Come August it’s Sonoma County Fair time in Santa Rosa; you can set your calendar by it. Even if you don’t attend the Fair anymore it’s one of those milestones that stubbornly refuse to be ignored, like Thanksgiving in November and Christmas in December. One morning the checkout line at the Cash & Carry was taking forever because the people ahead of me were mostly paying with crumpled one dollar bills. Then I noticed what was on their warehouse push carts: The cheapest cooking oil, bags of sugar heavier than a five year-old child, gallons of colorful fruit syrups. Ding! August. County Fair.

But it wasn’t always in August, or in Santa Rosa, and the fairgrounds has a very spotty history of even being a fairgrounds. Nor was there something every year which could be called the Sonoma County Fair; draw a timeline between 1883 and today and randomly pick a year – about a third of the time you’ll come up fairless.

This is a history of how the “Sonoma County Fair” evolved, but just like every evolutionary tree there was no clear, inevitable path from when it took root to where it is now; what we have today is just one branch that won out among several of its kin that didn’t happen to do as well. Some were organized by locals who created an association or society for that purpose; some were an official event of the state’s agricultural district for the North Bay. But even whether the fair was independent vs. government-sponsored doesn’t fully explain how things developed – at different times, what became the “Sonoma County Fair” has been both. The district fairs were mostly exhibits to promote local livestock and produce; the private fairs usually featured professional/semi-professional horse racing. And again, the “Sonoma County Fair” embraced both.

Rightfully Petaluma’s Sonoma-Marin Fair should probably have the County Fair monicker, as it has a longer record (starting in 1867) and has been held most consistently. Even older was the San Pablo Bay District Fair, which began in 1859. It was held in both the town of Sonoma and Vallejo and morphed into what was called the first “county fair” in the newspapers – the fascinating “Sonoma-Napa Mechanical Fair,” which drew Victorian nerds from all over the state (lots of wine drinking, too). That one will get an article here of its own, someday.

But while those other towns were earnestly trying to establish and maintain their annual festivals, in Santa Rosa there was tepid interest in fair-making, and what did exist proceeded in fits and starts for decades. What the City of Roses really wanted was to become the City of Races.

Whenever a town in the Old West rose out of the dust to become something better than just another stagecoach stop, it seemed there was always one guy who did ten times more than anyone else. In Santa Rosa, that was James P. Clark.

Clark arrived here with his brother in 1852, the year before the town was born. Over the next three decades he would be a founding member of the volunteer fire department, sheriff and mayor. As the latter he cast the tie-breaking vote to establish a public library here, the 1884 City Council being split between those who thought libraries were a waste of tax money or not. (Oh, Santa Rosa…) He bought Julio Carrillo’s “stall and buggy shed” and turned it into the Fashion Livery Stable, which became the hub for anything related to horse travel – an operation so big it took up the entire city block where the Roxy movie theater complex is today. He also bought from Julio the first house that was ever built in town, plus another 180 acres which he subdivided into (what would become much of) the West End Neighborhood and Railroad Square.

James Preston Clark (1820-1886) Image courtesy Sonoma County Museum
James Preston Clark (1820-1886) Image courtesy Sonoma County Museum

But what interests us here most about J.P. Clark is his interest in building racetracks and founding fairs.

In 1860 a group of local men formed a jockey club – which is to say, they agreed to pay dues of $25/year to construct a racetrack and organize several days of races. Clark built the track near the future Railroad Square depot location (no trains here yet in 1860, remember). Gamblers and horse breeders from all over the Bay Area came to that race, which was a big deal; $1900 in prizes were awarded – about $83k in today’s dollars.

Meanwhile, another group – the Sonoma County Agricultural and Mechanical Society (no connection to that Sonoma-Napa fair) – was starting to organize something like a proper fair for Sonoma county, with livestock exhibits plus a pavilion where locals could show off handiworks and things they grew. The first was held in Healdsburg in 1859, Petaluma the next year which was followed by Santa Rosa, where the fair included the second jockey club event. That 1861 fair was the marred by violence, due to the gamblers who came here for the races. The paper reported there was “but little drunkenness, comparatively, but whiskey has been the cause of several fights; among them one in which a deadly weapon was used.” A local man was shot in the leg outside the fairgrounds and “a fight occurred at the race track on Tuesday. One of the combatants was badly whipped.”

That violence may have been why interest wained in sponsoring big races here, as the jockey club disbanded and the racetrack was plowed under. No matter, really; there were similar clubs popping up frequently in those years and there were always private tracks where horse lovers could watch the racers train or compete in ad hoc meets. A few years later Clark built a half-mile track at his own ranch, which was close to our modern Costco shopping center.

1867southernfundThe unofficial title of Sonoma County Fair passed between the Agricultural District fairs after the Civil War, switching from Sonoma-Napa to Sonoma-Marin. The Sonoma county fairs were held in Petaluma for years thereafter, although Santa Rosa tried to hijack the name in 1867 for a fundraiser for the “Southern Relief Fund” – in other words, collecting money to send to the former Confederate states. (Everyone together, now: Oh, Santa Rosa…)

There were very few Santa Rosa faces to be seen at the Petaluma county fair meetings, but James P. Clark was Fair Marshal several times during the following dozen years. I can’t determine exactly what that position meant at the time but it was listed directly after president of the society, so apparently it was an important hands-on job and not ceremonial.

Our present Santa Rosa fairgrounds has roots that go back to 1878, when members of the racing crowd formed the “Sonoma County Agricultural Park Association” to buy the original 80-something acres (every account differs as to the exact size). And there was Clark again, not only as treasurer – and later president – of the group but also building the mile track. They began hosting races the following year.

There’s quite an extensive description of the place from 1881 (transcribed below) when JP Clark led a tour. The original grandstand was nothing like we imagine today; it was basically a large 3 bedroom house with dining room, living room, two fireplaces plus a bar room. Upstairs there was seating for 300, but it’s unclear whether this was cantilevered like a typical grandstand; it might have been a big open-air gallery, as the reporter also mentions a deep veranda on the ground floor.

Santa Rosa (or at least, the Democrat newspaper) again claimed the County Fair title in 1883, but it was formally the “first annual exhibit of the Sonoma County Agricultural Park Association.” The title really didn’t matter at that point, I suppose, as the fair in Petaluma continued as always, held a week earlier. Newly built at Santa Rosa that year was a big pavilion for a “pumpkin and turnip show,” as such produce and handiwork exhibitions were nicknamed.

Here I must confess to Gentle Reader that I suffer an OCD weakness to completely read every list of entries from those exhibitions; I am equally fascinated by discovering long lost 19th century arts and crafts along with my amazement at some of the absurd stuff people wanted to show off. Among the offerings at that 1883 fair were Mrs. R. McGeorge’s wax dowers (fake pearls or flowers molded out of sealing wax); corn on a stalk from William Moss; Frank White’s mangel wortzels (sic: mangelwurzel, an inedible beet); and from E. W. Davis, brooms. How I could go on…

Even the Petaluma papers tacitly conceded that Santa Rosa’s doings were now the “Sonoma County Fair,” so peg 1883 as the birth year for the Sonoma County Fairgrounds – although it wouldn’t be that for very long.

The latter part of the 1880s were boom years in Santa Rosa, the town propelled forward by easy money and a frenzy of construction. James P. Clark’s racetrack was now called the fastest in the state and the Association joined the northern racing circuit, which meant that almost all of the horses running at the track were from out of the area, and maybe out of the state; gone was any pretense that it was still a county-centric event. Part of the scene was also the opening of “Kroncke’s Park” in 1886, giving Santa Rosa its first real park – albeit one that charged admission. The park often had novelty events on weekends and underwrote fares on excursion trains from San Francisco, which brought up daytripping city folk as well as hoodlums wanting to get drunk and brawl. It’s likely no coincidence that the worst violence seemed to come when an excursion coincided with race week at the fair, as it did in 1887.

It was around this time that Santa Rosa’s history took a dark turn. The professional horse races brought in professional gamblers and the town came to welcome them by throwing out state and city betting laws. By the time this was exposed in 1905, Santa Rosa was a corrupt “wide-open town” where police tolerated criminal activity. Even though local children were found gambling at roulette wheels and crap tables in the backrooms of downtown saloons and hotels, this illegal gambling was condoned, even encouraged, by the City Council – as well as by the Press Democrat. For more, see the “WIDE-OPEN TOWN” series.

1899raceThe racetrack and fairgrounds were privately owned for most of that time, the Association having sold it in 1890 to Ira Pierce, a wealthy San Francisco horseman. Locals bemoaned this meant the end of horse racing in Santa Rosa, as Pierce was mainly interested in using it for training his own stable of horses at first. After several years he began hosting annual Breeders’ Association races around the turn of the century (1898, 1899, 1901, 1904, 1905, 1907 and 1908, if anyone cares, with races at the District Fair filling in the gap years 1900 and 1903).

He formally renamed it the Santa Rosa Stock Farm in 1900. That year the Sonoma-Marin Fair – which had not held since 1896 – was revived and hosted in Santa Rosa, but not at the fairgrounds. Pierce allowed his track to be used for races that one year, but the exhibitions were at Ridgway Hall on Third Street and the livestock were shown at the Fifth street stockyard. The fair repeated in 1901 and 1902 but without the races, and now it was called a “big street fair.” Fourth street was spanned by a canvas tent for free concerts and vaudeville shows.

Pierce and his brother sold the (old) race track (and stock farm) (at Agricultural Park) – among the name variations used by the Press Democrat – in 1911, and the next year it was owned by two local men: C. C. Donovan and his brother, Ney. Their first plan was to subdivide it for homes; it hadn’t been a fairgrounds for nearly a quarter century at that point.

That could have been the final end of this evolutionary branch, but the Donovans had incentives to restore it as a racetrack and fairgrounds. There was $1800 being held by the District Agricultural Fair Association ever since the last one, and the legislature approved even larger appropriations to promote District fairs with Sonoma county getting $4k of that money. So once again Santa Rosa hosted the Sonoma-Marin District Fair in 1913.

This was the first Sonoma County Fair that would seem familiar to today’s fairgoers. From the Press Democrat:

The pavilion in which the great agricultural and horticultural display will be made will be brilliantly lighted, as will the other exhibit stands and places and grounds. There will be something to entertain the crowd all the time. Hoffman of Sacramento will have some good attractions for the “Midway Plaisance.” Spectacular features will be pulled off each night, and two nights of the week an added attraction will be a grand display of fireworks. The electrical effects on the grounds and at the entrance arch are to be something very fine.

This would have been one of the great fairs to attend in a Wayback Machine. Both Jack London and Luther Burbank were on hand (showing cattle and “famed creations,” respectively). The centerpiece of the pavilion was an illuminated globe covered with dried apples and prunes, for some reason. The exhibits included Pomo basketry collections, A. C. Hessell’s corn on stalk, Mrs. G. R. Unzelman’s jabots, Mrs. Hawley’s crochet tidy, and Mrs. Edith M. Davis’ angora and persian cats. There was a “Better Baby” contest. (“There will be no prizes for mere prettiness. The babies will be judged by scientific methods. Not only will they be judged but an endeavor will be made from year to year to raise the standard of babies.”) On closing night there was a “Mardi Gras” on the Midway.

That incarnation of the County Fair lasted until 1916. It was revived with great enthusiasm in 1920; the fairgrounds received a major facelift and they even built a new grandstand which could hold 2,000. That year proved to be ill-fated. On Saturday a stunt pilot crashed his plane and died in front of the audience; on Sunday two race car drivers were killed along with a 7 year-old boy watching outside the fence. And just prior to that Sunday accident a man working at a concession stand noticed flames were licking up one of the support posts of the grandstand, a fire presumably started by a cigarette dropped in the sawdust under the newly-built stands. Quick work by him and a Deputy Sheriff put out the fire with none of the audience the wiser. “Had it become known among the crowd that an incipient fire was burning under the stand it is considered almost certain that there would have been a panic,” commented the Press Democrat.

Those incidents may have contributed to moving the fair to the Cotati Speedway in 1921, followed by two years back in Petaluma as the Sonoma-Marin Fair (featuring Egg Day!) but after that there were no more fairs here by any name for more than a decade. In 1931 the grandstand in Santa Rosa was razed again and a golf course constructed in the middle of the race track. The property was primarily used by a riding club, for horse boarding, and rented by visiting circuses.

And finally came 1936, the year that the Sonoma County Fair & Exposition, Inc. considers Year One, ignoring everything that had happened up to then.

Reviving the fair was a team effort of the Chamber of Commerce and all the other booster groups, with leadership from Joseph T. Grace and Ernest Finley, the PD’s editor-publisher. Finley made it clear in an editorial that there would be no more of this “Agricultural District Fair” crap – this was to be branded as the Sonoma County Fair, by god, and it was gonna make Santa Rosa a force that would command R.E.S.P.E.C.T. His obit said Finley regarded this as his finest achievement along with the campaign for the Golden Gate Bridge.

That fair was unabashedly an excuse for horse racing; there was surprisingly little else to see or do, although there was – significantly – a floral show, where Mrs. H. J. Holtorf of Graton took home an astonishing number of ribbons. Some local bands played concerts (see photo at top, courtesy Sonoma County Library) and there was a talent contest that stretched over several days, the big winner being Vera Potapoff for her dead-on impersonation of Popeye.

How things have changed since then; the races have increasingly taken a back seat to all other entertainments at the Sonoma County Fair in the decades since, and as the Press Democrat recently noted, interest in horse racing has particularly declined sharply over the last decade, and betting along with it.

But there’s still one year back then worth revisiting: 1945. When the gates opened on September 22 to the “Victory Fair,” the air must have been electric with excitement. The fair went on hiatus in 1943, when the fairgrounds were used as Regimental headquarters for the Ohio National Guard 107th Cavalry, which patrolled the North Coast that year. There was no fair in 1944 either, but come September 1945, the war had ended just weeks before; returning soldiers and sailors by the thousands were stepping off ships and airplanes nearly every day in San Francisco. Over 10,000 were jammed into the fairgrounds on the afternoon of that first day and over 11k the next, both remarkable because Santa Rosa’s population was about 15,000. The Press Democrat offered a picture of the grandstand looking down from the high back wall: “Like Sardines,” was the photo caption. “City Overflows With Visitors,” was another headline.

Alas, the PD chose to focus almost entirely on the races – which horse had the best odds, was scratched from the racecard, won the biggest purse. Stuff that no one cared about even a day later. What a lost opportunity; that was surely the happiest Sonoma County Fair in its history, and an unforgettable moment in the lives of everyone there. How rare it is that we can point to a spot on the calendar and say, yeah, that really was the best of times.

Press Democrat, September 22 1945
Press Democrat, September 22 1945


Jockey Club. — All persons who are interested in, or lovers of, Fine stock are requested to meet at the Court House in Santa Rosa, on Wednesday, Feb. 22d, at 2 o’clock, p. m., for the purpose of forming a Jockey Club.


Mr. Clark, of the Union stable, is preparing an excellent track, and putting up the necessary buildings to accommodate trainers and their stock, which he will have in readiness by the time the sporting season comes on.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 9 1860


A VISIT TO THE RACE TRACK. — We had the pleasure a few days since of a visit to the Santa Rosa Race Course, where the Fall races of the Sonoma County Jockey Club are announced to take place in September. The track is a new one just being made by Mr. Clark, of this place. The location is excellent and the grounds good, and the proprietor has displayed both good taste and judgement in the selection. Mr. Clark has erected twelve excellent stalls and is progressing rapidly with the other work in and about the course, and by the time the races come off everything will be in excellent condition….

– Sonoma Democrat, July 19 1860


CROWDED BUT LIVELY. — Since the Fair commenced, Santa Rosa has been crowded, and presents a lively appearance. The gambling fraternity, as was expected, are largely represented. We have noticed but little drunkenness, comparatively, but whiskey has been the cause of several fights; among them one in which a deadly weapon was used. On Wednesday evening a difficulty occurred in a gambling house between several persons. Harry Howe interfered on behalf of a friend in settling the affair, and after, as Howe supposed, the matter had been arranged, and he was walking down Main street, he was fired upon with a pistol, it is thought in the hands of the person with whom his friend had been quarreling. The ball entered the calf of his left leg. The wounded man was attended by Dr. Green of Napa, who extracted the ball from the instep of the foot. Howe was at last accounts, “doing as well as could be expected.” A fight occurred at the race track on Tuesday. One of the combatants was badly whipped.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 26 1861


RACE TRACK.—The race track which we spoke of as being under headway a short time since, on James P. Clark’s ranch, about a mile and a half from town, is now finished and in good condition for training purposes. The track is a circle one, half mile in length, and the soil of such a nature that there is no danger of injuring the feet of horses. A number of gentlemen are training their horses at the new track, and it is rumored that in about two weeks the first races will come off. We hope this may prove a success, as it will encourage the raising of fine stock in the county.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 29 1869


THE CLARK ADDITION.—This property, belonging to James P. Clark, Esq., consists of some forty acres of as rich land as can be found in the county. It is close by the depot, and has been surveyed and laid off in town lots, the dimensions of which are 40×100. In a short time all will be disposed of, as we understand they are to be offered for sale at a very liberal figure.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 19 1870


Race Course and Fair Grounds. —A movement is on foot to establish a race course and fair grounds near this city. The location spoken of is on the lands of Mrs. Hendley, three-fourths of a mile south east of the plaza. The track will be one mile in length, and nearly elliptical in form. A diagram of the grounds and proposed location of the buildings and stands has been made by Captain J. T, Kingsbury.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 11 1877


The Agricultural Park.

The talk that has been indulged in for so long by our citizens relative to the construction of an Agricultural Park, has at length culminated in the purchase of a tract of about ninety acres from Mrs. Headley for that purpose. The land was surveyed on Saturday and the bargain closed.

That such an enterprise will be of incalculable benefit is a self-evident proposition, and now that the movement seems to be fairly inaugurated, we hope it will be carried on successfully and to the satisfaction of all.

The probable expense of getting the matter under way, and of fitting up the grounds, can hardly be estimated. A mile track is to graded, leveled and fenced; the entire grounds must be enclosed; a number of sheds for the stabling of stock and storing of feed must be provided; and last and greatest expense of all, a pavilion must be erected.

The means taken to raise the money for the purchase of the land, was by circulating the following petition: We, the undersigned, hereby agree to pay, in gold coin, the respective amounts set opposite our names for the purpose of raising $7,000 tor the purchase of 95 acres of land of Mrs. Hendley, to build and erect an agricultural park. Said land being situated on the south side of the Bennett Valley road, one-fourth mile east of the Petaluma road, and being distant from the Court House three-fourths of a mile. The following fourteen Gentlemen and firms have subscribed $500 each…

No plan for the erection of the buildings and completing the other improvements has been matured. The gentlemen above mentioned will doubtless hold a meeting soon to inaugurate some system, and then let their plans be submitted to our citizens.

We feel assured that the institution will be a success, and we hope that our citizens will aid in the advancement of the enterprise, and hope that the “Sonoma County Agricultural Society” will be one of our best and most promising County institutions.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 7 1878



The first races over on Sonoma County Agricultural Park Association’s track were held on Thursday, in spite of the short notice and in consequence the meager amount of advertising the races were well attended. The arrangements were not perfected until late late week, and the whole affair may be considered impromptu and by no means the formal opening of the track. The track is still heavy not having had the benefit of a winter’s rain, but is other* wise in excellent condition. ..

– Sonoma Democrat, October 11 1879


Agricultural Park Association.

Prominent among the important enterprises which have been started in Santa Rosa, the Sonoma County Agricultural Park Association deserves mention as being one much conducive to business interests and the welfare of our city generally. It was incorporated on January 11th, 1879, the charter members being… During the month of January, 1879, 60 acres of land south-east of Santa Rosa, and lying partly within the city limits, were purchased for $6,000, and work immediately commenced on the construction of a race track and for the beautifying of the grounds. The present stockholders are… The officers are: President, James P. Clark: Treasurer, Geo. P. Noonan; Secretary, Chas. Hoffer…

Last Wednesday, through the kindness of Mr. J. P. Clark, behind Lake and Black Jimmy, a spanking team, we had the pleasure of a drive over the track and grounds of the Association. Leading from the Petaluma road eastward, a short stretch up Bennett Avenue brought us to a drive, having on each side a row of poplars and at the end of which is the main entrance to the grounds. The track, which is one mile in length, and the soil of which consists of loam and sand has been so thoroughly worked that it has remained in good condition, notwithstanding the late very severe storm, is said by experts to be the best in the State, Among the many whose opinions are worthy of note are… all of whom concur in proclaiming that it is unequaled anywhere and is all that could be desired by the most exacting horseman….The grand stand which is a model of architecture, was completed yesterday by our well known builder. Hank C. Paul, at a cost of $2,500. It is situated on the east side of and 50 feet from the track and covers a space of 36×60 feet. It consists of two stories, having an elevation of 28 feet. In the upper portion of the building are comfortable seats for 300 spectators and from which an excellent view of all points of the track may be had. In the lower story on entering the main hall, which is six feet wide, the first room on the right is the sitting room 12½x14 feet; then there are three bedrooms, each of which is 12 feet square; on the left a dining-room 12½x26, a kitchen 12½x14, and a bar-room 12×21 feet go to make up the complement. Besides these there are wide halls throughout the building. The ceilings and walls, the former of which are 10 feet high in the clear, are constructed of grooved lumber. Two fireplaces lend to the comfort of guests and a porch 18×60 feet serves to protect spectators from any inclemencies of the weather. The whole, painted white, surmounted by a flag-staff 32 feet high, and so thoroughly constructed as it is, is one of the most beautiful and substantial buildings in our city and an honor to the contractor, Mr. Paul. There are about the grounds large numbers of trees—ash. maple, poplar, locust and evergreens in abundance, which as yet have not attained a full growth, but which in time will make the whole a handsome picture. Mr. Clark informs us that it is the intention of the Association to plant 2,500 Monterey cypress trees about one foot a part from the first quarter pole to opposite the third quarter pole, and around the fence of the entire grounds an evergreen hedge. North-east of the track there are fifty stables of an improved pattern, having every convenience for attending to the racer in a proper manner. There are two large tanks used as reservoirs for supplying water for sprinkling. A handsome building for the judges has been erected opposite the grand stand and from which an excellent view of the track can be obtained. The drainage system, now very good, is to be improved, and here we might also remark that the City Council propose widening to 60 feet Bennett Avenue, which leads to the grounds…

– Sonoma Democrat, March 5 1881


Sonoma County Agricultural Course.

As early as 1860 the citizens of Santa Rosa wore impressed with the idea that a race course would be an advantageous adjunct to the permanent improvement of the town, as well as the improvement of stock in the country around. Accordingly in the Fall of that year through the liberality of James P. Clark, who owned the land about where the depot now stands, and a few enterprising citizens, a course was built and a set of purses given to be contended for, to which contest the neighboring counties of Sonoma, Napa and Marin were invited. During that year, Orphan Bay, owned by Dr. Williams of Mendocino, Dashaway, owned by Achillis Grigsby of Napa, and several running celebrities put in an appearance. The track was kept up until the next year, 1861, when the second Agricultural Fair was held, when it was used as the Fair track and several very creditable races were run. The track was only of a temporary character, not fenced, nor graded, and the public spirit of the citizens not proving adequate to the expense of keeping up a good track, it was allowed to go into decline and was plowed up and turned into a grain field. Afterward it was laid off into lots and now forms a beautiful portion of the incorporated city of Santa Rosa. Scarcely a year has passed since that time, that the subject of the importance of a good race course has not been broached by some of our citizens, until in 1878, a few individuals formed themselves into a joint stock company and inaugurated an enterprise which has culminated in the establishment of one of the finest running and trotting courses in the United States. It is known as the Sonoma County Agricultural Park, is situated about one mile south of the Court House, is equal to and not surpassed by any course in the State. The Association have made arrangements for a meeting in August next, for two and three-year-olds owned in the District, composed of Sonoma, Napa, Solano and Marin, in each of which there are already nine entries. A visit to the Park on Sunday last, took us somewhat by surprise, not only at the conveniences of the track but the number that have taken advantage of them for the purpose of training. We found there the following: In the stable in charge of Guadeloupe Carrillo, a beautiful blood bay, five years old by Bayswater, owned by John Merritt…

– Sonoma Democrat, May 21 1881


Our Exhibition.

Frank H. Swett, Superintendent of the pavilion informs us that applications for space are coming in thick and fast, each day, and every arrival of the mail brings new ones. Sufficient applications have already been made to assure the success of the pavilion exhibition. We learn incidentally that Mrs. C. E. Pope is engaged in making a handsome satin and silk bedspread which will be placed on exhibition, and our Artist M. Schramm is prepared to cover over 200 square feet with an exhibition of oil paintings, crayons, etchings and every variety of photographic art. The entries to the races are filling rapidly and will be ready for publication in a few days. Mr. Laughlin Superintendent of the stock exhibition thinks there is not enough stalls to accommodate those desirous of exhibiting. We have already mentioned the fact that Sylvester Scott will place some of his pure bred stock on exhibition, and Wm. Bihler has sent up for space of nine stalls. Many others are coming in. Mr. Laughlin says that Uncle Jerry Beam is keeping a register of persons applying for space in the stock yards, for the convenience of all, as he resides in Santa Rosa and can be readily found at any time.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 11 1883


The Opening — Prospects of a Successful Fair — Large Number of Exhibits — Banquet in the Evening.


Santa Rosa, August 16th. – The morning of the first day of Fair week dawned deliciously cool and refreshing. The remnants of the heavy fog of the night previous lingered till long after breakfast hour. Nature seemed to smile in her happiest mood as if to sanction the efforts being made at our beautiful fair grounds for the propagation of the industry of our county. Early in the forenoon the carriages and vehicles of all descriptions began wending their way out to the grounds. As we approach the large enclosure the eye is struck with the beauty of the surroundings as viewed from the avenue. In the foreground is the large line of stalls with their coat of white, almost blinding to the eye. As we near the entrance the soft, mellow lowing of the kine, reminding one of the old-fashioned barnyard they love so well to recall. Further on a glimpse of the track is seen now and then, dotted here and there with the flyers destined to afford the visitors so much pleasure in the days to follow. Then there is the pavilion and grandstand looming up high above the surrounding tents and booths. As we near the gate the whole panorama-like scene, alive with busy life, bursts upon the view. At the gate the familiar face of “Gee Whack” meets our gaze, dispelling all sentimental thoughts occasioned by the lovely morning. But, stop! No entrance fee is charged this morning. “Has the enchanting morning rendered the Directors generous?” No, it’s the first day, and things have not settled down to their natural groove — business has not begun. Once inside, one begins to question within himself, which way first. The horses are being exercised, and the question is soon answered, as we find ourself gradually approaching the spectators that are congregated near the grand stand watching the noble animals as they whirl by, and on around the course. The familiar names of the noted trotters are called out as each favorite passes and is followed with glowing eye, until followed by another, and another. Even the horses seem to feel the magical influence of the perfect morning. Their nostrils dilate as they quaff deep draughts of the pure air, direct from the heavens. After watching the course and its occupants for some time we wander on and enter the pavilion. The exhibitors have just begun to arrange their goods, and one is not able to chain his attention to any one thing, so great is the hurry and bustle…

– Sonoma Democrat, August 21 1886


The Circuit Is Still Open.

The question has been asked whether, if the Agricultural Park is sold, Santa Rosa will be assigned a position in the northern circuit as formerly. One of the Directors of the Association says that it was only by special request that the Santa Rosa track was given a place in the circuit two years ago, and that it will be admitted on the same conditions if Mr. Pierce, the purchaser, carries out his intention of holding annual race meetings, concerning which there seems to be little doubt.

– Daily Democrat, March 22 1890



We quote from the Breeder and Sportsman: “An item under the heading of Turf and Track, informs the public that the Directors of the Santa Rosa Association have had their annual meeting and elected new officers for the ensuing year. So far so good, but there is a line or two at the end of the item which calls for comment. ‘The sentiment of the Board is opposed to holding a fair or races this year, unless a disposition different from that of former years is manifested by the people in this part of the country.’ It seems a shame that such a resolution was passed, and yet the Directors were compelled in justice to themselves to let the people of Santa Rosa know that there would be no more racing at that point, unless the citizens are willing to financially assist the gentlemen who usually have to put their hands in their pockets and pay a deficiency each year. During the year 1889, Napa made money, and Petaluma scored a financial success, but Santa Rosa lost. There Santa Rosa people at the Petaluma race track on one certain day, than there were Santa Rosa residents on any day at the track during the late Santa Rosa Meeting. They seem to have lost all interest in their own town and are all looking for the almighty dollar, without giving the requisite support to those who are trying to keep up the sport of the kings at that point. From the present outlook, Santa will be dropped from the circuit and it is nothing more than is due to the Santa Rosans for the lukewarm manner in which they have supported the late Directors in their efforts to secure good sport. What is to he done in the matter?

It is hardly possible that our horsemen, with all the eclat attaching to them through the fame of Anteeo and his progeny, with other promising developments, will allow the well improved Park course to deteriorate back into a grain field, or be cut up into town lots.

The stock of the association consists of 2,500 shares, the par value of which is $10 per share, making a capital of $25,000. The property embraces eighty acres of land, well improved, part of which is within the corporate limits of the city, 300 stalls for horses and cattle, a grand stand with seating capacity for 3,500 people, a commodious pavilion, water tanks and pipes, a growing park of nut and evergreen trees, and a cypress hedge around three-fourths of the track… Here, it seems to us, is an opportunity for some good conductor of a racetrack to make an investment which properly managed,should pay handsomely. Something should be done at once and we hope our local stockbreeders will give the matter serious consideration. If they do not then, Mr. Breeder and Sportsman, it will be in hand for you to send somebody with capital up to look into the matter.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 25 1890


Highly Probable That the Matter Will Be Carried Through.

Santa Rosa horsemen are much interested in the proposed races to be held here, Frank Burke, one of the most prominent members of the Breeder’s Association, has signified bis intention of seeing what arrangements can be made about securing the track and giving Santa Rosa a first-class race meeting. There is not time enough for the local horsemen to arrange for the meeting, but the Association, being in the business, could handle the muter with more ease and facility.

The track is in good shape, and but little work would be required to place it in prime form.

There is not a question of the feasibility of the proposition. The races heretofore have always been satisfactory from a pecuniary point of view and the receipts from the meeting would leave a comfortable sum over the expenditures.

A large number of our business men would help raise the necessary money. Every one interested in racing speaks of the favorable condition for a race meeting. The failure of Petaluma to bold the annual race meeting leaves a vacancy in the racing circuit that we can easily fill with the assistance of the Breeder’s Association, who, it is believed, will be willing to take the matter in charge.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 3 1895


Fine Horses and Trainers are Arriving Here Daily
Magnificent String of Racing Stock at the Track Ready for the Great Meet

A good many people were out bright and early at the Santa Rosa stock farm track yesterday and found much pleasure in watching the trotters and pacers work, training for the race meet.

A look at the fine animals at the track now from many places in the state, is sufficient to warrant anyone in saying that the race meet which opens here on Saturday afternoon, will be successful from start to finish.

The track gossip among the trainers and drivers already here is that some records will be established at the meet on a fast track, records which will cause the grand stand to open up with applause… There is no question but that next week will be a great occasion for Santa Rosa and Sonoma county.

– Press Democrat, August 17 1898


Nearly Two Hundred Horses Already at the Track
The Fastest Trotters and Pacers in the State Will Start at the August Meeting Here

A scene of great activity is to be witnessed at the Santa Rosa race track every morning when the light harness horses are brought out for their regular work preparatory to the races to be given by the Pacific Coast Trotting Horse Breeders Association which will commence on August 14th and continue for one week. More interest is being taken throughout the East in harness racing this year and the meetings on the Grand Circuit there are drawing the largest crowds of people that have attended the races for many years past. With the district fair appropriations restored in California a prosperous racing season is assured fur those interested, and more horses are in training this year than for several seasons past. The prospects are that the meeting at Santa Rosa will show some of the most exciting contests to capture the big purses offered, that have over taken place on this coast…

– Press Democrat, August 2 1899



All roads and all trains will lead to Santa Rosa during Fourth of July week, and with the double attraction of a grand celebration on the Fourth and the races to be given by the Pacific Coast Trotting Horse Breeders’ association the county seat of Sonoma county will contain several thousand more people than its regular residents. The California Northwestern railway will run excursions from all points on its line to Santa Rosa on the Fourth of July at half fare. The day will certainly be a gala one and a red-letter event in the history of the county…

– Press Democrat, June 27 1900


Good Day’s Sport At the Local Track
Auspicious Beginning of the First Annual Meeting of the Santa Rosa Racing Association

Lined up against the infield fence at Pierce Bros.’ track yesterday afternoon were most if not all ot Santa Rosa’s swellest turnouts. The occasion was the opening of the first annual meet of the Santa Rosa Racing Association, and the local admirers of the thoroughbred were out in good force.

The ladies were especially in evidence and the fluttering of ribbons and summer fineries added much to the gaiety of the scene. The day was ideal and the track was fast. Music by Parks’ full orchestra filled in the time between heats and, taken all in all, the occasion was a very auspicious one. The attendance was fully up to the average first day’s turnout and considerable money changed hands, the bookies, it is said, quitting losers.

This is the first time in twelve years that Santa Rosans have had the privilege of witnessing running races at the local track, and the interest taken in the bang-tails showed that the oldtime tendency of the public is still there…

– Press Democrat, August 13 1901


The World’s Record Breaker Was Born, Raised and Trained at the Santa Rosa Stock Farm

When the news was received here Monday and displayed on the Press Democrat bulletin board that Lou Dillon, the Santa Rosa mare, had lowered the world’s record to two minutes at Readville, Mass., enthusiasm ran high among the horsemen and citizens generally, who were greatly pleased at the worldwide reputation the City of Roses had gained in producing the fastest trotter in the world.

Lou Dillon, in her wonderful race on Monday, greatly exceeded what the world of sport expected she would do. During the afternoon and evening men gathered in knots of twos and threes and later in greater numbers, and the mare’s achievement was the one topic of conversation. It seemed like a dream to the horsemen. At first it seemed too good to be true.

– Press Democrat, August 25 1903




– Press Democrat, June 12 1904


A fine entrance to the race track and stock farm where the big district fair will be held is being erected, and when completed it will be most attractive. During fair week it will be a blaze of electric globes. In fact, it is planned to string lights from Fourth street to the entrance of the grounds as a part of the exterior decoration.

– Press Democrat, July 26 1913

Read More


In 1905, Santa Rosa had two faces – as did its main newspaper, the Press Democrat.

On one side was the sleepy little farm town, where we all met downtown Saturday night to listen to the brass band tootling away on the courthouse balcony as we shopped, and what crime was reported in the newspaper was the likes of an occasional stolen bicycle or attempted burglary. Santa Rosa could’ve been the model for the dear little town in “The Music Man.”

But there was another Santa Rosa that was less sugar and a lot more spice. Downtown was more like a “mining camp” when there were horse races in town, and our small community had a red-light district large enough to service, well, a mining camp. Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley never mentioned that face of Santa Rosa, and didn’t like it when the young lions over at the Santa Rosa Republican published an exposé of the illegal gambling scene and the city’s complicity. In the weeks that followed, the saloonkeepers and others who profited from gambling attempted to intimidate or close the Republican through a subscriber and advertiser boycott. While Finley didn’t openly endorse the call to shut down his rival, he used it as an opportunity to ambush the Republican by renewing a petty feud that he had started earlier in 1905.

For twenty years or more, Santa Rosa’s nasty gambling addiction was kept out of the papers by editors like the Press Democrat’s Ernest Finley and the Republican’s Alan Lemmon. Whether they personally liked gambling (or for that matter, prostitution) is unknown; perhaps they kept mum because they feared exactly the sort of backlash from gambling interests as was faced by the new editor and publisher of the Republican. Most likely, though, the editors and town elders saw wide-spread gambling and prostitution as necessary evils to draw visitors. As transcribed in the previous post, the Sacramento Bee wrote an editorial in support of the Republican noting that this was an argument also made in the state capitol: “The same sort of talk has often been heard in Sacramento – that the majority of the residents favored gambling, at least during the State Fair and at all other times when efforts were made to draw crowds to the city.”

And the number of visitors drawn to Santa Rosa and the amount of money gambled could be substantial. Although the PD usually described racetrack attendance in generalities like “a good sized crowd,” the item below shows that even an off-season race could draw five hundred from San Francisco (that there were so many bordellos is no longer surprising) and that side bets at the racetrack could pay around double the $300 that an average American worker made at the time as an annual wage.

Yes, we had Trouble right here in our River City – With a capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘P’ and that stands for ‘ponies’ and ‘prostitution.’ Only we didn’t have a Harold Hill to rouse the town against it until 1905.

Meet Under Auspices of San Francisco Driving Club Proves a Success

The San Francisco Driving Club held a very successful race meet at the track of the Santa Rosa Stock Farm on Sunday afternoon and some excellent racing was witnessed by a large crowd of enthusiastic spectators. The afternoon was not devoid of sensational features and fun.

A special train brought five hundred visitors from San Francisco and a great many more swelled the crowd from this section. Owing to the oncoming of darkness two of the harness races were not finished and it was agreed to complete them and have another meet here next Sunday.

Some good time was made in the free for all, which by the way proved the most interesting event of the afternoon…five horses are entered and each owner puts up $100 apiece and the winner will take the $500 in addition to the club purse…

– Press Democrat, October 17, 1905

1905 “Wide-Open Town” Series
1 2 3 4

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If it wasn’t for that little matter of an earthquake in 1906, the biggest news story in early 20th century Santa Rosa would’ve been the exposé that for at least one week every year, Santa Rosa was a “wide-open town” where police tolerated criminal activity. Even though local children were found alongside professional gamblers from San Francisco at roulette wheels and crap tables in the backrooms of downtown saloons and hotels, illegal gambling was condoned, even encouraged, by the City Council – as well as by Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley.

Santa Rosa’s biggest dirty little secret was that the August horse races brought in gamblers from outside Sonoma County, and the town welcomed them by throwing out state and city gambling laws. Local authorities kept an eye out for cheating during the illegal games, sometimes watching too closely; one deputy sheriff was found gambling himself, and a former deputy was running an illegal card game. An unnamed “prominent city official” was also among those betting and inviting his friends to “come up.”

This pattern of lawlessness apparently dated back to the 1880s and was ignored until the 1905 racing season, when the new editor and publisher in charge of the Santa Rosa Republican published the investigative story below. This was a kind of fresh journalism that Santa Rosa had not before seen. The Press Democrat at this time of year read more like The Racing News, reporting all track results, time of each horse, and the purse for each race, complete with racetrack lingo: “Charlie T. was out for the long green,” “Miss Win felt the flag.” Photographs, otherwise rarely found in the PD at this time, were plentiful when it came to horsey portraits during racing week.

Press Democrat editor Finley first tried to downplay the rival paper’s scoop. In a short item seen at right (transcribed below), and next to one of its typical racing blurbs, the PD reported only that “visiting jockeys, race attendants, etc., found small opportunity for indulging in their favorite pastime” because of the crackdown, still ignoring the larger problem that the paper had long ignored. When arrests were made the following day, the PD likewise made not much ado.

Finley apparently didn’t see that he was on the wrong side of history by sanctioning illegality. Reform was in the wind during 1905 and following years, thanks in part to both the progressive leadership of newly-elected President Teddy Roosevelt and the golden age of muckraking journalism. Change was certainly the byword in San Francisco, where a series of Grand Juries and activist groups were starting to root out the corruption of long-time city boss Abe Reuf. Just days after the Santa Rosa Republican exposed illegal gaming in the City of Roses, an August 20 Press Democrat headline reported on the newly-released findings by the San Francisco Grand Jury, “POLICE INVOLVED IN CORRUPTION AND FRAUD.” But the PD’s skimpy article mentioned only “charges of malfeasance and misconduct” without going into detail that the Grand Jury found specifically that elected top SF officials and police were taking kickbacks and bribes from gamblers, bordellos, and illegal saloons. Too close to home, perhaps?

To be fair, it must be noted that the Santa Rosa Republican likewise ignored local crime. As described in “Wide Open Town Part I,” Santa Rosa had an enormous red-light district for the size of this town, with no fewer than eleven houses of prostitution just a couple of blocks away from the downtown courthouse. It was mentioned in passing once in an essay published by the Republican, but neither paper crusaded against Sonoma County’s Ground Zero for prostitution.

It took Editorialissimo Finley a week to plan out a campaign, and his counterstrike was both brilliant and deplorable: he completely ignored everything about the illegal gambling issue, instead slamming the Republican for supposedly being ignorant about and/or hostile to vital Sonoma County agricultural issues. Distract and demonize: Finley’s 1905 Press Democrat was the Fox News of its day – petty, mean, vindictive, and wrong.

Finley blasted away with charges that the Republican was trying to “force the price of hops downward” by simply printing bonafide market reports. The Republican foolishly defended itself, which gave the Press Democrat even more ammo. The Republican editor should have known better; this incident was an almost exact replay of the opening salvo of the newspaper feud of 1905, when the PD misquoted Luther Burbank, the Republican corrected the error, and the two papers ended up in a silly squabble over whether Burbank was “chagrined” or not.

But this time around the dance floor, the Press Democrat brought friends with sharp elbows. “This afternoon the Republican learned that a petition was being circulated among the merchants of the community asking that those who are advertisers with the Republican agree to discontinue their patronage, because of the stand that this paper has taken in the matter of printing the facts about the gambling games,” the Republican noted in the issue following their exposé. A couple of days later, they noted that Frank Brown of the Oberon Saloon was leading a boycott of the Republican, followed by a smug little editorial note in the Press Democrat: “Santa Rosa should have a big street fair or something of the kind this year. Who will take the contract to get out and raise the necessary funds?” Promoting that upcoming street fair was none other than Frank Brown, who stayed true to his words and took out no advertisements in the Santa Rosa Republican. This exhibition of pique ended when the carnival arrived, and discovered that it wasn’t being promoted at all in one of the town’s newspapers.

And with that, the battle lines were drawn. Finley began calling the rival paper the “Evening Fakir,” which he would continue to use until the earthquake. The Republican took to calling the Press Democrat the “Morning Screamer.”


For several weeks it has been known that preparations were quietly going on for the running of gambling games during the races here this week. Gambling was done last night in at least five places in town. Today, after the Chief of Police and Sheriff had stated that they did not feel called upon to interfere, the facts in the case were presented to the District Attorney. At noon Deputy Rolfe Thompson issued an order directing the peace officers to enfoce the law. Whether the illegal gamess will close remains to be seen.

The “Tiger” was loose in Santa Rosa last night.

Gambling games, prohibited not only by the State law but by city ordinances, were in full blast in at least five places in the city and no effort was made by the authorities to stop them.

In fact the games were even patronized by a deputy sheriff and at one of them a prominent city official was playing and inviting his friends to “come up.”

While the games had hardly settled down to the kind of play that is usually seen in places where the “lid” is off, it was tolerably brisk, the patronage good and the operators took in a nice pile of coin.

An investigation made by the Republican during the evening disclosed scenes down town that resembled in miniature those in mining camps where gambling is the only diversion and amusement of the men.

Faro, roulette, craps and klondike were the games that were being run and they were not only patronized by the visitors from San Francisco, but by many residents of Santa Rosa.

There may have been games in progress elsewhere during the night, but those that were found in full blast were at the Occidental Hotel on Fourth street, at the Grand Hotel, corner of Third and Main streets, and at the Palace Saloon at the corners of Third and Main streets.


At the Occidental Hotel there were four different games running. These were klondike, craps, roulette and faro. The klondike games was in the room where the bar is located. It was partly screened from view by a large curtain of calico-like stuff. The other three games were operated in the little room off the bar where cards are usually played.

It was in this room that the deputy sheriff already alluded to “bucked the tiger” and ventured some of the coin he earns by preserving law and order in the Imperial County of Sonoma. He took a spin at roulette, which was presided over by a man who might have been fifty or thereabouts, but who seemed an expert at making the wheel go around. On leaving the roulette game the deputy sheriff went to the klondike game, which was presided over by a man who, unless his appointment has recently been revoked, was also a deputy sheriff for the County of Sonoma. It is understood that the deputy was out under orders from the Sheriff to see that no “crooked” work was done.


While the roulette wheel had a fair share of patronage it was apparently not so attractive to the men, young and old, as were the craps and faro games. Around these tables were the sons of some of the best people in Santa Rosa–parents who, doubtless, had not the slightest suspicion that their boys were witnessing the seductive games that the law has seen fit to prohibit for the good of society. Some of the boys ventured a little bit of money and most of them lost. But of course they were being initiated in the art of “bucking the tiger” and it was to be expected that they would have to pay for their experience.

Among these young men were those who hold positions of trust in business and official life here in Santa Rosa, and it is understood that one lost all the coin he had although, according to his own admissions, he had overdrawn his bank account.


Across the street at the Oberon there were two games in operation with a piano player to help the sport along and make harmony with the click of the dice. Here, too, the games were hidden from public view by the use of a curtain which reached to the ceiling. Behind a klondike outfit and a crap game were in full blast. Patronage was good but, possibly, not so liberal as it was at the Occidental.

Another hotel–the Grand–had a klondike table going in the card room to the rear of the bar. The patronage here was somewhat limited, although the “tiger” was doubtless as easy to buck as it was elsewhere in the city.

On the opposite corner in the Palace Saloon another klondike game was going.

Further down Main street at 103, in the Senate Saloon, still another klondike game was to be seen, and the operator lazily counted his coin, as he pondered how much larger a crowd he would probably have had were he located on Fourth street.


All during the evening the city’s police officers were in evidence, and there is reason to believe that they were just a bit disturbed at the situation. Frequent conferences were held and there was much riding up and down on wheels as if they were looking for someone, but so far as is known the games were not molested.

The Republican has been informed that heretofore when there have been races at the track that the “lid” has been taken off and that gambling was winked at by the officials. Just why this was so the Republican is not informed. Other communities enforce the law and there is apparently no valid reason why the “tiger” should have swing in this city.

The law on the subject is too plain to be misunderstood or overlooked. Both the State and the city have laws on the subject. For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with them the Republican prints herewith quotations from State as well as city ordinances.



Chief of Police Severson was seen this morning and asked in regard to the games that were running last night. He said that he knew the games always ran during the race meets and that while they were prohibited by law he had heretofore received instructions from the Council to “keep things down” the best we could and prevent any crooked games. “I am powerless to do anything if the Council will not back me up,” said Severson. “Two years ago I made an arrest and went to considerable expense but the Council would not allow the bill and I was out $58. I do not understand that things are any different now. If I hear that any more crooked games are being run the men who operate them will be pinched. Anyhow it is up to the Sheriff. I take my orders from him in the last resort and he ought to enforce the state law if it is being broken and the people do not like it. My policy will be to do the best I can under the circumstances unless I receive instructions to close up the games.”


Sheriff Grace was also seen. He made the same statement that Severson had made – that it had been the custom to hold things down so that while the games were allowed to operate nothing but games he called “square” would be countenanced. The Sheriff thought that he was doing his duty under the circumstances, for it was only following custom which permitted more latitude in town during the week that the races were here. Said he when it was suggested that the state law was specific upon the subject: “I don’t propose to stand for any crooked games. In order to do this I had Gist out last night with three others to wath the games and see that they were being run on the “square.” If they are to be closed down it is up to the District Attorney. He is the man to act. You know I am not a candidate for re-election, and I think the orders should come from the office up stairs.”


District Attorney Pond is out of town enjoying his vacation, but in his absence Deputy Rolfe Thompson is in charge of the office. When the matter was broached to Mr. Thompson he said at once that if there were violations of the law the District Attorney’s office would do all in its power to stop them. Accordingly he looked up the law, and after an investigation into the facts decided that his office would at once make a move to shut up the game. His plan was to instruct the peace officers of the county to do their duty and close the games.


In protesting against the continuance of gambling in Santa Rosa the Republican wishes it to be distinctly understood that the policy of this paper is for all legitimate sporting enterprise. The raising and breeding of fine horses is not only one of the most important industries in the county, but is one of the most important in the state as well. And speed contests between high-bred animals on a fine track are things that make the blood tingle in the veins of every true American. And the industry ought to be encouraged in every possible manner.

But it is assumed that it is no more necessary for the present races at the Santa Rosa track to be accompanied by the legally prohibited gambling games that it is in other places where the law is obeyed and enforced. The papers are full of instances where gambling has worked ruin to many bright, promising men and boys, and so thoughtul of society is the law that it has put strict prohibitions on the statute books.


About noon Deputy District Attorney Thompson announced that he had been in communication with Mr. Pond over the telephone at Healdsburg and that the latter had said to go ahead and do what the situation demanded. “Mr. Pond also told me to notify the peace officers to enforce the law and to say that if they did not comply that actions would be brought against them for not performing their sworn duties,” said Mr. Thompson.

“Acting upon these instructions I at once told Chief of Police Severson to close up all games he found operating. Mr. Severson said he would do so and I understand that he so informed his men. I made an effort to get at the Sheriff but he was closeted at the time. However, I shall see him later and say to him what I told the Chief of Police.”

The Deputy District Attorney also caused to be published the notice which appears in larger type on this page [DEPUTY ROLFE THOMPSON ORDERS LAW ENFORCED…]. He said that he hoped he would not be compelled to take any further steps, but that evidence had been and was being gathered and that if the games continued to run that prosecutions would result.


P.H. Quinn of the Occidental Hotel was interviewed in connection with the games. He declared in the most emphatic trms that he had nothing personally to do with the operations of the games. Mr. Quinn said: “I do not believe in gambling. I think the games do no good, and the only reason that we tolerated them in the house because it was represented to us that somebody in authority had given permission for the games to be run during this week. At any other time we do not permit anything of the kind on the premises. We permitted certain parties to use the hotel only this week and if the authorities want the games closed they will have our co-operation. It seems that those who subscribed the money to bring the races here felt that in the operation of the games that they would find a way to get their money back.”

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 16, 1905
Warning Issued by Deputy District Attorney Rolfe Thompson Closes up Most of Places

Walter Farley, Lous Guesa and Deputy Sheriff Bob Garner were arrested this morning on complaints sworn to charging them with gambling, running a percentage and banking game known as klondike.

Despite the warnings given the men yesterday by Chief of Police Severson these men saw fit to violate the law and conducted a gambling game last night at the Oberon Saloon. Each of the men was found conducting a game, and warrants were sworn to this morning on which they were arrested. They were notified to be at Justice Atchinson’s court room this afternoon at 2 o’clock.

There was no attempt to disguise the fact that gambling was being carried on in the saloon last evening. Dozens of persons were about the gaming tables.

The crowd surrounding the table included sons of some prominent families of the City of Roses, who were being given a rudimentary education in the seductive pastime of gambling.

Under orders from Chief of Police Severson his officers went into all the saloons last evening and inspected them for games.

So far as is known the Oberon was the only place which did not comply with the order of the District Attorney. The Occidental Hotel, true to the statement made by P.H. Quinn, closed up the games.

This afternoon the three men against whom complaints were issued appeared before Justice A. J. Atchinson through their attorney, Joseph P. Berry. They took advantage of the statutes, which provides that they may have two days in which to be arraigned and enter their pleas.

District Attorney Thompson has announced that these men will be arrested again if caught conducting games tonight or at any other time, and that any others caught gambling will also be dealt with according to the law.


This afternoon the Republican learned that a petition was being circulated among the merchants of the community asking that those who are advertisers with the Republican agree to discontinue their patronage, because of the stand that this paper has taken in the matter of printing the facts about the gambling games.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 17, 1905

The gamblers, the backers of the illegal games and some others who feel their business and political interests are involved with the men who own the “layouts” are exceedingly wroth with the Republican because it has had the unparalleled audacity to publish the facts, to point out the very stringent provisions of the law against gaming and in doing so, to disturb the “custom” of twenty or more years’ standing and place the responsibility where it belongs. In their heat at the stand this paper has taken, those who feel injured have proclaimed that the Republican is opposed to saloons, that they have more money than the publishers of the Republican, that they will “put the paper out of business” and that all kinds of “discipline” will be administered in copious doses.

In discussing the statements thus made to obscure the real issue, the Republican wishes to say that it does not for one instant believe that the community sentiment of Santa Rosa is for gambling – open or secret – nor that its residents acquiesce in the “custom” prevailing in previous years. It believes that had the matter been brought to an issue at any time in the past, public sentiment would have been unmistakable. It is so now. The great majority of people in this city are glad that the “custom” of “taking off the lid” during racing meets or other gatherings has been fractured and that in future illegal gaming will not be “winked at.”

The assertion that The Republican is opposed to race meets is puerile and untrue. This paper has given freely of its space to encourage the present meet and will do so again. It is, however, opposed to the proposition that a successful meet can only be had by throwing open the town to the gamblers and ignoring the plain provisions of a most stringent law…

The Republican has no quarrel with saloon men as a class. Under the law, a man has as much right to deal in wet goods as in dry goods. But because the law gives a man license to conduct a saloon and protects him in that right is all the more reason why he should endeavor to abide by the law, which forbids in the strongest terms the countenancing of gambling, even though it has been the “custom” for time out of mind.

As to the other remarks or threats, The Republican will blushingly admit that the parties who feel they have a right to be aggrieved possess “more money” than its publishers. It congratulates them on their opulence, merely suggesting that with so much of the world’s goods it woould seem unnecessary that their store of gold should be added to by the adoption of questionable methods.

As to the threat made to “put the paper out of business,” The Republican inclines to the belief that the persons responsible for the statement will think better of it.

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, August 17, 1905

Vistiting Jockeys and Race Attendants Will Not Indulge in Their Favorite Pastime This Week to Any Great Extent

The “lid” was off Tuesday night and in several places the gambling that usually forms a regular part of the race week program was indulged in. But on Wednesday notice was sent out from the District Attorney’s office to the effect that no further indulgence in games of chance would be permitted, and last night the lid was back in its accustomed place, and the visiting jockeys, race attendants, etc., found small opportunity for indulging in their favorite pastime. At one Fourth street resort no attention was paid to the notification, and late last night a Press Democrat representative was informed by authorities that a charge would be filed against its proprietors this morning for failing to comply with the law against conducting games of chance.

– Press Democrat, August 17, 1905

Boycott Against the Republican Gains One Admitted Convert

They boycott against the Republican instituted by Mr. Frank Brown and his friends because this paper printed the facts about the existence of gambling games here apparently does not make the headway immediately that Mr. Brown hoped it would.

During the past twenty-four hours just one man stopped his paper and he was in the saloon business and probably listened to Brown’s specious arguments that the Republican was a “temperance” paper…in certain quarters it was reported with great glee that over two hundred subscribers of the paper had shown their very great displeasure by stopping the paper…

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 19, 1905


The small coterie of gambers and their friends who are opposing the efforts of the District Attorney to enforce the law of the state and are also attempting to boycott the Republican for printing the facts concerning the illegal games are resorting to the argument that the closing down of the games will be a detriment to the city’s business interests…

…What the banker and the merchant and the real estate man all seek is new families who will make their homes in the community and spend their earnings among the store-keepers, put savings in the banks, and buy property to improve.

Touts, gamblers and sure-thing men do not do this. In fact they are a menace to the large property owner, who, least of all, wants anything to happen that will depreciate values… it is just as much to the interests of the ordinary saloonkeeper to keep out gamblers as it is to the interests of the grocer, the hardware man, or the butcher.

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, August 19, 1905

(Editorial in Sacramento Bee, August 21.)

Because the Santa Rosa Republican has had the courage to take a firm stand against gambling in that town, and to publish the facts regarding violations of the laws against gambling, a number of saloon men and other persons have undertaken to boycott the paper by withdrawing their advertisements. The Republican is by no means cowed by this contemptible effort to prevent it from doing its duty, but, on the contrary, is making a plucky fight, not only against the gamblers but also against those who are aiding and abetting them in their impudent defiance of the law.


The same sort of talk has often been heard in Sacramento – that the majority of the residents favored gambling, at least during the State Fair and at all other times when efforts were made to draw crowds to the city. But the truth is that by far the great majority of the residents of Sacramento, and doubtless of Santa Rosa also, are strongly opposed to gambling, and rightly believe it to be one of the worst of evils. No community can afford to stand for open disregard and defiance of laws against gambling.

The Republican should profit by this nasty boycott. If Santa Rosa deserves a fearless and honest newspaper, the great majority of her business men and other residents will stand by this exponent of law and order, and show by liberal use of its advertising columns that they are in sympathy with the firm stand it has taken for the right.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 23, 1905


The Sacramento Bee, which usually “fights fair,” prints a paragraph from these columns in an effort to make it appear that the increased attendance noted at last week’s race meeting was due to the suppression of gambling, carefully cutting out all reference to what we advanced as the probable reasons for the said increase, namely the improved hotel accommodations, which now makes a visit to Santa Rosa a pleasure, and the recent completion of the new electric road, which puts a large territory naturally tributary to this city in close touch with Santa Rosa and its social life. As a matter of fact, the suppression of gambling here during race week, no matter how salutary otherwise, had no effect upon the attendance at the meeting one way or the other. Nothing was done towards the suppression until after all who intended coming here for the week had arrived and taken up their quarters…

– Press Democrat editorial, August 25, 1905


The determined efforts that have apparently been put forth by the Evening Republican during the past few months to force the price of hops downward has occasioned considerable comment among hop growers, who have heretofore been in the habit of seeing the local papers stand up and endeavor to protect the county’s crop interests instead of injuring them. Whether the Republican’s course has been prompted by any motive which do not appear upon the surface, or whether it has simply been the result of ignorance, as was the case in its recent attempt to introduce the codlin moth here “for the benefit of the fruit growers,” we are unable to say. The fact remains, however, that in constantly circulating erroneous reports regarding short crops and low prices in other places its publishers have been injuring rather than benefiting one of the principal interests of the county. And the public generally is fully appreciative of the fact. When the astute gentlemen now presiding over the destinies of our esteemed contemporary have been longer in authority, they may be both wiser and more appreciative of the responsibility that attaches to such positions. In the meanwhile they will find out, if they do not know it already, that interested parties are always ready to supply all the “bear hop copy,” that anybody will print gratuiously; also that some of these people are occasionally willing to pay liberally for having such matter printed., if necessary; and also, again, that we farmers are not always as great fools as we may look.

– Press Democrat editorial, August 25, 1905

Santa Rosa should have a big street fair or something of the kind this year. Who will take the contract to get out and raise the necessary funds?

– Press Democrat editorial, August 25, 1905


It is really amusing to note the twistings and turnings of the Pee-Dee, the gamblers’ friend and apologist, in its efforts to avoid discussing the question of illegal gambling in Santa Rosa. Those who have watched the progress of matters, have not, however, been surprised at its attempts to belittle the movement for a clean town and to minimize the flagrant infraction of the laws. The reply of the gamblers’ friend this morning to The Republican’s editorial of yesterday leaves no matter just where it was. The Pee-Dee makes much of the hop question, which it precipitated in order to get away from the gambling matter. But the people of Santa Rosa, who are interested a great deal more in having gambling suppressed than in newspaper bickerings, would be both pleased and astonished to hear from the Pee-Dee on whether it believes in a wide-open town or in one known to be opposed to law-breaking…the Pee-Dee’s dead silence is that it is either a believer in a wide-open town, regardless of the laws and the welfare of the community, or that it dares not criticize those who are responsible for the breaking of those laws.

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, August 26, 1905

The feeble efforts of the Pee-Dee. the gambler’s friend, to make it appear that the Republican’s hop reports are published in the interests of the “bears,” have greated much wonderment, for when it is all simmered down the Pee-Dee really has said nothing but what has been completely disproved by the actual market conditions….Sputtering and fuming and misrepresentations on the part of the Pee-Dee, which is anxious not to admit that the real issue before the people is one of whether or not Santa Rosa shall be an open town, will not help the gamblers any, nor the Pee-Dee either, for that matter.

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, August 26, 1905


The Republican of Friday evening devotes two full columns to an attempt to answer the Press Democrat’s charges regarding the manner in which it has been handling hop reports lately, but its efforts remind one of a fourth-rate juggler trying to keep three balls in the air at the same time. Between its very evident desire to keep itself and its affairs before the public, its attempt to create political capitalout of a matter that has no connection with the case whatever and its effort to divert attention as far as possible from the freal issue, the exhibition is anything but a success.

As a matter of fact, the Republican for some time has been publishing hop news furnished by dealers whose interests lie in seeing this year’s crop sell for a low price…in view of the amusing spectacle the paper has made of itself in other ways since coming under its present management and trying to pose as the only real friend of the farming element that ever happened, the former is perhaps the case. Only a few months ago the Republican published a most entertaining article telling how it had been planned to introduce codlin moths into Sonoma county “for the benefit of the fruit growers,” and other breaks almost as bad have been of frequent occurrence since.


– Press Democrat editorial, August 26, 1905


[Excerpt of an Aug. 31 Press Democrat item on hop prices in Portland]

Wow. Great Caesar. The Pee-Dee is bearing [i.e. not being bullish -J.E.] the hop market. Just look at the above, published in this morning’s issue of that great family journal. Take notice, growers, for the Pee-Dee is either ignorant or is purposely bearing the market to the harm of the growers. Of course, it may be that to print such matter on the hop situation this week in the Pee-Dee is not as bad as publishing the same kind of information the week previous in the Republican, bit it is rather amusing, just the same, to note how the Pee-Dee, the gamblers’ friend, acknowledges the facts…

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, September 1, 1905

An Example of How Boycotts Oftentimes Act as Boomerangs

It is not often that the Republican has occasion to parade its business before the public. But once in a while there arises a case where it seems necessary. Such a occasion has come now in connection with the visit to Santa Rosa last week of the Southern Carnival Company.

It will be remembered that some time before the company came to town Mr. Frank Brown of the Oberon Saloon appeared before the Council in the guise of a friend only who had no personal interest in the shows, secured from the Council permission for the carnival to use some of the main business streets of the city for the payment of a $50 license for the entire week.

Subsequently it transpired that the carnival company and Mr. Brown had a deal under which Mr. Brown was to handle the advertising of the carnival and also share in some manner in the profits of the affair while it was here. At least this is the story told by two of Mr. Reiss’ representatives.

So far so good. Mr. Brown harbors a grudge against the Republican and, accordingly, when it came around to the matter of placing newspaper advertising, did not put any in the Republican thinking that he was having a splendid time playing even for the expose made by this paper of the gambling games he operated during race week.

Things ran along till the Monday of the week that the carnival was to open. Mr. Reis arrived here from Woodland and discovered that he had had no advertising in the Republican. He naturally made a few inquiries and learned that in order to vent a petty spite of his own Mr. Brown had deprived the carnival company of considerably [sic] publicity it stood in need of in order to reach the many residents of Sonoma County who do not take Mr. Brown’s favorite sheet, the Morning Screamer.

It was then that Mr. Reis made his way to the Republican office and asked what arrangements he could make to advertise the carnival for the remainder of the week. He was informed of the rates and closed a contract for a certain number of lines of reading notices at so much a line.

It may be interesting for the Morning Screamer to know that Mr. Reis declared he would attend to his own advertising next time, for he admitted that the attendance had been materially lessened by Mr. Brown’s trick. And should Mr. Brown wish to see a duplicate of the contract made by Mr. Reis that document may be inspected at the Republican office.

If this situation affords the Screamer any comfort in its silly campaign against the members of the Good Government League the Republican is satisfied.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 27, 1905

1905 “Wide-Open Town” Series
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