I’m currently reading the Santa Rosa newspapers from early 1906 — or rather, trying to. The microfilms are so badly scratched and faded that many pages are illegible because of interest in the Great Earthquake that happened in April. It’s a loss that saddens because it was unnecessary; there’s probably not much about the quake and its aftermath that’s not already been hashed and rehashed in a shelf-full of books and articles.

Parachuting directly into a particular event is also a lousy way to learn about history. Yes, the newspaper accounts of such a day will be rich in who-what-when, and there will be a thrilling immediacy in the telling — but there will be little or no of the why or how behind the event. By analogy: What could be fresh and unique to discover in the Dallas newspapers from the day after Kennedy’s assassination, aside from shocked reactions? If you really want to understand the event, better to settle in with a good history book on the Bay of Pigs.

And if you want to learn about Santa Rosa or any other town, better instead to seek out articles like the one below. There’s hardly any news value in it, and the piece isn’t even well-written — maybe it was a writeup of a presentation made by one of the women in the Saturday Afternoon Club; it reads better if you think of it as a speech to a civic group. Yet this little item about rambling around Santa Rosa’s “South Side” is packed with valuable historic details.

Santa Rosa Creek absolutely defined a north-south boundary for the town in the early 20th century, just as the freeway now creates an east-west barrier. It was like a little river — particularly west of South Main, where it was joined by Matanzas Creek — but it wasn’t just the body of water (or in sometimes in summer, dry creekbeds) that demarcated the old part of town from the “suburbs.” There was also limited access across it; there were only four bridges that a rig or automobile could drive over in 1905. The banks were also abundant with trees and brush, presenting an imposing green wall blocking the view from either side.

(TOP: Bridge over Santa Rosa Creek connecting Sonoma Ave. to S. Main St, c. 1905
MIDDLE: Santa Rosa Creek from the Main St. bridge looking west, 1909
BOTTOM: Crossing the Main St. bridge driving south, c. 1910. Burbank’s home on Tupper St. seen to left)

Burbank’s home and gardens were right over the bridge at the corner of Sonoma Avenue, but south of that, the only things springing up for the next mile or so were cottages on tiny lots. The east side of South Main was already packed with houses; now builders were filling up the other side of the street. So rapidly was this part of town booming that this 1905 article mentions “Boswell street” (the author must have meant Bosley St.), which didn’t even appear on a map from a year earlier.

These were marketed to families “who are not able to buy homes which are very expensive,” as the writer (rather indelicately) states. Most were around 1,000 sq. ft. or so; an earlier news article posted here describes the interior of a typical home. Some only had outhouses.

The middle portion of this article may have been rewritten or otherwise punched-up by the newspaper to sell some of those houses. Although he was no longer editor, Santa Rosa Republican owner Allen Lemmon was still pushing lots in his “La Rosa Place” subdivision (available on the installment plan for $10/mo), and used to regularly fill space in the paper with oversized ads. Parts of the writing sound much like the sort of advert he often wrote.

This author was also probably the first to state in print that “the Cotati road…will be the main road between here and Petaluma.” Given that there were only 21 automobiles in town and one gas station, it was prescient in 1905 to describe that dirt road south as destined to be anything significant, particularly considering the well-established road south went first through Sebastopol. “Cotati road” eventually became Old Redwood Highway and is now Santa Rosa Ave, but as late as 1918 it was just a dirt road — and the only stretch of dirt road along the route between Sausalito and Ukiah. Oh, how those early motorists must have looked forward to the Santa Rosa leg of their journey, particularly in the rainy season.

Most significant in this article, however, is that it explicitly mentions Santa Rosa’s “redlight district,” which was at the intersection of 1st and D. More about the brothels in the following post.

Trip Through South Side Reveals Many Intersting Facts of Growth in Suburbs

That Santa Rosa is soon the be a great city, and that of fine residences as well, is as certain that she is one of the most beautiful spots on the map to-day. A trip Tuesday through the suburbs of the city established this fact, and one has only to take a ride around through the additions on the South Side to conceive this same opinion. The number of new residences that have recently been erected there is an evidence that the people have confidence in that part of the city and are not afraid to put their money into good substantial houses, and attractive ones as well.

Out Sonoma avenue were found many fine new residences and a number of homes that have been remodeled recently, making this one of the finest residence streets in the City of Roses. And the best of it all is that they have not finished there yet, for there are new residences being erected at the present time. The new water main is soon to be laid there, and the pipe is already on the ground for the same. From here a visit was made to Charles street and then to Boswell street, where the improvements were found to be on a little different plan, though carrying out the same idea of enterprise and improvement. In this part of the city the people are buyng their lots and erecting small but comfortable cottages which will make them good homes. This is especially true of some of the property owners there who are erecting the houses and then selling them to families who are coming here, and who are not able to buy homes which are very expensive.

The most interesting feature of all in the south part of town is the opening up of the extension of A street across the creek. The street commences at the corner where the new grammar school is being built and extends from there south to the city limits, and there is a movement on foot now by some of the parties who are interested in the addition to bring the matter before the Board of Supervisors and have them open the street on through to the corner of the Cotati road. This will give an outlet on A street from the corner of Kopf & Donovan’s store, on Fourth street, to the Cotati road on the south. The Cotati road, as all know, is destined to be the main road between here and Petaluma, and with this new street opened, and the bridge across the creek, as is proposed, there will be no reason why the people who are living south of the city should not have easy access to the City of Roses for their business center.

A large number of the homes which are being erected on the lots in the subdivisions in the South Side, as it is so well named, are being paid for in the building and loan plan, and the loans are either made by private individuals who are able to assist, and thus make good investments for the capital as well.

Another feature of the South Side which should be pushed, and which is to the advantage of the city, is the transforming of the creek banks from the corner of First street at the E street bridge along the creek to Main street, into a natural park. To do this will be necessary to remove all the redlight district, which is now located there, as well as the sheds and barns, but there could be no place within the boundaries of the City of Roses that would be such a natural park as these rustic banks of old Santa Rosa creek if they were cleaned up and beautified as they should be.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 8, 1905

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The stormy 1904 election ended with Santa Rosa’s two newspaper editors locked in intransigent battle, each fighting the good fight right to the bell. But the next morning a surrender was announced; the Press Democrat crowed that the rival Santa Rosa Republican was being sold post haste.

The PD didn’t have it quite right. Allen Lemmon was indeed stepping down as editor, but he was leasing, not selling, the Republican to a pair of young out-of-town newspapermen. (It would also turn out to be more of a sabbatical than retirement, but that’s leaping ahead.)

Today Allen B. Lemmon and his Santa Rosa Republican are footnotes as the town’s “other”newspaper and its editor. Even intrepid genealogists rarely check its archives, obvious because Press Democrat microfilms always have far more scratches and other signs of wear; SSU’s reel for the latter months of 1904 was even unopened until this project began.

The Republican deserves more respect from the history books. It provided an important counterbalance to the conservative Press Democrat (see posts on the 1904 elections) and stayed true to its party-of-Lincoln roots by keeping Southern lynchings and other racial violence at the forefront. It also provides a much-needed way to verify the accuracy of the PD’s reporting; even in the small sample of 1904 items examined here, a case was found where the Press Democrat omitted a key detail that changed the story entirely.

While its reporting and writing were always first-rate, the Republican was looking a little frayed at the cuffs by 1904. Ad revenue was clearly down; sometimes a two-column hole would appear — on the front page, no less — reading only, “This space reserved for” (a local merchant whose ad would appear up to several days later). Lemmon regularly filled space by inserting over-sized advertisements to sell building lots in his own “La Rosa Place” subdivision, apparently between modern-day Juilliard Park and the highway 101/12 intersection. And at least twice, the recurring slot for “Cremo” cigars presented hand-written copy, probably scribbled at the last minute when the expected ad art didn’t arrive in time. As the example here shows, a copy writer Lemmon wasn’t.

Lemmon certainly deserved a rest. Besides editing the Republican and peddling real estate (available on the installment plan for $10/mo), he was also the town’s postmaster. It must of been a wrenching change on the morning of November 11 to awake and realize that he only had two full-time jobs demanding his attention that day, then later that evening opening “his” paper to find other names on the masthead for the first time since 1887.


Report Has it That the Change Will Soon Be Made But Editor Lemmon Says Not Just Yet

For some time there have been persistent rumors to the effect that the Santa Rosa Republican has been purchased by Mr. James, business manager of the Sacramento Bee and W.B. Reynolds of the Oakland Enquirer., and that the ownership would pass into their hands after the election, or about the twentieth of November. Last night, Mr. Lemmon was seen by a reporter in regard to the matter.

“There is a story afloat, Mr. Lemmon, that you have sold the Republican. What have you to say?”

“The Republican is not sold,” declared Mr. Lemmon emphatically, “there have been a number of stories told regarding the matter but I own the Republican and may own it forever. I have not sold the Republican.”

It is understood as stated above, that the agreement to sell takes effect at the date mentioned, and as Mr. Lemmon says the paper may not technically be sold at the present time but the formal transfer will soon be made. Mr. James is now in this city but could not be seen last night.

– Press Democrat, November 9, 1904


Today the management of the Republican passes into new hands. Mr. W. H. James and Mr. W. B. Reynolds have leased the paper, and, under the agreeement entered into, may eventually own the same. Both are practical printers and young men of ability and extended newspaper experience. For several years Mr. James has held a responsible position on the Sacramento Bee and Mr. Reynolds has been similarly connected with the Oakland Enquirer. They should prove a very strong newspaper team and we commend them to the many good friends of this paper.

For nearly seventeen years the writer has been responsible for the editorial and business management of the Republican. He is a bit tired and has considerable other business to attend to. Hence the change.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 10, 1904

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Pity the candidate of a rural district in 1904 — it took three (four?) days for candidate Bell to canvas the larger towns in Sonoma County alone, and this district stretches all the way to Oregon (and at the time, it also apparently included more counties in the upper Central Valley). Party leaders and political celebrities were more involved in stumping for local candidates than today; no one thought it odd that vice presidential candidate Fairbanks was speechifying for an hour down in Stockton to reelect a Congressman.

Republican McKinlay had no less than the governor of the state campaigning for him: George Pardee, who, in fifteen too-short months after that election, would be the only major elected official to be roundly praised for his actions following the Great Earthquake of 1906. Most of the upset from the Press Democrat was aimed at the governor for having the effrontery to take sides in an election.

Democrat Bell’s champion was Thomas J. Geary, called “Sonoma county’s Democratic boss” by Lemmon’s newspaper. Geary was no inconsequential backwoods Baby Tweed; he earned a prominent place in this county’s hall of shame for pushing through the infamous Geary Act of 1892 when he was a member of the House. This law not only extended the Chinese Exclusion Act for another decade, but also made it more discriminatory. Chinese residents were now denied bail if arrested and prevented from testifying in court. It also forced all Chinese residents to carry a special ID issued by the federal government; caught without papers, unfortunates had to produce “at least one credible white witness” to swear that they were in the United States prior to 1892, else they’d be deported or spend a year at hard labor.

Geary campaigned hard for Bell, even traveling outside the county to the nether corners of the district. He may have viewed the contest as a surrogate battle against Governor Pardee; two years earlier, Geary was a serious contender to be the Democratic nominee for governor, stepping aside for another man, who lost to Pardee.

Endorsements also had greater weight in that era, particularly since Bell and McKinlay had roughly equivalent credentials, and it seems that neither was particularly well known in the district. Twice the Press Democrat offered editorials praising Bell for his connections to the late Morris Estee, an early California politician who had died the year earlier. Bell’s support from Geary and then posthumously from Estee, however, suggests much about the sort of person he really was.

Morris M. Estee
is worth a quick digression here. Although he was affiliated with the Republican party, he could be a case study as a typical Jim Crow legislator from the Deep South. He staked out deeply racist positions that affirmed non-whites had lesser rights, but at the same time didn’t suffer such outrageous discrimination that it would draw the ire of Washington D.C. Some lowlights from his career:

As the 1863 California legislature was trying to overturn the 1850 law that “no black, mullato person, or Indian should be permitted to give evidence in any court of the state in an action in which a white person was a party,” Estee offered a compromise that testimony could be accepted — but only as long as it was corroborated by a white
* Estee wrote about the Chinese in 1876: “They have not any large intelligence; they have not any literature that amounts to anything; they have a little knowledge of the sciences, and some knowledge of the arts; they have no notion of music or poetry, or very few of the exalted ideas which distinguish between barbarian and civilized men, except honesty”
* At the 1878-79 California Constitutional Convention, Estee, who insisted that he was as “anxious to get rid of the Chinese as any man in the State of California” argued they had a right to live in houses and should be allowed to catch fish. To “deprive them of the means of procuring the necessaries of life” would be wrong, and “would turn all civilized people against us everywhere,” he warned, particularly “public sentiment in the East [Coast of the U.S.]”

An excerpt from one of the Press Democrat’s two Estee-Bell editorials is below (the other assured readers that Estee knew Bell “personally and intimately”). As Bell became the Napa County DA in 1895, the party described would have taken place some time before he was 22. Following that item is an astonishingly direct editorial attack on Geary from the Republican.

…It was at the residence of the late Morris M. Estee near Napa that the writer first had the pleasure of meeting Theodore Bell. He was then a young man with his life work all before him. Mr. Bell was one of a number of young people who spent an evening at the hospitable Estee home. After the guests had departed, or it may have been the next morning, the writer asked who Mr. Bell was. “Theodore Bell?” replied the venerable jurist. “He is a young man who lives here in Napa. He is teaching school and studying law. He is a very fine young man. You will hear from him some day. If given the opportunity he should and I believe will become one of the country’s big men.” …

– Press Democrat, November 5, 1904

And now there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth because the newspaper having the “longest leased line” [an expensive private telegraph connection] declines to admit to its columns the name of Sonoma county’s Democratic boss. Of course the management of the paper is real mean to pursue this policy, but it is not the only mean thing in the world. That paper undertook to give our local Democratic boss prominence a few years ago. It showed him many favors. Through its influence he was pushed forward as the head of the last anti-Chinese movement and the Democratic nomination for the governorship seemed about to be conferred upon him. But he was discovered to be treacherous, even too treacherous to be considered by the Democratic party as a candidate for that or anyother [sic] place, and then he turned against the man and the paper that had tried to build him up after his political fall. Hence the present trouble. Let the good work go on.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 11, 1904

MORE on the election of 1904
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