At the turn-of-the-century, that part of Sonoma County was just a handful of tiny, ad hoc farming communities — Vine Hill, Trenton, Peachland and Hilton — clustered in a place outside of Sebastopol long known as “Green Valley.” But when the electric railroad came to the neighborhood, almost overnight Green Valley became Santa Rosa’s favorite park. It was the place you took your sweetie for a picnic or the family for a Sunday outing.

Everyone’s destination was a 40-acre preserve, first known as “Piney Woods,” then later, “Handy’s Grove.” The owners aspired of creating a small zoo; in 1905, according to a Press Democrat promotional blurb, there was “a raccoon, two deers [sic], two monkeys and a brown bear.” As late as the mid-1950s, visitors could still visit the old park and see a bear chained to a tree (although presumably not the same one).

The name changed to Graton in January, 1906, not in 1905 as always reported. (Gaye LeBaron wrote that it was also briefly called Newtown, but I didn’t find any references to that.) A few months later the town threw itself a party, and thousands of residents from Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, quake-rattled and probably nervous about fireworks burning down what remained of their towns, descended on the Graton park for a grand Fourth of July celebration. It was a nice time for people who were overdue a nice time.

Green Valley, Recently Established on Line of Electric Railway

The town of Green Valley is Sonoma’s newest-born. Its cradle is between the hills of Oak Grove school district.

Green Valley, whose name the new town takes, is that fair, far stretch of country from Sebastopol to Guerneville, with Occidental and Forestville on either hand, and includes within its borders the villages of Vine Hill, Trenton, Peachland and Hilton. A shaded land where wild azaleas blow, mingling their fragrance with the pungent smell of pines and the balmy breath of the red-limbed manzanita. A quiet valley where the quail’s clear piping greets the dawn, and doves coo in the tree tops at evening.

James H. Gray and J. H. Brush have bought the Hicks and Bower farms, which almost surround the Oak Grove schoolhouse, and it is upon these two splendid orchard ranches that the new town is being built. The electric railway runs almost through its center, giving quick transit to Sebastopol, three miles distant, and to Forestville to the north. Green Valley creek runs through the town’s outskirts, and along its banks are several strips of “spouty” land–land that is always damp, and well adapted to the cultivation of such vegetables as require abundant moisture. Most of the townsite land is dry and on one of the several slopes that lead eventually to the creek, the new and promising town is located. A number of the original forest trees have been allowed to stand and around many of the dwellings in the new town there will be a grove of live-oaks, or of pines or madronas. The Excellent school is, of course, a splendid feature; two long-established churches are near by; and of prime consideration is the fact that the region round about is already populated by people of the best class. Population will surely be attracted, and the next few years see a town of a thousand inhabitants or more clustered around the splendid grove of live oaks which gave the name to Oak Grove school.

A winery, a fruit cannery, a hotel, livery stable, two stores and a restaurant are already established in the new town. A movement is on foot to establish a high school. “Piney Woods,” a beautiful grove over forty acres in extent, has been kept from the axe, and since the town was founded many excursions have been made to this grove by picnic parties. The proprietor has started a Zoological park there with a raccoon, two deers, two monkeys and a brown bear as nuclei.

– Press Democrat Promotional Insert, 1905

The Name Is “Graton

The postoffice at Green Valley has been changed to “Graton” as the name of Green Valley conflicted with another office in this State, and also with a station on the line of the California Northwestern Railroad. J. H. Brush and J. H. Gray, to whom the matter was referred, made their decision on Saturday, and it would appear that Mr. Gray is destined to have his name perpetuated in the town which he was instrumental in founding.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 2, 1906

Splendid Fourth of July Celebration

The people of Santa Rosa and Sebastopol gathered in large numbers at the park near Graton Wednesday to join with the enterprising people of that little city in the celebration of the nation’s birthday. There were several thousand people present, and the entire program, as it had been arranged, proved very interesting, and supplied abundant entertainment for the visitors.

The natal day was ushered in by the firing of twenty-one guns, and early in the morning the crowds began to assemble. It had been announced that the literary program would take place at 10 o’clock, but owing to unavoidable delay in the arrival of a number of those who were to take part, it was nearly an hour later before the exercises began. The music for the occasion was furnished by Parks’ band of Santa Rosa, and furnished music for both the exercises in the morning, and also the dancing during the afternoon and evening.


The park where the celebration was held is a splendid place for such an occasion, and under the able management of James Gray, everything had been provided for the comfort and enjoyment of the large crowds that attended. The roadway from the electric depot to the grounds had been well sprinkled and an abundance of water was provided on the grounds. The electric railroad also did splendid service in the carrying of the people back and forth, providing a thirty-minute service during the day and until midnight. The long trains were crowded nearly all day, and everyone expressed pleasure at the manner in which the whole celebration had been arranged.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 5, 1906

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The first archival materials posted to the Comstock House electronic library are the January 1904 and November 1905 Press Democrat special sections promoting Sonoma County, which were primarily sent outside the region in hopes of luring new residents and businesses. Heavy with (mostly true) data, these inserts are a great starting point for anyone interested in the era just before the Great Quake.

Predictably there were items on industry and farming (“Manufactures Fast Increasing,” “Round About Us Orchards Sweep”) and boasts about the quality of local schools, medical care, transportation, and even hunting (“Where the Wild Goose Honks High”). Churches were given prominent mention, but more space overall went to wineries and saloons. There were photographs of dimly-lit hardware and drug store interiors, race horses standing awkwardly still, and many oval portraits of businessmen, most of whom, I’m sure, were coincidentally Press Democrat advertisers.

The greatest value in these sections may be in what they tell us about the smaller, outlying towns that were rarely mentioned otherwise in the newspapers. Land in Cotati was selling for $45-100 an acre, and the new county road connecting the village to Santa Rosa and Petaluma has been built (there’s even a picture). Green Valley – which would be renamed Graton in 1906 – boasted of “Piney Woods,” a 40-acre grove popular for picnics that the owner fancied to be a zoological park with pet deer, a raccoon, a pair of monkeys, and a brown bear.

Aside from a few creative headlines (“Where Hums The Busy Honey Bee”), though, there’s little entertainment here that hasn’t been already mined: See earlier posts on French Louie, the frog king and the summer Saturday nights downtown, where we all met to listen to the band as the out-of-towners leered at our hatless girls.

As the flip books for these entries are full-size newspaper pages, some of the text may be hard or impossible to read, even when magnified. To view a higher resolution copy of any page as a PDF file, select the page number from the popup in the lower right of the frame and click on “RAW PDF.” For more information, see the description of how to use flip books in the previous post.

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