebration and an Old Fashioned Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve next. All citizens who wish to deposit gifts upon the tree for any person will report themselves to Henry Klute, C. W. Langdon… Appropriate music, vocal and instrumental. Free for all. Tree lighted at 7½ o’clock.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 19 1861

FESTIVAL.–The third Festival, given by the Ladies, will come off at Hewitt’s Hall on Wednesday evening. The programme for that evening is more attractive than any which has been presented. The announcement of a Christmas Tree, is of itself sufficient to attract all the young people. It is the intention we believe to sell a number of toy for Christmas presents.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 19 1863

 

The Southern Poor–Letter from a Lady.

Messrs. Editors: I have been watching with a feeling of deep interest the movement, now being made, for the purpose of raising money for the starving people in the South. I have been anxiously looking for such a step to be taken ever since the close of the war. It appears to me that the good work has not been taken hold of with that feeling of enthusiasm it deserves. While we are thinking and talking about what it is best for us to do, the distressing condition of that unfortunate people is growing worse. Winter is now upon them, and if they are ever to be relieved surely now is the time.

The time is close at hand when our young folks will ho expecting new hats, dresses, toys, candies, cakes, Christmas trees and good dinners, all of which will cost a snug sum of money. Now, if we would explain to our children the condition of those poor children who are crying for bread, and the good that this money would do them, I am confident they would consent to make the sacrifice, and would be made to feel more happy by so doing. And again, if our young ladies, who are thinking that a new dress, hat, shawl, and a number of other little notions are articles indispensably necessary with them, that they may thereby be enabled to keep up with the fashions, would reflect for a moment upon the condition of the hundreds of young girls in the South-—who are as good and as beautiful as themselves-—who have neither clothes nor wood to keep them from suffering with cold and hunger this winter, I think they would content themselves with their present comfortable wardrobes and send the entire sum of money which those articles would cost to comfort some of their suffering sisters, and feel none the poorer for the sacrifice, but, on the other hand, they will feel richer on account of the happiness granted for the charitable act, our young men. and old gentlemen too, show that they can make sacrifices, in their trifling indulgences, that they may give something to the poor. Let them smoke fewer cigars, chew less tobacco, drink not so much wine and lessen the number of their fast rides, and show by their liberal contributions that they hav hearts to feel for the poor. Let the turkeys and pigs that are now being fattened for our Christmas dinners be hastened to market, that the price of them may be forwarded to the starving Southerners. If every man and woman in Sonoma county would deprive himself or herself of only one meal of victuals, and contribute its value to this movement of charity, what a blessing it might prove.

I would ask who is there with heart so hardened, or who has been so blinded by prejudice, as to turn a deaf ear to the calls for help coming from our suffering sisters and their hungry little ones? Let us hasten to their rescue, remembering that words can do good unless followed up by action—-that one good action is worth a whole volume of sympathetic gas.
S.M.N.
SONOMA, Dec 2, 1866.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 15 1866

CHURCH FESTIVAL.— The ladies of St. John’s Church, Petaluma, will hold a Christmas Festival at Hinshaw’s Hall, on Saturday and next Monday evening. An assortment of fancy books and toys suitable for Christmas presents will be offered for sale. On Monday, Christmas Eve, Santa Claus will make his appearance in character, and distribute gifts to all the children of the Sunday School.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 22 1866

CHRISTMAS IS COMING.–The ladies of the Congregational Society are making extensive preparations for the Festival which is to come off at Hinshaw’s Hall on Monday and Tuesday evenings next. If energetic effort is a fair criterion, this Fair will be a decided success. The dinner to be served at  Hinshaw’s Hall on Christmas Day, will be well worth a dollar. Go there, everybody.

CHRISTMAS PARTY.–The young men of the “Petaluma Social Club,” have issued their invitations for an assembly at McCune’s Hall on Christmas Eve. The parties of this Club are well conducted, and this one will undoubtedly surpass any of their previous gatherings, in point of pleasure and sociability.

– Petaluma Argus, December 19, 1867

CHRISTMAS.–The great holiday was duly observed in this city. On Christmas Eve, trees were had by the various Sunday Schools. On the day following, services were held at the Episcopal and Catholic churches, and a good attendance had at each. Dinner parties, the reunion of families, and assembling of friends around well spread tables…were some of the noticeable features of the day. And although egg-nog flowed freely, yet there was no special intemperance, and the day went out, leaving no disagreeable occurence behind, and nothing to remember but that which might be fondly cherished and preserved.

– Petaluma Argus, January 1, 1870

…The town remained very quiet, and although the usual libations were indulged in, no rioting or rudeness were manifested.

– Petaluma Argus, December 27, 1872

 

CHRISTMAS.

Christmas, notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, passed off in a most satisfactory and pleasurable manner. A Christmas tree was erected in the elegant new store room of Messrs. Chritchfield, Sweeney & Lamb, on which was displayed a profusion of articles from a bon bon, to a silk dress. That illustrious personage known as Santa Claus, was represented by your good-natured friend, Mr. E. C. Sacry, who distributed the various gifts of fathers, mothers, husbands, wives and sweethearts to the satisfaction of all present, and sent many a little boy and girl to their homes, notwithstanding the darkness of the night and pelting rain-storm, deeply grateful for his visit to Geyserville.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 28 1872

 

Christmas Tree.

There will be a Christmas tree in the M. E. Church South on Christmas eve. Although given under the management of the Sunday School of that church, it will not be exclusive. All parents and friends of the children are cordially invited to use the tree as a medium by which to make the little folks happy.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 13 1873

 

Christmas at Santa Rosa.

Christmas was observed in this city with more than usual spirit. The general impulse of everybody to be liberal was stimulated by the fine display of holiday goods made by our merchants. There were Christmas Trees at the Presbyterian, Christian, and both Methodist churches, all of which passed off happily. On Christmas night the Santa Rosa Grange had a Christmas Tree and supper at Hood’s Hall, which was crowded with Grangers and thair invited guests. The presents were first distributed, causing much fun and merriment. The Secretary of the Grange, Mr. Obreen, a worthy and accomplished officer, was presented with a very handsome gold pen. After the distribution came a bountiful supper, of everything one could think of to tempt the appetite.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 27 1873

 

Christmas at Forestville.

Forestville, Dec. 25–Supposing that everybody wants to know just how everybody spent their Christinas I will give you a few items from this place. We had a Christmas tree at our school house last evening to begin Christmas with. Everybody was there, old and young. The house was beautifully decorated and lit. The house was filled so there was no room left. The venerable Santa Claus, with his swallow-tail coat and long white hair, looking just as ancient as if he had just made his escape from the catacombs of Egypt after centuries of confinement, made all the little folks happy by sowing peanuts broadcast through the audience, and then delivered quite an original oration to the great amusement of the crowd, who showed their appreciation by their overwhelming applause; then the fun commenced by the various presents being called off by our worthy teacher, Mr. Maxwell, and handed round by the young ladies to the lucky persons, or unlucky, as the joke might be, as somebody was bound to catch it…After the fun was over the young folks adjourned to Mr. Frank Emerson’s, to a social party, where they enjoyed themselves to their heart’s content the remainder of the evening, and to-day everybody is trying to induce his neighbor to take dinner with him and dine on roast turkey, while there still seems to be a large surplus for future eonsumption. I think it would be hard to find a jollier set of good fellows than there is here, and peace and harmony is the order of the day. Respectfully yours, Billy Sildem.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 27 1873

 

SEBASTOPOL BRIEFS
Christmas Tree.

The citizens of this place had a Christmas tree at the Presbyterian Church, on Christmas eve, which was heavily loaded from top to bottom with all the innumerable holiday trinkets invented by man. The house was filled to overflowing with old and young; all were well pleased. All this was done for the benefit of of the Sunday school children. It is proving a success will add largely to the school hereafter, and next year they will have a better time.

Christmas was a very quiet day; nothing worth noting transpired through the day except that a number of boys were playing their antics, which created some amusement, until late in the evening, when the people not forgetful of Wilson’s anniversary ball, began to pour in from all directions by the score. There were quite a number from Santa Rosa. The ball went off charmingly; the supper was, par excellence, and the whole thing was, as Harry intended it should be, a success.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 3 1874

 

Christmas at Ridgway Hall.

The Sunday School of the Methodist Church South, will hold a Christmas festival at Ridgway Hall on Christmas eve. There will be a Christmas Tree for the children, and also one for grown-up people. The presents from the children’s Tree will be distributed at 6 o’clock P. M. Those from the Tree for the grown-up people at a later hour. The ladies of the congregation will serve refreshments in the hall during the evening. A good time expected. Parties wishing to furnish presents for their friends will report to the committee at the hall during the day. Admittance free. Invitation general.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 19 1874

 

Christmas In Santa Rosa.

The weather could not have been more propitious than it was Christmas day. A very light frost was visible early in the morning, but the sun rose clear and bright, and the entire day was as pleasant as the most fastidious weathermonger could have asked. But little business was done in any of the stores, except those where Christmas presents were kept, and in the afternoon nearly every store and shop was closed. The usual Christinas eggnogs and toddles, we suppose, were drunk, but if there was any one the least boosy, we failed to see or hear of it; and if there were such, they kept off the streets. In the evening there were Christmas trees at the Baptist Church, the Pacific Methodist College Chapel, Christian College Chapel, and Third Street Methodist Church, and each was well supplied with presents, and at each were large crowds to witness the distribution of the presents. We think very few children in the city were forgotten or neglected, and a great many of the older people received a memento of love from their friends. Christmas in Santa Rosa this year may be set down as a very quiet, but a very delightful and enloyable one.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 30 1876

 

CHILDREN’S MASQUERADE.
Large Attendance–The Little Folks have a Happy Frolic–The Old Folks Look on–Names of the Maskers–The Lights go out and the Dancers go Home.

…The gallery of the Theatre was crowded at an early hour by the parents and friends of the children, while the young maskers were admitted to the stage at the rear entrance of the building. Shortly after 8 o’clock, the band struck up “Hail Columbia,” and the curtain rose upon a tableau composed of masked children, grouped together, supporting an American flag. The effect of the tableau was good, and as the curtain fell the audience testified their appreciation of the same by hearty applause. Then followed the

GRAND MARCH,

which was participated in by about seventy-five children in costume. As the little ones filed upon the floor, they presented a very pretty and pleasing appearance. The column was lead by four fairies, followed by all sorts and kinds of dress…After the grand march and a quadrille, Mr. Ross told the children to have a good time, when all restraint was withdrawn, and the children romped with all the seeming freedom of a play ground. After the unmasking, Santa Claus put in an appearance and gave every child a present. Just as the older people were admitted to the floor, the gasworks in the rear of the Theatre gave out, and everybody hurried away for fear they would be left in the dark…

– Petaluma Argus, January 5, 1877

 

CHRISTMAS FESTIVITIES.
The Celebrations at the Different Churches.

The observance of the Feast of the Nativity was celebrated in fine style in four churches last Monday night.

The Baptist edifice was filled to overflowing. The exercises began at six o’clock, yet some time before that it was impossible to procure seats. The literary exercises lasted a little more than an hour, and then the distribution of the presents from two huge, well leaded trees began. Prof. Dozier and Mr. Baker distributed the gifts that loaded down the branches, making glad the hearts of the young and old. The distribution continued until nearly 10 o’clock, and although the building was crowded and many persons had been on their feet more than three hours, there was not the least sign of impatience nor the least indication of disorder.

The literary exercises at the M. E. Church were very brief. The tree presented a very fine appearance. We noticed that the candies, instead of being fastened to the tree, were attached to a frame behind it, and lighted up both the tree and presents with a flood of light. Rev. E. E. Dodge read the names of those whom the jolly saint remembered, and the presents were distributed by four fair young ladies. A good idea.

M. E. Church South had one tree well loaded. The musical and literary exercises were excellent selections and were well received. The distribution was conducted by Wesley Mock and M. M. Godman. The church was filled to overflowing. One of the most noticeable features of the evening was the chanting of the Lord’s Prayer by a number of the infant class.

The Presbyterians had no tree. The festivities consisted of a concert exercise, followed by the acting tableaux, “Waking Up Santa Claus.” The Superintendent informed the school that Santa Claus had forgotten them, and that he lived in a little bower that had been tastefully fitted up in one corner of the room, and selected three girls to go and see why the omission had occurred. The girls approached the house, and were met by two frightful looking imps, who informed them that Santa Claus was asleep, that he was tired, his reindeers turned out to pasture and all his stock of presents and refreshments were distributed; but the girls persevered until the form of the Saint himself appeared at the top of the chimney. The scene was very prettily finished by the appearance of the Fairy Queen, who, accompanied with the sweetest of music, relieved Santa Claus and the Sunday School from their dilemma.

Mass was celebrated twice by Father Conway on Christmas day. The church was well filled. The Church of the Incarnation was open during the day, and Christmas services observed.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 29 1877

…The Presbyterian Sunday School will not have a Christmas tree, but will have a “Mother Goose” Concert at Ridgway Hall on Christmas eve, under the management of the San Greal Society, an organization composed of the young people of the church and congregation, and organized for the promotion of sociability and good feeling. The concert will be full of new, unique and pleasing features, and will doubtless prove a rare treat to the children….

– Sonoma Democrat, December 21 1878

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