Santa Rosa was beautiful and smelled nice, a visitor from Kansas wrote; too bad the people were so awfully boring.
That pretty much sums up a travel piece written by someone named E. W. Ellis that appeared in a 1909 Kansas paper. A reader clipped the article and sent it to a local relative, who passed it on to the Santa Rosa Republican for reprint. Essays like this are rare finds and absolute treasures. What did you see while wandering around town? What scents were in the air, what sounds did you hear?
Most of all, Mr. Ellis waxed lyric about the front yard gardens: “…Every yard and garden fence is covered with a mass of creeping vines that are pink, white, yellow and red with blossoms from the size of a clover bloom to a cabbage. Many of the houses, too, are hidden behind artistically trained bowers…lofty palms, calla lilies, ferns, Shasta daisies, sweet peas, magnolias, etc., the town is filled with them.” From those yards came “the sensuous perfume of the thousands of fragrant tropical roses, honeysuckle, carnations and other blooming plants which the fresh green smell of the pine and fir prevent from becoming sickening…”
Ellis was also impressed by the number of bicycles seen around town: “Men, women and children ride wheels at all times and seasons, and they are experts, too.” Likewise remarkable to him was that Santa Rosa appeared to have no racial strife. “here are less than a dozen negroes in the town and they are members of the local churches and worship in common with the white people, being admirable citizens.” That’s a particularly important observation because the newspapers of the time rarely even mentioned African-Americans in town. (Ellis wasn’t so respectful to the Chinese community, however, writing that the flowers in their neighborhood were “to offset the odor of the garlick and other vile dishes.”)
Some of what he wrote showed that he saw Santa Rosa as an exotic place: He was surprised to find no birds around, until he was told that the surrounding fruit orchards were in season. He found it unusual that “All the restaurant dishes are without seasoning, and the signs on the wall read: ‘Patrons please pay on delivery.'” He found it odd that women did not carry parasols, supposedly because it was thought that the westerly breezes prevented freckles.
But overall, it seems that Mr. Ellis found the place a real snoozer. “Nothing apparently had ever happened in this town prior to the earthquake,” he wrote, and the people here are “living their lives away with little thought of the cares of today and none of the morrow…[as] the winds sing a drowsy requiem day after day, there is every excuse for a Rip Van Winkle existence.”
Ellis wrapped up his tour with the usual homage to Luther Burbank and the wonderful disclaimer, “all of the above statements may not be absolutely correct, but in the main they are.”
BONUS SOCIAL HISTORY NOTE: Another unmentioned fact of life in 1909 Santa Rosa was apparently the large number of stray dogs. In a letter to the Republican, a subscriber complains, “In Santa Rosa there are hundreds of tagless, worthless and often half-starved dogs, and the nuisance is growing. They prowl nightly through back yards for food…”
A KANSAS MAN WRITES AN ARTICLE ON SANTA ROSA
Tells of the Peculiarties [sic] and Objects of Interest
[The following article was clipped from a Kansas paper by a relative of a Santa Rosa resident, and sent to her with the request to know if all the claims by the article were true. It gives a good idea of what eastern visitors think of our beautiful city, and with the exception of a few statements, viz., that Santa Rosans are sleepy and do not appreciate their blessings, we heartily agree with all the writer has said.–Ed.]
Much has appeared in the Kansas papers of the merits and demerits of California, and our people as a whole are fairly well acquainted with the climatic conditions and health-giving qualities of the state from San Francisco to the Mexico border, including of course, Los Angeles and the Santa Catalina Islands. But so far as the writer has observed the territory north of Oakland, Sacramento, and all along the western slopes of the grand old Sierra Nevadas has been touched upon but lightly and is a sealed book to the major portion of the easterners.
Of the counties visited “above the bay” none pleased the writer so well as Santa Rosa, a dreamy, hazy, habitation of 10,000 people who are living their lives away with little thought of the cares of today and none of the morrow.
But with such beautiful surroundings of the low foothills thick with vineyards and blossoming orchards and beyond and higher up purplish hills covered with oak, through which the winds sing a drowsy requiem day after day, there is every excuse for a Rip Van Winkle existence.
No rain has fallen in this portion of the country since early March, but the foliage, the vegetables and fruits seem as prosperous as if April and May showers had been frequent. This is due to the heavy fogs that come from the ocean once or twice a week, at night. The days are bright and warm while a fire in the evenings and mornings is really needed with comforters and blankets for the bed.
April is the season of the year for “Easterners,” as they call Kansans here, to come to this country. Then the land is at its best and one can also witness the “Rose Carnival,” which is a feature of Santa Rosa yearly and is well worth seeing.
BEAUTIFUL SANTA ROSA
As the name would indicate it is a city of roses, every yard and garden fence is covered with a mass of creeping vines that are pink, white, yellow and red with blossoms from the size of a clover bloom to a cabbage. Many of the houses, too, are hidden behind artistically trained bowers, so closely interwoven that a bird can scarcely find a nesting place. This makes such homes a dream of beauty, then again it saves paint, and oh, the sensuous perfume of the thousands of fragrant tropical roses, honeysuckle, carnations and other blooming plants which the fresh green smell of the pine and fir prevent from becoming sickening. To one direct from the prairies and just winding up a transcontinental trip, over which sage brush and alkali abounded, the country seemed a very paradise. The yards and lawns are the most beautiful imaginable. But why shouldn’t they be. With a productive soil, an abundance of water, a climate that is model and every person trying to outdo their neighbor there is little to prevent them from being perfect. In one yard I noticed a Cedar of Lebanon, imported from the Holy Land years ago and perhaps the only one in the state. As for broad spreading, lofty palms, calla lilies, ferns, Shasta daisies, sweet peas, magnolias, etc., the town is filled with them.
One peculiar tree is the monkey tree. A sharp, thickly woven bark of thorns covers it, and it is said that it is the only tree a monkey will not climb. The citizens here do not seem to know, or appreciate, what a pretty town they have and that everything is out of the ordinary. To an “Easterner,” who is admiring the sights they only laugh and exclaim, “Oh, that’s nothing,” toss him an armful of roses and pass on.
To me one of the prettiest flowers is the yellow poppy. It is California’s native flower, even as the sunflower is of Kansas. It is known as the cup of gold and is the state’s emblem.
A half dozen little peculiarities are quickly noticeable to the visitor. First there are less than a dozen negroes in the town and they are members of the local churches and worship in common with the white people, being admirable citizens. Secondly, there are no birds. This seems strange with such a tropical vegetation, but it is explained that they have flown farther up the valley to the fruit lands where cherries are ripe. Thirdly, the ladies passing along the street carry no parasol. The soft sea breeze from the ocean, 20 miles away, they claim prevents freckles, and again, its too much trouble. Fourthly, motorneers on the electric lines are allowed to sit down at their work during the day. The service seems satisfactory. Fifthly, nonwithstanding this old Spanish town where hot tamales and chili would be expected to prevail, all the restaurant dishes are without seasoning, and the signs on the wall read: “Patrons please pay on delivery.” Sixth, nothing apparently had ever happened in this town prior to the earthquake of three years ago, although the town is a half hundred years old. The calamity was a severe one, whole blocks tumbling over and many being killed so “this and that” is always pointed out to the stranger as happening since the upheaval.
This is a great bicycle town. Men, women and children ride wheels at all times and seasons, and they are experts, too.
Santa Rosa has its Chinatown as well as San Francisco. A block of the city is devoted to the Celestials, and with a few roses and carnations within their walks to offset the odor of the garlick and other vile dishes, other portions of the city are preferable.
The older Chinese are, as usual, dull appearing, stupid and unobserving, shuffling along about thir business in their native garb. The youngsters are a bright little lot, however, flitting along the sidewalk like the English sparrows. Being “native sons” they adopt the American clothes and costumes. They attend the city schools and prove themselves apt pupils.
SANTA ROSA AS A CITY
Santa Rosa has two water plants. One is a municipal affair, solely for the sprinkling of lawns and parking. Each family is allowed 10,000 gallons of water monthly, after that a charge is made. For drinking purposes and household use a private corporation with a reservoir far up in the foothills furnishes clear, sparkling water at a dollar a month.
The Kansas writer is wrong in this. Three-fourths of the residents use municipal water for all purposes and it is pure and wholesome.–Ed.
The town is substantially built and prosperous. That is, the new buildings that are going up since the earthquake are and most of them are new buildings. Two of the most noticeable ones are the post office and court house, the latter costing $500,000 and a splendid affair with pillars like the Kansas state house and marble floors and ceilings. The four banks are as sold as the “Rock of Gibralta.” [sic]
The schools too, are on firm basis, the high school drawing many pupils from the surrounding towns and valleys.
HOME OF LUTHER BURBANK
But the pride of not only Santa Rosa but all California is Luther Burbank, the great scientist, who from childhood chose the plants for pets rather than animals. He came to this valley in 1875 and began his work of improving the old plants and creating new ones. Hundreds of new trees, flowers, fruits and grasses have sprung into being owing to his indomitable efforts. His greatest work is in providing a thornless cactus. This can be planted on the Arizona and New Mexico deserts, reclaiming the waste places and at the same time allowing man and beast to wander through without injury, the Burbank potato and green rose are other vegetable and plant creations. Jealous meddlers declare his paints for the roses and hired help to extract the thorns from the cactus have cost him a fortune. But as Carnegie donates him $10,000 a year, what’s the odds? He is also the creator of a seedless blackberry and is working on an odorless onion. His experimental grounds near the city is the yearly mecca of scientists from all over the country and indeed is a great curiosity shop.
An eastern friend who had visited this country told me I would be eaten up by fleas. But the statement seems to have been of a maligning nature, as I went to church twice Sunday and had no occasion to “scratch” during either sermon.
One thing they do have in plenty here, however, is chickens. Ranches surrounding the city nearly all have great flocks of them, while it is down at Petaluma the place is known as “Chickentown.” And almost in entirety the flocks are white leghorns, Plymouth Rocks and Buff Coachins being almost unknown.
Two town curios I almost overlooked. One is a rose bush with 10,000 blooms from a vine with a 65 foot stump. Of course no one has counted the blossoms, but experts say that is a low estimate. It is owned by a modest resident and the bush is almost as large as the house.
The other is the Baptist church which has the distinction of being the only church in the world built entirely from one tree. The tree came from the Sonoma county forests, and when sawed, yielded 78,000 feet of lumber. In addition there were three hundred shingles left over.
The altitude of Santa Rosa is about 150 feet about the sea level and the surrounding hills protect it from the frosts, but still few oranges are raised. However, at Cloverdale 30 miles north, splendid oranges are grown and great crops of them.
Having no guide book, all of the above statements may not be absolutely correct, but in the main they are. E. W. ELLIS
– Santa Rosa Republican, November 17, 1909
TOWN FULL OF DOGS
Several days ago in San Francisco a worthless cur dog rushed into a schoolhouse and severely bit three little pupils before the frantic animal was checked, taken to the city pound and killed. Cannot we accept that instance as a lesson? In Santa Rosa there are hundreds of tagless, worthless and often half-starved dogs, and the nuisance is growing. They prowl nightly through back yards for food and round in school yards may be seen daily these hungry animals, eagerly seeking the scraps of lunch thrown away by the pupils. There is a city ordinance requiring that a license be paid on dogs, but only the owners of the few valuable dogs here pay the license, or pay any attention to it. That seems like an inducement to own a worthless dog. A raid should be made on every tagless cur until the streets are clear. Of course, a dog pound cannot be made self-supporting, for only a few people sufficiently value their unlicensed dogs to pay for their redemption, consequently the pound man would be left with a pen of curs on his hands. Would it not be well for the city council to take notice? SUBSCRIBER.
– Santa Rosa Republican, February 9, 1909