December 14 should be a red-letter day at the Press Democrat; it was then in 1912 when Ernest Finley married Ruth Woolsey. Not only was this the founding of a little publishing dynasty which would endure until the PD was sold in 1985, but that date serves as a fair marker for the moment Santa Rosa became a one-newspaper town – five days earlier, editor Finley’s old rival at the Santa Rosa Republican, Allan Lemmon, sold his interests in that paper and retired.

(Detail of 1923 photo of Ernest Latimer Finley at his desk in the Press Democrat office. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Before diving into that history, a few comments about the modern Press Democrat, which just introduced a revamp of the paper. Few may notice the changes – local news on the front page, a weekly outdoors section and more food coverage, amid other tweaks. Publisher Catherine Barnett says over 1,500 commented about what they wanted to see in the PD and her take-away was the readership mainly wanted the paper to keep on doing a fantastic job. She couldn’t even go to a party or wine tasting “without someone wanting to go off in a corner and discuss what mattered most about our coverage.” Apparently the local know-it-alls have mastered the gentle art of flattering criticism to a degree of which I was unaware.

But the real issues are not trivial things such as page layouts or the balance between lifestyle coverage and opinion. That’s a false dichotomy – like asking Santa Rosans whether cinnamon or saffron is their all-time favorite spice. The main problem with today’s Press Democrat is there’s so little of it. The pages are slim and few, with the newspaper nearly disappearing entirely on Mondays and Tuesdays. For years the newsroom has been reduced to an overworked skeleton crew. With rare exceptions – such as the outstanding coverage of the Valley Fire – local news coverage is largely picking low-hanging fruit from press releases, squawks from the police scanner and appeals to readers for story content. Just a few years ago when the PD was flush with profits this would have been called lazy journalism; today you have to feel sorry for everyone involved. Unless Catherine Barnett is able to rebuild the newsroom and offer a more substantial newspaper, she’s only pushing around deck chairs on the Titanic.

Although Santa Rosa was ten times smaller a hundred years ago, the PD still managed to fill three or four pages every day with local news. Some of it appealed to a pretty narrow readership, but better to not risk the item appearing only in the competition. And that was the big difference between then and now: Santa Rosa was a two newspaper town, although that comes with a big asterisk.

Ernest Finley’s Press Democrat was a morning paper focused on Santa Rosa, particularly development and commercial interests. For many years Finley was president of the Chamber of Commerce so it’s no surprise the PD was their voice. Allen Lemmon’s Santa Rosa Republican was a smaller evening paper mostly directed at farmers; every week there was an item covering the doings in each of the small towns in the area.

Until Lemmon’s 1912 retirement, he and Finley were something of Santa Rosa’s editorial odd couple, and not just because of the different Democrat/Republican allegiances. They even looked the part; the two can be seen together in a 1909 Chamber of Commerce group photo with Lemmon looming over Finley’s right shoulder, looking for all the world like a rumpled Walter Matthau, with Finley resembling a tightly-wound Tony Randall.

They were men of different generations. Lemmon was born in 1847 and before coming to Santa Rosa had a career in Kansas, where he was a teacher and superintendent of schools while also editing a weekly paper. He was a progressive in the vein of Teddy Roosevelt and when he bought the Republican in 1887, was a good counterbalance to Thomas Thompson, the Sonoma Democrat editor still nursing a grudge over the South losing the Civil War.

Finley was 23 years younger and had lived in Santa Rosa since childhood. He had no newspaper experience at all when he and two friends began a small paper called the Evening Press in 1895 with him as the publisher and Grant Richards as editor. When the Democrat became available in 1897 the three formed a corporation with bankers Overton and Reynolds and bought it. Less than a year later, Finley became editor of the hybrid Press Democrat after Grant Richards had a nervous breakdown and killed himself with a shotgun.

At the turn of the century Finley was still a young man of 29 and a brash conservative, eager to pick a fight in his paper. The person he most often tried to beat up was poor old Allen Lemmon, while during election years he also defended the status quo and attacked the reformers who wanted to clean up Santa Rosa; for more on those dust-ups, read “THE MANY WARS OF ERNEST FINLEY.”

(Cartoon of Allan B. Lemmon from the San Francisco Call, 1896)

The last salvos in the Finley-Lemmon battle came in February 1911. Finley ‘dissed the Republican as the “Evening Blowhard” and Lemmon shot back by calling him “Egotist Latitude Finley, whose brightness is never seen in the columns of the paper over which he is called to preside.” A couple of weeks later they both went nuclear over Fred J. Wiseman’s airmail flight in an exchange where they forgot all about Wiseman and just lobbed insults at one another. No one would have been surprised to find either of them setting bear traps outside the other guy’s door.

But after that, peace. Both newspapers supported women’s suffrage in the historic vote later that year and they even made it through the big elections of 1912 without drawing knives. What happened?

Partial credit probably goes to Finley’s bride-to-be Ruth Woolsey – or at least, his desire to marry and settle down. In late 1911 he pushed a wheelbarrow with a bale of hops ten miles to settle a bet, accompanied by an entourage of twenty-somethings including Ruth, and with the money from the bet he treated them to a night out in San Francisco. Or maybe he decided at age 42 it was time to grow up.

Allan Lemmon likely also just lost the heart to fight. He was 65; even though his newspaper was apparently then entirely edited by partner J. Elmer Mobley, it too seemed old and tired.

As the newlywed Finleys left for their honeymoon, a new company took over the Republican. Among the owners were Rolfe L. Thompson, leader of the reformers in town, and head of the new company was none other than attorney James Wyatt Oates, himself a former editor and writer. For a time the Santa Rosa Republican was a lively read and the arguably the better paper in town, but Finley had the greater readership, and with it greater influence. As WWI approached the Republican settled into being more like the paper it was under Lemmon – the loyal opposition to the Press Democrat, which was to everyone’s loss.

How fortunate for us all that Santa Rosa has its EVENING BLOWHARD. If it were not for that enterprising sheet, we might all still be laboring under the mistaken apprehension that the big show was to be pulled off in Kamchatka or “some other foreign seaport.”

– Press Democrat editorial, February 1, 1911



“The Chinatown Trunk Mystery,” a wierd [sic] melodrama of the old Central Theatre type–and then some–held down the boards Wednesday evening at the Columbia. The performance was about what was to be expected, considering the lurid character of the paper displayed on the billboards about town. A local Chinaman accompanied by a police officer in plain clothes was on hand, ostensibly to represent the Chinese Vice Consul. The latter feature was only part of a somewhat, overdone advertising scheme, however, and fooled nobody except one bright young man connected with the afternoon paper.

– Press Democrat editorial, February 2, 1911



Perhaps the best thing about the performance at the Columbia theater on Wednesday evening was the orchestrations between the acts. Leader Bud Parks and his musicians rendered some lively two steps which were decidedly pleasing. The performance was mediocre, but nevertheless attracted quite a large audience, when the threatening and inclement weather is taken into consideration.

Thee is little chance for acting in the piece, and those who presented it did not attempt the impossible. The protest sent by Consul General Li Young-Yew resulted in Chief of Police John M. Boyes sending an officer with a delegation of three prominent Chinese of the local colony to the theater to see that nothing immoral was permitted. Egotist Latitude Finley, whose brightness is never seen in the columns of the paper over which he is called to preside, by grace of its actual owner, attempted some funny stunts in his “dramatic criticism” of the play, and shows his asinine qualities more than previously.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 2, 1911


To Lead Miss Woolsey to Altar in Near Future

Some time before the holidays Editor Ernest L. Finley will wed Miss Ruth Woolsey. For some time past the friends of the couple have anticipated the announcement, and now that it is known, they are receiving the congratulations of their wide circle of friends.

Miss Woolsey is the daughter of Frank Woolsey of Woolsey station. She is a social favorite here and around the bay. She is a pretty girl with charming ways, which have made her popular with all who know her.

Mr. Finley is editor of the Press Democrat and needs no introduction to the people of Sonoma county, as he has taken a prominent part in the affairs of this section for some time. He is a member of the Elks and other fraternal organizations.

Owing to death recently in each of the families of the contracting parties, the wedding will be a quiet one.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 14, 1912


Allen B. Lemmon to Dispose of His Interest

Articles of incorporation of the Santa Rosa Republican Company have been filed with County Clerk William W. Felt, Jr. The capital stock of the company is fixed at $24,000, and each member of the board of directors of the corporation has subscribed for two shares of the stock.

The board of directors consists of J. Elmer Mobley, James W. Oates, R. L. Thompson, Charles C. Belden and Mrs. Pearl J. Mobley.

It is the purpose of the new corporation to take over the Santa Rosa REPUBLICAN, which Messrs. Allen B. Lemmon and J. Elmer Mobley have conducted since the big fire of 1906 as a co-partnership. The formal transfer of the property will take place in a few days.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 27, 1912


Stock Company Formed to Take Over His Interests in the Santa Rosa Republican–Articles Filed

Allen B. Lemmon, the well known editor of the Evening Republican, has announced his intended retirement from the newspaper field. On Wednesday articles of incorporation of the Santa Rosa Republican Company were filed with County Clerk. The object of the company is to take over Mr. Lemmon’s interest in the paper above named. The company is incorporated, for $24,000, and the directors named are Rolfe L. Thompson, J. E. Mobley, James W. Oates, C. C. Belden and Pearl Mobley. Each of the directors named has subscribed for two shares of stock. It is understood that formal transfer of the property will be made within a few days.

For more than twenty years-with the exception of a year or so previous to the fire, when the paper was leased to other parties–Mr. Lemmon has presided over the destinies of the Santa Rosa Republican. For some time he has been anxious to dispose of his interests and retire from active newspaper work. He retires with the best wishes of a large circle of friends and acquaintances, and the new owners are wished every success in their venture.

– Press Democrat, November 28, 1912



The formal transfer of the Santa Rosa REPUBLICAN newspaper and job printing business to the Santa Rosa Republican Company. a corporation, occurred Monday afternoon. With that date my connection with this paper and business terminated. My entire interest in the plant has been purchased and taken over by the corporation, which is composed of well known residents of Santa Rosa.

Since the big fire of April 18, 1906, the paper has been conducted as a partnership between  J. Elmer Mobley and myself. My retirement is due to a desire to be released from the constant strain of newspaper work.

For almost a quarter of a century I have published the REPUBLICAN as a daily and semi-weekly newspaper. The readers of the paper know whether or not the work has been done well.

In quitting the newspaper field, my thanks are extended to the many friends who have given the paper hearty support during the time it has been under my control. The mangement has my hearty good will, friendship and desire for the success that is sure to follow well directed efforts.


– Santa Rosa Republican, December 10, 1912


Society Gossip by Dorothy Ann

IN THE soft light of many candles that flared and flickered and cast their shadows over the assemblage of immediate relatives, Miss Ruth Woolsey and Ernest L. Finley plighted their troth for better or for worse on Saturday at high noon at the home of the bride’s father, Mr. Frank Woolsey of Woolsey…

…Miss Woolsey was given into the keeping of her husband by her father, Mr. Woolsey. There were no attendants. Although simplicity marked every feature of the wedding, the bride wore the regulation white satin gown, made en train and draped with beaded chiffon…

…After congratulation had been extended the wedding party were served with an elaborate wedding breakfast in the dining room, where an artistic decoration of mistletoe and white satin streamers had been arranged. The center of the bridal table was a mass of pink carnations and ferns. A tempting menu was served.

Mr. and Mrs. Finley motored to one of the nearby stations, and there took the train for San Francisco. It is understood that Los Angeles and other Southern cities will be the objective point where the honeymoon will be spent.


– Press Democrat, December 15, 1912


Read More


Wanna see a man throw a temper tantrum? Return to 1912 and ask Ernest Finley for directions to the park.

Oooooh, but Mr. Finley was steaming mad that spring, as Santa Rosa voters narrowly rejected a bond measure that would have purchased land for the city’s very first public park, just a few blocks east of downtown.

Finley, editor and publisher of the Press Democrat and Santa Rosa’s tireless Chamber of Commerce booster, wanted that park with a passion. It stuck in his craw that the town did not have a single one, while Sebastopol had a park, Petaluma had three and even tiny Graton had a park, complete with a dance floor and a funky little zoo that held monkeys and a bear.

“A public park is a great attraction,” he told readers in one of several editorials in the months ahead of the May, 1912 vote. “The opportunity is now presented whereby this city can secure one of the finest public parks in California. There is no good reason why there should be any opposition whatever to the plan as now proposed.” The PD also printed supportive letters to the editor, articles with testimonials of support from bankers, pastors and other movers ‘n’ shakers including Luther Burbank.

The property for sale is the current location of the Santa Rosa Middle School on the south side of College Avenue, between E street and Brookwood Ave. At the time it was only the overgrown lot that had been the Pacific Methodist College a couple of decades earlier. Finley’s father had been president of that school for many years; now he was on his deathbed – and was soon to pass away, about five weeks after the bond vote – so Ernest had a personal reason to see it preserved and beautified.

“Even in its wholly neglected state – as it has been for many years – the great trees growing untrained and wild, the place is attractive,” wrote “Santa Rosan” to the Press Democrat. “And situated in the center of the city that forest grove is a rare feature – the pride of the citizens and the wonder of strangers, who cannot understand how it happens that those woods, under private ownership, have been long conserved.”

Newton V. V. Smyth, the former City Engineer, wrote up a survey for the PD. He found there were large pines and cypress 35 years old or more with “a channel of an old creek gracefully winding its way through the tract.” He cataloged over 20 large oak trees – several being live oaks – and scores of ornamental trees. He explained, “Years ago, in the flourishing days of the Pacific Methodist College, there was a call for donation of trees. There was a liberal response and native trees of the state were sent in great variety.”

The property was then owned by Mrs. Ella Hershey of Woodland, whose late husband David had been a trustee of the Methodist College. (I find no other Sonoma County connection for them.) It’s unclear when the college building was demolished, but Hershey subdivided the land into 51 building lots in 1892. One of Finley’s editorials explained the town had first approached her about selling three years prior, and the price now on the table was $50,000.

Even though that was about the market rate should the property be developed, Finley rattled on for two months about what a swell deal it was. “It figures something like 57 cents on each thousand dollars” of a property’s assessment, he assured homeowners. “If the tract under consideration is not secured now, it will be cut up and sold off in lots, and then it will forever be too late,” he ominously warned.

Nor was Finley above twisting facts; he consistently claimed it was ten acres although it was actually under nine. He praised the heritage trees even as he proposed it become a recreational area that would necessitate chopping most of them down: “An old abandoned water-course winds its way through the grounds, and with little trouble or expense this might be converted into a beautiful lake for boating. Lawn tennis courts, ball grounds, swings, etc.”

In the Press Democrat never was heard a discouraging word; all that wonderfulness would cost only $50,000 over 25 years at five percent interest. It was left to the Santa Rosa Republican to print an open letter from Mayor John Mercier, who took no position on approval. His Honor pointed out it actually would be quite a bit more expensive and by the end of the bond Santa Rosa would have paid $32,500 in interest. Although Finley promised “the Woman’s Improvement Club has offered to take charge of the work of beautifying the place,” the mayor pointed out there would be a conservative estimate of $10,000 for buildings and other basic improvements. Add in at least $2,000 a year for utilities and general upkeep and the total cost of the park would be a minimum of $142,500 – well over $3 million today.

As voting day approached, the PD regularly used the front page to print endorsements or to report supporting events. On May Day picnic the school district commandeered the grounds, with a thousand children putting on a show, singing and folk dancing along with a maypole, exhibition garland weaving and “Froebelian* nature games.”

The Rose Carnival was coming up and there was an elaborate rose and flower show presented under a tent on Exchange Avenue – the predecessor to our county fair Hall of Flowers. The paper featured a description of one exhibit which was a little park model, complete with a cage of canary “songbirds:”

It is replete with walks, and trees, a “zoo,” and the other alluring possibilities of a park. The idea is suggested by the fact that on next Tuesday Santa Rosa will vote whether she wishes to take a forward step in the march of progress and secure a public park or whether she is willing to miss one of the greatest public improvements any city of its size should acquire.

And then, voting day: With two-thirds needed to carry, it lost by 48 votes, 1243 to 689.

At first, Finley was gracious: “The Woman’s Improvement Club deserves much credit for the magnificent fight,” the PD reported. “Poll lists were checked up and a score of autos were kept running all over town to secure women or men voters, and get them to the polls.”

A couple of days later, Angry Ernest crawled out. He damned the wards south of the Creek (blue collar workers) and west of the train station (the Italian neighborhood) for the bond’s failure. They made a “grave mistake” in not voting for the bond, Finley barked, and he thought they selfishly opposed it because the park was too far away. “It is manifestly impossible to put the park in front of everybody’s property. Park sites have to be taken where we find them.” Finley did not even acknowledge these were the poorest parts of town and additional property taxes would be a disproportionately greater burden. Nor did he consider those residents might not feel welcome in the upper Fourth street/MacDonald Ave neighborhood where wealthy people like Ernest Finley lived. Italian kids often didn’t even venture downtown until they were eight or ten, Gaye LeBaron wrote in her history of 20th century Santa Rosa.

Finley rejected the outcome calling upon the mayor and city council to promptly hold another vote or otherwise “to see that some way is found, and speedily, to have the expressed wishes of the people complied with.” But nothing came of his hopes to subvert the democratic process and the park issue seemed dead, at least for the immediate future.

Then, Act II: Upstep the women.

Have you heard the latest? Four fine parks and a city playground, and a civic center on the banks of the creek! These are the things that are coming to Santa Rosa. The women are in the saddle, and their mandate has gone forth. Civic improvement is in the air, and the odor of the rose and the vine comes wafted in every wind. The music of merry childhood’s happy voices is borne on every breeze. The wand of progress is being waved over our city and soldiers of progress are on the march, and the silurians must join the army or be run over by the bandwagon.

That was the intro to a guest column in the Press Democrat authored by attorney Thomas J. Butts. Read his essay – transcribed below – and decide for yourself if it’s a witty W. C. Fields-like jape or the work of someone a little unhinged.

I can only guess what Butts meant by “Silurians” (which he mentions twice) except that was part of the Paleozoic Era, about 430 million years ago; maybe he was suggesting park opponents didn’t have the smarts of a trilobite. He certainly did suggest they would be better off dead: “…as time flows on, one by one of these gentlemen will fall away from the busy walks of life and be borne away to the Silent City to the cold and small room that is the last quiet resting place of each and all.”

With all his chatter about Silurians and the history of old bridges, Butts never got around to mentioning the actual subject of his essay – that the Woman’s Improvement Club was to hold a public meeting in a few days and announce a proposal for not one, but several parks.

Apparently the Club members kept mum about their plans; Butts’ column in the PD and two front page stories in the Republican suggest speculation was rife. And Santa Rosans had years’ worth of park ideas – the old college grounds proposal was only the most recent to fail. Rehashed were three general ideas:

* THE CIVIC CENTER   Santa Rosa also lacked a city hall, so why not combine a park with an administration building? That idea last came up when the Lebanon Hotel was for sale in 1909. The gardens surrounding the place were magnificent, but apparently the deal-killer was figuring out what to do with its 30-room mansion. No bond was ever proposed.


* THE WATER PARK   It was often suggested to make a park on the banks of Santa Rosa Creek or dam the waterway; the most ambitious was the attempt to create Lake Santa Rosa in 1910. A property owner sued over the dam constructed by enthusiasts (lawyer Butts represented the lake builders) and it was dismantled after a couple of months.


* THE CLEANED-UP DISTRICT   Be it water park, civic center or plain ol’ playgrounds, a park was sometimes mentioned as an excuse to wipe out the red light district on First street and Santa Rosa’s tiny Chinatown on Second. During the 1908 mayoral election, the winning candidate unveiled an election eve surprise by announcing he had options to buy part of the tenderloin nearest the creek and would (somehow) turn it into a park. Nothing happened; the announcement was just a dirty political trick.

It’s surprising so much of the speculation in 1912 was centered on the tenderloin/Chinatown area – surprising, in part, because the red light district was supposedly abolished in 1909, and these mentions are the first real proof the ladies were indeed still around. And given some of those properties were owned by Santa Rosa’s wealthiest good ol’ boys (here’s looking at you, Con Shea) it’s also surprising to find voices calling for the town to just grab them if the owners were not willing to sell. From the Republican newspaper:

It is proposed to purchase the two blocks occupied by Chinatown and the property of the red light district, if this can be done at a reasonable figure. Failing in this, it is proposed to bring condemnation proceedings to secure the property…It is undeniable that Chinatown is an eyesore in its present location and if it could be removed it would be a splendid idea.

With all that buzz, the Woman’s Improvement Club meeting drew a large audience. Dozens spoke, but the main presentation was by Walter F. Price, a local realtor who was best known as an ineffectual and likely corrupt former state senator. According to the Republican, “Mr. Price stated that he had willingly assisted the ladies of the Improvement Club in obtaining a list of available properties for park purposes. This he did free of cost.” Methinks he too loudly proclaimed his charity, and there were certain to be dollars in his pocket should the deal actually go through.

Price’s grand solution included the old college grounds (natch) plus three other properties: One near the racetrack (meaning the fairgrounds), another apparently the current location of Olive Park, and one downwind to the slaughterhouse on West College. The three new offerings were simply large-ish vacant lots with no attractive features except for the future Olive Park, adjacent to Santa Rosa Creek – although in that era it was infamous for being the worst smelling part of the waterway because it was immediately downstream from the town’s worst polluters. It was a token nod to the neighborhoods which had voted against the bond a few months earlier. And the price tag for that terrrrrrific deal was $62,750.

The next morning the leaders of the Improvement Club held a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, and you can bet Finley was at the table. After a “thorough talking over” it was decided to ask the City Council for a new bond election, this time requesting $75,000, apparently because they thought the voters who didn’t want to approve a $50K bond would jump at the chance to pay considerably more.

As Dear Reader can probably guess: Thus endeth another chapter in the Santa Rosa Park Saga.

Looking in about a year later, we find nothing had happened to the old college grounds since the vote, despite Finley’s dire warning it would be otherwise sold to developers. An article in the Republican noted the property was in “unkept, unkempt condition” and being used as a dumping ground. “The fine park is getting filled with rubbish; old cans by the cartload are being brought from a distance and dumped into the grounds; all of which is contrary to city ordinances, made and provided.”

In his later character sketches of Santa Rosans, Ernest Finley mentioned attorney Butts went on to create an ad hoc “South Side Park,” but further details are not known (although I’ll bet he had a “Silurians keep out” sign there somewhere). It wouldn’t be until 1922 that Santa Rosa officially created a public park, and it was only a picnic area in an unused part of the city’s reservoir site, just west of Spring Lake.

* Friedrich Fröbel (1782-1852) created the concept of kindergarten as part of his view that children learned best through play and interacting with their surroundings. It is similar in some ways to the later Montessori Method but less rigid, such as encouraging children to play games for physical exercise instead of performing gymnastics. Where a Montessori teacher might instruct a child “the sky is blue,” a Froebelian might ask a child to “find things the color of the sky.” A modern comparison of the methods can be found here and a 1912 analysis (when the Montessori Method was very new) is available here.

All sorts of absurd reports have been circulated regarding the terms of the agreement under which it is proposed for purchase the old College grounds for a public park, and for the benefit of its readers The Press Democrat publishes the text of the agreement in full…

…The possibilities of the site from an artistic standpoint are immense. A great number of giant oaks, to say nothing of many large sycamore and other trees, planted there thirty-five or forty years ago, already give the grounds the appearance of a park. An old abandoned water-course winds its way through the grounds, and with little trouble or expense this might be converted into a beautiful lake for boating. Lawn tennis courts, ball grounds, swings, etc., etc., could all be provided and the place made a public playground for all the people. As the Woman’s Improvement Club has offered to take charge of the work of beautifying the place, the initial cost of purchase is all that would have to be met at this time.

The price put upon the property by the owners is entirely reasonable, in our opinion, if we take into consideration that it is to be devoted to park purposes. Viewed in this light the many beautiful trees, some of which have been growing for hundreds of years, all possess an actual and tangible value, as does even the old abandoned water-course. There are fifty-two building lots contained in the tract. The present owners purchased the property more than twenty years ago for $20,000. Allowing them five per cent interest on the investment and adding what they have paid out in taxes and for street work, etc., the property has cost them several thousand dollars more than they are now offering to sell it for.

…[History of contacts with the owner]…

…The bonds are to run twenty-five years, and the increase in the tax rate will be so slight that nobody will ever know there has been an increase. It figures something like 57 cents on each thousand dollars, taking the present assessment value of property within the city limits as a basis…

…Every town of any consequence has a public park. Santa Rosa has none. A public park is a great attraction. The opportunity is now presented whereby this city can secure one of the finest public parks in California. There is no good reason why there should be any opposition whatever to the plan as now proposed. If the tract under consideration is not secured now, it will be cut up and sold off in lots, and then it will forever be too late. The opportunity will have passed.

This is our chance to secure a public park and secure a good one. We must not let the opportunity go by.

Work for the public park!

– Press Democrat editorial, April 25, 1912

The Misses Ruth and Gladys Hodgson have a striking and artistic exhibit in the Rose Show on Exchange avenue. It is replete with walks, and trees, a “zoo,” and the other alluring possibilities of a park. The idea is suggested by the fact that on next Tuesday Santa Rosa will vote whether she wishes to take a forward step in the march of progress and secure a public park or whether she is willing to miss one of the greatest public improvements any city of its size should acquire. The two charming girls who have worked out the scheme have done so faithfully with the use of trees, shrubs, mosses and other embellishments. It is certainly a delightful nook in the exhibit.

The Press Democrat mentioned most of the displays in the rose show on Thursday morning, but then only mentioned them. The display is a delight and all should see it. It is the most delightful ten cents worth you can find anywhere. Flowers and songbirds, the air burdened with the sweetest perfume, and the superb notes of the canaries, the waterfall and the fountain splashing in all the setting of the woodland. The choice gardens and conservatory blossoms blend in color and significant with the wild variety of the woodland…

– Press Democrat, May 3, 1912
By T. J. Butts

Have you heard the latest? Four fine parks and a city playground, and a civic center on the banks of the creek! These are the things that are coming to Santa Rosa. The women are in the saddle, and their mandate has gone forth. Civic improvement is in the air, and the odor of the rose and the vine comes wafted in every wind. The music of merry childhood’s happy voices is borne on every breeze. The wand of progress is being waved over our city and soldiers of progress are on the march, and the silurians must join the army or be run over by the bandwagon.

Santa Rosa can no longer maintain her prestige as one of the most beautiful cities on the Coast unless we do something to justify that reputation. Nature has done much for this city, but the people have done little towards keeping the city beautiful. I came to this city forty-four years ago. At that time it had a most beautiful park in the center of the town. But the Silurians of that day, whose highest conception of the Garden of Eden was that of a “truck patch” and a place dedicated to the growing of beets and cabbage, gave it away to keep from taking care of it.

I was in Santa Rosa when the first iron bridge in the state was built over the creek on Main Street. It had been the custom up to that time for farmers to drive down the bank and ford the creek when coming to town instead of crossing the old wooden bridge. When the matter of building the new bridge came up before the Board of Supervisors, one old gentleman, who was a well-known man in this town and was a trustee of one of the colleges here went before the Board to protest against the bridge, and in his speech he said:

“We don’t need no bridge and if you put that bridge thar, whar are ye goin’ to set yer tire, and whar are you goin’ to water yer critter?”

We find the same class among us today, and when the park question comes up they will say: “We don’t need no park, there is room enough for us on the benches in front of the Court House.”

But these gentlemen will not be compelled to wear out their seats of their trousers on those old benches much longer.

The Woman’s Improvement Club is going to provide parks for this city, where these same gentlemen may rest under the shade of the trees, drink in the fragrance of a million flowers while they figure their interest and knock all civic improvements.

And just here recurs the thought that as time flows on, one by one of these gentlemen will fall away from the busy walks of life and be borne away to the Silent City to the cold and small room that is the last quiet resting place of each and all. Their graves may not be marked by monument or stone, but posterity will not be deprived of the satisfaction of knowing that they are dead.

It was an old saying that “If the mountain will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet will go to the mountain.” And now the mandate has gone forth that if the parks will not come to Santa Rosa, the women of Santa Rosa will go after the parks. They have started already. They are now on the way with a whoop. So, Mr. Reader, just keep your eye on the women, and you will see them bring home the bacon.

– Press Democrat, September 22, 1912
Great Enthusiasm Shown At The Meeting Thursday Night

Not a voice was raised against public parks at the large mass meeting held in Judge Emmet Seawell’s court room Thursday evening, inder the auspices of the Woman’s Improvement Club…

…Four pieces of property that could be secured as park sites were suggested by Walter F. Price. These would cost the city $62,750. Mr. Price stated that he had willingly assisted the ladies of the Improvement Club in obtaining a list of available properties for park purposes. This he did free of cost.

The list he mention consisted of the old Pacific Methodist College grounds at College avenue, North, Fifth and King streets, price $50,000; a block of land bounded by Piner [sic – it was Pine street], Brown and Oak streets, price $4750; land at Orange and Railroad streets on the south bank of Santa Rosa creek, price $2000; and a block on College avenue, between Cleveland and Ripley streets, price $10,000, or portions of this lot could be had at $5000 or $6000 respectfully.

A. H. Donovan stated that M. Menihan of Cloverdale had written to him regarding the Menihan property bounded by A, Seventh and Washington streets, which at one time was greatly urged for a park site. This letter came from the owner unsolicited and stated that the price on the property had been reduced from its former price of $20,000 to $18,000 now, the owners being desirous to sell.

A. R. Buckner and others of the vicinity southeast from the court house presented a plan that they are working on that they believe will prove feasible for a public park proposition in that vicinity.

Mrs. Metzger spoke, setting the price on her property at Washington and Morgan streets at $12,000. She had been requested to set a price on that piece of property. Mrs. Metzger was in favor of the city owning several parks in different parts of the city.

Park Along Creek

In response to a call from the chair Attorney Frances McG Martin spoke eloquently of the possibilities of a park on the banks of Santa Rosa creek. She thought that by cleaning up the property adjoining the creek and clearing away the houses up to second street in and near to the Burbank property, would be an ideal park site and would clean out Chinatown. Mrs. Martin also favored parks in other parts of the city.

– Santa Rosa Republican,  September 27, 1912

The Presbyterian Missionary Society held its annual meeting and dinner Tuesday under the pine trees in the old College park. This wooded block in the heart of the city, even in its unkept, unkempt condition, is an ideal place for any kind of an outing, be it baseball game, Maypole dance, or doll party. The Baptist congregation this summer during the repairing of their church building have held Sunday services under those noble trees. Country visitors in the city frequently lunch and rest in that shade.

In view of this convenience, would it not be a fair return for the city to have some care over this big vacant lot? The fine park is getting filled with rubbish; old cans by the cartload are being brought from a distance and dumped into the grounds; all of which is contrary to city ordinances, made and provided. The health officer might there find some problems for solution. By all means, if the city cannot buy the park, let it care for that splendid place.

– Santa Rosa Republican,  August 13, 1913

Read More


Here’s a shocking discovery: Ernest Finley sometimes loosened his tie and became quite the fun guy.

The Press Democrat’s editor and publisher hardly had a reputation as Good Times Ernie; aside from occasional mention in the papers about card game parties or Elks Lodge shindigs, he didn’t appear to have any social life at all. And when did he have the time? He was Santa Rosa’s constant champion, tireless Chamber of Commerce booster and unapologetic defender of the status quo, sometimes locked in mudslinging combat with critics and reformers (see “The Many Wars of Ernest Finley“).

(RIGHT: Ernest L. Finley portrait in History of Sonoma County, California: Its People and its Resources, 1937)

All this makes it quite the surprise to read about the silly wager he made in 1911. After several years of depressed prices, the hops market rebounded that year. At the public auction Finley joked he wished he everyone in audience could get in on the boom, and the widow of a late friend offered to give him a bale of hops – but only if he would personally wheelbarrow it the ten miles from the farm to Santa Rosa. Finley accepted the deal.

Thus a couple of hours after sunset on November 6, Ernest Latimer Finley was prepared to start his trek with a customized newspaper handcart. “Mayor James R. Edwards and Hilliard Comstock had placed the bale on the cart and firmly lashed it in place,” the Press Democrat later reported, in the first of two stories on the event. “A number of friends motored out to the Woodward ranch Monday evening to witness the outcome. The start was made at 6:30 and an an elaborate picnic was served by the roadside about half-way in. A large party of young people walked the entire distance cheering the man with the cart on his way.” The headline from another paper read, “SOCIETY GIRLS WALK UNTIL MIDNIGHT ON FREAK BET”.

Finley and his society girls reached the Press Democrat office shortly after midnight. “Don’t say anything about this in the paper,” Finley ordered his city editor. But an article appeared over his objection because the paper’s staff “thought the story too good to be kept out.” An item about the “freak bet” was picked up by the wire service and some newspapers nationwide ran it as a kind of believe-it-or-not item, the number of society girls sometimes growing to the size of a mob and the hop bale becoming as heavy as bricks.

The following day a special auction was held for Finley’s bale. Milton Wasserman, the top hops buyer in town, bought it at the record price of $125 – but with the requirement that Finley continue his travails and personally cart the hops from downtown to the warehouse.

With his windfall Finley treated his youthful entourage to a weekend in San Francisco, including tickets to the Stanford-Cal football game.* Enjoying two nights of theater and suppers at his expense were a dozen twenty-something young people, nine of them women, along with two of their mothers. Among the party were Hilliard Comstock and Ruth Woolsey, whom Finley would marry about a year later.

Since the doings offer a rare personal glimpse of Mr. Santa Rosa, it’s tempting to wonder what it reveals about him. For example, Finley was still a bachelor at age 41 and slightly more than twice Ruth’s age; was he simply trying to woo his future wife with the machismo handcart stunt and treating her gang to a swell time? And were there other evenings, occupied with less savory events, when Finley staggered into the Press Democrat office late and ordered staff “Don’t say anything about this in the paper”?

But the striking part of the hops story was the crowd of young people who thought it would be fun to follow him as he plodded along the country roads with the cart. Does that sort of thing sound familiar? It should, because it still occurs all over America today; now it usually just happens in school settings. A principal challenges kids to achieve some goal with the promise to do something silly or demeaning as a reward – maybe shaving off hair or singing from the rooftop if the students read a certain number of books or collect enough cans for a food drive. Google for “school principal bets students” and you’ll find hundreds of recent examples. Let’s revel in an intimidating authority figure playing the clown for us.

Actually, regarding Ernest Finley as Santa Rosa’s self-appointed Town Principal works surprisingly well. In his editorials he often came off like a rigid fuddy-duddy demanding miscreants and rebels toe the line. He could be a disagreeable bully, raging when authority was not respected – criticism of the town or its leadership was a serious offense and the Press Democrat had a pattern of defaming anyone who crossed him (or the Democratic party, for that matter). Childish misbehavior was inflated by the PD in par with serious crimes, from stealing eggs to dropping orange and banana peels on the sidewalk. In his official portraits he even looked like a stern school principal; he attempted a smile in a later photograph, but it was more like the surprised expression of someone who had just sat on a tack. You didn’t want to be called down to his office and hear the speech about how much he was disappointed in your monkey business and threatening suspension If You Do That Just One More Time.

Whatever conclusions one draws (or presumes to draw) from the hop cart episode, it’s still a cute story in its own right. It is also one that was almost lost; if not for transcriptions in Ann M. Connor’s self-published 1970 book, “McDonald Avenue: A Century of Elegance,” I would never have noticed the articles – the related microfilm at the Sonoma County Library is illegible. As seen to the right, the emulsion is almost completely wiped off on the image of this page from November 8, and what remains is badly scratched. Normally damaged film can be read by later use of heavy image processing but in this case there was almost nothing to work with. Sadly, much of the 1911 Press Democrat microfilm at the library is in equally terrible condition. I am certain there were many interesting stories from that year I also overlooked.

Alas, the Connor book does not list sources; the auction story was only identified to be the same as in the the damaged Press Democrat microfilm by its bold headline. Two of the other articles she transcribed were not from either Santa Rosa paper, so it’s unknown where they first appeared.

* The “Big Game” was actually rugby between 1906-1914, a period when many schools dropped football because of concerns over game violence and player injuries. Cal won that year, 21-3.

Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library

Trudge Dusty Roads to Cheer on Clubman Wheeling Bale of Hops

For eleven miles along the dusty roads from the county home of the late surveyor of the Port of San Francisco, Edward F. Woodward of Mt. Olivet, and Ernest L. Finley, editor of the Santa Rosa Press and well known clubman, wheeled a cart containing a 192 lb. bale of hops, winning a wager whereby a party of young society people will attend the Stanford-Berkeley football game and enjoy a banquet in San Francisco.

The start was made about 7 p.m. last night and Finley completed his task shortly after midnight. He came into town with his cart of hops, to be sold and the proceeds devoted to paying the expenses of a trip to the football game and a dinner for a party of his friends if he would wheel the gift to Santa Rosa.

The wager was taken up and tonight when the bale was auctioned off in the presence of a large crowd of speculators, it realized over $100. Some of Santa Rosa’s popular society girls and several men walked the entire distance with Mr. Finley. Halfway to town the entire company enjoyed a picnic in the moonlight.

– Source unknown, November 7, 1911; from Connor book, pg. 70 (see text)
E. L. Finley Wheels Hand Cart Along Dusty Road for Over Ten Miles Monday Night

As the result of a wager, E. L. Finley  on Monday evening wheeled a handcart containing a bale of hops from the Woodward ranch near Mt. Olivet to Santa Rosa, arriving at the Press Democrat office a few minutes after midnight. The distance covered was something over ten miles. The hops weighed 132 pounds.

Under the terms of the agreement Mrs. E. F. Woodward and Miss Bess Woodward were to make Mr. Finley a present of a bale of hops provided he got them to market unassisted, the hops to be sold and the proceeds devoted to taking a party of friends to the Stanford-Berkeley football game on Saturday.

A number of friends motored out to the Woodward ranch Monday evening to witness the outcome. The start was made at 6:30 and an an elaborate picnic was served by the roadside about half-way in. A large party of young people walked the entire distance cheering the man with the cart on his way.

Several taxicabs and automobile loads of people drove out and met the man with the load of hops and the party accompanying him several miles from this city. It was a very merry salutation given, too. Cheers stirred the midnight air when the hops were landed at the Press Democrat office.

The bale of hops will be auctioned off today and they will fetch the top notch figure. Considerable lively bidding is expected, too. Those hops should be worth at least one hundred dollars.

“Don’t say anything about this in the paper,” said Editor Finley as he started for home at an early hour this morning, still walking by the way. But the city editor and staff thought the story too good to be kept out, and would not heed the request of the man who won the wager.

– Press Democrat, November 7, 1911
Unique Transaction is Completed Here Last Night

Milton L. Wasserman, the well-known representative for the William Ullman Co. of New York, established a new price for hops last night at the Press Democrat office, when, at a spirited contest, he purchased at auction the bale of hops wheeled in the night before by Ernest Finley from “Pinecrest”, Mrs. E. F. Woodward’s fine ranch near Mt. Olivet.

The price at which the bale was finally knocked down to Mr. Wasserman was $125, and it was made part of the agreement that Mr. Finley was to personally deliver the hops to the warehouse, starting from the courthouse at noon today.

John P. Overton actioned as auctioneer…

…Just as the hammer was descending for the last time, and as Mr. Overton lingered over the words “going, going…!”, Wasserman made his final bid, coupled with the stipulation that Mr. Finley should wheel the bale down Fourth Street today at noon. Mr. Finley nodded his acceptance of the proposition, the auctioneer from his exalted position on the office counter made a few more passes with his hammer, called upon Mr. Finley to bear him out in his assertion that the hops about to be sold were “extra heavy for the weight” and assured prospective purchasers that the goods were being sold “F.O.B. Santa Rosa, which is very different from having to bring them in from Mr. Olivet,” ending by finally knocking them down to Mr. W. at the price stated. The result was greeted with hearty cheers from the large crowd present, as was each successive bid, for that matter.

A huge bonfire was then lighted in the street outside, and after another round of cheers and an exchange of felicitations, the crowd dispersed. (Referenced as first in Tuesday’s paper of the wager.) Mr. Finley jokingly remarked that if he had 600 or 700 bales of hops unsold at the present prices, he would give the crowd one and tell them to go and see the fun. Mrs. Woodward replied that she would furnish the hops if Mr. Finley would wheel them to Santa Rosa.

The proposition was immediately accepted, and the following evening finally agreed upon as the time for making the attempt. An ordinary newspaper cart to which shaft handles had been temporarily attached by C. R. Sund, a local blacksmith, was used for transporting the bale selected, which weighted 192 lbs., and the distance covered was something more than 10 miles.

The start was made at 7:30 Monday evening, after Mayor James R. Edwards and Hilliard Comstock had placed the bale on the cart and firmly lashed it in place, and the event was made the occasion for a moonlight picnic party, a number of friends accompanying Mr. Finley the entire distance on foot, while others followed or proceeded in automobiles. At the top of the Mr. Olivet hill an elaborate picnic was spread and a stop of more than an hour was made. Refreshments were also served from the automobiles enroute.

The party arrived in town shortly after midnight, after a delightful evening, and Mr. Finley suffered no inconvenience whatever from the trip. Among those making up the party were Mayor & Mrs. Jas. Edwards…and Hilliard Comstock.

– Press Democrat, November 8, 1911
(At least, going on proceeds of bale that plucky editor wheeled 11 miles.)

A party of Santa Rosa society girls arrived at the Hotel Stewart last night on their way to attend the football game at Stanford U. today as the guests of Ernest Finley, editor of the Santa Rosa Press, who is paying, etc…

Later – Friday evening the entire party took dinner at Coppa’s restaurant and then attended the Orpheum, where they occupied loges during the performance, a supper at the Portola following. Saturday they proceeded to Stanford U. and were entertained at the Kappa Alpha fraternity for luncheon, after which the game was attended.

Coming back into San Francisco, a dinner at Taite’s was followed by the party attending the Cort Theater and enjoying the performance of Sam Barnard, the noted Dutch comedian. Techau’s completed the pleasure of Saturday. The party included Mrs. E. F. Woodward, Mrs Frank Woolsey, Miss Bess Woodward, Miss Helen Wright, Miss Jean Geary, the Misses Ruth, Louise and Helen Woolsey, Janet Noble, Dora and Marian Pierson, Hilliard Comstock, Arthur Wright, E. W. Scott and Ernest Finley. They were joined Saturday evening by the Jas. Edwards and the Vernon Goodwins of Los Angeles.

– Source unknown, November 11, 1911; from Connor book, pg. 71-72 (see text)

Read More