Street improvement time! In the neighborhood that would become the Ridgway Historic District, the big news was that Benton street would finally become the town’s northern most thoroughfare, opening a straight shot between the Southern Pacific train station on North St. and Ripley Street. At the time, Benton didn’t connect between Glenn and Morgan (see map in a previous neighborhood article).
The Ridgway district is a bit of a hodgepodge because most it wasn’t added to the town as a single developer’s platted subdivision, with streets and parcels already neatly sliced up. As this closeup of the 1885 map shows, Benton Street then ended at Mendocino Avenue, which was called the Healdsburg road. (Want to be really confused? Cleveland Ave. was “West Benton” at that time, and College Avenue was also known as Guerneville Road.)
For a new street to be added retroactively, several landowners might need arms twisted to convinced them it’s in their own best interest to give away a swatch of land to the city, in the hopes that they would profit greatly by selling many small home lots on their former pasture or orchard farmland. Although this deal seems like a no-brainer today, great-grandpa sometimes seemed to have no brains at all; it wasn’t unusual to read in the newspapers that someone foolishly demanded the town or county pay full freight for some nearly worthless sliver of land. For example, that summer of 1909 ended a three year-old city campaign to widen Fifth Street and transform it into a sister boulevard to Fourth. What killed that vision was the unbudging price by a man named John McCormick for a ten-foot strip of frontage at B street (which, in fact, he might not have legally owned).
In the Benton Street deal, the arm twister appeared to be our own James Wyatt Oates. In August, 1909, he was elected president of the Sonoma County Automobile Association and vowed to promote the “betterment of good roads.” A month later he was making a rare appearance before City Council and mentioned “property owners between Glenn and Morgan streets were contemplating the opening of Benton street.” And just five short weeks later, the property owners handed over right-of-way to the city to allow construction of the new block to immediately begin. Likely attorney and Association president Oates did the legal work gratis.
The only glitch in the plans was that there was a house at 1238 Morgan that was in the way, and the owner said she would move it to a lot on the new block of Benton street (this is probably the Italianate house at 322 Benton). County Clerk Fred L. Wright was renting it with his family, and stayed there after it was relocated. But Fred was slow in correcting his house numbers – in the 1910 census, he was recorded living at 1238 Benton Street. (Wright later moved, but remained close by; Fred, Bessie and their four kids lived for a decade or so at 425 Carrillo, a jewel that still dominates the street.)
Oates’ appearance before the City Council was also to present a petition that the city use Mendocino Avenue for the new 20″ sewer line, “to relieve the very unsanitary and unfortunate overflow of sewage during last winter, which everybody agreed was deplorable.” This was a surprising bit of news; at the time, a small item in the papers reported that the intersection of Carrillo and Mendocino was flooded because the storm drain backed up during a downpour. And there I was imagining the squeals of children splashing around in their wonderful neighborhood lake, not groans of disgust from nearby homeowners.
Also in local news for 1909 was the renaming of “Joe Davis” street to Healdsburg Avenue. Residents of that short block had petitioned the city council since 1900 to have the name changed, and finally won. Thus endeth another link to old Santa Rosa.
The bulk of articles transcribed below, however, concern improvements to nearby streets. Mendocino Street – the section between Fourth and College – was paved, and a load of crushed rock was spread on College Ave. The difference underscores the two faces of Santa Rosa; business streets in the downtown core were now mostly asphalt because of the exploding number of automobiles in use. College Avenue was still a busy farmer’s horse-and-buggy thoroughfare across town, not to mention the route used to drive cattle herds to the slaughterhouse from the Southern Pacific stockyard on North Street. College would still be pretty bumpy ride with its new coarse gravel, but as the PD noted, “It has been a long time since any work of a permanent nature was done” on that street at all.
And then there was the surprise that there were still wooden plank curbs all around town. Wooden street curbs hardly seem worth the bother, given that they’re likely to rot and fracture, particularly when made from a soft material like redwood. But that was the 19th century standard, and a Google image search reveals they can still be found in New Orleans’ preservation district, albeit in the expected shabby shape.
(Excerpts from PD coverage various city council meetings)
Want Sewer Relief
In behalf of property owners in the section Colonel J. W. Oates addressed the council and asked that the new twenty-inch main that is to be laid from the College avenue section to the sewer farm be run from Mendocino avenue instead of Ripley street, so as to relieve the very unsanitary and unfortunate overflow of sewage during last winter, which everybody agreed was deplorable.
City Engineer Newton Smyth said in his opinion the new twenty-inch main from Ripley street to the sewer farm would relieve the conditions mentioned, but would not say that it would entirely eradicate it.
Sidewalks on Benton
In response to a petition presented by Colonel Oates and other property owners the City Council ordered that cement walks be laid on Benton street from the Southern Pacific depot to Glenn street on both sides. Col. Oates also mentioned that property owners between Glenn and Morgan streets were contemplating the opening of Benton street through to Morgan, and the giving of a deed of right of way. Crushed rock was also ordered placed on Benton street from North to Glenn street.
[..]– Press Democrat, September 22, 1909
Mendocino Street Improvement
The matter of street repairs was considered at some length and it was decided to remove the basalt blocks on Mendocino street, lay a base of Healdsburg gravel with a binding of crushed rock, similar to the roadway at the Northwestern Pacific depot, and then bituminize the street. All sewer, water, gas and wire connections are to be laid in the street before the work is done, and the property owners will be assessed for half the cost.– Press Democrat, June 16, 1909
Mendocino Street Improvement
John S. Taylor and James O. Kuykendall have had the old redwood plank curbing removed and a concrete curbing laid along Mendocino street in front of their residence properties. They have also had concrete gutters laid. The work is a marked improvement and adds materially to the appearance of the street.– Press Democrat, May 25, 1909
Now “Healdsburg Avenue”
Residents and property owners of “Joe Davis” street asked the council to change the name of that thoroughfare to “Healdsburg Avenue.” W. T. Hurt spoke of the existing difficulty on account of the conflict of names. The request was granted. The street is only one block long…– Press Democrat, June 2, 1909MORE IMPROVEMENTS ON MENDOCINO AVENUE
The old wooden curb along Mendocino avenue in front of the Riley property is being removed and is to be replaced by a modern concrete curb and gutter the entire length of the property. The change will greatly improve the appearance of the thoroughfare and add to the value of the property.– Press Democrat, October 15, 1909
COLLEGE AVENUE IMPROVEMENTSWork Commenced in Laying Cement Curbs and Gutters–Will be One of the Best Thoroughfares
The improvement of College avenue from Mendocino avenue to Fourth street has been commenced and Contractor J. D. Sullivan is at work putting in cement curbs and gutters. It is the plan to lay these curbs and gutters the entire distance between the points named and then the city will put down crushed rock on the thoroughfare. The advantage derived from this improvement will make College avenue one of the best boulevards in the city and will greatly enhance the appearance and value of property. It has been a long time since any work of a permanent nature was done on College avenue and everybody is pleased to see the work commenced.– Press Democrat, October 10, 1909
STREET OBSTRUCTIONS ARE DANGEROUS
The lack of lights on College avenue, where dirt has been thrown into the street from the excavating for the concrete gutter and curb, and piles of gravel and mixing boxes strewn along, makes that thoroughfare very dangerous at night. Sunday night from Slater to Humboldt street there were no lights and with the heavy shade of the trees along the north side it was almost impossible to keep out of danger. Unless more care is taken in protecting such places in the public streets there may be a serious accident and some one may be killed or crippled.– Press Democrat, November 9, 1909
TO OPEN BENTON STREET TO MORGANNoteworthy Improvement is Contemplated And a Number of New Houses Will Be Built
Arrangements have been completed for the deeding to the city of the right of way through several pieces of property for the opening of Benton street from Glenn to Morgan street. City Surveyor Smyth has made the survey and secured the descriptions to be placed in the deeds to be drawn by City Attorney Ware. When the deed has been prepared the necessary land will be transferred to the city for the purpose stated.
Property owners in the vicinity have raised the funds for the purpose of defraying the cost of removing the house occupied by County Clerk Fred L. Wright and owned by Mrs. M. F. Calderwood, which partially stands in the lot to be deeded. It is understood that the house will be moved around so as to face on the new Benton street, and in all probability a new house will be erected on the corner by Mr. Wright.
E. D. Seaton, who owns considerable frontage on Benton street, between Mendocino avenue and Glenn street, is preparing to erect several two-story modern houses on Benton street as soon as it is opened through to Morgan street. H. H. Moke, who owns the entire half block facing on the north side of the new street, and W. E. Nichols, who owns the other quarter block on the south side, are both contemplating improvements on their property.
When the street is opened it will give a main thoroughfare from the Southern Pacific depot to Ripley street and divide the drainage of storm water which is now all carried on Carrillo street during the rainy season. The street opening will be a marked improvement to that part of the city.– Press Democrat, September 26, 1909DEEDS PASS FOR BENTON STREET OPENING
Deeds were signed and passed Saturday for the required land for the opening of Benton street from Glenn to Morgan streets, and the street will be opened at once. H. H. Moke, W. A. Nichols and Mrs. M. F. Calderwood are the property owners affected. Mrs. Calderwood will be compelled to move one of her houses which is now partially in the proposed street. Monday the fences were removed from the Moke and Nichols property and preparations are being made for the immediate clearing of the Calderwood property so that the street can be put in condition for use before the heavy rains begin.
Work is progressing rapidly on the other part of Benton street, which is being given a heavy coat of crushed rock. The rock has been laid from Mendocino avenue to a point half way between Orchard and Beaver streets. A number of the property owners are also laying cement walks along the street as ordered by the Council, while others are making preparations to do so.
The laying of cement curbs and gutters on College avenue is also progressing rapidly. The work has practically been completed on each side as far as Slater street and will be pushed right along as fast as possible. Both of these streets present a much improved appearance where the work has been completed.– Press Democrat, November 2, 1909