Street improvement time! In the neighborhood that would become the Ridgway Historic District, the big news was that Benton street would finally become the town’s northern most thoroughfare, opening a straight shot between the Southern Pacific train station on North St. and Ripley Street. At the time, Benton didn’t connect between Glenn and Morgan (see map in a previous neighborhood article).

(RIGHT: Detail of 1885 Santa Rosa bird’s eye view showing most of the Ridgway Historic District. CLICK or TAP to enlarge. Image courtesy the Mark Parry Map Collection)

The Ridgway district is a bit of a hodgepodge because most it wasn’t added to the town as a single developer’s platted subdivision, with streets and parcels already neatly sliced up. As this closeup of the 1885 map shows, Benton Street then ended at Mendocino Avenue, which was called the Healdsburg road. (Want to be really confused? Cleveland Ave. was “West Benton” at that time, and College Avenue was also known as Guerneville Road.)

For a new street to be added retroactively, several landowners might need arms twisted to convinced them it’s in their own best interest to give away a swatch of land to the city, in the hopes that they would profit greatly by selling many small home lots on their former pasture or orchard farmland. Although this deal seems like a no-brainer today, great-grandpa sometimes seemed to have no brains at all; it wasn’t unusual to read in the newspapers that someone foolishly demanded the town or county pay full freight for some nearly worthless sliver of land. For example, that summer of 1909 ended a three year-old city campaign to widen Fifth Street and transform it into a sister boulevard to Fourth. What killed that vision was the unbudging price by a man named John McCormick for a ten-foot strip of frontage at B street (which, in fact, he might not have legally owned).  

In the Benton Street deal, the arm twister appeared to be our own James Wyatt Oates. In August, 1909, he was elected president of the Sonoma County Automobile Association and vowed to promote the “betterment of good roads.” A month later he was making a rare appearance before City Council and mentioned “property owners between Glenn and Morgan streets were contemplating the opening of Benton street.” And just five short weeks later, the property owners handed over right-of-way to the city to allow construction of the new block to immediately begin. Likely attorney and Association president Oates did the legal work gratis.

The only glitch in the plans was that there was a house at 1238 Morgan that was in the way, and the owner said she would move it to a lot on the new block of Benton street (this is probably the Italianate house at 322 Benton). County Clerk Fred L. Wright was renting it with his family, and stayed there after it was relocated. But Fred was slow in correcting his house numbers – in the 1910 census, he was recorded living at 1238 Benton Street. (Wright later moved, but remained close by; Fred, Bessie and their four kids lived for a decade or so at 425 Carrillo, a jewel that still dominates the street.)

Oates’ appearance before the City Council was also to present a petition that the city use Mendocino Avenue for the new 20″ sewer line, “to relieve the very unsanitary and unfortunate overflow of sewage during last winter, which everybody agreed was deplorable.” This was a surprising bit of news; at the time, a small item in the papers reported that the intersection of Carrillo and Mendocino was flooded because the storm drain backed up during a downpour. And there I was imagining the squeals of children splashing around in their wonderful neighborhood lake, not groans of disgust from nearby homeowners.

Also in local news for 1909 was the renaming of “Joe Davis” street to Healdsburg Avenue. Residents of that short block had petitioned the city council since 1900 to have the name changed, and finally won. Thus endeth another link to old Santa Rosa.

The bulk of articles transcribed below, however, concern improvements to nearby streets. Mendocino Street – the section between Fourth and College – was paved, and a load of crushed rock was spread on College Ave. The difference underscores the two faces of Santa Rosa; business streets in the downtown core were now mostly asphalt because of the exploding number of automobiles in use. College Avenue was still a busy farmer’s horse-and-buggy thoroughfare across town, not to mention the route used to drive cattle herds to the slaughterhouse from the Southern Pacific stockyard on North Street. College would still be pretty bumpy ride with its new coarse gravel, but as the PD noted, “It has been a long time since any work of a permanent nature was done” on that street at all.

And then there was the surprise that there were still wooden plank curbs all around town. Wooden street curbs hardly seem worth the bother, given that they’re likely to rot and fracture, particularly when made from a soft material like redwood. But that was the 19th century standard, and a Google image search reveals they can still be found in New Orleans’ preservation district, albeit in the expected shabby shape.

(Excerpts from PD coverage various city council meetings)

Want Sewer Relief
In behalf of property owners in the section Colonel J. W. Oates addressed the council and asked that the new twenty-inch main that is to be laid from the College avenue section to the sewer farm be run from Mendocino avenue instead of Ripley street, so as to relieve the very unsanitary and unfortunate overflow of sewage during last winter, which everybody agreed was deplorable.

City Engineer Newton Smyth said in his opinion the new twenty-inch main from Ripley street to the sewer farm would relieve the conditions mentioned, but would not say that it would entirely eradicate it.


Sidewalks on Benton
In response to a petition presented by Colonel Oates and other property owners the City Council ordered that cement walks be laid on Benton street from the Southern Pacific depot to Glenn street on both sides. Col. Oates also mentioned that property owners between Glenn and Morgan streets were contemplating the opening of Benton street through to Morgan, and the giving of a deed of right of way. Crushed rock was also ordered placed on Benton street from North to Glenn street.


– Press Democrat, September 22, 1909

Mendocino Street Improvement
The matter of street repairs was considered at some length and it was decided to remove the basalt blocks on Mendocino street, lay a base of Healdsburg gravel with a binding of crushed rock, similar to the roadway at the Northwestern Pacific depot, and then bituminize the street. All sewer, water, gas and wire connections are to be laid in the street before the work is done, and the property owners will be assessed for half the cost.

– Press Democrat, June 16, 1909

Mendocino Street Improvement
John S. Taylor and James O. Kuykendall have had the old redwood plank curbing removed and a concrete curbing laid along Mendocino street in front of their residence properties. They have also had concrete gutters laid. The work is a marked improvement and adds materially to the appearance of the street.

– Press Democrat, May 25, 1909

Now “Healdsburg Avenue”
Residents and property owners of “Joe Davis” street asked the council to change the name of that thoroughfare to “Healdsburg Avenue.” W. T. Hurt spoke of the existing difficulty on account of the conflict of names. The request was granted. The street is only one block long…

– Press Democrat, June 2, 1909

The old wooden curb along Mendocino avenue in front of the Riley property is being removed and is to be replaced by a modern concrete curb and gutter the entire length of the property. The change will greatly improve the appearance of the thoroughfare and add to the value of the property.

– Press Democrat, October 15, 1909

Work Commenced in Laying Cement Curbs and Gutters–Will be One of the Best Thoroughfares

The improvement of College avenue from Mendocino avenue to Fourth street has been commenced and Contractor J. D. Sullivan is at work putting in cement curbs and gutters. It is the plan to lay these curbs and gutters the entire distance between the points named and then the city will put down crushed rock on the thoroughfare. The advantage derived from this improvement will make College avenue one of the best boulevards in the city and will greatly enhance the appearance and value of property. It has been a long time since any work of a permanent nature was done on College avenue and everybody is pleased to see the work commenced.

– Press Democrat, October 10, 1909


The lack of lights on College avenue, where dirt has been thrown into the street from the excavating for the concrete gutter and curb, and piles of gravel and mixing boxes strewn along, makes that thoroughfare very dangerous at night. Sunday night from Slater to Humboldt street there were no lights and with the heavy shade of the trees along the north side it was almost impossible to keep out of danger. Unless more care is taken in protecting such places in the public streets there may be a serious accident and some one may be killed or crippled.

– Press Democrat, November 9, 1909

Noteworthy Improvement is Contemplated And a Number of New Houses Will Be Built

Arrangements have been completed for the deeding to the city of the right of way through several pieces of property for the opening of Benton street from Glenn to Morgan street. City Surveyor Smyth has made the survey and secured the descriptions to be placed in the deeds to be drawn by City Attorney Ware. When the deed has been prepared the necessary land will be transferred to the city for the purpose stated.

Property owners in the vicinity have raised the funds for the purpose of defraying the cost of removing the house occupied by County Clerk Fred L. Wright and owned by Mrs. M. F. Calderwood, which partially stands in the lot to be deeded. It is understood that the house will be moved around so as to face on the new Benton street, and in all probability a new house will be erected on the corner by Mr. Wright.

E. D. Seaton, who owns considerable frontage on Benton street, between Mendocino avenue and Glenn street, is preparing to erect several two-story modern houses on Benton street as soon as it is opened through to Morgan street. H. H. Moke, who owns the entire half block facing on the north side of the new street, and W. E. Nichols, who owns the other quarter block on the south side, are both contemplating improvements on their property.

When the street is opened it will give a main thoroughfare from the Southern Pacific depot to Ripley street and divide the drainage of storm water which is now all carried on Carrillo street during the rainy season. The street opening will be a marked improvement to that part of the city.

– Press Democrat, September 26, 1909

Deeds were signed and passed Saturday for the required land for the opening of Benton street from Glenn to Morgan streets, and the street will be opened at once. H. H. Moke, W. A. Nichols and Mrs. M. F. Calderwood are the property owners affected. Mrs. Calderwood will be compelled to move one of her houses which is now partially in the proposed street. Monday the fences were removed from the Moke and Nichols property and preparations are being made for the immediate clearing of the Calderwood property so that the street can be put in condition for use before the heavy rains begin.

Work is progressing rapidly on the other part of Benton street, which is being given a heavy coat of crushed rock. The rock has been laid from Mendocino avenue to a point half way between Orchard and Beaver streets. A number of the property owners are also laying cement walks along the street as ordered by the Council, while others are making preparations to do so.

The laying of cement curbs and gutters on College avenue is also progressing rapidly. The work has practically been completed on each side as far as Slater street and will be pushed right along as fast as possible. Both of these streets present a much improved appearance where the work has been completed.

– Press Democrat, November 2, 1909

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Another strange vignette from the 1906 earthquake finds a letter warning homeowners to shun smooth-talking hobos offering to do cleanup and repair jobs on the cheap. In truth, that was a light year for hobo sightings, so methinks that the letter-writer was one of those “reputable, responsible local contractors” who was not getting homeowners to pay the prices he was asking. Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley loved to elaborate on hobo stories, but aside from a brief sighting of “Tennessee Bill” and a couple of brushes with the law, pickin’s were slim.

Editor Republican: Refugees, some worthy, some not; hobos from everywhere and nowhere are finding that Santa Rosa is a veritable Mecca. Scarcely do they hit the town till they also hit some brother hobo who has taken the G. M. H. degree, and immediately he is set to work cleaning brick, shoveling debris, sawing, nailing, hammering, or what not, at a price that suits the G. M. H. The G. M. H. degree man very adroitly wormed himself into the confidence of some patriotic, kind hearted, enterprising citizen, securing a contract by smooth talk and underbidding all the reputable, responsible local contractors. Of course Mr. Grand Master Hobo has the best interest of the city at heart, and that is his pocket. He starts out with the full intention of working for the best interest of the city. He knows he cannot do along legitimate lines, so he calls his weaker brother hobo to his relief. Results: If contract is completed at all, a miserable botch job; our own legitimate, taxpaying contractor, journeyman and laborer, temporarily at least, laid on the shelf, the owner buncoed, the business man robbed to the tune of the hobo’s wages for he spends his money elsewhere. – CITIZEN

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 6, 1906
Man Upsets Serenity of Healdsburg Avenue Vicinity by Peeping Through Fences

Some little excitement was caused this morning in the vicinity of Healdsburg avenue, and College and Benton streets, by an individual who kept peeping through the fences of rear yards, and acting in a suspicious manner. This was noticed by D. J. Paddock, a resident of that vicinity, who made it his business to keep his eye on the suspicious acting individual. He finally lost sight of the man entirely, and then sought his good friend, Tol T. Overton, and from him borrowed a saddle horse with which to round up the man.

Finally the services of Officer Herman Hankel were called into requisition, and the officer apprehended the man and took him into custody. He gave the name of James Gordon, and said that he had been peering into rear yards to see if there were any wood piles he could get to cut, or any yards he could spade for the residents. He said he saw a man with “whiskers” eyeing him, and decided to get out of the vicinity. It was while escaping that Hankel captured the man, some distance from the section where he had caused such uneasiness by his peering around.

The neighbors breathed easier after Hankel had taken the man into custody. He has probably learned a valuable lesson from his experience, that it is not well to peer through fences into yards and act in a suspicious manner. Gordon is a genuine hobo.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 29, 1906
“Tennessee Bill” is Glad

Charles Cornelius Tennessee Goforth, one of the best known characters of the state, who was released on Monday by City Recorder Bagley on a charge of drunkenness, was before Justice Atchinson yesterday charged with disturbing the peace. Tennessee is noted for his voice and when he gets a little too much liquor aboard he lets it be heard in a yell which startles the whole city. Yesterday morning he mounted the court house steps and expressed his joy at again being in town after an absence of a year and a half. Justice Atchinson gave him fifteen days in the county jail to entertain him while here. Goforth came to California in 1856 from Tennessee and since 1858 has been a resident of the state.

– Press Democrat, February 28, 1906
Cheery Greeting Given Man From Healdsburg When He Entered Jail Here on Thursday

“Hello, Lapmin, you here again.” This was the cheery greeting given an elderly man Thursday afternoon as he passed through the portals of the county jail on Third street, escorted by City Marshal Parker of Healdsburg, by Jailer Serafino Piezzi.

“Yes, I have come to stay with you again for a time,” was the rejoinder. Piezzi had recognized in O. Lapmin on sight, a former boarder at the Hotel de Grace.

The man was sent here by Justice Provines for sixty day for vagrancy. On the pretense that he was the owner of a valuable stallion, that he had money in the bank, that he had worked for a Healdsburg citizen and was owed a considerable sum of money, that he had a large ranch in Humboldt county and that his sons there also had ranches–goodness knows how many more reasons–he had fed well and fattened at the residence of a respected old lady in Healdsburg who takes in boarders. Finally it was proved that he was minus all the worldly possessions he claimed. Then for a week past, it is said, he imbibed quite freely and sought the shade of the plaza benches in the northern capital to “sleep it off.” He was dozing peacefully more than once when the majesty of the law as represented in the Healdsburg marshal descended upon him and finally he went “up against” Judge Provines, who suggested that sixty days of more enforced rest would be about the thing for him.

– Press Democrat, August 24, 1906

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This is a complete puzzler. Why did these people rise up to fight sidewalks? Were the residents expected to donate the front of their property for the pavement, or pay for it? Was this a spite petition against the neighbors behind the earlier petition? The stretch of Benton St. under dispute was between Mendocino Avenue (then Healdsburg Ave.) and North Street. And yes, the street has sidewalks today. Update: Yes, the City Council was ordering property owners to lay cement sidewalks at their own expense.

(An unrelated item in this article concerning a liquor license is not included here.)


Among the petitions and communications presented to the Common Council last evening was a lengthy protests from residents of Benton street against laying of cement sidewalks on that thoroughfare…

The protest against the cement sidewalks was signed by property owners representing 3916 feet out of a total 4430 feet. A previous petition asked the Council to order cement sidewalks constructed on that thoroughfare from Healdsburg avenue to the Southern Pacific depot. It was pointed out in the protest that there were six blocks of land covered by the petition and protest of 300 feet each and one block of 415 feet. On both sides of the street this made a total of 4430 feet. The matter was referred to the Street Committee.


– Santa Rosa Republican, November 16, 1904

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