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SANTA ROSA’S DEBUT WAS A NIGHTMARE

Portrait of a bad dream: After years of dashed hopes, your greatest desire suddenly comes true. You are awarded a great honor, win the lottery jackpot, whatever. Now a thousand of your closest friends as well as VIPs (whom you’ve always hoped to meet!) are on the way to your house. Except your place is a mess, you don’t have enough food or drinks and everyone will have to hike in from a mile away because of work being done on the streets. That pretty well sums up Santa Rosa’s nightmare that came true on New Year’s Eve, 1870.

By that time, Santa Rosa had been yearning for a rail connection to the Bay Area for over five years. Several times it looked like a deal was a Sure Thing, only to have investors pull out or the developer lose interest. Some of those involved were interesting characters with wildly ambitious proposals (building a suspension bridge across the Golden Gate in 1868!) but that’s a complex story too long for today. Besides, I couldn’t tell the story any better than what’s found in “Redwood Railways” by Gilbert Kneiss – the county library has several copies available for borrowing.


HOW WE GOT TO SAN FRANCISCO BEFORE THE TRAIN
Before 1871 it usually took three or four days to make a quick roundtrip between Santa Rosa and the city. First there was the bone-rattling stagecoach to Petaluma over uncertain roads – see the transcribed articles below for complaints about the “horrible adobe flats between this place and Petaluma” where passengers sometimes had to get out and push during the rainy season when the wheels stuck in the mud. Then there was the 2½ mile trip from downtown Petaluma to the dock at Haystack Landing on a little trolley whose “speed resembles more the limpings of an old lame horse.” Or at least that was the scene up to August, 1866, when the train’s boiler exploded and killed four – after that, the trolley was even slower, pulled by actual horses. Petaluma also infuriated “up-country” travelers because steamboat schedules didn’t mesh with the stagecoach/trolley, so they usually needed to stay overnight at a Petaluma hotel. That trip down the Petaluma River ended at the Point San Quentin wharf, where passengers boarded a ferry which would make several stops in Contra Costa before (finally!) heading to San Francisco.

For purposes here, only two bits of background are important: First, the guy who finally made it happen wasn’t a banker or empire-building tycoon, but rather a San Francisco foundry owner named Peter Donahue. It didn’t hurt that his iron works made locomotives and ships.

Also, there were years of heated debate on what route the train should take from the Bay to Santa Rosa and points north. Santa Rosa pushed hard for the train to go through the town of Sonoma and terminate in Vallejo, where there were grain elevators to store Sonoma county wheat. The alternative was a straight shot north/south similar to modern Highway 101, where a ferry at “Saucelito” could take passengers into San Francisco. The route through Vallejo would not connect to Petaluma, so their town would probably wither away. There was a county vote on this in 1868 and the straight shot won.

But a referendum does not a railroad build. Nearly two years passed after vote with little to show; at the close of 1869 there was only 1½ miles of track laid north of Petaluma. Work had been suspended for the entire summer. The developer was having money troubles and a load of railroad track from England sank after the ship rounded the Horn. (There was so much railroading going on nationwide that U.S. iron foundries were at capacity.)

A popular conspiracy theory spread that Petaluma – whose high turnout of voters in the 1868 referendum settled the route question – was working behind the scenes to scuttle the railroad (or at least drag out construction as long as possible). “Cracker barrel gossip agreed the ‘earth scratching’ was just a vaccination to ward off a railroad,” author Kneiss remarked. Petaluma’s motive was supposedly to protect its monopoly on San Francisco travel via paddlewheel steamers.

Then suddenly, in August, 1870: “THE RAILROAD IS COMING! HURRAH FOR THE RAILROAD!” cheered Santa Rosa’s newspaper, the Sonoma Democrat. Voters had approved a $5,000/mile bounty for the first company to lay ten miles of Sonoma county track, and that month Peter Donahue bought the San Francisco & Northern Pacific from the developer who had made such little progress. Donahue’s operation hit the ground running with a crew of fifty Irish immigrants grading the road while schooners – with railroad ties and iron rails from his own foundry – were queued up to unload at Petaluma’s wharf.

Possibly the oldest photo of a train in Santa Rosa c.1871-1873, showing the first locomotive “San Jose” with Hewitt’s Planing Mill on Wilson street in the background. Courtesy Sonoma County Library

 

Everything now was moving fast, and there were lengthy updates almost every week in the Santa Rosa and Petaluma papers. A month after the whirlwind restart, some folks from Santa Rosa went down to check it out and beg a ride on the little construction engine on the rails. “Although there were no cars of any kind yet, when you’re building a railroad you have an itch to ride on it,” quipped Kneiss. He added that later that same week, “Petaluma’s tycoonery [was] clustered over the little engine like flies on a cook tent pie.” (Seriously, you’ll enjoy this book even if you’re not a railroad buff.) The Petaluma Argus had a full account of their September 13 trip:

After a delay of about half an hour, the engine moved out, the bell rang, and at the cry of “get aboard,” the crowd lighted on the engine like a swarm of bees, and it was with difficulty that standing room could be obtained by those anxious to make the trial trip. Convenience, however, was not particularly sought after, and no grumbling was heard as neighbor tread on his neighbor’s corns…

Crowded as they were, room was still made for a ten gallon keg of Edwards’ Cream Ale before the little engine went tootling down the track, stopping a couple of miles from town at Cinnabar Knoll where they polished off the keg with tributes and toasts to all involved.

Before another month passed the rail would be closing on Santa Rosa which was now suddenly a cause for worry – there were no firm plans about where the depot should be built. There were rumors that Donahue was planning to put it somewhere south of Santa Rosa Creek, or was negotiating with property owners to put it between the Creek and Third street. They didn’t settle on the final (current) location until just before Thanksgiving.

Sans depot and with not even a railroad bridge across the Creek, the first passenger train came up from Petaluma on October 22, 1870. “To many, it was a novel sight, as they had never seen one before,” gushed the Democrat, “and they could scarcely find words to express their admiration.” A week later they began running two trips daily, although the rail south of Petaluma – to the depot town named “Donahue” – was still under construction.

Still, the Santa Rosa paper purred with contentment: “At last the good work is accomplished… A new era has been opened in the history of our county, and its future is bright with promises of renewed life and activity.”

And then came the fiasco of December 31.


WHERE WAS DONAHUE?
From 1871 to 1884, the tiny hamlet of Donahue was the gateway to Sonoma county. About eight miles south of Petaluma on Lakeville Highway (there’s a historic marker by a turnoff on the west side) was the Petaluma River landing where paddlewheel steamers from San Francisco docked. From there, passengers boarded a train for Petaluma or Santa Rosa, with the SF&NP railroad in those years eventually reaching Cloverdale. Local produce was also usually aboard on the return trip to the city. A memoir by Mrs. Julia Gregory in the Petaluma Argus-Courier August 17, 1955, recalled Donahue as “a little town of 10 homes, a hotel, a saloon run by a man named Burdick, a stable and dance hall combined.” There was also a one-room schoolhouse with 30-40 children and two laundries. Mainly, though, it was there to offer a train depot as well as the railroad’s repair shops, roundhouse and turntable. Donahue Landing, as it’s called today, mostly disappeared in 1884 when the southern terminus of the rail line was moved to Tiburon, with the railroad buildings dismantled and barged down to their new location.

The Donahue river depot was now finished and ready to receive the first batch of visitors arriving directly from the city. And thus on the last day of the year, a steamer owned by the railroad left the Jackson Street Wharf, “loaded with passengers, among whom were some of the most noted and substantial men of the state,” according to the Argus.

Once aboard the train, they made the short hop to Petaluma, where “an immense concourse of people had gathered at the depot.” The tourists were greeted by the Hewston Guard (yes, that’s the correct spelling) and the Petaluma Brass Band. The cannon in the plaza was fired as well as rounds fired by the militia. It was a grand reception – but now on to Santa Rosa!

“Vague rumors were in circulation, during the early part of last week, that an excursion party from San Francisco was coming up to Santa Rosa on Saturday,” the Democrat explained later. “Nothing definite was known, however…On Friday, however, one point was settled, namely, that some excursionists were coming at the time mentioned, but as to the number all were in the dark.”

So picture this: It’s early afternoon and a “large throng of ladies and gentlemen” as well as the Santa Rosa Brass Band are waiting for the train to arrive. Until train service began a couple of months before some had never seen a train at all and since then, only an engine with a single passenger car and maybe a flat car. And now, here comes the excursion from San Francisco.

“There were, in all, eighteen cars, most of them open freight cars fitted up with temporary seats,” reported the Democrat. Over 1,200 people were on board.

And now the nightmare begins: The train got no closer than a mile from Santa Rosa – think of today’s Costco shopping center, or perhaps more accurately, the Baker avenue/101 interchange.

Making matters worse, the train would be going back in an hour. Worse still, there were only a few buggies and wagons waiting to transport the mob into town. Those who wanted to see Santa Rosa would have to run for it.

As this was suposed to be a day of bigwigs speechifying and drinking toasts, it’s safe to believe they were dressed in their finer clothes, and not prepared for a two mile sprint there and back. “The advance on the village itself was made in a disorderly manner,” reported the Alta California. From the Sonoma Democrat:

Owing to the great number of those present, it was utterly impossible to find vehicles enough to bring them all to town, and many of both sexes were compelled to walk in, a distance of nearly a mile. This was not very pleasant to begin with, particularly as but one hour was allowed to get to town and return in time for the homeward trip. Such a pushing, rushing and scampering down the road and across lots, has not been seen for many a day in these parts.

And still it became worse! Those who made it to Santa Rosa found there wasn’t enough food available. The Democrat continued:

In a short time Santa Rosa was full of people, nearly all of whom had arrived with appetites sharpened by fasting from the time of leaving the city, some six hours before. Again came disappointment, as it was utterly impossible to wine and dine such a multitude without preparation and within the brief space allowed for their stay.

According to the Alta, “…provisions were dreadfully slack in Santa Rosa. The hotel openly confessed its inability to meet the requirements of so great a host; shut up its dining room remorselessly; could not do it; could not begin to do it, but melted when besought for the sake of the Blessed Virgin a cup of tea for a suffering lady.”

“The visit was neither pleasant to our citizens nor to the excursionists,” the Santa Rosa paper admitted with admirable honesty, and “after bustling about for a few minutes in a most disagreeable and unsatisfactory manner, a grand rush was made for the cars to take them home.”

Back everyone went to Petaluma (“the down trip was remarkably jolly, under the circumstances” – Democrat) where they recovered from their Santa Rosa rout for an hour, then returned home to San Francisco on the boat where they enjoyed a banquet catered by Hendrick’s Hotel in Petaluma.

Santa Rosa probably could not have made a worst impression, nor Petaluma a better one. Looking over all that happened, you almost wonder if Santa Rosa had been punked by Petaluma and Donahue – revenge, perhaps, for pressuring the county to choose the route to Vallejo instead of the one that favored them.

 

 

Petaluma railroad affairs seem to have gotten into a muddle. Col. Bee, the Superintendent, and all hands, were discharged last week, and work consequently suspended. We are assured, however, that it will be resumed at an early day, though the prospect is not very flattering. Under the bill, if we recollect right, the Company is compelled to have ten miles north of Petaluma graded, ironed and in running order by November next. We need not disguise the fact that many of our citizens do not believe good faith is being shown in this matter. Since the vote we have endeavored to show that it would certainly be built inside the unspecified time, and regret exceedingly the manner in which affairs have been managed.
– Sonoma Democrat, May 29 1869
September 25 1869 – railroad work resumes
“How’s Your Railroad.”
It appears from a correspondence to the Healdsburg Flag that this question excites the belligerent organa of the people of Sonoma county. If a stranger goes into that county and asks “How is your railroad?” the chances are that he will be knocked down or sadly abused. The truth of the matter is, that the people have been humbugged, and kept out of a railroad till they are far in the rear of the State in the march of improvement. The citizens of Petaluma have always had an idea that a railroad would be injurious to their interests, aud have fought manfully against the construction of one. They did this openly until they saw it was of no use to do so any longer. They then pretended to favor it, and a company was formed, the citizens of Petaluma becoming large shareholders, and thus prepared, they elected the principal officers, to have the management in their hands, and they then let the whole matter go by default. A bill was passed by the last Legislature authorizing the county to donate five thousand dollars per mile towards the construction of the road, provided the people of the county would vote in favor of it. An election was held to decide the matter. By a very clever maneuvre on the part of Petaluma, it was incorporated so that the people should at the same time decide whether the road should be built from Vallejo via Sonoma to Santa Rosa or from Petaluma to Santa Rosa. A spirited canvass was made—the subsidy granted—the Petaluma route gained the victory. It was placed in the hands of a company, that, it is now seen, never intended to build the road and Petaluma is again victorious. Provision was made in the bill that ten miles of the road should be built in a certain time, or the subsidy be forfeited. That time has now about expired, and not a mile of the road is built. Thus a small portion of the people appear to hold the destinies of the balance of the county in their hands. The people, seeing that they are to have no railroad, and have been cheated out of the great advantages they had had a right to expect, feel very sore whenever asked “how is your railroad?” Sacramento Reporter, Nov, 2.
– Sonoma Democrat, November 13 1869
The Railroad Is Coming! Hurrah for the Railroad! This is the exclamation of everybody in this section of the county who favors this most important enterprise. There has been a feeling of doubt existing in the minds of even those who were the most confident that the road would be built, that by some hook or crook the managers of the new company would get into a wrangle over the matter, among themselves, and thereby cause great delay in the completion of the road. But it is gratifying to know that these fears have all been dispelled, and that the people are now confident that the company intend to commence work immediately and push on as rapidly as possible. We are informed by a gentleman who is one of the most prominent business men in Petaluma, that several large schooners have arrived at that place within the past week, loaded with ties for the Sonoma county Railroad. He also stated that it was his impression that a force of some fifty men were now at work on the grade, and that in a few weeks the company would have some two hundred men at work on the line. This looks like business, and it is now a settled fact that Sonoma will soon be linked to the Metropolis by iron bands, and the shrill whistle of the iron horse will ring through her beautiful valleys. With the railroad Sonoma will take the lead ol all other counties in the State, for her soil cannot be excelled.
– Sonoma Democrat, August 20 1870
Railroad Matters.— Since the arrival of a portion of the rail at Petaluma, which are to be used in the construction of the Sonoma County Railroad, things generally in this vicinity have began to brighten up, and we bear no more complaints as to the possibility of our county being compelled to remain in the back ground for the want of this great enterprise. The movements of those who are managing the interest of the company within the past two or three weeks, have completely allayed the fears of even the most skeptical. It is no longer a question of doubt. The iron has arrived and workmen are now engaged on the road. Those who are in a situation to be well posted on the matter, feel perfectly confident that within three months time Santa Rosa will be connected with the Bay by rail. Instead of a man being compelled to take three or four days to go to the Metropolis and transact his business and return home, he can then make the trip in a few hours by a much more pleasant mode of conveyance than the slow and lumbering stage coach. Our citizens are rejoiced that their labors on behalf of this enterprise are now about to be crowned with success. They have waited long and patiently for it, feeling a consciousness that it would rebound to the benefit and prosperity of every section of the county, and when the shrill whistle of the Iron horse announces the approach of the cars, our people will send up a good hearty cheer as they bid goodbye to the horrible adobe flats between this place and Petaluma.
– Sonoma Democrat, August 27 1870
It is Coming —The work on the railroad is being pushed on with vigor. The tents of one of the camps is now five miles this side of Petaluma. A portion of the track has been laid, and a construction car is running. So far all the work has been done bv white men, and it is the intention, we are told, to employ no slavish Chinese labor in the completion of this enterprise the people of our county will award Mr. Donahue the praise that he is deserving of, for employing white men to work on the road instead of Chinese slaves, who contaminate everything they come in contact with.
– Sonoma Democrat, September 10 1870
The Railroad Is Coming.
If there is any skeptical individual in our community who thinks we are not now destined to have a railroad, we ask him to take a ride down the Petaluma road, and ere he reaches within five miles of that thriving little city he will become convinced that it is no longer an imaginary affair, and having an existence only on paper. On Monday last, we had occasion to pay a short visit to Petaluma, and as a matter of course was looking out for the approach of the cars and listening for the startling shriek of the locomotive. The object that attracted our attention was a number of white tents in a field some five miles this side of the city on the ranch of Mr. Ely. Here we found a large number of men busily engaged in leveling the grade preparatory to laying the ties and rails. From this point all was bustle and activity, and soon we hove in sight of that portion of the track which is now completed a distance of three miles. Upon entering Petaluma at the head of Main street, we came upon the main force of workmen employed on the road, and joyfully beheld the first locomotive which was just preparing to start on its trial trip. After a brief stay in the city and finishing up our business, we proceeded in company with Mr. Berger’s well known citizen of that place, out to where quite a number ot people had congregated, to witness the move incuts of the iron horse. In a short time after arriving upon the busy scenes, our guide introduced us to Mr. Harris, the energetic and gentlemanly superintendent of the road. He very politely invited us to get on the engine with him and take a ride. Scarcely had we stepped upon the platform before the bell began ringing and the hissing sound of the steam announced that the time for starting had arrived. We proceeded up the road a short distance and then returned to the starting point, everything seeming to work perfectly satisfactorily. Mr. Fenton, the engineer, has had great experience in railroading, and Mr. Craig makes an excellent conductor. Immense piles of ties and rails are now lying on the bank ot the slough, and more arriving daily. The Superintendent, Mr. Harris, informed us that in consequence of the great amount of carpenter work that is to be done, it will be impossible for the road to be in running order to Santa Rosa in less than six or seven weeks. The construction cars have now arrived, and the track will be completed as soon as possible, which will be one ot the best and safest in the State. The surveyors are now at work a short distance below town, and but a little time will elapse ere our people will bid good by to the lumbering stage and in its place enjoy the comforts and ease of the beautifully finished car…
– Sonoma Democrat, September 17 1870
The Railroad.— Work is being pushed ahead as rapidly as possible on the road, and it is thought by some that it will be completed to this point by the last of October. During the past week Mr. Donahue and a number of other gentlemen connected with this enterprise paid our town a visit. As yet it is impossible to tell where the depot will be, although it is rumored that the company have purchased land on the other side of the creek for depot purposes.
– Sonoma Democrat, October 1 1870
The Depot.— Now that the railroad is nearly within our town limits, much speculation is going on as to where the depot will be located. It was rumored here some weeks ago, that arrangements of a satisfactory character had been completed between Mr. Donahue and Messrs. Boyce and Clark, for the purchase of eight acres of land lying near the creek at the foot of Third street. This, however, turns out not to be the case, as do final arrangements were ever completed between the above named parties. There is a petition being circulated now, and signed by the property owners ot the town, for the purpose of having all the property taxed proportionally, and the sum so realized to go towards the buying of the land we here named, whereon the depot will be located. The chances are favorable for the location to be on the Boyce and Clark property.
– Sonoma Democrat, October 22 1870
THE RAILROAD.
The first passenger car, bearing the name of “Donahue,” arrived at this place crowded with passengers on Saturday last. Considerable rejoicing was manifested by our people over its arrival, and in the afternoon large numbers went to the terminus of the road, about a mile from town to get a sight of the first railroad car that ever made its appearance near Santa Rosa. To many, it was a novel sight, as they had never seen one before, and they could scarcely find words to express their admiration. All seemed fully conscious of its great advantages over the slow, lumbering stage, and were anxious to experience the delightful sensation of ”riding on a rail.” In the afternoon an excursion party, composed of the prominent citizens of our town, in conjunction with a number from the lower end of the county, went over the road on a pleasure trip to Petaluma. Being in charge of Captain Wright, the genial and affable Superintendent of the road, it was impossible for them to have anything less than a jolly good time. The locker was supplied with any amount of champagne, cigars, etc., and many a toast was drank to the health of Mr. Donahue and the rest of the gentlemen connected with the road. Capt, Wright is finishing up the work on the road between this place and Petaluma as rapidly as possible. On Sunday last we had the pleasure of making a trip with him, during which he generously furnished us with all the information we desired. In consequence of the amount of carpenter work to be done on the road between Petaluma and Lakeville, it will be fully a month yet ere that portion of the work will be finished. Until it is completed they will continue to run the one passenger car, in addition to an open car which can be used by those desirous of being out in the open air. The trip will be made regular each day, leaving Petaluma at eight o’clock in the morning, and returning from here at four o’clock in the afternoon. The fare will be one dollar each way. So far the track reflects great credit upon those who have had the management of its construction, and it will bear comparison with any in the State. The time consumed generally in making the trip from here to Petaluma, sixteen miles including stoppages, is aboat forty-five minutes. When the heavy, powerful engines are in operation, it is thought that thirty minutes will be the time made. All on board enjoyed the trip greatly, and returned to town in the afternoon with glowing accounts of having to encounter neither dust nor adobe mud on the way. We desire to return our thanks to Capt. Wright, also, to Mr. Craig, the conductor, for favors shown on the trip.
– Sonoma Democrat, October 29 1870
The New Locomotive.
During the past week the large and powerful locomotive “San Jose” has been put on the route between this point and Petaluma. The cars are now making two trips daily, and connect with the boats for San Francisco. Messrs. Clark & Bostwick, representing the “Fashion” and “California” stables, run their stages daily to the termini of the road, and go crowded each trip. These gentlemen stand foremost among our enterprising citizens and deserve to meet with success. Work is being prosecuted vigorously on the track between Petaluma and Lakeville, and in a few more weeks the passenger trains will be on, and the people of Santa Rosa will be within three hours ride of San Francisco. This is certainly a glorious change for the better, and will be fully appreciated by our people, who have for years in the winter time been compelled to pay a high price for walking through adobe mud and dragging a lumbering old stage to Petaluma, taking at least one day and a half to reach the Bay city. The completion of the railroad has played sad havoc with the arrangements of those who formerly mapped out the course of travel, and now the people in this vicinity can visit the metropolis much cheaper and more comfortable, besides saving a great amount of valuable time.
– Sonoma Democrat, November 5 1870
The Depot Question Settled.—The question which has been uppermost in the minds of our citizens (or the past month as to where the Railroad Company would permanently locate their depot, has at last been definitely settled to the satisfaction of all parties concerned. On last Saturday a meeting was held, and the vexed question brought to a termination. The company is to have seven acres ot land, situated half a mile from the Court House, and lying between Third and Fourth streets. This property formerly belonged to Messrs. Boyce and Clark, each of whom gave $100 toward its purchase for the use of the Railroad Company. The citizens of the town subscribe $300, and the Board of Trustees become responsible for the balance. The company have purchased the property of Henry A. Peabody, Esq., which adjoins that which has lately come into their possession. It is the opinion of Captain Wright that in thirty days the depot will be established on this side of the creek. A pile-driving machine will be brought up from the city in a few days, so that work can be commenced on bridging the creek. The value of the land to be used for depot purposes was estimated by the appraisers at $1,000. The place selected is the most advantageous one that presented itself, and will give universal satisfaction to our citizens.
– Sonoma Democrat, November 19 1870
Railroad.
The cars are making their regular trips daily from this place to Petaluma, and considerable travel and freight are passing over the road. The travel through our county now, although much greater than what it was formerly, will be largely increased as soon as the road is completed and in running order to Lakeville. At present there is but one passenger car on the road, and in making a trip from Petaluma to this place on Monday  last, we were convinced, from the crowded condition of the passengers, that they thought the accommodations entirely too limited. However, all were willing to adapt themselves to circumstances, feeling thankful for having escaped the jolting and adobe mud which they formerly had to encounter when traveling by stage. In a few days more the lower end of the road, which is being worked under the supervision and guidance of that clever gentleman, Captain Wright, the Superintendent, will be completed. The Captain has met with many arduous difficulties in constructing the portion of the work, but his energy has overcome them all, and shortly the snort of the iron horse, accompanied by his long train of handsome and highly finished cars, will be heard at Lakeville. At that place the beautiful and fast steamer Sacramento is now waiting to be called into service. She is a fast boat, and her accommodations for the comfort and convenience of passengers are unsurpassable. The trip from the city into the very heart of old Sonoma—with her delightful climate and fertile fields, will then indeed be one of pleasure and recreation. Hundreds will visit our county then, who, until the locomotive began to traverse our valleys, would never have visited our county. The officers of the road are, with no exceptions, noted for their affability and politeness. Captain Wright, the Superintendent, has made a host of warm friends, and they continue to increase daily. To take a trip on the cars with him is a sure guarantee of a day’s pleasure. Mr. Craig, the conductor, has also become very popular with the people. He is a clever and genial gentleman, and understands the duties of his position thoroughly. The officers are all clever gentlemen, and are always found, as they should be, courteous and polite in the discharge of their respective duties.
– Sonoma Democrat, November 26 1870
two artlcles written by “Handy,” and published recently in the Crescent, in regard to dividing Sonoma County…There should not be any jealousy between our city and Santa Rosa. Petaluma only differed with Santa Rosa in claiming that the railroad must accommodate both towns, instead of passing directly from Santa Rosa to Vallejo. Petaluma has succeeded in getting it where she desired; both towns have the benefit of the road; we are within thirty minutes run of the county seat, and liberal minded men should be satisfied. Nature has given us the best point for trade, while the railroad will tend to equalize the advantages of the up-country towns, and bring them in competition with Petaluma. Santa Rosa is much nearer the centre of the county, and is, therefore, entitled to the Court House. We were in hopes that the railroad would so connect us that all ill feelings between our towns would be dispelled, and we regret to know that even “Handy” desires to disturb our harmony and dismember our grand old Democratic county.
– Sonoma Democrat, December 31 1870
The Railroad —By the beginning of the new year the railroad will be completed and the cars running to Donahue, which will link us to the great cosmopolitan city of San Francisco, For years this has been the hope and desire of many of our enterprising citizens throughout the county. Various efforts were made by them to unite our fertile fields by bands of iron to this great commercial market but their labors signally failed through various causes. But at last the good work is accomplished, and the produce raised by the farmers of old Sonoma can now be transported speedily and cheaply to market. A new era has been opened in the history of our county, and its future is bright with promises of renewed life and activity.
– Sonoma Democrat, December 31 1870
The Excursion on Saturday Last.
Vague rumors were in circulation, during the early part of last week, that an excursion party from San Francisco was coming up to Santa Rosa on Saturday, at which time the first train would run through from Donahue to Santa Rosa. Nothing definite was known, however, and up to Thursday evening, on going to press, we were unable to say positively that there would be an excursion, but gave the report as it came to us. On Friday, however, one point was settled, namely, that some excursionists were coming at the time mentioned, but as to the number all were in the dark.
LIGHT ON THE SUBJECT. The following day cleared up the mystery. A long train of cars came in sight of the depot, with over twelve hundred persons on board. There were, in all, eighteen cars, most of them open freight cars fitted up with temporary seats, and gaily decorated with flags and evergreens. Three bands of music, including the juveniles of the Industrial School, a bright set of little musicians, under the charge of Mr. Pelton, accompanied the party; also, two or three military companies from the city and Petaluma.
THE ARRIVAL. The scene at the depot on the arrival of the party was a sight well worth seeing. A large throng of ladies and gentlemen from our town had gone out to welcome their visitors, attended by the Santa Rosa Brass Band, and the train was greeted with music, cheers and waving of hand kerchiefs, which was returned with interest by the immense crowd of excursionists. Owing to the great number of those present, it was utterly impossible to find vehicles enough to bring them all to town, and many of both sexes were compelled to walk in, a distance of nearly a mile. This was not very pleasant to begin with, particularly as but one hour was allowed to get to town and return in time for the homeward trip. Such a pushing, rushing and scampering down the road and across lots, has not been seen for many a day in these parts.
IN TOWN. In a short time Santa Rosa was full of people, nearly all of whom had arrived with appetites sharpened by fasting from the time of leaving the city, some six hours before. Again came disappointment, as it was utterly impossible to wine and dine such a multitude without preparation and within the brief space allowed for their stay. In consequence of this the visit was neither pleasant to our citizens nor to the excursionists, who, by the way, were as jolly a crowd of good fellows and fair ladies as we have ever seen together, and after bustling about for a few minutes in a most disagreeable and unsatisfactory manner, a grand rush was made for the cars to take them home.
MORE BLUNDERING. Here again came trouble. Many of the people of Santa Rosa desired to accompany their friends on the return trip as far as Donohue, but could net ascertain definitely, until the train was about to start, whether any provision had been made to bring them back, that night. In addition, invitations had been issued with a sparing hand. Consequently, only a small number from this place went down. On whose shoulders rests the blame for all the mistakes and blunders which characterized this excursion, we are not prepared to say, but there is enough of it to go round on all concerned.
HOMEWARD BOUND. The down trip was remarkably jolly, under the circumstances. On reaching Petaluma the cars stopped one hour, giving all an opportunity for a brief visit to the metropolis of our county. At the expiration of that time the whistle sounded, and the train started for Donahue, which was reached in a very short time. At this new town the steamer “Sacramento” was lying alongside the company’s wharf, ready to carry the gay voyagers to the city. A splendid collation was spread on board the steamer, and the manner in which the good things disappeared showed that this was emphatically one of the substantial pleasures of the trip. On the way down the company had a glorious time, dancing and speech-making being, the order of the day.
PERSONAL. Among the visitors to Santa Rosa on this occasion were Peter Donahue, President of the Railroad Company, Senator Wand, Assemblymen Griswold and Homer…and a boat of others, old friends and good citizens, whom we cannot now recall by name.
– Sonoma Democrat, January 7 1871
Going to Work. —We are informed that work is to he commenced at once on the railroad bridge across Santa Rosa creek.
– Sonoma Democrat, January 7 1871
Inauguration of the S. F. & N. P. Railroad
Last Saturday was the occasion of a grand jubilee for Sonoma county. The long-hoped for railroad through her center was built, and the formal inauguration of the same gave an opportunity for a first-class “blow out.” Invitations were pretty generally issued by President Donahue for an excursion from San Francisco to Santa Rosa. Accordingly several from this city availed themselves of the opportunity and went to San Francisco in order to make the first through trip. The Company’s steamer Sacramento left Jackson Street Wharf, San Francisco, about eight and a half o’clock, loaded with passengers, among whom were some of the most noted and substantial men of the state. Two fine bands of music accompanied the excursion, as also the California Guard and Capt. Bluxome, with his celebrated battery, which did lusty service in firing salutes at different points along the route.
PETALUMA ASTIR.
Our citizens knowing that the train was expected here about eleven, kept a sharp look-out across the valley for the train, and all good observatory points contained more or less of humanity, eagerly watching to see the iron horse come up the track. Owing, however, to some detention, it did not arrive until after twelve, and was several minutes behind the time of the steamer Petaluma, whose passengers arrived in this city some minutes ahead. In the meantime an immense concourse of people had gathered at the depot in East Petaluma. Maj. Armstrong, with the Hewston Guard, headed by the Petaluma Brass Band, turned out to welcome the excursionists, and receive their brothers in arms. As the long train, consisting of three passenger and twelve platform cars, came in sight, the cannon from the Plaza fired a salute, and was soon replied to by Bluxome’s Battery. After stopping about three-quarters of an hour, on order to take aboard the excursionists from this city, the train proceeded on its way.
TO SANTA ROSA.
The day was surpassingly pleasant, and every one looked happy and seemed to enjoy the run up, which was made in fifty minutes. The beautiful appearance of our valley, that in passing farm houses, residences, or even single individuals, the enthusiasm would find vent in prolonged cheers, while ladies handkerchiefs waved in profusion. At Santa Rosa the train was met by a brass band, and many citizens in carriages and wagons, while anvils were improvised for cannon, and kept hot with echoing salutes. The people at the County Seat must certainly have fancied they were taken, as the immense numbers poured into the town, filling the streets with a life and bustle, rarely witnessed on Montgomery or Main. The excursionists passed the hour allotted to them there, by wandering around the town, admiring its locality and the many pretty and cosy residences that are observable on every hand. More particularly did the San Franciscans admire and even go into raptures over the climate, whose mildness was such a pleasant and agreeable transit from the bitter winds and cold fogs of the Bay City.
HOME AGAIN.
Stopping at Santa Rosa for about an hour, the train returned, making the down trip between Santa Rosa and Petaluma in thirty-seven minutes. After tarrying at Petaluma long enough for the military to go through with their usual courtesies, proceeded to Donahue, where they arrived about dark. On going aboard the Sacramento, the hungry excursionists were delighted to find an ample dinner spread out for them in the spacious cabin, while received ample attention, as most of the party had not broken their fast since leaving their homes in the morning. After their greedy appetites had been thoroughly satisfied at Hendricks’ well-filled tables, post prandial toasts and speeches were indulged in by the passengers, and remarks made by Mssrs. H. M. Newall, Esq., of San Francisco, Peter Donahue, and others…
– Petaluma Argus, 7 January 1871
DONAHUE’S RAILROAD.
…The crowd at Santa Rosa was hardly less than Petaluma supplied. A score or more conveyances of various descriptions carried a portion of the excursionists to the town; the remaining portion enjoying the delights of a pedestrian trip to same point of destination. Santa Rosa was taken by surprise, it having been announced only that morning that the inauguration was to come off that day consequently Santa Rosa was unprepared to receive visitors, who, after an hour spent in inspecting the streets of the pleasant little village, returned to the cars and turned homeward…
– San Francisco Chronicle, January 1 1871
Opening of the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad.
…A very pleasant ride by the train in an hour or so brought the excursionists, to the vicinity of Santa Rosa, through a pleasant country, but looking rather parched now, in much need of the life giving rains. The advance on the village itself was made in a disorderly manner — partly on foot, and partly in conveyances of every possible character. A well-known railroad man — and as jolly as he is well-known — made his entry into that smiling village with a large party of ladies and gentlemen in a truck, drawn by two very powerful, but deliberate mules. The vehicle, so far as elegance is concerned, could not be pronounced a success, but it rumbled along nevertheless with great effectiveness. There was no other conveyance on the road that could bar its progress at least. Never was such military pageant ever understood before in Santa Rosa — two whole companies of soldiers parading there in all the panoply of war, marching and countermarching on the principal street. In the distance cheerful anvils, handled by resident gunners, sent forth constant explosions as a token of greeting. But provisions were dreadfully slack in Santa Rosa. The hotel openly confessed its inability to meet the requirements of so great a host; shut up its dining room remorselessly; could not do it; could not begin to do it, but melted when besought for the sake of the Blessed Virgin a cup of tea for a suffering lady. On returning to the station, a lunch was provided for the hungry excursionists, to which we need not say that ample justice was done…
– Daily Alta California,  January 1 1871

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NO KAWANA, NO SPRINGS AT KAWANA SPRINGS (UPDATED WITH RECENT PHOTOS)

What’s the origin of the name, “Kawana Springs?” It’s far easier to say where it didn’t come from than to pinpoint its source or meaning. For example, if you think “Kawana” is an Indian word, you may be right – except the Indians who coined it were 3,000 miles away.

Let’s start with the simple part: “Springs” is part of the name because it once was a mineral spring resort, with a hotel and bathhouse. A 49er named John S. Taylor had poor luck gold hunting but found his fortune here, homesteading 1,400 acres at the base of that mountain which came to have his name. John was quite the entrepreneur; he planted a large vineyard, raised livestock, and mined a small vein of coal that was discovered on his land. He saw the opportunity to cash in on the harness racing craze and built “Taylor’s Driving Park” at his place, where the 1861 Sonoma County fair was also held. He owned most of the downtown block between Fourth and Fifth streets directly across from Courthouse Square. John Taylor was a rich and interesting guy about whom more should be written.

Taylor also saw $$$ in the stinky creek on his property. Mineral spas and resorts were a big deal on the East Coast and in Europe; people believed the water relieved arthritis and aches if you bathed in the stuff, and even that it could cure kidney disease and other ailments if you drank lots of it. He built a small hotel for guests and when that one burned in 1870, Taylor built a grander, two-story place with hot and cold running boy-does-that-smell-awful.

It’s unclear what ambitions John Taylor held for his mineral water resort. He rarely advertised in the Northern California newspapers (at least, judging from the healthy sample of 19th century papers available online through the Library of Congress) and was leasing the operation out as early as the 1880s. Unlike owners of some other local hot spring retreats he didn’t bottle his “curative” waters for sale. Then there was the potential problem with name confusion: Taylor called his place “White Sulphur Springs,” and when he started there were already “White Sulphur Springs” in Solano (Vallejo) and Napa (St. Helena).

Why was everyone naming their place “White Sulphur Springs?” Because the original W.S.S. in West Virginia was recognized as the standard of excellence for resorts in the latter 19th century. It was the playground for the Washington D.C. elite; presidents took the waters there and Euro royalty, too. “White” apparently was intended to indicate the sulphurous water was clear and not sickly yellow, and it provided an opportunity for other West Virginia hot springs to exploit the name with sound-similars; there were nearby Blue Sulphur Springs, Green Sulphur Springs, Red Sulphur Spring and Salt Sulphur Springs. The water was apparently identical, or nearly so. (A 1870s analysis of Taylor’s water found it contained bicarbonate, iron, magnesia, and, of course, sulphur.)

By the turn of the century, whatever days of sun Taylor’s hotel enjoyed were certainly past. No ads can be found beyond 1899, although we know it remained open because it was still mentioned in the schedules for stage stops. When the 1906 earthquake hit, Taylor’s White Sulphur Springs hadn’t yet opened for the summer season. The hotel and bathhouse apparently escaped without serious damage, but not so the creek – the mineral water stopped flowing after the earth shifted. The place opened again for the 1906-1907 winter season, but that was it.

Come 1910 and the Press Democrat announced a pair of local men were going to reopen the resort, but not as White Sulphur Springs:


It was deemed advisable to change the name of the resort from White Sulphur Springs on account of the fact that there are already two resorts of that name in the state. Luther Burbank was appealed to in the matter of the selection of a name. He chose “Kawana,” and his choice was accepted. The management would have liked to have named the place “Burbank Springs,” but Mr. Burbank preferred not inasmuch as he had declined many offers for the use of his name for other places.

Thus it came to be dubbed “Kawana Sulphur Springs,” the ads shamelessly touting it was “Named by Luther Burbank.” More on Burbank and the Kawana angle in a minute.

The article and ads pointed to a new direction for the spa. It was promoted as the “Headquarters for automobilists and traveling men,” and a clubhouse building was added. The ads also promised “Its waters are unsurpassed,” but without the natural mineral spring working they had to be trucking the water in, or dousing the plain well water with chemicals. Two years later, ads announced “Kawana” (no Sulphur, no Springs mentioned) was under new management.

Kawana-anything disappears from the newspapers until 1927, when a Santa Rosa paper reported the “old Kawana Hotel, at White Sulphur Springs…has been untenanted for several years” as part of a news story about its very interesting recent tenants. It seems a professional bootlegging outfit had gutted the inside of the old hotel and constructed a three-story, 1,400 gallon still for making hootch. Police found the operation only after it was ready to move on, with a hapless steamfitter on the premises to dismantle the enormous rig. Officers were quoted as saying it was the largest bootlegging plant ever found in Northern California.

Old John Taylor was 99 years-old by that time, and the news about his old place must have been quite a shock. He died less than three weeks later and according to Gaye LeBaron’s columns, his daughter, Zana, had the hollowed-out building demolished rather than attempt to repair the heart-breaking damage. In 1931 the ranch became a game reserve stocked with quail, deer and pheasant under a deal with the Sonoma County Sportsmen’s Club. Zana fixed up the old bathhouse and lived there until her death in 1970. The year before, however, she discovered that the 1969 earthquake had jogged loose the creek’s plug, and up to 1,000 gallons/day of mineral water was again filling the creek. An AP wire service story about this appeared in newspapers nationwide. Alas, the water soon again stopped.

Back to Burbank and “Kawana:” Note that the article stated Burbank “chose” the Kawana name “selection,” which strongly implies someone else – the new tenants or John Taylor, probably – gave him a list of possibles after they couldn’t get rights to use “Burbank Springs.” But where did Kawana come from? First, Kawana is a family name in Japan, Hawaii, and elsewhere in the Pacific, and the Taylors had a Hawaiian connection because John Jr. was living there at the time. Maybe John Sr. heard the name and liked it.

Could Kawana be Native American? Some writers have claimed so, explaining it meant “healing waters” or similar. An anthropologist thought it possible it had Native roots, but “it sounded more like a fake Indian word that a PR person would invent.”

If it were an Indian word, it doesn’t come from the Southern Pomo dialect, where kawana means “turtle” (Barrett, 1908) and there are no turtles to be found in that section. And besides, Pomo locations weren’t even named like that; a place would be called something like kawanakawi (turtle-water-place). Further, the “healing waters” nonsense is put to rest by the Taylor Mountain Park master plan, which determined “no sacred sites are known to be located on the property.”

A final option will seem like a stretch, but hear me out. Recall John Taylor named his place White Sulphur Springs after the classy resort in West Virginia. The route taken to reach that famous place in the 19th century was the road known as the Kanawha Turnpike, which followed old Indian trails from Richmond to the Kanawha River Valley. (Believe it or not! Kanawha was considered in 1861 for the name of the new state that would be West Virginia.) Note that Kawana and Kanawha have only the second and third syllables flipped. How likely was it that Taylor would want another name very closely linked to the original resort? And would Taylor have even known about the White Sulphur Springs-Kanawha connection? Of the latter we can be certain: He was born in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, which is at its farthest fifty miles from the old Kanawha Turnpike. He must have traveled it at least once during his boyhood, and certainly knew well the Kanawha name.

So there you have it: “Kawana” was a clever variation – or perhaps, the slight misremembering of an 82 year-old man – of a name created by the Piscataway, Delaware, or Shawnee tribes of modern-day West Virginia. Or it’s Hawaiian. Or maybe it was mashed-up mumble of vowel sounds created by a marketing whiz who also dreamed up the phony “healing waters” legend. But this much is certain: You can search every inch around Kawana Springs and not find a single kawana.

Obl. Comstock House connection: Daughter Zana Taylor, who returned to the ranch and remodeled the old bathhouse, was a close friend of Anna May Bell, the young woman who was something of a godchild to Mattie and James Wyatt Oates. The Taylors threw more than one party in Bell’s honor at their home at 512 Mendocino Ave (currently the Trek Bicycle Store). Zana’s many doings at the Oates house can be found in our archives.

Detail of White Sulphur Springs postcard, c.1896. Courtesy Sonoma County Library

UPDATE: There isn’t much left of the old White Sulphur Springs/Kawana resort, so it’s no great loss at the present time (2013) there is no public access to it without special permission. No sign of the hotel remains at all except for a few low stone retaining walls which terraced the grounds, as seen in the1896 postcard above.

The original gazebo, shown at right, still has the cradle-sized fountain basin from which the mineral water bubbled to the surface. The decorative icicles and fish scale shingles are typical of the  Carpenter Gothic style popular in the 1880s. Note the railing is low enough to serve as a seat; those who believed drinking the warm mineral water was healthful would sip as much of it as they could bear over the course of a day.

The bathhouse shown below is believed to have been built in 1876 and is surprisingly small, about 1200 ft. in a “T” floor plan. In front is a raised concrete fountain that probably offered another chance to drink the foul-smelling water before it was piped inside. Not shown to the left of the bathhouse is a stone-lined catchment with a rough pile of cemented stones in the center. The size and shape suggest a hot tub although its original use is unknown. Near the bathhouse is a dilapidated structure that may have been an automobile barn built around the 1930s which will not be preserved.

The county’s plan for the area includes plans to convert the bathhouse into a small visitor center and possibly build a facsimile of the hotel as a bed and breakfast inn/hotel. Plans for the surrounding Taylor Mountain Park include an outdoor classroom/amphitheater, large picnic areas, camping grounds, a dog park, Frisbee golf park, and more.

TO REOPEN SPRINGS NEAR SANTA ROSA
Under Name of “Kawana Springs” the Old White Sulphur Springs Resort to Be Made Popular Place

Under Name of “Kawana Springs,” the well known summer resort known for years as “White Sulphur Springs,” owned by John S. Taylor, and which has been closed for a long time, is to be reopened and an endeavor made to regain the old time popularity the place once had and to add to its attractiveness.

The springs property, with the addition of twenty acres of fine timbered woodland, making the grounds forty acres, instead of twenty, has been taken over by “The Kawana Springs, Incorporated,” headed by M. N. Winans and Thornton P. Preston. Mr. Winans is a well known insurance manager, who has made his home in Santa Rosa for some time, and enjoys an extensive acquaintance throughout the state, and Mr. Preston needs no introduction, as the former proprietor of the Hotels Lebanon and Overton in Santa Rosa, with a legion of friends among the traveling public.

Messrs. Winans and Preston have been negotiating for the acquisition of the Springs property for several weeks and have finally arranged the details. The big hotel building will be refurnished throughout and the grounds will be made most attractive. Another building in close proximity to the hotel will be fitted up as a clubhouse, and the bathhouses will all be remodeled and improved. In fact the gentlemen mean to have everything as neat and comfortable as possible for the accommodation of the large number of patrons they expect to entertain their this summer [sic]. Already they have a good-sized list of applications for accommodations and they expect to be ready to open the Kawana Springs resort on May 2.

Nature has been lavish and the place affords so many possibilities for the spending of a delightful vacation outing there, as well as its offering in the way of medicinal springs whose waters have been found to contain excellent curing qualities for various ailments. The analysis made by Dr. Winslow Anderson shows the Springs to be very valuable in the treatment of kidney diseases.

In addition [illegible microfilm] will also cater to the people of Santa Rosa and their friends by providing an excellent cuisine and other attractions. The Springs are located about two miles from the Court House and are of easy access over a well kept road, just a nice spin in an automobile or drive by carriage.

It was deemed advisable to change the name of the resort from White Sulphur Springs on account of the fact that there are already two resorts of that name in the state. Luther Burbank was appealed to in the matter of the selection of a name. He chose “Kawana,” and his choice was accepted. The management would have liked to have named the place “Burbank Springs,” but Mr. Burbank preferred not inasmuch as he had declined many offers for the use of his name for other places. It is needless to say that everybody wishes Messrs. Winans and Preston the greatest possible success in their big undertaking, and they mean to leave nothing undone to achieve success and make their place deservedly popular. The resort will be open winter and summer.

– Press Democrat, April 13, 1910
KAWANA HOTEL RAIDED: GIVES UP BIG STILL

A plant for the manufacture of illicit liquor, declared to be the largest ever uncovered in the north Bay region, was seized in a raid conducted by County Detective Pemberton and members of the sheriff’s office late Tuesday, when the old Kawana Hotel, at White Sulphur Springs on Taylor mountain, was raided.

A still with 1400-gallon capacity was discovered in the place, along with 50 gallons of “jack,” and boilers, mash tanks, cooling coils and other equipment. Two smaller stills were also taken in the same raid–one with a 250-gallon capacity and the other with a 150-gallon capacity.

George Darnell, 50, the only man at the place, was seized  as operator. Darnell claimed that he was a steamfitter from San Francisco, and had been hired to clean up the works and dismantle the place. The mash tanks bore out his testimony, as they were clean and the still was not in operation.

Threaten Tear Bomb

Darnell at first barricaded himself in the attic and was only forced to come down when the officers threatened to throw tear bombs into his hiding place. Although they had no bombs with them, the ruse worked.

The main still was three stories high, and the seven 200-mash tanks were so connected up that the fermented mash could be pumped directly into the still. The plant was estimated to be worth $10,000.

In the opinion of the officers, the place belonged to a group of wholesale San Francisco bootleggers, who made the pure alcohol in the plant and turned it into gin for the San Francisco trade.

Short Time Only

Officers also believed that the plant was set up for only a short time in each place, a quantity of alcohol made and the plant dismantled and moved to another place before officers found it.

Pemberton has had the place under surveillance for some time, spending several nights in the vicinity in order to make sure of the activities before he staged the raid.

Kawana Springs was a well-known resort in the old days, but has been untenanted for several years, except for two or three short openings by minor companies, who could not make the place pay.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 2, 1927

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MEET ME AT THE RIVER

“Change doesn’t happen overnight,” the saying goes, but in truth, it seems to. Surely you can recall many times when you’ve been surprised to notice a tipping point has “suddenly” tipped – a trend becomes commonplace, or nearly everyone accepts a notion that isn’t very old. My favorite example is this image which was created for the Today Show, comparing St. Peter’s Square during the announcement of Pope Benedict in 2005 and the announcement of Pope Francis in 2013. In the earlier photo, only a single person can be seen with a mobile phone. In 2013, it appears everyone in the crowd is taking a snapshot with their phone or tablet. If you had asked the 2005 crowd if they expected to be at the same event eight years later taking pictures with their smartphone, they would have first asked, “What is a smartphone?” followed by, “why wouldn’t I be using a regular camera?” (As news photos tend to disappear over time, you can also find it here, here and here.)

(RIGHT: Crowds waiting for the ferry at the Monte Rio Landing, 1910. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

It appears the Russian River resorts reached such a tipping point in the summer of 1910 when there was a jump in the number of visitors. “Already thousands of campers are at the different places and daily more are arriving. After the Fourth of July it is expected that a great many more pleasure and recreation seekers will journey to the famous river,” commented the Santa Rosa Republican. “The trains coming from the resorts on Sunday carried about 18 coaches and two engines, the coaches being crowded.”

The Russian River resort scene had been growing steadily for more than a decade, with a new place or two opening every year. If you wanted to get away for a few days to swim and paddle around in shallow water or even just lounge away like a sloth in a tent-cabin, it was the best spot in the Bay Area. Although many resorts were more or less the same, some filled a particular niche. Mirabel Park was popular with groups holding Sunday picnics, Camp Vacation (near Bohemian Grove) had tennis courts, and so many Santa Rosans descended upon Rio Nido that it seems much of the town was there at some point over the summer, judging by the frequent notices that appeared in town papers. That history was discussed in an earlier offering, “When we Summered in Lost Places,” and all that continued, as shown in items below.

So what made 1910 different? For starters, it was the first season after the Northwestern Pacific (NWP) line finally connected with the narrow gauge railway coming up the coast. This meant someone in San Francisco could reach the most popular resorts at the west end of the river – Camp Vacation, Monte Rio, and that year’s new hot-spot, Monte Cristo – without taking the NWP to Fulton and changing to the slooooow river local that crawled along with over a dozen stops along the way. This was also the year that electricity came to the resorts, so roughing it was no longer quite so rough.

But the special sauce drawing the crowds, I believe, was live music. For the first time (at least, that I’ve encountered in the papers) a resort was promising there would be great dancing. “The Santa Rosa band will furnish music for the dance, and this is a sufficient guarantee of the excellence of the terpsichorean revelry,” blurbed the Republican newspaper about the opening of Monte Cristo. “The dancing platform is one of the best on the entire river, and has ample floor space to accommodate large numbers of dancers.”

As everyone familiar with local history knows, the Russian River scene exploded in the years around WWII as the top Big Bands in the country performed at the resorts, with jitterbug dancing and hot jazz making the area a showcase for the best in popular music. In order for that to happen, however, visitor’s attitudes needed to first shift away from viewing the resorts as less a get away place into a go to destination. “The bungalows on the river and the cottages at the seaside are the strong attractions now,” wrote the Press Democrat’s gossip columnist in 1910, striking a prophetic note. “Summer is on.”

RAILROAD IS MAKING FILL
Will Form New Depot Site at Monte Rio

Work on the big fill at Monte Rio, where the broad gauge and narrow gauge trains will meet, is progressing rapidly. A large gang of workmen are employed at the present time, and the railroad company has run a trestle out over the slough where the fill is to be made, so that it will be an easy matter to dump in earth and arrange for reclaiming a valuable spot.

The new depot site will be on this spot where the fill is being made, and the Northwestern will reach the depot with a graceful curve on the east, while the North Shore train will come in on the west side of the depot. There is considerable work to be done there before the new depot site will be ready.

Other improvements are being carried out at Monte Rio and Rio Campo and a work train is being also used. Things are lively there now, in preparation for the coming vacation season. The railroad companies expect to do a great business this summer in hauling visitors to the redwood section.

All of the resorts along the river are planning improvements, and are anticipating entertaining the largest crowds in their history during the coming months. There is no question but the redwoods section about Guerneville is the most popular places in the entire state for summer outings.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 1, 1910
ELECTRICITY FOR RESORTS
“Rionido” Makes First Contract For Juice

The Russian River Light and Power Company has begun stringing wires on its poles recently set leading from Sebastopol to Monte Rio. This will furnish electric current for all the resorts on Russian river which require it. The wires will all be placed and ready for the turning on of the current on June 1st. The actual work it is estimated can be done in about fifteen days.

From Monte Rio the wires will be run at once to Occidental, when the work of setting the poles has been carried out. Contracts have been entered into with the Westinghouse Electrical Company for the transformers required and the secondary work is to be done by the Metropolitan Electrical and Construction Company of San Francisco.

Rionido, the pretty summer resort which was formerly known as Eaglenest, is the first of the summer resorts to have electric lights. Manager Ellis, of the Russian River Light and Power Company, states that he will have the wires into Rionido in a few days. Thomas C. Mellersh, manager of Rionido, is determined to have his resort the most up-to-date in the county, and will spare neither pains nor expense to make it so. The formal opening of Rionido occurred on Tuesday, June 10, when the dining room was thrown open to the public…

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 14, 1910

Nestling amid rosebushes and a picturesque woodland is the country home of the Frank Woolseys at Mt. Olivet. The Woolsey ranch has for years been noted for its hospitality and its welcome to visitors. It is ideally located, specially for such a delightful gathering as took place there last Sunday afternoon, when Mr. and Mrs. Frank Woolsey and their charming daughters, the Misses Louise and Helen Woolsey, entertained a large company of friends at tea and the accompanying pleasures of an outing in the country. They also entertained a few friends at luncheon prior to the larger gathering. The invited guests from this city either drove out in automobiles or went by train, the latter stopping conveniently at “Woolsey”…


“Monte Cristo,” the Frank Leppos county home on Russian river, was thrown open last Monday by Mrs. Leppo for the entertaining of the ladies composing “The Spreaders.” The club members were delightfully entertained and returning to town gently pleased with the outing.

– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, May 22, 1910

OPENING BALL MONTE CRISTO
Frank Leppo Arranges For Comfort of Guests

The formal opening of Monte Cristo, Frank Leppo’s splendid new summer resort on the Russian river, will be one of the events of the season in that section. The Santa Rosa band will furnish  music for the dance, and this is a sufficient guarantee of the excellence of the terpsichorean revelry.

All the arrangements for the pleasures of a large attendance have been perfected by Mr. Leppo, and he has left nothing undone which could in any manner add to the pleasure or comfort of his guests. Busses will be run from Monte Rio’s hotels to the new resort, in order that patrons may be in attendance at the dance and those who wish to go from this city to attend can find accommodations at the Monte Rio hotels.

Monte Cristo is one of the prettiest places on the river, and all who have visited it are delighted. There are many handsome cottages on the grounds, and it has leaped into popularity with rapid strides from the first.

Indications point to a large crowd being present at the dance, and that they will have a jolly time is a foregone conclusion. The dancing platform is one of the best on the entire river, and has ample floor space to accomodate large numbers of dancers. Mr. Leppo will give his personal supervision to the grand opening ball, and he knows how to conduct elaborate affairs.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 17, 1910

Mr. and Mrs. Harry L. Hall and Mr. and Mrs. Ney L. Donovan are spending the week-end at Monte Cristo, the country place of the Frank O. Leppos, and attended the ball in the evening.

Mrs. James W. Oates and her guests Miss Myrtle Hamell and Mrs. Martel and Mrs. Blitz W. Paxton were among the visitors at Monte Cristo on Saturday and spent a delightful day.

From all accounts the picnic of the Irene Club at Rionido must have been one of the most enjoyable ever. It occurred last Wednesday and the members left this city on the morning train and carried with them well-filled luncheon baskets. The lunch was made up on innumerable dainties for each member contributed to the feast. I was assured by one of the Irenes after this manner: “The Irenes can cook and don’t you forget it.” Delighted! Cooking is a very useful and necessary accomplishment. The exhilarating weather, the swimming and the hiking and the pleasures of the outdoor life were all features of this never-to-be-forgotten outing at Rionido. At noon everyone was perfectly ready for the meal, which was spread in the dining room at the bungalow of Mrs. Charles A. Wright, Mrs. Wright being a charter member of the Club. During the enjoyment of the many courses of menu there was much laughter and merriment. some of the members returned home in the evening while others remained overnight with friends and returned the following day.

– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, June 19, 1910

ALONG THE RUSSIAN RIVER
Thousands of People Camped at the Resorts

The year 1910, from all present appearances, is going to be one of the most profitable that the owners of resorts along Russian river have ever had. Already thousands of campers are at the different places and daily more are arriving. After the Fourth of July it is expected that a great many more pleasure and recreation seekers will journey to the famous river.

The popularity of the river as a place of amusement is easily attested by the fact that nowhere in California may the same amount of travel be found for such a short run. The trains coming from the resorts on Sunday carried about 18 coaches and two engines, the coaches being crowded. From one end of the river to the other people come to seek places to spend the summer months. As a place of recreation it would be hard to find one that could surpass it. San Francisco go there by hundreds to enjoy the bathing. Each day sees the river crowded with bathers. Extra precautions are being taken this year to prevent casualties. Expert swimmers have been stationed along the different places and they keep a constant look out over the people.

Not only is it a place for bay cities people, but Sonoma county [garbled typesetting] parties it would be hard to surpass. Many board the train from the cities along the route and attend the dances there on Saturday evening and spend Sunday bathing and boating. Many new boats have been added to the supply by the different resorts and at times the river is crowded with the little craft. Passengers in their raillery have often said that the resorts are so close together and the trains so long that the engine is at one station before the rear coaches have passed another.

A number of resorts are making preparations for the Fourth of July. Hundreds of people will go to that section to enjoy the two days’ vacation and adequate quarters will be provided. Many of the camps will celebrate with exercises, while a majority will confine their sports to a grand ball in the evening.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 25, 1910

Socially this week has certainly been the calm before the storm. After those memorable seven parties in nine days people have been taking a breathing spell. The bungalows on the river and the cottages at the seaside are the strong attractions now. Summer is on.

– “Society Gossip” column, Press Democrat, July 10, 1910

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