pipedreams

SEBASTOPOL’S CHINATOWNS

In other times and places they may have been considered twin villages. The two communities brushed against each other, each with a mercantile district, its own places of worship and sometimes populations of roughly the same size. But never did they have equal standing, which is because one of those communities was entirely Chinese immigrants and this was the American West in the 19th century. Specifically, this was Sebastopol and its Chinatown. Its two Chinatowns, actually.

Before diving in, it pains me to admit the tale you’re about to read is incomplete. I’ve pecked away at the history of this fascinating lost world for ages, returning to it whenever another historic newspaper or trove of other data came online. But it’s been a while since anything really significant surfaced; it looks like some sections of the puzzle – critically important sections, at that – will always be missing. So here I’ve put together what I have, in the hope that someday a family memoir, a dusty photo album or a history by one of San Francisco’s Six Companies will appear, allowing scholars of Chinese culture in the West to cement more parts of the picture together.

This project began over seven years ago after finding a remark by West County historian Bill Borba: “Sebastopol had two Chinatowns that must have had in the neighborhood of 200-300 Chinese in them…” Sure enough, I found the fire maps which showed the village seemed to have two Chinese enclaves about a block apart. I soon learned this was a very unusual situation.


“JOHN CHINAMAN” COMES TO SONOMA

The earliest Chinese immigrants probably arrived in Sonoma county around 1855, as they did in Marin; the 1860 census shows about forty, all but a handful living in the town of Sonoma. During this decade the local newspapers fed readers a steady diet of racist stories about the doings of “John Chinaman” in San Francisco or the Gold Country, but little about the men living here. A rare 1868 item from the Santa Rosa paper told of a Chinese man who reported being robbed by two boys – but “several white persons near by when the alleged act was committed” claimed he was lying, so the case was dropped.

By the 1870 census the Chinese population had grown tenfold; 470 men were counted in the county overall with over half (280) living in Petaluma. Salt Point was the third largest Chinese group with 96 (mainly logging camps at Timber Cove and Duncan’s Mills). Five were listed in Bloomfield. In 1871, California Pacific railroad brought in a crew of over a thousand Chinese laborers to begin work on a rail line between Santa Rosa and Cloverdale. Judging by the number of newspaper reports, this decade was by far the most violent for Chinese immigrants, with multiple reports of beatings, shootings and a trend of young white boys shooting them in the face. The most disturbing incidents were when hunters found a body in the Laguna; although the Coroner’s Jury met there and believed the man had been murdered, there was no further investigation and the remains were buried at the site following the verdict. Near Bloomfield, an immigrant supposedly attempted suicide by cutting his throat, followed by splitting his head open with an axe. When the Coroner’s Jury arrived at the scene they found the body some distance away in a potato field; it was decided the injured man stumbled there on his own and there was no foul play involved in any of it. The body remained lying in the field for several days.

Although the 1880 census missed the entire Chinese community at Bloomfield (although there were eight counted in Valley Ford), there were still 901 enumerated in the county, with Sonoma City, Santa Rosa and Petaluma having the largest populations, in that order. The population of the Analy Township was 1,380 with 37 Chinese immigrants, and Sebastopol had 197 residents with only three from China.

Only summaries of the 1890 census exist, but there were 1,173 identified as Chinese in the entire county with 231 in the Analy Township (there was no breakout for Sebastopol), slightly behind Santa Rosa’s leading count of 277.

Was this a single community split between different streets or were these really two separate Chinatowns? Evidence points both ways. Until the last buildings were razed in 1943, the Sebastopol newspaper referred to one as New (or Barnes’) Chinatown and the other as Old (or Brown’s) Chinatown. Each had its own “joss house” (a place of worship) which I’m told was never seen in a town so small. (By contrast, there was no joss house at all in Santa Rosa, although we know there was a room used as a temple.) But did one group have better status, more wealth than the other? Those and other loose threads are tugged below.

Nor do we have any images of the Chinatowns except for grainy photos taken before it was to be demolished. There are no known pictures of any residents – the man seen at the top of this article is from Arnold Genthe’s book on San Francisco’s Chinatown at around the turn of the century.

Even worse, we don’t have an accurate view of how many people were living there at any particular time. Old census data was often problematic when it came to enumerating ethnic minorities, possibly because of racism or language barriers. In the 1880 census there were no Chinese counted in Bloomfield, for example, although there were probably hundreds living there; other census takers in the county that year didn’t make much of an effort to record Chinese names with any accuracy, filling in the census forms with meaningless stubs such as “Lee,” “ah Gus,” “Hong Kong,” or “Sing.” Complicating matters, the census was usually taken during the summer months when Chinese ag workers might be away from where they lived most of the year, dispersed on farms or among work crews where they could be overlooked (or hidden). A more specific example of these problems is below.

Our story begins in 1885, although newspapers had occasionally mentioned Chinese men in Sebastopol over the previous decade. (Most news about early Sebastopol comes from the Petaluma Argus, as older 19th century Santa Rosa papers mostly ignored the village.) That year Aaron Barnes announced he was moving “his China houses” off Main Street; it didn’t happen for several years, as the 1888 fire map shown below still showed a Chinatown with about a dozen buildings, roughly across the street from today’s Copperfield’s store.

Aaron Barnes (1816-1897) was a farmer/real estate investor who owned several lots around downtown Sebastopol, most notably the large corner at Petaluma Ave. and (modern) Highway 12, where the CVS and Benedetti Tire now stand. He had a quirky life, which earned him a profile in “SEBASTOPOL WAS ALWAYS QUIRKY,” but it was never explained why he seemed to have so much devotion to his Chinese tenants. There’s a family story that he liked them better than the white townsfolk because a church had done something to offend him and his first wife. But his cause of death was diagnosed as constipation, which might seem unusual because the cure-all tonics during his era were usually strong laxatives mixed with alcohol. That condition is also famously a side-effect from chronic use of opium.

1888 Sanborn map of Sebastopol's downtown Chinatown
1888 Sanborn map of Sebastopol’s downtown Chinatown

The situation changed quickly and dangerously in the first weeks of 1886. Anti-Chinese vigilante committees had been running amok on the West Coast for months, terrorizing immigrants into leaving their communities under threats of death. While Sonoma County locals were chanting the popular “Chinese must go” mantra, there was no violence or anti-Chinese activism here. But when members of Petaluma’s Wickersham family were brutally killed in mid-January and their Chinese cook was accused of the deed, anti-Chinese Leagues sprouted overnight in every Sonoma community with intent to expel them. For in-depth coverage on that story, see “THE YEAR OF THE ANTI-CHINESE LEAGUE.”

Before the end of that January there was a trickle of Chinese coming into Santa Rosa from Cloverdale, Healdsburg and other points north. Some were passing through on their way to San Francisco, but many apparently were lingering in town to see how the situation would develop – the Democrat newspaper reported there were over 600 Chinese in Santa Rosa as the month ended. Sebastopol’s Chinatown swelled at the same time. The correspondent for the Argus wrote “the town has about 360 Chinese and they outnumber about 250 whites.” In the next few weeks, the Chinese population of Sebastopol peaked at an estimated 400-450.


BLOOMFIELD’S “PIGTAIL ALLEY”

Before it became dairy county, Big Valley (Bloomfield + Valley Ford) was known for its potatoes; 100,000 sacks a year were carted down to the Petaluma wharf in the wagons which were jokingly called “spud schooners.” As planting and digging so many potatoes is quite labor intensive, Big Valley was also known for its many, many Chinese immigrants. When they hit Peak Potato around 1880 it’s often claimed 300 Chinese men lived in or around Bloomfield, although local historian Bill Borba always said the number was closer to 600, far larger than Sebastopol’s combined Chinatowns.

Several locations have been identified but none are documented by archaeology; camps were said to be at the current location of Emma Herbert Memorial Park and near the intersection of Roblar Road and Valley Ford Road. Several buildings were rented along Main Street (now Bloomfield Road), with “Pigtail Alley” somewhere nearby. This was probably their Chinatown; a Chinese butcher shop and laundry are mentioned in articles below, so it’s fairly safe to assume there was a business area similar in size to Sebastopol.

In February 1886 an Anti-Chinese Committee was formed in Bloomfield, same as in all other Sonoma County communities. But the situation was different, due to the size of the Chinese community (“there is no town in the state, of its size, where there are so many Chinese” – Sonoma Democrat) and because some Bloomfielders were inclined to vigilante activity. An unsuccessful attempt was made to blow up a Chinese laundry (“result, a lot of frightened Chinamen and a shattered floor”) and a spring that supplied water was salted. That October – months after the anti-Chinese fervor had sputtered out in Santa Rosa and other places – the Argus reported that vigilantes “…have AGAIN [emphasis mine] taken the law into their own hands and have forcibly ejected them from the town.”

Predictably, the farmers found themselves short-handed when potato harvest season arrived in 1887: “It is impossible to get enough white hands. Chinamen are scarce and disposed to boycott the Bloomfield country, from which they were driven a year since.” Potato blight damaged much of the crop in 1889 and by 1891 there were only about 100 acres still planted in potatoes, most of the land converted to dairy pastures.

Many who sought refuge in Sebastopol presumably were coming from nearby Bloomfield, which had the largest sustained Chinese community in the county. Bloomfield was also the site of the only local vigilante activity, which continued for months (see sidebar). But as winter turned into spring even the Chinatowns in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa shrunk greatly, although it’s most likely because of residents melting away into the countryside to take their customary farm jobs now that growing season approached.

After a year passed there was no sign the anti-Chinese furor had any lasting effect in Sebastopol (“there are more Chinamen in Sebastopol to the square foot than in any American town that we know of” – Argus). The Petaluma paper reported boys – and women from Santa Rosa – were coming to the village’s Chinatown to smoke opium, a matter of some irritation to the townsfolk.

The first possible sighting of a second Chinatown appears in 1889: “The Chinese have built a Joss house in town.” That it was built by the Chinese themselves (or perhaps, paid for by them) suggests Barnes was not involved, as he apparently always hired contractors.

This other Chinatown was on property owned by John Brown, like Barnes a farmer/real estate investor, although on a much larger scale – he had some 1,400 acres on the east end of Sebastopol which he leased to others, making him the second largest landowner in the area (the Walker ranch was larger). His cottage still exists on the edge of town and is currently home to the Animal Kingdom Veterinary Hospital.

That became known as Old Chinatown. Then 15 months later, in early 1891, New Chinatown started to appear: “Elliot & Berry are building a fine Joss House for the Chinamen.” Later that year, “a number of China houses are in course of erection on the corner of Petaluma and Bodega avenues by Mr. Aaron Barnes, and the Joss house which has been located near Mr. Barnes’ residence has been moved to the same lot.” (It never ceases to amaze me that they moved houses around like dominoes back then.) To be clear: This Chinatown occupied the entire footprint of the modern CVS and its parking lot.

And so Sebastopol became accustomed to having two Chinatowns in its backyard. One of the rare items in the Sebastopol paper that mentions both describes the comic 1898 efforts to restrain a bull running through the town: “…he concluded to have some noodle soup and charged the restaurant in Barnes’ Chinatown. The boss cook banged a big tin pan against the noodle pot with such effect that his lordship wheeled for Brown’s Chinatown. Whether he wanted to hit the pipe or was looking for a game of fan tan is not known…”

Another episode from the same year shows how fairly the town treated their Chinese residents. During Lunar New Year celebrations Deputy Constable Woodward attempted a little extortion, demanding $5 from each merchant who was exploding firecrackers. As there was no such thing as a firecracker tax, two men began arguing with Woodward; that turned into a fight with the cop pistol-whipping a young man named Ah Woy, who filed a complaint against the constable. During the court hearing a few days later about a dozen Chinese witnesses testified. Woodward’s defense was that he only asked Woy to quiet down and was attacked by Woy while trying to assist him to go indoors. “Some of the Chinese witnesses, however, did not seem to agree with the constable’s version of the fracas,” the Press Democrat reported. “Some of them of the ‘little bit Engleesh’ persuasion just looked daggers at Mr. Woodward.” The court fined Woodward $20 for battery and dismissed Woodward’s assault charge against Woy.

There was probably no happier year in those places than 1898. There were now children in the community and there was a wedding:


“A Chinese bride! A Chinese bride!” The word was passed like wildfire among the crowd at the Donahue depot as the ten o’clock train on the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad slowed up there Wednesday morning. Instantly everybody was anxious to catch a glimpse of the celestial maiden, clad in the most fantastic of bridal costumes…When the bride and her party arrived at Sebastopol they were given a great reception by scores of Chinese. In a gaily decorated vehicle adorned with flags and Chinese lanterns, the bride was escorted through the streets. Later in the day the marriage took place amid much pomp. the groom was a “heap high tone” Chinaman employed on the Knowles ranch near Sebastopol.

Less happy was 1899; almost all of Barnes’ Chinatown burned down, wiping out 15 buildings including stores, boarding houses, the Joss house and their Masonic hall. There was great concern during the fire because the winds were blowing towards town and no one knew where their hook and ladder truck was (it was found on a vacant lot, someone having borrowed it for personal use). As Aaron Barnes was now deceased, it was unclear whether his son Henry would rebuild. By the end of the year it was reconstructed about 75 feet further east away from Petaluma Ave. One merchant, Quong Wah, was wealthy enough to build his own place.

1903 Sanborn map of Sebastopol's Old Chinatown and New Chinatown
1903 Sanborn map of Sebastopol’s Old Chinatown and New Chinatown

In the summer of 1900 the census taker found 77 Chinese in and around Sebastopol, two of them women. Most were in small knots of 3-5 laborers living on farms but about a third were in the Chinatowns, which now had two groceries, two merchandise stores, three laundries and a barber. The two Chinatowns were still about equal size on the 1903 map. John A. Brown died in 1905 and the property passed to his daughter, Birdie, who continued making improvements into the 1920s. It was no longer called Old Chinatown/Brown’s Chinatown but “China Alley.”

Fast-forward ahead another decade; the 1910 census is the only one which recognized two Chinatowns, with about 25 people living in each. Seven were female and nine were born in California. Kim Lee owned a laundry; there were five grocers and eight other stores, which seems like a lot, if there were really only fifty people.

1911 Sanborn map of Sebastopol's China Alley and Barnes street Chinatown
1911 Sanborn map of Sebastopol’s China Alley and Barnes street Chinatown

And now we come to the 1920s; there’s a druggist who has his own store, two salesmen, and sixteen people under age 20, with two dozen people born in California. The census says there are 84 living in “China Town.” Except that’s apparently not really true. To (somewhat) repeat myself: When it comes to the Chinese, the census data is like a house of cards – touch it lightly and it all falls apart.

Meet Johnny Ginn. He was an old man in the early 1970s when he was interviewed by sociologists collecting oral histories of the Chinese experience in California.* He was the only one interviewed who spoke about Sebastopol, having grown up around there; that 1898 story about the Chinese bride concerned his mother.

Johnny’s father was named Ginn Wall and as the wedding item states, he worked on the Knowles ranch near Sebastopol. But according to the 1900 census, there were no Chinese living on or near the William H. Knowles ranch. Same for 1910, 1920. In fact, Johnny and his parents can’t be spotted in any census at all, as far as I can tell, and they were not alone in being overlooked. As he told the researchers, “There were about three hundred Chinese farmworkers up there, and they were all old men…and except for my mother, not a single woman. That was the whole Chinese settlement in Sebastopol.”

Johnny’s mother died in 1929 and his father went broke being a tenant farmer. After saving for the next six years they finally had the $600 to send Ginn Wall back to China by himself. Johnny told the researchers he realized that the farm settlement in Sebastopol was dying:


All those old guys thought about was how they wanted to go back to China. But there’s only about six months work in the year on apples, so they never saved a thing. And the only other thing besides work was gambling. Gambling was the social life, and gambling was the pastime. Everybody hoped to make a few bucks so they could go home in the easy way. The others lost their money and got stuck from year to year.

By then in the mid-1930s it was a bachelor society of elderly men. There was nothing still keeping him there, so Johnny became a migrant worker.

1929 Sanborn map of Sebastopol's Brown ave. and Barnes ave.
1929 Sanborn map of Sebastopol’s Brown ave. and Barnes ave.

Our last glimpse of the Chinatowns comes from the 1929 map, which shows the one on Brown Ave. (now Brown St.) in slow decline, while Barnes Ave. has slightly grown. The census in the following year again had a low headcount of 54 residents, but there was also now the eight-member Gin Hop family with their own house on Pitt Ave. (He was a China-born merchant and presumably no relation to Ginn Wall.)


DOWNLOAD
PDF file of transcribed sources discussed in this article (26 pages)



Of most interest to historians is the 1929 map appearance of a Tong Hall at the southernmost end, which raises several intriguing questions. It’s possible it had been there for years, but escaped notice of white cartographers who didn’t understand it possibly represented the foothold of a crime gang. In the late 1890s the Sebastopol paper had several items about highbinders (tong enforcers, sometimes hit men) being in town and a man who supposedly was a local highbinder was himself killed there in 1899. Although the separate Chinatowns began as protectorates of Messrs. Barnes and Brown, it’s possible they soon came under the control of rival tongs. This would explain why two joss houses were sustained the entire time. (UPDATE: Most tongs were not criminal, particularly at this late date.)

It all came to an end in 1943, when Sebastopol condemned the last buildings on Barnes ave. as fire hazards. Press Democrat reporter Pete Johnson described the place as “ghostlike,” although there were some people still living there.

The last celebration of Chinese New Year was apparently 1932 and it was a low-key affair, the usual gaiety dampened by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria a few months earlier. “Chinese and Japanese in the settlement here are said to exchange nothing but short greetings, but the situation isn’t acute,” the Sebastopol Times reported. Only a few gathered at the joss house to celebrate because only a few were still around. “Old-timers in the Chinatown here estimate their number to be less than 70…about one-fourth of the population several years ago,” said the Times, the paper at last acknowledging the true size of the historic community.

But earlier New Year celebrations there were always happy times, regardless of their pitiable situations, and it was also the only time of the year when the Sebastopol gwáilóu came over to visit with them. Let’s end our survey with a peek at the celebration in 1920:


Wednesday noon in front of the joss house several strings of fire crackers, each over thirty feet in length, were exploded, much to the delight of Sebastopol’s boyhood. The Chinese had erected a high tripod on which they suspended the long strings of fire crackers by means of a pulley, but the first string had hardly been ignited when the tripod collapsed and the entire string exploded at once, much to the dismay of the Chinese…The rest of the fire crackers were more successful. All afternoon the tom toms and cymbals were kept busy by the Chinese musicians who were stationed in the joss house.
1943 views of Barnes Ave. Chinatown (Press Democrat) The Sonoma County Library History & Genealogical Library has another photo with a partial view of the Wing Yuen Tai Co. store and employment office on the corner of Barnes Ave. in the 1920s.
1943 views of Barnes Ave. Chinatown (Press Democrat) The Sonoma County Library History & Genealogical Library has another photo with a partial view of the Wing Yuen Tai Co. store and employment office on the corner of Barnes Ave. in the 1920s.

* Longtime Californ’: A Documentary Study of an American Chinatown; Victor Nee and Brett De Bary; 1986; pp. 25-29

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hobojungle

THE CAPITAL OF HOBOHEMIA

Interpreting history is sometimes like assembling IKEA furniture. After an unexpected amount of sweat and cussing you’ve finally got the thing put together and it looks okay – but then you discover an overlooked part which seems as if it must be important. So back you go, pouring over the documents to figure out where the hell it fits in. And that, Gentle Reader, is how we have arrived at the puzzle of Santa Rosa and its hoboes. They had a significant presence here (albeit usually an unwanted one) for decades; where do they fit into the Santa Rosa story? What drew them here and why did they settle in to stay?

Before diving into that history, however, comments on Facebook and other social media about my previous article, “THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOBOES,” suggest many are comparing those 1931 hoboes and their hobo jungle with today’s homeless and their encampments on the Joe Rodota trail and elsewhere. The situations could hardly be more different.

First, the hoboes never considered themselves homeless. Living a rootless life under the sky was theirs by choice; this point came across strongly in the profile of the Santa Rosa hoboes as it does in other primary writings, such as the (highly recommended!) Tales of the Iron Road. They chafed when forced to stay under a roof because of weather or infirmity, itching to get back to the camp fire world they loved.

Despite the hardships, their attraction to hobo life was being part of an extended community where acceptance was unconditional as long as you honored their rules and customs. Since it appears most were cast away at a young age or suffered some form of parental abuse or abandonment, becoming a hobo was like joining the Brotherhood of Lost Boys. The far-reaching hobo network became a new family, and many of those men spent most (or all) of their adulthood in the comfort of belonging among them.

Our modern homeless do share one thing with the hoboes of yore – Santa Rosa’s cluster of “skid row” services on Morgan and Wilson streets.

Hoboing was at its heyday c. 1910 when an evangelical group started a rescue mission on Washington street, near the current location of the Catholic Charities homeless services center on Morgan. That was followed by a shelter for “down and outs” at 117 Eighth street, between Davis and Wilson. In the mid 1960s – even as the hobo life was on the wane – the Redwood Gospel Mission and House of Refuge opened in the same area, with the Catholic Worker Kitchen, the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen and Catholic Charities following later. It made sense at the time for all those Good Samaritans to operate their charities there because the locations were only steps away from Santa Rosa’s railroad yard, which was where all hoboes came and went.

Indulge me a moment to editorialize about how this is still causing problems today: It’s now been a long time since trains were the hobo express, and continuing to offer those services in that neighborhood only tethers the homeless to the downtown area. Today everyone concerned would be better off if the charities there moved to a designated area where the homeless living in vehicles could park, others could camp and where meaningful humanitarian aid could be coordinated.

Theirs was a distinct American subculture that lasted roughly one hundred years, from the end of the Civil War to circa 1970. At its 1910 peak the hobo population was estimated at 700,000, large enough to make them the fourth largest city in the United States, should they all get an unlikely itch to settle down in a mondo hobo jungle.

In the early years tramps, vagabonds or “vags” were apparently rare in Sonoma county, although they were frequently the subject of little filler items in the local newspapers, usually jokey vignettes reprinted from East Coast journals. The gags were usually that a tramp is ignorant (trying to eat ice cream with a fork), rude (correcting his host’s grammar after receiving a free meal) or deceitful (a haven’t-eaten-for-days tramp begs for a penny and is told the person only has a silver dollar; no problem, says the vagrant, he can make change).

The first mention of drifters in the area came from the Santa Rosa paper in the summer of 1876, when a tramp attempted to sexually assault a 7 year-old girl south of Hopland (he wasn’t turned over to the sheriff, but members of the family beat the man severely). A number of unemployed men arrived the following year when the Long Depression hit California and caused massive unemployment, and the Democrat made the point that these fellows were different that the usual vagabonds found around here: “Many of them are now in this section of the State seeking work, and they are generally designated ‘tramps.’ From the fact that there are every year some persons strolling about the country pretending to be hunting work but really trying to make a living without having to work for it, the name of tramp has become one of opprobrium…” (Transcriptions of this and assorted other articles follow at the end.)

After that the Santa Rosa newspaper was mostly silent about tramps for nearly a decade – but come 1886, there was plenty to report. “The question, ‘What shall be done with the tramps,’ has been frequently asked,” began one story in the Democrat. A reporter counted fifty living in the seasonally-dry bed of Santa Rosa Creek.

“During the afternoon of Wednesday and the forenoon of Thursday, the side streets were almost thronged with these creatures, going from house to house, begging what they could and stealing where the chance offered. And yet this annoyance has no antidote; the County Jail would be inadequate to the demands made upon it were they all arrested,” the article continued. Several more pieces followed, including interviews with some of the tramps.

The influx of tramps traces back to the developments of 1883-1886, discussed here earlier in depth. Those were Santa Rosa’s boomtown years, which began when the courthouse was the scene of a high-profile, two year trial that brought wads of money into town. Then “Kroncke’s Park” opened in 1886, with ultra-cheap subsidized ferry and train tickets from San Francisco. That lured up to 1,500 to Santa Rosa each Sunday, among them pickpockets and “roughs.” A few weeks after it opened, a Democrat article began thus: “The excursion to this city and Kroncke’s Park Sunday, was made up chiefly of hoodlums…” Problems persisted for years, which the city ignored because the park brought in the tourist trade. A surge of articles about aggressive and criminal tramps appeared in tandem (“the tramp nuisance seems to be daily on the increase”), including an item about a policeman shooting a guy in the arm while he was trying to escape arrest for stealing a load of booze.

But a far larger wave of itinerants began arriving in 1888, once the Santa Rosa and Carquinez (AKA Southern Pacific) Railroad was completed. Santa Rosa was now connected to the national rail network. From the North street depot we could ship Annadel basalt, Sonoma county wine and fruit anywhere in the country cheaply; in return we brought in cattle and kerosene and circuses – along with a new style of tramp adept at riding freight cars that came to be called “hoboes.”*

That freight line connected through Napa Junction (now part of American Canyon) and came up through the Valley of the Moon. There soon was an uptick in hobo-related crime along the train route in Napa, which put 43 tramps in jail, and Glen Ellen, where the town constable was robbed. Santa Rosa had a string of burglaries because there was a “centralization of that element of society at the county-seat,” according to the Board of Supervisors, who passed a motion that “all tramps and vagrants confined in the County Jail be fed only good wholesome bread and water.”

Napa valley hobo c. 1920, photographer unknown
Napa valley hobo c. 1920, photographer unknown

Anyone crystal ball-gazing in 1889 might have predicted the hoboes would become a permanent criminal underclass, lurking at the edge of town while plotting to steal your grandma’s candlesticks. But by the early 1890s there were no crimes reported locally aside from the occasional fellow caught sleeping in a barn, with few mentions of hoboes being sentenced to a tour of duty on Santa Rosa’s chain gang. (There were no chains and the work was apparently just sweeping downtown sidewalks and picking up cigar butts.) What changed? I suspect hoboes coming from the East brought with them the new concept of the hobo jungle, with its code of strict intolerance for robbers and other trouble-makers.

And the hoboes certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be banned from Santa Rosa. There were no Railroad Bulls eager to crack hobo heads stationed at our little depot on North street, and the county jail was supposedly quite tolerable, although there were sometimes “tough on crime” spells where prisoners were given only bread and water, or even water alone. Plus it was a short walk across town to the NWP railyard at Railroad Square; from there a hobo could spend his life riding steam trains up and down Luther Burbank’s “chosen spot of all this earth,” never venturing again out of the pleasant valleys of Northern California – and from the 1931 Press Democrat series, we know some indeed did so. But if you still wanted to visit Los Angeles or Seattle or Chicago, the Southern Pacific line was right on the other side of town. It was like Santa Rosa was Grand Central Station for the mythical paradise of Hobohemia.

Once the robberies stopped, the town was also starting to adjust to having a vagrant population. The first sign came in 1892, when a group of boys were fined $5 each (the equivalent of $180 today) for throwing rocks at a hobo – a crime the cops surely would have been ignored a few years earlier, just as kids were never punished for harassing Chinese residents.

By 1894 the Democrat even began publishing stories that poked gentle fun at the hoboes, as if they were merely eccentrics. In January the paper had a fictionalized account of six men who very much wanted the police court to sentence them to jail because of the cold weather. Hoboes always were known by their “road names,” which were monickers like “Fry Pan Jack” or “Cotton Henry.” In the Democrat’s version the men had goofy names such as “Chauncy Hoofsome,” “Insomuch Pillroller” and “Douglas Ticklemush,” which sound more like the cuddly pals of Beatrix Potter than leather-skinned dudes who risked death or dismemberment by jumping aboard moving freight trains.

Later that year the paper attempted to use them as a political allegory (and I do emphasize the word, “attempted”) where the hoboes who hung around Santa Rosa were Republican freeloaders called “Doodoos” (the whole idiotic thing is too long to transcribe; anyone interested can read it here). Still, it shows the hoboes here already shared the comradeship of the later hobo jungles:


…Deputy Sheriff Dougherty, who has made a psychological, phrenological and astrological study of the American tramp, says there are two great divisions of this grand army. One division is called the Doodoos, the other the Blanket-stiffs…The Doodoos are devoted to each other. Dougherty states that when one of them is let out of jail he always returns with tobacco or a Daily Democrat to light up the gloom for his brothers in the cage. He further alleges that they have secret signs by which they recognize each other anywhere…At the present time there are twenty-eight tramps in the county jail, all members of the order of Doodoos. They have a leader, or “judge,” with them, whose nickname is “Aunt Sally.” It appears he made such a success of doing nothing and was such a good judge of whisky that the California branch of the Doodoos promoted him from the bar to the bench…

As years passed both Santa Rosa’s Republican and Democrat newspapers offered stories about the audacious hoboes who passed through the area (see “THE HOBOES COMETH“). A favorite character was “Tennessee Bill,” who set fire to the Petaluma city jail during 1904. Arrested for his usual drunkenness, Bill was foolishly left alone in his cell and soon tore off all his clothes and set fire to them. Asked why, “he answered that it needed fumigation and took it upon himself to accomplish the deed,” according to the Republican. The fire department was called and the cell, along with Bill, were thoroughly hosed down. “A number of ladies were attracted by the excitement and went to the jail door but did not stay long. Tennessee’s vocabulary is not all parlor tongue,” commented the Argus.

Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley was particularly fond of writing about hobo life; under his tenure the PD printed that remarkable 11-part series in 1931, which should be recognized as some of the paper’s most noteworthy journalism. Reading the teasers and blurbs about the series and it seems clear that Finley dearly wished he was thirty years younger and could have written it himself.

Santa Rosa’s hobo jungle began fading away shortly after that. A 1951 Press Democrat article mentioned there were still three near Santa Rosa; it’s not clear if any remained by the time the Wilson street charities opened their doors in 1963.

In 1975 the Press Democrat revisited its legacy of hobo reporting by offering a two-part series by Ukiah bureau writer Vicki Allen on “Hood River Blackie,” the hobo historian. During his 33 years on the Iron Road, Blackie (real name Ralph Gooding) collected details about hoboing going back to the Civil War. “Some people exist and no one pays any attention to them until they are gone,” Blackie told the PD. “I call them the lost generation. It makes me feel so bad that the people of my world are gone. Now, it is like chasing dead men.”

He had retired in 1972 because “nearly all the men I knew and traveled with were gone.” Blackie always planned to write a multi-volume history of their underground subculture spanning a century, complete with 611 biographies of men who spent their lives on the rails. The book wasn’t written, but there are hours of oral history tapes at Columbia and New York University and he can be heard at the vagabond exhibit at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento (don’t know if the exhibit’s still there). A memorable story and song by U. Utah Phillips is all about him.

When Blackie died in Twentynine Palms during 1984 he was 57 and buried in the Joshua Tree Cemetery. Later “True West” magazine did an article about his life and there was a mention in the social column of the Marion Ohio newspaper, Blackie having been born in that town. But apparently only a single paper in the nation printed an actual obituary for him.

It was the Press Democrat.


* Some claim there was a difference between “tramps” and “hoboes,” but I don’t see any distinction in reading the original sources. According to the Oxford Etymologist blog, the origin and meaning of “hobo” is unknown but it first appeared around 1890 in the American West. Locally it can be spotted in a 1893 Petaluma Morning Courier item that also used “tramp” in the same paragraph. A filler the following year in the Sonoma Democrat stated “hobo” originated with French Canadians living in the upper Midwest, an explanation which now seems to have been forgotten. My interpretation is that the names reflect how itinerants supplanted walking (the verb “tramp”) with riding the rails in the 1890s as the main means of travel. Consistently, however, “bum” was used as a derogatory name for drunks and drug addicts.

ABOVE: Chicago hobo jungle, 1931, photographer unknown. Photo Calumet412.com

 

sources
Give Them a Meal. — Owing to a failure of crops in most of the counties south of San Francisco, very many persons are thrown out of employment. Many of them are now in this section of the State seeking work, and they are generally designated “tramps.” From the fact that there are every year some persons strolling about the country pretending to be hunting work but really trying to make a living without having to work for it, the name of tramp has become one of opprobrium, and should not be applied to very many now in this and counties adjoining. Many of these are honest, respectable men, who, by the misfortunes that have befallen them, are compelled to ask for any work that will afford them a living; and whilst it behooves our people to exercise some discrimination as to whom they employ, they will do great injustice by treating all as common tramps and refusing to give them work. And we do hope that whenever application is made for enough work at least to pay for a meal of victuals that the meal at least may not be denied even though there be no work needed. Those who are unworthy may under such pretext obtain their meals, but it is better to give ten meals to the unworthy than to deny one to an honest man who really needs it and is willing to work for it.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 16 1877

 

Blair Hart, who is working with a hay press on the farm of Sam. Agnew, in Sonoma, had his valise stolen from his camp last Tuesday evening by a tramp. The valise contained an Odd Fellows gold pin, some clothing, and two certificates of deposit issued by the Bank of Sonoma valley, one for $120 and the other for $145.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 23 1877

 

Affray at Sonoma.

Last Sunday afternoon about four o’clock, in Sonoma city, Herman Loux, proprietor of the Rail Road Saloon, shot Wm. Moore, a vagabond who had been lying about town for some time. It appears that Moore, being intoxicated, entered the saloon and immediately commenced a series of aggressive insults upon the barkeeper and the inmates. After knocking down an Indian the drunken man seized Mr. Loux by the throat and was doing his utmost to choke him. The proprietor after retreating as far as possible, reached behind the counter and grasping a pistol shot his assailant in the pit of the stomach. It is thought that the wound will prove fatal. Loux was arrested and a preliminary examination took place last Tuesday, in which he was held to answer with bail fixed in the sum of $5.000. He furnished sureties for his appearance on May 3d, when the examination will take place.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 23 1881

 

A Dangerous Vagabond.

Monday afternoon a badly intoxicated young man made himself very conspicuous in the neighborhood of the depot, rushing about with an open razor in his hand with which he said he intended to cut the tail off of every dog in Santa Rosa. He did not confine his blood thirsty attentions to the canine race either, but chased a number of small boys and girls who came in his neighborhood, threatening to cut them all to pieces and badly frightening several. Constable J. J. Lowery finally appeared on the scene and found the drunken fool chasing a cow all around a vacant lot. with the laudable intention of treating her in the same manner as he purposed serving the dogs. When he discovered the officer approaching, he turned upon him savagely, rushing toward him with the razor open in his hand and apparently meaning business. Our friend Jake, however, had no intention of allowing himself to be slashed up to gratify anybody, and when the desperado came within reach he treated him to a blow over the head with his club which laid him out and for the time being rendered him harmless. He was conveyed to the lock-up and left there to get sober. No one appears to know the fellow’s name, but he is said to have “beaten” his way out here all the way from Chicago, and in that case is no doubt a character of the worst type. At the commencement of his spree he had a couple of companions, who also imbibed sufficient “firewater” to render them excessively jolly, though they did not apparently share in his tail-cutting propensities. One of them was subsequently found in the bed of the creek, soundly slumbering in a drunken snooze, and was forthwith carried to the same mansion of rest in which his companion was reposing.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 3 1883

 

TRAMPS.

We are told that there are twenty-five thousand idle white men in California, fifteen thousand of whom are in the city of San Francisco, and ten thousand scattered through the State. These men, with few exceptions are in destitute circumstances and are compelled to move from place to place in search of employment, and those who do not find it are indiscriminately classed as tramps, and set down as a worthless set of vagabonds and treated as such. They are looked upon as little better than thieves, and are driven from the doors of houses where they apply for food to keep them from starving, as if they were dogs. There is something in this that is revolting to our mind—this lumping of the good and bad together and making the innocent suffer for the sins of the guilty. There are many bad men among them no doubt, but when their number is considered, the amount of crime committed by them is very small indeed. No one wishes to be unjust, but the great difficulty is in discriminating. It is often impossible to tell who is worthy and who is not, and the result is that all are treated alike. The effect of this is the manufacture of criminals out of men whose natural impulses are good. Driven from people’s doors, treated as vagabonds and thieves, rudely snatched up by officers and thrown into prison as vagrants,naked and starving, is it strange if they learn to hate their fellow men and become the enemies of society? There is one remedy for this cruel state of affairs and only one. The Chinese must go.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 28 1885

 

About Tramps

The question, “What shall be done with the tramps,” has been frequently asked within the past week and a half, and Thursday morning our reporter heard the City Marshal remark something to the same effect. “Arrest them, and lock them up for a few months,” some one said. “We can’t do it, there are too many of them,” replied the Marshal, and he went on to state that there were fifty tramps encamped on the creek bottom Wednesday night. The creek was dotted with camp fires from the E-street bridge to the cannery, with here three and there five in a group, watching intently the contents of a mysterious iron pot which swung over the flames. The correct analysis of many a serious doubt might have been found in the bottom of their iron kettles. During the afternoon of Wednesday and the forenoon of Thursday, the side streets were almost thronged with these creatures, going from house to house, begging what they could and stealing where the chance offered. And yet this annoyance has no antidote; the County Jail would be inadequate to the demands made upon it were they all arrested, and in many cases nothing could be proven against them, and ladies do not wish to come into a police court and swear that such and such a man came a begging at their doors, and without some such positive proof they cannot be convicted of being tramps or vags.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 4 1886

 

An Officer Visits the Tramps.

Officer Charles made a tour of investigation through the willows along the creek in search of the festive tramp Thursday afternoon and evening, but only succeeded in finding nine, two of whom seemed to bo honest working men, the balance however, were as tough looking characters as one can well imagine. The two referred to were busy cooking dinner when visited by the officer, while the seven were scattered around their camp fire in sundry attitudes or laziness and. comfort. All nodded pleasantly at the approach of the officer, questioned him regarding the winter accommodations of the County Jail, number of meals served a day, associations, society, etc. All seemed disappointed on learning there was no library for the use of winter guests, and thought they would prefer the Stockton Jail, where they had been told the prisoners were allowed to attend church once on Sunday, and ail holidays were observed with an extra bill of fare. The officer was invited to join them at their camp fire and give them some idea of the class of citizens populating Santa Rosa. He declined the invitation, but complied with the request in a manner that would somewhat surprise some of our peace-loving citizens. He portrayed them as fire eaters of the most ferocious character that would not hesitate a moment in taking a shot at a midnight visitor to their hen roost or summer kitchen. His account of our people was delivered in such an unassuming, matter-of-fact way that the creatures around the fire were almost ready to believe it, and when be concluded by saying that there was some talk of organizing a vigilance committee, they were about ready to evacuate this neighborhood, and were profuse in their protestations of their peaceable intentions. After a few remarks of kindred nature he strolled on, and came upon another group of four, distributed in picturesque attitudes around the smouldering embers of what had once been a campfire, surrounded by suspicious looking carcasses, which he was afterwards informed were the frames of rabbits. This party was more reticent and less inclined to be jocose with the arm of the law. A little further on he came upon another party of three, all of whom were young men, none of them being over thirty years of age, and large, able-bodied fellows. They told him they had been unable to get work and were just starting out for Oregon, where they intended to take up land and become ranchers on a large scale. The spokesman of the party said that his father and family were in England and well to do, and were distantly connected with the Royal family; he had come to this country on a walking tour, and meeting his companions at the Bella Union, San Francisco, had accepted their invitation to do this county; he had been much impressed with the country they had passed over so far and on returning to his native land would publish a book descriptive of Sonoma county, it resources, wealth and industry, and above all things the romantic scenery along the meandering course of Santa Rosa creek. Another one of the party said that he was at one time a Bank Commissioner, that being unable to support his family on the small salary, had retired and was en route for the Geysers, where he was summering his family. Number three of the party stated that he was an artist and was sketching the scenery along the trip for his friend, the Englishman’s book, and would like to sketch the officer’s profile for a frontispiece. He stated that before the last Presidential election be had been employed on the Judge, but being unable to caricature President Cleveland was bounced for his inability. Altogether the officer was royally entertained at this bivouac, and wishing the merry party a good day he repaired to his regular beat within the borders of civilization.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 18 1886

 

Tramps Again.

The tramp nuisance seems to be daily on the increase. On Monday evening one called at the side door of the residence of a prominent citizen on Fourth street, and in a very impudent manner demanded his supper. The lady of the house did not feel like complying with his demand, when he began using threatening language and acted as though he intended coming into the house. The husband, hearing what was going on, came to the door and asked the tramp what he wanted, when he replied that he wanted his supper, in a tone which showed that if it was refused him he would come in and help himself. The master of the house, not caring to dally with the fellow any longer, picked a hatchet up and told him to get away just as quick as —- would let him. He went. This tramp seems to be one of the most cheeky of those who have been foraging in this town for the last two weeks. He has achieved a kind of reputation around in the localities where he has begged for food. He always claims to be in a state of starvation, not having eaten anything for three days. One family, who gave him a good supper, took sufficient interest in his exploits to put a detective on his track in the shape of their little son. The boy heard him tell the same yarn at several other places. When a good warm supper was temptingly set before him, he always did justice to it, generally managing to stow away something behind his blouse for his brave comrades. When he was simply given a cold lunch, however, he preserved the whole, and added it to the collection under his coat, which he in time deposited with his friends who were camped out by the creek, anxiously and tenderly awaiting his arrival.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 18 1886

 

An Uninvited Guest.

When policeman Mead went off watch at 5 o’clock Saturday morning and arrived at his room in the Santa Rosa House, he found a strange man in his bed. The man proved to be a tramp who had sneaked in and up to the first vacant room. The sight of the officer paralyzed Mr. Tramp and he evacuated without taking his spare garments.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 13 1886

 

Officer Gardner Shoots a Tramp.

Policemen Gardner and Mead had a very lively and interesting time in arresting four tramps, and landing them in the City Prison Saturday night. There were five in the party when first discovered in the lumber yard, where they were engaged in drinking beer and carousing generally. Policeman Gardner apprehended trouble and at half past eight they sallied forth, and solicited his brother officer’s assistance, On arriving at Tom Duffey’s saloon they found the tramps had moved further up town and were then busily engaged taking Mr. Duffey’s saloon by storm. They had succeeded in driving him to the sidewalk, where the officers found him standing, after having broken a dollar’s worth of glasses in trying to maintain his ground behind the bar. It was what would be termed in common parlance a tough crowd, and the officers knew what to expect and were not disappointed. They succeeded in conducting their prisoners as far as the corner of Fourth and A streets when one of the number broke away from Gardner and started down the street at as high a rate of speed as his cargo of liquor would allow. Turning over the balance of the prisoners to Mead and his assistant Gardner started in pursuit, and after calling to his man to stop several time, fired three shots, the last taking effect in the right arm of the fleeing tramp. This checked his speed somewhat and he was captured, when it was found that the arm was in a shattered condition. The four prisoners were lodged in the City Prison and their wounded comrade was taken to the County Hospital where his wounds received the proper attention.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 15 1887

 

TRAMPS OF HIGH AND LOW DEGREE.– There are quite a number of tramps in Petaluma just now. Some of them are high toned fellows, others are low bred. One of the latter rang the door-bell of the writer the other evening, just at dusk and when the door was opened made the demand. “Give me something to eat!” He was given leave to “take a walk.” Another of the Argus proprietors had a call from one of the tony class whose neat apparel and suavity of manners was such as to secure him his dinner, without any hint, either expressed or implied, that he could take a little manual exercise in the wood house in liquidation for the same. Moral – It even pays tramps to be polite.

– Petaluma Weekly Argus, January 29 1887

 

How they get Drunk.

The question is often asked how the tramps, who never do anything in the way of remunerative labor, manage to get enough to purchase liquor with which to get drunk. As they are never found in such a condition alone, but in bands of six and a dozen, it would certainly take $4 or $5 to fill them up. The secret is simple, if one may judge from the frequency of their sprees. One of the police force who has had much experience with this class says, that 25 cents serves to intoxicate ten of the hardest drinkers of their fraternity. The two-bit piece is expended for alcohol, from which they can manufacture a gallon of powerful spirits with the aid of tobacco and a root which grows wild on the commons. Hence it is that the professional tramp seldom asks tor more than 25 cents.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 5 1887

 

H. H. Atwater is ordinarily good natured and willing to furnish his share of provisions to tramps, provided they ask him to hand it out and be the judge of what they shall have. On Tuesday morning he was somewhat “riled” to find his cellar cleared of almost everything in the eating line. They had sat down and eaten a hearty meal from cooked provisions and strawberries – washing it down with some fine old sherry – and then filling a market basket with what best suited them. Mr. Atwater is like the preacher who was glad to get his hat back from an unappreciative congregation – he don’t want anything back but the basket.

– Petaluma Weekly Argus, May 14 1887

 

The tramps who have been stopping at the railroad bridge for the past few months, living high on fish and potatoes, have gently folded their tents and crawled into Jim Matthew’s barn to wait till the rain is over.

– Petaluma Weekly Argus, November 17 1888

 

We have entirely too many vagabonds in this city and vicinity. The good hearted people will have to quit feeding them or be overrun. It is mistaken charity to give alms to big, strong fellows who are too lazy to work.

– Petaluma Weekly Argus, December 1 1888

 

FOOTPADS AND BURGLARS.

[..]

The efforts of the officers to bring the perpetrators of the numerous robberies of recent occurrence to justice, are deserving of commendation. Thursday afternoon Marshal Lowrey and Policeman Jones arrested a man found camping in a sheltered and partially-concealed hollow under the lea of the creek bank, about a half mile beyond Appleby’s saloon on the Sonoma road. The camp presented a neat and tidy appearance somewhat foreign to the bivouac of the average tramp, and was well stocked with provisions. Its presence was detected by a thin wreath of smoke seen curling skyward above the tops of the fringing willows and which proved to have its origin in a fire burning at the door of a small tent. The man was somewhat startled on seeing the officers, but soon regained his composure and assumed to take their visit as a matter of course. After making a few inquiries and a hasty examination of the camp, the officers invited the man to take a seat in the buggy with them and visit the Sheriff’s office. He demurred a little, but attempted no resistance. On arriving at the Sheriff’s office a search was made of his garments and a small bag which had been picked up on leaving the camp was examined. On his person were found a good silver watch, a jack knife, a looking-glass in a Russian leather case, some cosmetics and a few other trinkets valuable only to the owner. The bag was found to contain a complete change of woolen underwear of good texture, several towels and napkins and two or three of those pieces of linen so essential to an infant’s wardrobe. While his effects were being inspected the man exhibited no signs of alarm or nervousness, and merely requested, as he was being taken into the jail, that good care be taken of his watch. He will be held for a few days to await the result of a further investigation of the camp and its surroundings.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 2 1889

 

Windsor Burglaries.

From the latest Windsor occurrence, it seems that Santa Rosa is not monopolizing the attention of the tramp thieves which are apparently infesting this part of the county. On Friday night the store of J. J. Lindsay was broken into and a valuable lot of merchandise stolen. Fortunately the thieves, in their haste or inexperience, overlooked the money drawer which contained quite an amount of coin. On the same night, King’s saloon was robbed. The loss, in this instance amounted to only $5 in money and a few quarts of liquor. The Windsor people are considerably alarmed and willing to endorse the opinion generally entertained, that a band of organized footpads has located in this part of the county. A reward of $130 has been offered for the capture of the thieves.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 9 1889

 

Tramps are becoming quite numerous around town. Extra care should be taken of valuables, as they are a light fingered set of gentry.

– Santa Rosa Democrat, August 9 1889

 

Killed by the Cars.

A tramp, supposed to be Fred Schmidt who recently served a short sentence for vagrancy in the County Jail, was killed by the cars near Glen Ellen Thursday evening. As the evening train was nearing Glen Ellen, Engineer Brown saw the man on the track a short distance ahead of the locomotive and just about to cross a trestle. The man had apparently heard the approaching train and was hurrying to get across the trestle. Several shrill blasts were blown on the whistle, but they had no other effect than to make the man increase his speed. When near the middle of the trestle he slipped between the ties and being unable to regain his feet or make his escape by jumping, the cow-catcher of the swiftly-moving locomotive caught him and rolled his crushed and mangled body along the track for a distance of eighty feet before the train could be stopped. The top of the skull was torn off and the face was a mass of splintered bone and mangled flesh. The clothing was torn to shreds and the body was crushed in a frightful manner. A jury was impaneled by Coroner Tivnen Friday morning and the inquest was held in Glen Ellen. The investigation resulted in a complete exoneration of Engineer Brown who had been arrested on charge of manslaughter and a verdict was rendered in accordance with the facts as above stated.

Sonoma Democrat, August 17 1889

 

Wednesday, Sept. 4, 1889. Mr. Davis introduced a preamble and resolution, setting forth the growing intolerance of the tramp nuisance in the State and the expense entailed on the county by the centralization of that element of society at the county-seat, and resolving that after the passage of the motion all tramps and vagrants confined in the County Jail be fed only good wholesome bread and water during the period of their incarceration. The motion was carried by a four to one vote, the negative vote being cast by Mr. Smith.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 7 1889

 

The tramp nuisance in this part of the State is becoming more and more serious in its import. The little jail in Napa contains forty-three of the gentry.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 14 1889

 

Casey, the vagabond who attempted to steal Will Polson’s horse one day last week, was liberated by the authorities soon after his arrest. No charge had been preferred against him, and he could not he held without an accusation.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 28 1889

 

Officer Yoho has a veritable tramp trap in the box cars at the Southern Pacific station. He has secured no less than four from that quarter during this month.

– Santa Rosa Democrat, December 31 1890

 

C. Crowfoot, the constable of Glen Ellen, was robbed of $97, Tuesday night, by a tramp who had begged a night’s lodging.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 1 1890

 

A Tramp Printer.

Harry Watson, a tramp printer, who subbed a few nights on the Democrat and subsequently held the position of pressman on the Petaluma Courier, is wanted by the officers of the law on charge of defrauding the Union Pacific Railway Company out of a ticket. Watson has quite a remarkable history. It is alleged, so the Petaluma Imprint says, that in Butte City he was arrested for arson, for setting fire to a printing office. About eight years ago he deserted his wife and family in Monterey. He had once lived in Monterey and run a paper there known us the News…

– Sonoma Democrat, August 23 1890

 

Struck by a Locomotive.

A tramp was brought to the county hospital, the other day, suffering from a fracture of the right thigh, sustained by coming in violent contact with a locomotive near Fulton. He is supposed to have been asleep on the track at the time he was struck, and his escape from instant death was almost miraculous. His body was thrown several feet into the air, and landed on an embankment quite a distance from the track. Though badly battered up, Dr. Shearer thinks he will recover.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 31 1891

 

There is no doubt that tramp life prevails more extensively in California than in any other State in the union, but the reasons are not confined exclusively to the glorious climate as so many suppose. While it is true that the climate of this State offers some inducements tor this kind of vagabondism, there is another reason why so many respectable farm laborers are naturally led to follow a rambling nomadic existence. It is an undoubted fact that on some of the large ranches in the interior of the State, the farm hands do not receive the attention that the farmers in other States give to their stock. The houses provided for their accommodation are little better than sheds in many cases and the men are crowded into them like sheep in a freight pen, and are compelled to sleep in bunks filled with musty straw or take their blankets and go outside. The itinerant farm hand in California is forced to carry his own blankets or put up with all manner of inconveniences, and it is but a step to professional vagabondism. It may be that the owners of the large farms are unable to look more after the accommodations of their men, when during the busy season it is necessary to employ so many, but it seems that an effort could be made to separate the respectable, hard-working farmer lads from the Chinamen, and professional tramps. Many young men go from the coast counties to the interior to work during the harvest, and none know better than they how vile the accommodations are in most cases.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 25 1891

 

A lady remonstrated with a tramp who called three times in one day at her house. He explained matters by saying he was accustomed to three meals a day.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 12 1892

 

The south-bound freight Wednesday evening ran into a tramp lying in a drunken sleep on the trestle of the upper bridge, north of Petaluma. The sleeping beauty was lying lengthwise with the track, and was thrown over the rail by the cow-catcher. The train was stopped and an examination disclosed the fact that the victim of the catastrophe had received no injury of a serious nature. The sleeper made an indignant protest at the rude manner in which his slumber had been disturbed, and was left to finish his nap.— Courier.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 9 1892

 

The five boys arrested for stoning a tramp, Wednesday afternoon, were fined $5 each by Justice Seawell Thursday. Three vags arrested in Yandle’s barn Monday night wore sentenced to five days in jail by Justice Brown Tuesday. Two Italians were fined $4.80 each by Justice Seawell Thursday morning for having slept in a box car the night before.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 17 1892

 

The board of supervisors of this county have made an offset to the offense they committed in reducing the salary of the horticultural commissioner so that work to him was, unprofitable, by reducing the diet of the tramp to bread and water. The tramps formerly flocked to our county and were happy inside the jail. In fact, one loafer threw a stone through a bank window and found access to jail in that manner. Now, however, the number of free boarders is gratifyingly small and the hobos make a big circuit when Sonoma befronts them in their wanderings.

– Petaluma Morning Courier, February 21 1893

 

A Remedy for Tramps.

The Board of Supervisors of Sonoma county are bricks. They have solved the tramp nuisance problem. At their meeting this month they passed an order directing the sheriff to hereafter feed all tramps confined in the county jail on bread and water only. Necessity brought about the order, flavored as it is with a taint of the dark ages. Sonoma county got a reputation abroad for the splendid manner in which it fed its prisoners. The consequence was that tramps flocked to that county from far and wide. It did not take them long to find their way into the county hotel, and the longer they were booked for the broader were their smiles as they walked into the sheriff’s kitchen. Every tramp in the State will know within a week of the change in the bill of fare in the hobo department of the Sonoma county jail, and it is safe to say they will make a circuit around that county in their pilgrimages to the northern part of the State and return. The action of those supervisors will probably prove as effective as it is novel. —Tulare Times.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 25 1893

 

Walter C. Taylor, of Portsmouth, 0., writes “The Record” that he read in a recent issue of this paper an explanation offered by one of the Coxey tramps as to the origin of the word “hobo,” and believes it to have been incorrect. Mr. Taylor says that the word “hobo” has long been in use in the West among the floating crowds of roughs. The term “hobos” had its origin among the French Canadians of Western Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas, and has for many years been a current slang expression there to designate rough characters or tramps, Next!

– Sonoma Democrat May 19 1894

 

Floating Population.

The town has been full of hobos this week, fresh from the hop fields and orchards where they have earned a few dollars which they are not anxious to spend for necessities. There is nothing the genuine hobo likes better than to get drunk and be idle. Several have been arrested by the peace officers, and some are now under orders to leave the city at once. One big stalwart “dago” looking fellow who has been peddling little trinkets without a license has been known to beg his meals and have money in his pockets at the same time. In a few weeks more they will leave Sonoma county on their annual pilgrimage to the southern part of the state where amid the orange groves and lemon orchards they will wander until locked up in some jail for the winter.

– Petaluma Daily Morning Courier September 26 1894

 

The Tramps.

Santa Rosa had her full share of tramps and vagrants this week. For some time these vagabonds have been holding camp along the Santa Rosa creek, but the floods have driven them out and they are flocking into town.

Last night the officers arrested thirteen. These were marched to the limits of the town today and ordered to leave and never return.

The officers decided that they will not feed any more tramps. As soon as arrested they will be imprisoned, but no meals will be given.

There have been a number of very hard characters arrested lately. the officers had a big battle with three, and were required to use a heavy club and do some shooting to intimidate them.

The authorities are determined that the town shall not be overrun by vagrants, and very vigorous measures are being taken against them. A number of buildings have been broken into recently and the people are considerably alarmed.

– Petaluma Daily Morning Courier, January 11 1895

 

Petaluma Infested.

The tramp army has made a recent march on Petaluma, and at present show no signs of evacuating. The hordes of unemployed that were unloaded on this place from Sacramento have begun to scatter, and neighboring towns are now overrun with the tramp element.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 19 1895

 

A Daring Act.

As a Democrat reporter stood at the Donahue depot Saturday he saw a dilapidated looking man of the genus tramp perform a clever feat, which was also dangerous in the extreme. The train was leaving the depot when the tramp ran along the off-side and swung out over the brakebeam of the smoker and got on the trucks. He forgot to waive a last adieu to the reporter, who was so lost in wonder that his eyes fairly bulged out.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 19 1895

 

A MULTITUDE AT SEBASTOPOL
People Honor the Cause of Bryan and Silver.
It is Estimated Five Thousand Crowd the Gold Ridge City.

[..]

HOBOS HAVE A TIME.

As soon as the people had commenced leaving their positions at the boards which served the double purpose of a fence to keep the crowd beck from where the carvers were at work and a table over which they received the meat handed oat by the waiters — this sort of a corral was invaded by an army of hobos, some with sacks, others with pockets long, lean and lank, and all with an unsatisfied hunger which Weary Waggles and Dusty Rhodes have a faculty of carrying about with them. This army invaded the corral, and when they left an army of locusts could not have made a cleaner sweep. It is said that at least two hundred of them had encamped on the laguna within the last few days in anticipation of a feast.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 10 1896

 

ONLY A TRAMP.

“Hobos arrested” This is the title of a news article in a late Grass Valley paper. There is no day that the story it chronicles is not told in other papers in every county in the state.

A “hobo” is a tramp.

A tramp is a man without home, or money, or employment, or friends that are able to give him food and shelter.

Sometimes the tramp is a woman; but generally women who otherwise would be tramps escape the hardships, the perils, the contumely, the hopeless hoping against hope, the endless despair of a tramp’s life by some forbidden route out of the world, or accept in lieu of them a crueler and deadlier destiny.

The tramp is a vagabond on the face of the earth. Every man’s hand is against him — not every woman’s, thank God! The laws proscribe him. The officers of the law hunt him down — for the fees that are in him! Footsore, weary, hungry, sick at heart, with a pauper’s rags concealing his nakedness, turning always from a hopeless past to a more hopeless future! Only a tramp! Drive him from the door! Send for the constable! In prison he will have time to think of the mother at whose knee he lisped infantile prayers ever so long ago, of the bride of his early manhood, of the little children who dwindled away and died because he was denied the opportunity to earn food for them!

Only a tramp! But he is somebody’s son. He was born to something better. His axe was once heard in the forest. His cheerful voice once urged his team afield. His hammer once made merry music on the anvil. Singing like the lark he once rose with the lark and went amain to earn his bread in the sweat of his brow at whatever came to willing hands. What a distance between those happy days agone and this day of shame and suffering and sorrow setting in the darkness of endless night!

Is it the tramp’s fault that he is a tramp? Let those who have made the laws which make the tramp answer on their conscience as they will have to answer at God’s great day of judgment. Is it the tramp’s fault that the government has taken a large percentage of his earnings to support contractors, office-holders, and bond-holders? Is it the tramp’s fault that protective legislation has enabled privileged manufacturers to increase their swollen profits by the appropriation of a considerable part of his earnings to their own uses? Is it the tramp’s fault that the producers of all the necessaries of life have been permitted to unite in great trusts and thus enabled to exact from his earnings the excessive gains which have made them millionaires? Is it the tramp’s fault that the finances of the country have been so managed by foreign and domestic money lenders as to paralyze industrial enterprise and shut altogether from employment two millions of men who are willing to work and want to work and are driven to the highway by tens of thousands because they are denied the right to work?

The tramp is sometimes a woman. Three days ago, two respectable women in Oakland, unable to find any kind of employment, after pawning their last articles of value for $3, “took the county road as common tramps.” “They have agreed not to beg, borrow, or steal,” the story goes, but will exchange work for food and shelter. “Of course if we can get steady work we will stay with it as long as it lasts,” said one of them. Brave women! Too brave to go to the Bay, Too brave to go to the brothel. Brave enough to take the road! Brave enough to be tramps! But when disappointments come — when they can’t exchange work for food and lodging — when the justice and the constable mark them for fees — when the jail opens to them as tramps — then what? God help the tramps!

– Sonoma Democrat, April 3 1897

 

Judicial Leniency.

Michael Henry appeared before Justice Brown Wednesday to show cause, if any he had, why he should not be summarily dealt with, under a charge of vagrancy. After he had told his little tale of woe and plead for mercy, his honor very considerately sentenced him to ten days’ imprisonment in the county jail. Working the prisoners in the chain gang is giving the tourist hobo a wholesome dread of Sonoma county.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 26 1897

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1906courthouse

THE BITTER VICTORY OF COURTHOUSE SQUARE

In the summer of 1883 most West Coast newspapers were complaining about the unusually hot weather; but here in Sonoma county, we were too busy complaining about each other. For months the air was heavy with angst and acrimony and there was no telling how long it would be before the winds changed.

The Board of Supervisors were determined to build a county courthouse in the middle of Santa Rosa’s plaza. Petaluma wanted the new courthouse in their town – which would make them the county seat. Factions from Petaluma were circulating a petition demanding a vote on the issue while also threatening to split off and form a new county. Meanwhile, the rest of the county was upset at both Santa Rosa and Petaluma for dragging them into their fuss. All of that melodrama was covered in part one, “HOW COURTHOUSE SQUARE TORE SONOMA COUNTY APART.”

Our story resumes in the third week of July 1883, when there was something of a lull in the fighting. There had been no mention of the Petaluma petition since early June, when it was said they were about ready to present it to the Board. Having already contracted with architects, the Supervisors now requested construction bids; it would be another ten weeks before they chose a contractor, and hopefully by then the petition matter would be settled.

Amid all that hostility and uncertainty, the Petaluma Courier published a terrific parody which describes a fanciful Supervisors meeting where Mark McDonald and (Santa Rosa Bank president) Elijah Farmer squabble over the Board choosing one of their properties for the courthouse instead of the plaza.

“…the stalwart form of McDonald appeared. He has done much to beautify and adorn the city, laying out an addition thereto and connecting it with Donahue’s road by a street railroad [horse-drawn trolley cars]…He demanded that the Court House should be on his addition and he swore by all the gods and goddesses of Olympus that he would ‘shoot down the man on the spot who should haul down’ one of the grand old trees on the plaza, and he strode up and down the hall like a viking.”

Farmer, “who owns a large part of Santa Rosa and has a mortgage on the balance,” then accused McDonald of being “…only governed by selfish motives to get the Court House on your addition and fleece the people by carrying them to and fro on your railroad…What do you care for the county,’ said Farmer, ‘so you fill your pockets.’ ‘Fill my pockets,’ sneered Mark; ‘much I’ve filled my pockets trying to help your d—d old town that is too niggardly to help itself…'”

At that point in the parody a letter from railroad baron Peter Donahue was read, offering land between the railroad depot and the creek “reserving a strip along the bank for the usual Gypsy camps.” The Supervisors unite in cursing the railroad; “During this storm the mingled expressions of awe, anger, fear and credulity upon the faces of the Supervisors was a study.”

There’s more, including District Attorney Thomas Geary “twirling his chair around and swinging it like a love-sick girl” as he shot down arguments from the quarrelsome lawyers. Read the whole thing below – it’s fun Victorian-era humor.

The Petaluma petition was finally delivered to the Board on July 23, where it was placed on the table while they adjourned for two weeks. “Would you could see the citizens as they passed in and out while it was thus ‘lying in state,'” wrote the Courier’s humorist.

When the Board members returned from break that troublesome petition was still sitting on their table like an unexploded bomb.

The Supervisor’s efforts at the next meeting to avoid dealing with the petition were almost comic. One of them suggested organizing a committee to transcribe the names alphabetically. George Allen, Petaluma’s Supervisor, argued they couldn’t do that because they had not yet accepted the petition to read it, so they didn’t officially know what was inside. (Never mind that everyone already knew its contents because the Democrat newspaper had picked it apart in great detail.) After some debate they voted to read the petition and consider the matter the next day, but not before Allen made an unusual speech in which he distanced himself from his constituents:

…Mr. Allen in reply stated that he was not personally interested in the petition, but he would represent the interests of his section. The petition would not interfere with the building of the Court House at all; he wanted to see the petition disposed of, and if it was consigned to the waste basket he would be glad, while he would not vote for it. It was troublesome and he would rejoice to see it disposed of. (Petaluma Courier)

After looking over the petition, the Board of Supervisors voted 5:1 to deny it (Allen voting to accept). Petaluma needed more than half the number of votes cast at the last general election, which was apparently around 5,100 (papers at the time printed only the number of votes per candidate, not overall totals). The petition had 2,591 signatures, which might have sneaked it past the goalpost – but then the Supervisors threw out 310 names for being unregistered voters, followed by 169 signatures of those who signed another petition asking their names to be removed.

Even worse, Petaluma screwed up bigly before submitting the petition. There were several copies circulating the county and someone helpfully pasted them all together to create one long document – after snipping off the header of some, because, hey, redundant. That legally invalidated the entire petition, even if every damned person in the county had signed it. As the Democrat helpfully pointed out, in 1874 the state Supreme Court had decided against petitioners in San Mateo for making the exact same mistake. Once a petition’s proposition is chopped off it’s impossible to claim what the voters had really signed.

Unwilling to accept the Board had acted fairly, Petaluma held a public meeting to discuss what should be done next. And unable to be a gracious winner, Santa Rosa’s Democrat called the decision a “cause of rejoicing” and charged that the petition was only a ruse to create a Petaluma real estate bubble. The Argus and Courier were outraged by the insinuation and repeated earlier accusations there was a “Court House Ring” suspiciously rushing the deal through. This editorial dueling went on for months; they all took to beginning columns by quoting some choice bit of idiocy from the paper on the other side which was a riposte to something they had written themselves, so the whole exchange reads like a tangled internet flame war. Around and around and around they went. Oh, if only they had Twitter back then, they would have been so happy.

To be sure, this was like no other building project anyone had ever seen; the same Board meeting where the Supervisors voted against the petition saw them debating whether it even would be legal to construct the courthouse on Santa Rosa plaza, much less how they could hire contractors without any money yet collected to pay for the work. (Those details are covered in part one.) But plunge ahead they did, and in early October gave a Sacramento firm, Carle & Crowley, a $80,000 contract to build the place. (For some reason the Democrat could never get the latter name right, calling him “Croly” and “Cooly”)

courthousefromathenaeum

 

Two days later, Petaluma obtained permission from the state Attorney General to file a lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors on behalf of the people of Sonoma county, requiring a vote on moving the county seat to Petaluma – to be held during the following year’s general election.

This was quite the large monkey wrench in the works. The Democrat bemoaned that fighting the lawsuit would be expensive and take years; “…suit will also be brought in the name of the people, by parties in Petaluma, to test the validity of the title to the Plaza, and it seems us though there will be an endless amount of litigation brought about by those who oppose the erection of a new Court House.”

The Argus reacted with all the glee of a French revolutionary waving a flag atop a Paris street barricade: “The will of the people may be thwarted for a time by chicanery and sharp practice, but in the end the people always triumph! The Court House Ring was afraid to trust the people to vote on the question of re-locating the county seat, and, whether they have prevented it or not, they must face the music on the same question…”

But the Attorney General also said Petaluma had a weak case – the Board absolutely had power to rule on whether petition signatures were valid or not. Meanwhile, the Supervisors had sold the property with the existing courthouse and the contractor had started grading the site and started work on the new courthouse foundation.

In other words, the Attorney General had given Petaluma a Pyrrhic victory. Sure, place the question on the 1884 ballot if you really want to – but there was no motion to enjoin the county and stop plaza construction or block the temporary 21 percent hike in property taxes that was going to pay for the courthouse.

By the time the next election day came around the courthouse would be almost finished, so voters would be deciding on…what? To abandon a year’s worth of construction work in Santa Rosa and start anew in Petaluma? To demand the state legislature split Sonoma county into two (or three) parts? None of the possible ballot items likely would have passed.

The fight was over except for a little wrap-up heckling and fibbing. The Democrat lied that the town founders in 1854 always intended to put a courthouse in the plaza (no). The Courier lied that the surviving town founders were planning to halt construction with a lawsuit (no).

Although Petaluma’s legal challenges were quashed, the courthouse project controversies were still not over. Santa Rosa had mixed feelings about the old plaza; the town didn’t take care of it except for the occasional spring cleanup. Still, it was the only park in Santa Rosa and the rare times when it wasn’t a disgrace the Democrat beamed with pride. (Visit Healdsburg to see how nice it could have looked – their plaza is almost exactly the same size and is quite nice.)

As construction began the Democrat cautioned, “…The utmost care should be taken of the trees in the Plaza, it not being at all necessary to disturb the two outside rows, and perhaps many others might be preserved.” A week later: “All the oaks on the plaza will have to be removed, and about sixteen of the other trees.” Soon after the Supervisors approved of removing all remaining trees except the palm. The rancor this stirred can be found in a letter from a former Santa Rosa resident who turned down an invitation to the big 1884 celebration for laying the cornerstone:

I received your complimentary card to be present at the laying of the corner stone of the Court-house, but it was too late for me to accept. It would have been a mixed pleasure had I been present, for I must have groaned when I witnessed the despoliation of the plaza and the destruction of the old trees, for the preservation of which we so long fought. A tree and a bit of grass is worth more than a Court-house. But I won’t indulge in any sentiment. I hope every ___ _____ who has a law suit in the new Court-house will lose it.

The new courthouse was formally accepted March 6, 1885 and opened for business April 3. The final cost was almost $85k, most of the cost overruns because they added iron plates on the floor and ceiling of the jail.

ludwigad1Within weeks, however, problems began to appear.

The paint on the four statues of the Goddess of Justice outside was checking badly; the paneling inside was splitting because the wood was unseasoned. But the worst was that the stairway was unsafe because the floor joists were too small to support the weight. Poking fun at the woes of his rival contractor, T. J. Ludwig – who did not bid on the courthouse contract – placed a joke ad in the Democrat offering to sell bolts “good for holding up weak court houses.” Workmen made a fix by placing a pillar in the basement to prevent further bowing of the joists but this proved to be an ongoing problem, with more emergency repairs three years later.

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a travel piece on Santa Rosa in the summer of 1885 and praised the town’s prosperity, elegant homes, Athenaeum and the business district. The traveler had nothing good to say about the courthouse, however. “This extraordinary pile – sooner or later to be piled in a heap of its own tumble – is already showing signs of internal weakness and external shabbiness…The granite steps outside, front and rear, are narrow, steep and dangerous; the whole structure of Cheap John order. If it tumbles down in five years the county will not be much loser, in case there shall be no sacrifice of life.” The writer added the public is not to blame, because they were “hoodwinked into the adoption of the plan.”

Problems continued into the next year when the cesspool overflowed and flooded the equipment room. Santa Rosa didn’t then have a sewer system (as discussed here earlier) and when construction was underway the options were either digging a cesspool or building a private wooden sewer to Santa Rosa Creek. The Supervisors chose the cesspool because “sewers into the creek at this point were getting rather numerous,” by which they meant the part of the creek next to downtown – they were perfectly okay with dumping effluent into the waterway farther west past the railroad tracks, as they would start doing in 1886. That it overflowed was another example of bad engineering by the contractor, like the stairway.

Flawed though it may be, the courthouse was still the most picturesque thing to see in Santa Rosa – as shown by the number of photos and postcards which still survive – and it’s a shame that it was irreparably damaged in the 1906 earthquake. And here’s the Believe-it-or-not! twist: You can still visit it today if you pop in your car and drive for a couple of hours. A (nearly) identical twin can be found in Auburn. See more photos.

ABOVE: 1883 Sonoma county courthouse sketch by Bennett & Curtis BELOW: 1891 Placer county courthouse design by John M. Curtis
ABOVE: 1883 Sonoma county courthouse sketch by Bennett & Curtis
BELOW: 1891 Placer county courthouse design by John M. Curtis

Bennett & Curtis were the architects here, and this appears to be the only thing built under the firm’s name. Their next project was to be the Humboldt county courthouse but the partnership dissolved in 1885 after Curtis accused Bennett of cheating him out of his share of the contract. Now demolished, that courthouse in Eureka also strongly resembled the one in Santa Rosa although the dome there was much more imposing.

The senior partner was Albert Bennett, who had been the State Architect and superintendent for building part of the state capitol. John M. Curtis is mistakenly credited with several projects because there were a couple of other Bay Area architects named Curtis in that era, but this 1892 bio lists his work to that date including the Mutual Relief Building in Petaluma, still there at 27 Western Avenue. His Placer county clone of our courthouse was designed in 1891, but construction wasn’t completed until 1898.

Curtis has numerous other ties to Sonoma county. In 1898 he partnered with William H. Willcox who has been often mentioned here, primarily for his ambitious 1906 plans to build a convention center and water park in Santa Rosa which would have transformed the town. As a partner with an architect named Rowell in 1905 he offered plans for Santa Rosa’s Masonic hall and in 1906, Rowell, Curtis & Armitage presented a design for the courthouse to replace the one that fell down in the earthquake. Too bad he didn’t get that contract; it would have been a neat symmetry to have him design two Sonoma county courthouses, 23 years apart.

 

 

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS.

On Friday it was ordered that in the matter of advertising for proposals for the erection of a Court House at the County seat of Sonoma County, that the Clerk is hereby instructed to have the notice to contractors published in the Daily Examiner a news paper published at San Francisco, for the next three weeks…On motion of Mr. Allen it was ordered that the communication and protest of B. Hoen against building a Court House on the Plaza, and claiming an interest in said Plaza, was read, and laid on the table.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 21 1883

 

The Court House

EDITOR COURIER: The Board of Supervisors had another field day on the Court House question to-day – on the location of the Court House. All the attorneys of the county were invited to be present to enlighten the Board as to whether they could get title to the plaza. There were claimants to the title and doubt as to the county’s interest. Geary opened the fight against the plaza and was immediately attacked by all the plaza lawyers – each talking at once and each observing that his view was axiomatic and he was a simpleton who thought otherwise. But Geary, twirling his chair around and swinging it like a love-sick girl, kept, like Apollo of old, shooting his arrows at them. Just then the stalwart form of McDonald appeared. He has done much to beautify and adorn the city, laying out an addition thereto and connecting it with Donahue’s road by a street railroad. He also locate the line of railroad to Benicia, sold the bonds in Europe at a premium, and is about to commence the running of the road. He demanded that the Court House should be on his addition and he swore by all the gods and goddesses of Olympus that he would “shoot down the man on the spot who should haul down” one of the grand old trees on the plaza, and he strode up and down the hall like a viking. Then Farmer, who had been an eager listener to the matter, he of the Santa Rosa Bank, who owns a large part of Santa Rosa and has a mortgage on the balance, came to their aid. “Why take the plaza? He had a lot on which a Court House could be erected near to the center of the city which he would donate.” “Donate!” said Mark, with flashing eye and curled lip, “yes, you would donate a strip on three sides of a block so narrow that a Court House could only be built in the shape of a tape worm.” “And you,” cried Farmer, “are only governed by selfish motives to get the Court House on your addition and fleece the people by carrying them to and fro on your railroad.” (In the meantime Allen seized a volume of law, strode inside the bar, pulled off his coat, spit on his hands and declared he would make the matter so plain that a wayfaring man, though he was a —- District Attorney, need not err therein). “What do you care for the county,” said Farmer,” so you fill your pockets.” “Fill my pockets,” sneered Mark; “much I’ve filled my pockets trying to help your d—d old town that is to niggardly to help itself. If I had spent the same money in Petaluma I should have doubled it.” “You had better go down and help them now,” rejoined Farmer, (Here Judge Johnson, with the gravity of a Roman Senator, stepped inside the bar and desired to make a few remarks. He was proud to say that he had been appointed Judge in Indiana by that illustrious Democrat, Governor Hendricks, That the fruits and flowers of –) “I would” shouted McDonald, “if I could sell at fifty cents on the dollar of cost.”

Midst the confusion, Judge Lippitt, with that bland expression and silver voice with which he is accustomed to rouse the Irish of Bodega to the highest entusiasm, begged to present a communication to the Board which the Clerk read as follows:

“Office of the SF&NPRR Company, 30 Montgomery street, San Francisco.

“To the Honorable, the Board of Supervisors of Sonoma county: The San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad Company hereby tender to your honorable body, and through you to the county of Sonoma for the purposes of a Court House, the lot of ground lying between the railroad depot at Santa Rosa and the creek, containing about seven acres and in addition will haul brick, lumber and lime for building the same free of cost, and will lay out and plot the ground in a suitable manner, reserving a strip along the bank for the usual Gypsy camps.
PETER DONAHUE.”

A dogged silence ensued and then the pent up wrath of years of forbearance broke forth. It was a vile attack upon the county by a bloated monopoly. The road had already crushed the county, depreciated the value of property and set back the prosperity of the county fifty years. “Yes,” said Proctor, “Santa Rosa, like San Jose, if it had not been for the Railroad, would have been the seaport of the county.” McGee would throw the rails into the Laguna and Allen would tear down the bridges. (Behold McGee with a bundle of rails and Allen with a bridge, Sampson, like, trudging toward the Laguna.) By and by Donahue would want his offices in the Court House and fill all the county offices with his minions. Before the rising storm, Lippitt, the tool of the railroad, fled. Henley then suggested that they make up a case and enjoin Donahue from controlling the location of the Court House. During this storm the mingled expressions of awe, anger, fear and credulity upon the faces of the Supervisors was a study. Finally, Allen seized the road law, his Cyclopian spear, and with extended hand and bent form shook it at the District Attorney in a triumphant manner and then sat down, while his face was illuminated with a rosy light such as gilded the face of the old man at the top of the ladder while the old woman and the bear fought it out below.

At this awe-inspiring moment Lawyer Thompson, with the air of Minos, entered the arena and, in a voice termpling with emotion, begged to present to the Chairman the petition of a majority of the voters of the county to change the county seat and there, overcome at the remembrance of the honors conferred on him and other lawyers of the county by Santa Rosa, as in vision he saw the Court House rise on the plaza at Petaluma, he sat down crushed and wept. The Clerk blew his nose, wiped his eyes and prepared to read when I folded my tent and escaped as became an ARAB.
SANTA ROSA, July 23, 1883.

– Petaluma Courier, July 25, 1883

 

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS.
On Monday afternoon on motion of Mr. Allen, in the matter of the petition of the citizens of Petaluma, praying the Board to submit the question of the removal of the county seat to a vote of the citizens of Sonoma County, it is hereby the order of this Board that the petition be received and placed on file, and that a day be set for its hearing. Mr. Houser moved as an amendment to the above resolution, the following: In the matter of the petition presented by A. W. Thompson of Petaluma asking the question to be submitted to the people to change the location of the County Seat, it is now the or[der] of this Board that the petition be received and laid on the table for future consideration. The amendment was put to a vote and carried James H. McGee Esq., presented a protest signed by him, and certain papers sent to him protesting against the removal of the County Seat to Petaluma and on motion the Board received the papers and laid them on the table for consideration when the Petaluma petition is considered. The Board then adjourned until August 6th 1883.

– Daily Democrat, July 25, 1883

 

NOT TOO FAST.

Our neighbor of the Courier, is rather premature in “throwing in the sponge,” on the County Seat question. He says: “Our petition having been placed quietly to sleep on the Supervisor’s table, will know no waking.” As we understand the proposition, it was merely placed upon the table till the Supervisors could find time, or felt an inclination, to consider it…

– Petaluma Argus, July 28, 1883

 

The Court House.

EDITOR COURIER: This week has been a sad week indeed for our city. The Board adjourned but left the petition of Petaluma on the table. Would you could see the citizens as they passed in and out while it was thus “lying in state.” Some with baited breath and hesitating step and a charmed look, as if looking for what they did not want to find but expected to find it. Others with set teeth and clenched hands with a kind of kick-a-dead lion, fear of a-live-dog look. Others with white lips and a vacant stare. All the attorneys are busy preparing briefs on the case…ARAB. Santa Rosa, July 28, 1883.

– Petaluma Courier, August 1, 1883

 

THE PETALUMA PETITION.

The so-called petition, presented to the Board of Supervisors praying that an election be ordered for the removal of the county-seat, is radically defective in more than one particular. It is not such a petition at all as the law contemplates, and hence, for the purposes intended, is not worth the paper it is written upon. It is not a petition at all, but several pasted together. Different pieces of paper with printed or written petitions upon them, identical in language, were circulated and more or less signatures were attached to each. These separate pieces of paper were then taken by some unauthorized person, or persons, and pasted together, in some instances the headings being preserved, while in others they were cut off and only so much as contained the names were used. The roll of paper presented to the Board, therefore, shows upon its face that it was not a petition, but several pasted together, while many names have been added that were not put there by the signers to the identical petition to which they are now attached. This is not a compliance with the law, which reads as follows:

Whenever there shall be presented to the Board of Supervisors of any county a petition, signed by the qualified electors of such county, in number equal to a majority of the votes cast at the preceding general election, praying for the submission of the question of the removal of the county-seat of such county, it shall be the duty of the Board of Supervisors, by due proclamation, to submit the question of such removal of the county-seat at the next general election to the qualified electors of such county.

It will be observed that the a petition shall be signed by the qualified electors, etc. The document before the Board consists of different petitions attached together. It may be contended that, since they are all for identically the same purpose, the law has been substantially complied with. This is not true however, as will be shown presently; and it will further be shown that the attaching, by unauthorized persons, of names signed to one petition, to another, is fatal.

We have before us a decision of the Supreme Court in a case that arose in San Mateo county, that is directly to the point. It can be found in California Reports, No. 49.

On the 4th day of May, 1874, a petition was presented to the Board of Supervisors of San Mateo county, asking the Board to order an election to decide the question of the removal of the county-seat. Two petitions had been circulated and signed. They were identical in language and, although neither of them contained signatures enough to comply with the law, yet, by attaching them together, there were more than sufficient…

…It is clear from an examination of the so-called Petaluma petition that it is made up substantially as was the one passed upon by the Court, and that, therefore, it does not meet the requirements of the law. It is invalid for three reasons; first, because it is illegal for the reason given by the Court in the case cited; secondly, because it is not a petition, but two or more attached together, no one of which contains the requisite number of signatures; and thirdly, because it is not signed by the qualified electors of the county, in number equal to a majority of the votes cast at the last general election, many of those whose names are attached not being qualified electors.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 4 1883

 

PETALUMA’S PETITION.

[illegible microfilm – many names were not on the Great Register – Allen proposed to withdraw the petition to end the controversy] …the Board very properly refused to allow the petition to be withdrawn, as the end of the present controversy might be made thereby the beginning of another. If instead of attempting to get possession of the petition again, Mr. Allen had proposed to indefinitely postpone the consideration of it, he would have shown a disposition to end the controversy; but, had the Board allowed the petition to be withdrawn, it might have been presented again at any time. The proper way to end the controversy effectually is to consider the petition now, pass upon its validity, and dispose of it. There is no question of its invalidity for the reasons stated by us a few days ago, and none know this better than our Petaluma friends; and, if the truth were known, we have no doubt, many of them are very well satisfied with the result, particularly those who subscribed large sums without any expectation of being called upon for the money. Our neighbors have operated upon our fears and had their fun at our expense, and will no doubt admit now that this was all they intended from the beginning, or expected. We are sure that none of them ever seriously contemplated a division of the county, if they did bait their hook for Healdsburg with that idea, nor do we believe that the people of the latter place had any idea that the proposition would be favored by the people of the county.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 11 1883

 

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS.

…Mr. Proctor offered the following: In the matter of the petition of citizens of Petaluma and elsewhere for the removal of the county seat presented at the last meeting of the Board and by its order received to lie on the table for further consideration, it is now ordered that a committee of three be appointed to transcribe the names on said petition and arrange them lexicographically for the convenience of this Board…Mr. Allen opposed the motion on the ground that it was out of order as the petition was on the table, laid there without being accepted and read, and was there and must remain there until it was taken from the table by the Board. The Board does not know what there is in that petition; if the Board desires to act on the petition it must be taken from the table by a majority vote and after it is read, then it may be referred to a committee…

[after some debate, they voted to read the petition. Supervisor McConnell said “a number of those signing the petition were not qualified electors.” Allen stated it was not required that a voter’s name be listed on the Great Register.]

…Mr. Allen in reply stated that he was not personally interested in the petition, but he would represent the interests of his section. The petition would not interfere with the building of the Court House at all; he wanted to see the petition disposed of, and if it was consigned to the waste basket he would be glad, while he would not vote for it. It was troublesome and he would rejoice to see it disposed of.

– Petaluma Courier, August 15, 1883

 

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS.

On Tuesday, the Board passed all the forenoon and most of the afternoon in examining the Petaluma petition, 310 names were stricken off…

…The examination of the remonstrance was then taken up. It reads as follows: The undersigned were induced to sign a petition asking that a vote be taken upon the question of removing the county-seat to Petaluma, partly by representations that the new buildings would cost a large sum and add to our county debt; and inasmuch as your Honorable Body has declared by resolution that the outside cost of said building shall not exceed $80,000, and the citizens of Santa Rosa have offered a site for the new buildings without cost to the county, and are willing to guarantee $50,000 for the present county buildings, now therefore, we, in consideration of these facts, and the fact that the County Farm and Hospital are located at Santa Rosa, and the equities of those who have invested their money there, and that Santa Rosa is the geographical center of the county, hereby withdraw our names from said petition, and ask that we be not counted as subscribers thereto. The remonstrance contains 169 names…

…Supervisor Houser introduced the following: Whereas, a paper purporting to be a petition has been presented to this Board, praying for the submission of the question of the removal of the county-seat of this county to the qualified voters thereof at the next general election, and it appearing to this Board that the said petition does not comply with the provisions of law in such cases made and provided and does not contain the names of qualified electors equal in number to a majority of the votes cast in this county at the last general election and that said paper purporting to be a petition is in fact several separate petitions, separately signed and fastened together by some person or persons unknown, and whereas a very large number of the names appearing thereon are signed by the same person.it is therefore resolved by this Board that the prayer of said petition be, and the same is hereby denied and rejected. The ayes and noes were called and stood as follows: Ayes, Gannon, Houser, Pool, Proctor and Morse. No, Allen. The motion was declared carried…

…Judge Rutledge stated that he had had no doubts that the Board had the right to let the contract, and that the only thing that made him doubt it now was the fact that Mr. Geary and other attorneys doubted it. There is no doubt that the Board cannot create a debt for the payment of which they will have to draw on the revenues of any succeeding year, but if a contract was let, the contractor could mandamus the Board and compel them to make a levy to meet the indebtedness…

…The question as to the title of the Plaza was referred to again by Mr. Allen, and Mr. Geary stated that while he did not doubt that the title to the Plaza laid in the county, the county had no more right to put a building there than they had on the county road. Mr. Gannon’s motion was then put carried… Mr. Geary renewed his suggestion in relation to securing an opinion from Judge Rutledge in relation to the title to the Plaza, and it was discussed at length. The Clerk was instructed to furnish the Board at the next meeting all that there is on the minutes in relation to the Plaza…

… On motion of Supervisor Proctor, it is hereby ordered that this Board now proceed to count and ascertain the number of names on the petition for the removal of the county-seat of Sonoma county.

The names were then counted, and it was ascertained that there were 2,591 signatures attached. The Board then proceeded with their investigation, comparing the names signed with the Great Register in the Clerk’s office. Printed Registers being excluded.

…Mr. Houser stated that Judge Rutledge was present and he could throw some light on the question as to whether they had a right to build on the Plaza or not.

Mr. Allen stated that before the contract was let, there were two questions to be disposed of. The first was the right to the Plaza, and the second was as to the letting of the contract, as he understood that before the county could enter into an obligation they must provide means to meet those obligations, and as the specifications stated the work must be commenced some time in September, and if the contract was let, the specifications should be modified. There being a question raised as to the language of the specifications, a copy was sent for. While this was being done, Judge Rutledge stated that he had not examined the specifications, and was not prepared to give an opinion as to letting the contract. In the matter of the occupancy of the Plaza he had arrived at a conclusion that was satisfactory to him, and that was that the County had a right to the occupancy of the Plaza. He does not think that Santa Rosa, as a town, has acquired any right to the Plaza.

A lengthy discussion followed, in which several members of the Board, the District Attorney and Judge Rutledge participated, as to the question of letting the contract before the tax was levied. No decision was arrived at, the Judge stating that he had not studied the matter sufficiently to give a satisfactory opinion.

Mr. Allen considered the questions of location and of the power of the Board to enter into the contract should be settled before it was awarded.

Mr. Curtis asked that the Board pay them something, that they were out considerable money coming and going, and they wanted the use of it. Mr. Allen stated that if the building was constructed the architects were to receive 5 per cent., and if it is not built, 2½ per cent. And that must be paid when the work progresses, but now it was not possible for the Board to pay anything until the question is disposed of…

– Sonoma Democrat, August 18 1883

 

Petaluma In Mourning.

Editor Democrat: Woe hath come upon us, and all is sadness on “our city by Salt Creek.” How our hopes were centered on the time when Petaluma would be the county-seat of Petaluma county, and all to ourselves, we would be watching the Healdsburgers collecting taxes to build a court house for their end of the county and the innocent residents outside of the two towns paying double taxes for the fun of going it alone, and benefiting us and Healdsburg only. Now our fond anticipations are rudely blasted —- not a vestige is left.

It happened thus: The Committee sent their petition with signers amounting to more than the required number. It was held back, and numerous feints at presenting it were made just to make yon Santa Rosa people feel good and to keep up the boom for Petaluma at the expense of the rest of the county, for we knew that property in many parts could not be sold if there was a prospect of heavy taxation to divide the county, keep up two sets of officers, transcribe the records, etc., but it helped this end of the county. Well, the petition was sent up and we thought the Board would receive it and place it on file and then they would have the Board solid for they would have virtually acknowledged by this that the petition was a legal one. But they didn’t. This was a stunner. Wiswell, Gwinn and Ellsworth were running the business, and they were flabbergasted. “They ain’t as green as they said they was,” said one. “Not much they ain’t” was the chorused reply. Then deep and earnest were the consultations. “If they investigate that petition they’ll find all them Marin county names,” said another. “Oh, we must get Allen to bluff them,” said a third, “He will tell them that everybody has a right to sign a petition,” and on this hope they rested. It didn’t work. Gloom and chagrin was depicted on the faces of the Committee, and of those capitalists and real estate agents that had not unloaded their lots.

There was mourning on Main street when Pearce and Tuttle came back on Wednesday, their banners trailing in the dust. Ellsworth elevated his voice and wept; Gwinn groaned; Lippitt lamented; Scudder shrieked; Hill howled and the mournful procession stood on the steps of the Bank, while Meacham mourned and Wiswell wept. They were grieved when they heard how Petaluma’s pet Lamb Geary successfully stood up for Pearce on the Constitution, and backed McConnell in his Legislative definition. Early in the day it had been determined to withdraw the petition. You have seen in the Courier that John Van Doren has a duplicate of 150 names that he forgot to attach. Well if they could have gotten hold of the original petition, and padded it out, the thing could have gone back with 3,000 names, and the fight maintained still longer, but even that hope flickered and died. “Never could get a lot of these fellows to sign another petition,” said one, and all hands agreed. Do yon wonder that they are blue?

Now obstruction is the order of the day, Allen will insist on every name being examined closely and if the remonstrances are brought in he will insist on every man whose name is attached thereto being summoned to show why he signed both documents. Time must be gained at all hazards. The Board must be worried and worn out. More than this, when the question of bids comes up, the same policy will prevail and if possible letting of the contract will be prevented. Every reason under the sun, moon and seven stars will be argued. You will see this sooner than I will. This controversy that can amount to nothing if it is brought to a vote, of the people, will be maintaintained as long as possible. I can see how the land lays if I am a

Bedouin. Petaluma, August 9th, 1883.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 18 1883

 

CAUSE OF REJOICING.

The final collapse of the movement for the removal of the county-seat must be very gratifying to the people of Sonoma county. That Santa Rosa was deeply interested we do not deny, but it was a matter that concerned every portion of the county. The mere opening of the question of removal and division had its effect upon the prosperity of the county, unsettling values and creating uneasiness. Many strangers who were pleased with the climate, soil and productions, and would have preferred to make their homes among us, were deterred from purchasing property, by the fear that taxes would be high. We hear this report from different sections, and of its truth there can be no doubt. The only spot that has been benefited is Petaluma. Upon the strength of the petition they were circulating and the rose-colored statements made concerning the prospect of removing the county-seat, a boom was engineered that caused many pieces of property to change hands at good round figures. The sellers have been enriched thereby, and the purchasers impoverished in the same ratio. We do not say that the movement had this end in view at the beginning, or that any of Petaluma’s long-headed capitalists saw a chance to make something out of it. We do not say that any of them availed themselves of the opportunity to unload. We simply state what has happened. The collapse of the removal scheme pricks the bubble and values will drop back to a solid basis again. We will take occasion here, while on this subject, to say that we cherish no animosity against our sister city, but come out of this contest without the slightest degree of ill-will. We wish her unbounded prosperity. We know she will prosper, for she is in the midst of a magnificent country, is full of enterprising and intelligent people and possesses advantages, the utilization of which will enrich her. But it cannot be denied that in stirring up the removal question she was controlled solely by selfish considerations and that, while she profited by the useless agitation, other portions of the county have suffered. The collapse of the scheme and the end of the controversy is, therefore, a source of rejoicing to the people of the county. It is dead forever, and out of the way. The county-seat will remain where it is and Sonoma county will never be divided. We shall have here a great a prosperous county, of which all its citizens will be proud. Taxation will be low, and many strangers will be drawn hither by the attractions which the advantages of good soil, varied productions, a fine and healthful climate, good schools, churches, etc., afford, to make their homes among us.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 18 1883

 

Misrepresentation.

[section of above article suggesting the petition created a Petaluma real estate bubble]

The above is simply not true. If a single piece of property has been sold here upon the strength of a possibility of the county seat coming to Petaluma, we have not heard of it. There is and has been a boom in real estate, but it is a healthy boom, founded upon a good, solid basis. A genial and healthy climate, rich, productive soil, good and abundant water, the best of school facilities, a country market that cannot be beaten in this or any other State, cheap fares and freights, pleasant surroundings and a community of God-fearing, liberty-loving, generous-hearted people, were the inducements for strangers seeking homes to settle among us. The county seat question cut no figure in the matter at all. In fact, many of our citizens would not give six and a quarter cents for the whole business – the shaky old Court House and all.

– Petaluma Courier, August 15, 1883

 

Petaluma’s Petition

The Board of Supervisors, by a vote of 5 to 1, having rejected the petition for an election for the removal of the County Seat to this place, at their last meeting, and our citizens feeling that the petition had not been justly and fairly dealt with, a meeting was held last Friday evening in Derby’s Hall, to consider the matter and determine whether the citizens had any redress in the matter, or any rights that the Board were bound to respect…Considerable discussion was indulged in, which resulted in the general belief that a sufficient number of qualified electors had signed the petition to call an election, and that the Board had acted in an unfair and partisan manner in dealing with same. It was finally resolved that a committee of three lawyers be appointed to investigate the matter and report their conclusions at a called meeting of citizens…

– Petaluma Argus, August 25, 1883

 

PETALUMA COMPLAINS.

A complaint comes from Petaluma that the petition for the removal of the county-seat, was not justly and fairly dealt with by the Board of Supervisors. We do not know of any proper grounds upon which to base such a complaint. It was found, upon examination, that there was not a number of names of qualified electors on the petition equal to a majority of the votes cast at the last general election. One of the qualifications of an elector, as defined by statute, is that he shall be registered on the Great Register of the county…The Board found that the petition did not comply with the terms of the law and so declared very properly. But there were other irregularities that ought to have been fatal to the petition. It was not a petition as required by the law and determined by the Supreme Court, but two or more petitions attached together by some unauthorized person or persons, and many of the signatures were written by the same hand and are not the signatures of the persons whose names they represent, nor is there any evidence that the person signing them was authorized to do so by the persons whose names they attached. The right of petition is one of the fundamental principles of our government, as the Argus declares, but when the manner of petitioning is prescribed by law, the conditions imposed must be complied with.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 1 1883

 

The Board of Supervisors, on Saturday, let the contract for building the new Court House at Santa Rosa, to Carle & Cooly of Sacramento, whose bid was $80,000 — the building to be erected in the plaza. They also accepted the bid of $26,000 offered by Wm. Hill and Matt Doyle of Petaluma, for the old buildings and grounds. The special tax levy for Court House purposes will aggregate between $50,000 and $60,000.

The Court House matter is again assuming a serious aspect. On Monday the Attorney-General granted to A. W. Thompson, attorney for citizens of Sonoma county, to bring suit in the name of the people to compel the Board of Supervisors to submit the question of the removal of the county seat to the people at the next general election.

– Russian River Flag, October 11 1883

 

The Leading Topic.

District Attorney Geary informs us that the petitioners were represented by A. W. Thompson of Petaluma, before E. C. Marshall, Attorney General, on Monday, while Judge Rutledge and himself represented the Board of Supervisors. The suit will be brought here, and a writ of review will be the first step taken. The entire ground was gone over in the argument before the Attorney General. On the question as to the construction placed upon the law by the Board of Supervisors relative to a qualified elector, Mr. Marshall held that that the Board were right, that the Legislature has as good a right to qualify petitioners as they have to qualify electors, and informed Mr. Thompson that it that was the point on which their action was based, it was not a very strong one. A qualified elector was undoubtedly one whose name appeared upon the great register, and such only could petition for an election for the removal of the county-seat.

From a general conversation among a group of Attorneys, it seemed to be the opinion generally that our Superior Judges would be disqualified to try the case, as they as well as most of the residents of the county, are interested in keeping the rate of taxation low, and this suit, if carried out, will put the county to a great deal of expense, and as it will undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court, it will be several years before it is decided. Suit will also be brought in the name of the people, by parties in Petaluma, to test the validity of the title to the Plaza, and it seems us though there will be an endless amount of litigation brought about by those who oppose the erection of a new Court House.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 13 1883

 

Suit to be Brought.

The following dispatch, received just before we go to press, is self explanatory: San Francisco, Oct. 8, 1883, Democrat, Santa Rosa:—Attorney General permitted suit to be brought in the name of the People.

T. J. Geary, T. J. Rutledge

– Sonoma Democrat, October 13 1883

 

COUNTY SEAT.
PETALUMA’S PETITION POTENT.
The Attorney-General Rebukes the Supervisors and Decides that the Petitioners Must Have an Honest Hearing.
Supervisors May Possible Defeat a Vote on the Petition
But There is a Vote of the People Behind That Which They Cannot Prevent or Influence!
The People are Indignant Over the Action of the Supervisors in Levying a Tax of 25c on the $100 to Build a Court House when They were Offered a Better One for Nothing.
Our Correspondent, “Lex,” Foreshadows the True Business! – What the Santa Rosa Papers Say on the Situation.

On Monday last, T. J. Geary and Judge Rutledge, on the part of the Supervisors, and A. W. Thompson, on the part of the petitioners for the removal of the county seat, appeared before the Attorney-General and presented arguments on the preliminary steps in the suit to be brought against the Supervisors to compel them to submit the question to the people. The motion by Mr. Thompson, which was opposed by Messrs. Geary and Rutledge, was for the privilege of using the name of the people of the State and its Attorney-General in legal proceedings against the Board of Supervisors. After a patient hearing of the able arguments of counsel the Attorney-General decided in favor of petitioners. We give below the opinions of the Santa Rosa papers on this point.

“THE LEADING TOPIC.”

Under this head the Democrat bewails the situation, and thinks the county will be put to great expense, “as it will undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court.” It has nothing, however, to say against levying a useless tax of 25 cents on each $100, for years to come, before it is ascertained whether the people want it or not – especially when a Court House is offered free. The following is its article in full:

[see previous transcript above]

“THE PETALUMA PETITION”

Under this head the Republican has a good-tempered article. It knows too much about the case to say that the county will be put to expense if the suit is prosecuted, and says as follows:

“…when a party believes he has a right to a hearing in Court, it is not the province, fairly, of the law officer of the state to restrain him from, or deny him, that right…Petaluma has really no case, no leg, figuratively, to stand upon. This is the opinion which the Attorney-General Marshall himself unhesitatingly expressed, after he had announced his decision, in private conversation upon the subject…”

THE PUBLIC PULSE

There is a deep feeling of indignation among the petitioners for a vote on the question of removal against the Supervisors. They went to considerable trouble and expense to secure a majority of the voters, and when their petition was presented in due form and in good faith it was treated with the utmost contempt. The Supervisors may possibly stave off a vote of the people on the naked question of the removal of the county seat at the next election – which the petitioners clearly had a right to ask for – but they cannot possibly prevent an expression of the people on the subject of the division of the county. That will be the absorbing question, and it will not down at the bidding of the Supervisors or the Court House Ring. The will of the people may be thwarted for a time by chicanery and sharp practice, but in the end the people always triumph! The Court House Ring was afraid to trust the people to vote on the question of re-locating the county seat, and, whether they have prevented it or not, they must face the music on the same question, though presented in another form. The representatives to the Legislature will be elected on the square and simple issue of a division of the county. The people surely feel sufficient interest in this question to vote upon it, and if division carries the day the question of locating the county seats will become a matter of easy and quick solution…

THE COUNTY SEAT MATTER.

…[The Supervisors] did all in their power to induce the Attorney-General to refuse us the use of his name and that of the State, without which we were powerless to act; employed leading counsel to make that opposition, who certainly made the best possible showing and argument to deprive us of the right of being heard in the Court at all. The reason of this course and of the entire conduct of the Board is patent. The majority of it is devoted to the interests of Santa Rosa, and it is that town which is making the fight, using the Board as its weapon.

The major proposition involved the division of the county; the minor, the change of County Seat. Unavoidably this minor proposition had to be advanced first and our opponents naturally seek to wear us out fighting that; hence they contest every inch, using the Board as their tools…

…Counties are divided and new ones formed only by the Legislature, no direct vote of the people as to that is enjoined by law, but the Legislature should be advised of the fact that the majority of the people desire the change before it would make it. How should we show that fact? Manifestly by expression of the popular will in some way the best of which seems to be to form, as to the next legislative ticket alone, a party to be called “The County Division party” or some such…
LEX.

– Petaluma Argus, October 13, 1883

 

BOARD OF SUPERVISORS.

[..]

At 2:10, the Chairman stated that the time had come for the awarding of the contract for the erection of a new Court House. S. Carle, of the firm of Carle & Croly, being present, stated that he was ready to enter into a contract for the erection of a Court House in accordance with his bid now on file. From some little talk that was indulged in by the members of the Board, it seems that Mr. Babcock, the lowest bidder, had made an additional bid in connection with his bid which brought it to a figure higher than Messrs. Carle & Croly’s bid, and they were the lowest bidders, their offer being for just $80,000. A discussion took place on the feasibility of changing the wooden girders proposed in the original plan to iron. On motion of Mr. Ellis the change was made. The original bid of the firm was $78,853, abd this change being made increases this $1,117, making the total cost of the new Court House $80,000. After the specifications were changed, Mr. Proctor moved that the contract be awarded to Messrs. Carle A Croly for the erection of a Court House in the central portion of the Plaza, in the city of Santa Rosa, for the sum of $80,000. Carried unanimously.

The New Court House.

The terms of the contract signed on Saturday, require Messrs. Carle & Croly to commence work on the new Court House November 1st, but Mr. Carle expressed a willingness to commence at once, so it is likely that the stone for the foundation will be got out immediately. This building is to be 110 feet two inches in length and 104 feet six inches in width, and will be built on the Plaza facing Third and Fourth streets. There will be a passage way running through it on the ground floor. The Plaza is 300 feet long by 280 feet wide, so that there will be a space of ninety-two feet on either end, and of ninety-seven feet on either side. The utmost care should be taken of the trees in the Plaza, it not being at all necessary to disturb the two outside rows, and perhaps many others might be preserved. It is expected that the building will be ready for occupation by November 1,1884…

Who They Are. — The firm of Carle & Croly, to whom the contract for the erection of a new Court House was let on Saturday, are located in Sacramento, at 1111 Second street. They built the County Hospital for that county four years ago, and two years since, built the new Hall of Records. They are now building a Masonic Hall in Stockton, which will cost $60,000, and are putting an $180,000 addition to the Insane Asylum at the same place. They have also in the course of construction at Sacramento, a Granger’s Hall, to cost $16,500, and a brick building for Waterhouse & Lester to cost $20,000.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 13 1883

 

THE ARGUS AND ITS CORRESPONDENT.

A very one-sided and unfair article on the County seat question appears in the Argus this week: also a communication from a correspondent that is no better. Concerning “Petaluma’s petition” the Argus proclaims in glaring head lines that “The Attorney-General rebukes the Supervisors and decides that the petitioners must have an honest hearing.” The simple facts in the case are that the Attorney-General decided to allow the Petaluma people to use the name of the State in bringing suit. He did not pass upon the merits of the question involved in his official capacity, but after hearing Petaluma’s statement of its case, and listening to the arguments of its attorney, he did, as an individual, say that in his opinion they had no case…Petaluma knows that it has no case, and does not dare to test it. It would rather hold this matter in abeyance and, while claiming that the petitioners were not fairly treated by the Board of Supervisors, talk up a division of the county. Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. Petaluma will find, if it heed the advice of the Argus and its correspondent, that it has made a fatal mistake. Santa Rosa is not afraid to go to the people on the question of division. They will never consent to the division of Sonoma, and if there are any political aspirants who think they can get office by stirring up a contest over the proposition, we advise our Petaluma friends to turn their backs upon them.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 20 1883

 

LOCAL NOTES.
All the oaks on the plaza will have to be removed, and about sixteen of the other trees.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 20 1883

 

In 1854, it was the intention of the Board of Supervisors to build a Court House on the plaza, just where the foundation of the new one is now being arranged, but they thought that, as the building they would erect would be a temporary structure, they would purchase the lots on which the old Court House stands, so that in the future the more pretentious structure would grace the Plaza. Their design is now being carried out.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 20 1883

 

THEY ARE AFRAID OF THE COURTS.

Commence your action at once, and win if you can. The Board of Supervisors, we dare say, are more than willing to meet you, and have the matter passed upon and settled. The people of Santa Rosa invite you to a judicial investigation. -Democrat.

Why this haste, gentle neighbor? The questions of re-location and division can not reach the people for a year yet, and we will be ready long before that time. You seem to be as anxious to get into the courts now as we were a short time since to have the Supervisors submit the question to the people. It may be now that we can get along without the aid of the Courts or Supervisors—and if so we will not give them any unnecessary trouble.— Argus.

The impression prevails that the threatened suit is only for effect and that there is no intention on the part of those concerned, to go any further with it than they have gone already. Being lawyers they know they have no case. They knew it, no doubt, before the Attorney-General kindly told them so. They propose to keep the matter in suspense, and make all the capital out of the fact that they were granted permission to bring suit in the name of the State, while they continue to tell a pitiful story of their wrongs and work up a feeling against Santa Rosa and for a division of the county. The game is too transparent and too well understood to succed. They have threatened to appeal to the courts for redress of pretended grievances, and Santa Rosa and the Board of Supervisors accept the challenge. If there is anything wrong, let it be shown. A failure to do so now, will be accepted by every unprejudiced person as a confession of weakness. People will say that Petaluma is afraid to appeal to the courts because she knows that the charges made by her against the Board Supervisors are without foundation.

We don’t intend to allow signatures to be obtained to a petition to the Legislature for a division of the county, or for a few men hungry for offices to get them, by playing Petaluma in the role of a martyr. We understand the game thoroughly and intend that the people shall, if they do not already, and when we say “the people,” we mean the people of Petaluma as well as other portions of the county. Many of the good citizens of that place understand the motives which prompt this last movement and have no sympathy with it. They don’t propose to be made cats’ paws of to draw the chestnuts from the fire for a few office seekers.

We repeat that Santa Rosa is not afraid to go to the people on the question of division. In the recent contest over the petition for removal, Santa Rosa did no more than correct the misrepresentations which were made to the people for the purpose of obtaining their signatures, and give those who had signed under false impressions an opportunity to withdraw. This was done not because she was afraid of the people when properly informed, but because of the misrepresentations with which they were assailed, Petaluma failed to present such a petition as is required by law and is now trying to make capital but of the fact that the prayer of that petition was not granted. When we say Petaluma we refer of course only to those who have put themselves forward as her representatives. It is a clear case now that they are doubly afraid – first of an investigation in court and secondly of a popular verdict — and hence they have changed their tactics and propose to go to the Legislature and ask it to divide the county.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 27 1883

 

[quote of paragraph 4 above: “We don’t intend to allow signatures to be obtained to a petition…”]

Now, neighbor, it would be really unkind in you not to allow signatures to be obtained to a petition if the people wanted to sign one – but they don’t. We will divide the county just as soon as the interests of the inhabitants require it, and we will not trouble you with any more petitions. You will be kind enough to allow the people to vote for or against candidates who are favorable or unfavorable to a division, when the time comes, won’t you? …

– Petaluma Argus, October 27, 1883

 

The tax rate in Sonoma county is $1.45 on each $100, but 25 cents of this is a special and extraordinary tax, levied to psy for the new Court House. Deduct this and the tax rate is but $1.20 on the $100.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 3 1883

 

We find the following in the Sacramento Record-Union of Tuesday: Silas Carle returned from Santa Rosa yesterday, where he is engaged in the construction of a new Court House. He says never in the history of the State was there as much or extensive building improvements going on as at present. The past year seems to have been one of unparalleled prosperity, and nothing gives better proof of this state of affairs than the permanent improvements everywhere being made.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 1 1883

 

Courierlets

It is rumored here that further work on the new Court House now building at Santa Rosa has been enjoined by the heirs of the Harmon [sic] estate. These heirs with Barney Hoen and Julio Carrillo claim title to, or some interest in the plaza upon which the new Court House is being erected.

– Petaluma Courier, January 2 1884

 

The Court House. — We caught sight of Supervisor Proctor inspecting the foundation of the new Court House on Friday morning and at once joined him. A report that nearly all the ornamental trees in the Plaza will be removed was denied. Four trees at the south entrance, and one at the north are all that will be taken out, and these are in the way of the steps. The foundation for the steps will extend to within ten feet of the north and south entrances, and perhaps three more will have to be added to those provided for in the plans. Mr. Proctor has devoted considerable time to the study of the details of the building. The chain gang is now engaged in placing the earth against the foundation and fixing the grade. This will cause it to be thoroughly packed and beaten down by the workmen engaged in building, so that when the Court House is completed, walks can be laid without any delay.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 8 1884

 

Amid a discussion relative to the new Court House and grounds, it transpired that a majority of the Board are in favor of removing all the trees in the Plaza except the palm. Supervisor Proctor objected, declaring that they were ornamental. Supervisor Pool also demurred. Supervisor Allen said that they would conceal the new building, and low ornamental shrubbery would cause the new Court House yard to present a much neater appearance.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 8 1884

 

The New Court House.

In January, 1883, Mr. T. J. Proctor, Supervisor for Santa Rosa township, took his seat in the Board, and immediately commenced a movement for the construction of a new Court-house… At the March meeting, the Mayor of Santa Rosa appeared before the Board, and offered to surrender any title the city mignt have to the Plaza, to the county, for the purpose of building a Court-house there, or to give any other location the Board might determine upon. A time was then set for hearing the numerous parties making propositions at the following meeting in April. The hearing of the Petaluma proposition having been fixed for the fifth of April, and that time having arrived, and they having failed to appear, on motion of Supervisor Allen the further consideration of that proposition was indefinitely postponed. Supervisor Proctor then offered a resolution that, whereas it appeared to be the general wish of the citizens of Santa Rosa and the people of Sonoma county that the new Court-house be erected on the Plaza in the city of Santa Rosa, therefore resolved that the location of said new Court-house shall be on the Plaza of Santa Rosa, the city having dedicated the same for Court-house purposes…

…in the constructon of this Edifice, it will require eight hundred thousand bricks (800,000) two hundred and forty ton (240) of dressed granite; one hundred and thirty-seven (137) tons of wrought iron, thirty (30) tons of cast iron, three thousand, nine hundred and twenty-two (3,922) feet of corrugated iron, — besides lumber and other materials. The foundation alone will require eight hundred and fifty (850) perch of basalt rock. The building when completed will be second to none in the State.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 29 1884

 

The following letter was received from an ex-attorney of Santa Rosa…

Sacramento, May 8, 1884

I received your complimentary card to be present at the laying of the corner stone of the Court-house, but it was too late for me to accept. It would have been a mixed pleasure had I been present, for I must have groaned when I witnessed the despoliation of the plaza and the destruction of the old trees, for the preservation of which we so long fought. A tree and a bit of grass is worth more than a Court-house.” But I won’t indulge in any sentiment. I hope every ___ _____ who has a law suit in the new Court-house will lose it.

Central Sonoma by Robert Allan Thompson

 

DENUDED OF TREES.- The Court House square at Santa Rosa has been denuded of all its trees which will be replaced by ornate shrubs.

– Petaluma Argus, February 28, 1885

 

The floor of the main corridor in the new Court House has settled somewhat in consequence of the floor joists not being heavy enough to support the weight of the stairs when filled with people. A pillar will be placed in the lower corridor to prevent the joists from springing at all.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 23 1885

 

The figures of Justice on the Court House are checking badly.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 13, 1885

 

SANTA ROSA.
Progress During the Past Year.
FINE BUILDINGS ERECTED.
Handsome Residences – A Complete Theater – The New Courthouse.

Santa Rosa is prospering and improving beyond the measure of any year in the past and her increase of population consequent upon the constant growth and prosperity of the county justifies this improvement in every form. It is not at all in the nature of a “boom.” It is warranted by every reasonable calculation of the future, based upon the soundness of present condition, and is substantial. During the year a total of over half a million dollars has been expended in buildings in the city, elegant residences, comfortable homes and stores and business structures, and nearly as much more will be similarly appropriated the coming year. The number of buildings completed is close to 100 and those in progress or under contract will swell the total to fully 140. This in a city of 5000 inhabitants can be accounted remarkable. Most of these improvements have been made by long-time residents, who have here accumulated wealth and have greater confidence than ever in the future of the city and the county, but with these must be reckoned a number of late-comers, who were attracted hither and made this place their home after having visited other portions of the state.

ELEGANT HOMES.

Among the dwellings are several which would be an ornament even to San Francisco in respect to architecture and elegance of finish and adornment inside and out. There are the stately mansions of A. W. Riley, one of the cattle kings of California, formerly a very successful merchant here, and the beautiful cottage homes of Messrs. Carothers, [sic] Ludwig, Byington, Grosse, Allen and Brooks, and the neat, less pretentious dwellings of other well-known citizens. In the business portions of the city the improvement is more significant of the increasing prosperity. On the site of the old Courthouse Judge Overton and M. Doyle are putting up a block of brick, for stores, with iron pillars, and the facings, front and side, of fine San Jose pressed brick. Down Fourth street – the principal business street – between B and the railroad depot, are the stores of Charles G. Ames and J. H. Glenn and others, and Captain H. W. Byington is building a capacious brick market and stores upon the site of his large stable, which was lately burned down. Those adjoin the Ames block, and the Glenn block is opposite, below the Occidental Hotel. On the corner of Main and Third streets, across from the plaza and the Grand Hotel, another brick, owned by Mr. Brown, a pioneer settler, and intended for stores, is going up, and on Mendocino street three handsome brick stores have been lately completed. Every one of these stores, finished or under way, is already occupied or rented.

A HANDSOME THEATER.

Further up Fourth street is the grand edifice of the city, the largest and finest of its order in the State outside of San Francisco – the Athenaeum. It is of brick, with a frontage of eighty feet and 190 feet depth, three stories high. The lower floor will be occupied by stores. Above is the theater, with a large concert or meeting hall in front, eighty by forty feet, and upon the third floor a banqueting hall of the same dimensions. The theater is very handsomely fitted up. The auditorium is commodious, and arranged after the most approved model, with capacious lobbies. The seating capacity is 1500, but 2000 can be placed without discomfort, and all assured a good view of the stage. Below are the dress circle, the parquet and orchestra seats, and the stage boxes. Above is the family circle, and at the stage end, on either side, are roomy boxes, to accommodate parties of from twenty to thirty, as circumstances require. The stage is broad and deep, with ample drawing-rooms at the sides for stars, and underneath are large similar rooms for the performers, ladies and gentlemen on opposite sides, with other rooms for the supernumeraries. The lighting and ventilation are of the best approved order, and the ornamentation and appointments up to the latest styles. The building will be in readiness for the theater opening on the Fourth of July, when it will be used for the literary exercises of the celebration and ready for theatrical performances. The architect and builder, T. J. Ludwig, is determined that there shall be no disappointment on this score. Ample care has been observed in the matter of speedy egress from the building in case of fire or panic. The front entrance is by broad vestibule, and an easy stairway of fourteen feet width on Fourth street, and rear stairways on each side of the stage, on Fifth street, so that the densest crowd that can cram into the building can escape in less than two minutes. The want of a building such as the Athenaeum has been a drawback to Santa Rosa in past years, and now that the city has the largest, best adapted and most suitable edifice of the kind in the State, except in San Francisco, the improvement will be appreciated at home and by the theatrical profession generally. The company who have had the public spirit to erect the building have performed their share of the enterprise in most commendable manner, and they deserve commensurate reward, as well as general praise, for what they have done.

THE NEW COURTHOUSE

It is unfortunate that the same praise cannot be given to the Supervisors who are responsible for the building of the new courthouse. This extraordinary pile – sooner or later to be piled in a heap of its own tumble – is already showing signs of internal weakness and external shabbiness. Not yet occupied six months, the main stairway inside is going away in places where it cannot be soundly repaired, and the panneling [sic] in the upper story is splitting, owing to the green and unseasoned wood. The granite steps outside, front and rear, are narrow, steep and dangerous; the whole structure of Cheap John order. If it tumbles down in five years the county will not be much loser, in case there shall be no sacrifice of life. It is possible that in some remote county of the State there is a courthouse as shameful and as shabby, but the proof is lacking. Of mean design, unhandsome architecture, indifferent construction and botched in essentials, the whole pile, from foundation to dome-top, is an unhappy compound of odious taste and wretched proportions. But the contractors have got their money, and the county must pay the bills for repairs. Sonoma is a rich county, however, and can stand the expense. A fine plaza was spoiled to make room for the offensive fabric. In a few years the people of the county will be ashamed of it, and it will in good time be replaced by a courthouse of befitting appearance and duration. It is just to state that although Santa Rosa bears the odium of possessing this deformity, because this is the county seat, her citizens should not be held responsible for the misshappen [sic] and offensive structure. In twas put upon her by those in authority at the time, who were hoodwinked into the adoption of the plan. As an awful example only is it a success.

– San Francisco Chronicle, June 23 1885

 

THE COURT HOUSE.

The San Francisco Chronicle of the 23d instant had a letter from Santa Rosa which contained certain statements concerning the new Court House that are disgraceful to the writer because they have scarcely an atom of truth to stand upon. If he is to be believed the building was miserably constructed and is liable to tumble down at any time. The truth is that the building is an excellent one in every essential particular and, although not perfect as a specimen of architecture, presents an imposing appearance and is an ornament to the town. The materials of which it is composed are first-class, and the work upon it exceptionally good. There was a slight defect in the stairway referred to by the Chronicle’s veracious correspondent, but it was easily and effectually remedied and at a very slight cost. The walls are intact, without the slightest imperfection, and, while it is possible that there may be a crack found in the panneling owing to an imperfectly seasoned piece of wood, or a strain of some kind, the correspondent has intentionally exaggerated the matter. These statements of ours will be sustained by every disinterested citizen, and now the question presents itself: What could have been the motive of the person who furnished the otrociously incorrect statement to the Chronicle? Who could have been interested in sending it abroad, and what could have been his object? Whatever the motive may have been, it was certainly discreditable and unworthy of any one having regard for the truth, or with a decent sense of self respect or of the respect of others; for there stands the Court House, a standing proof of the falsity of the correspondent’s statement.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 27, 1885

 

The drainage of the Court House is reported by the Superintendent to be in a very bad condition. The cesspool is full, and during rainy weather the surplus of drainage is backed up and overflows into the engine room.

– Sonoma Democrat, 9 January 1886

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