sanantonio-sm

THE SECESSIONS OF PETALUMA

Here’s the ultimate Trivial Pursuit question, Sonoma county edition: How many times has it been proposed for Petaluma to seize the county seat from Santa Rosa and/or split off to become the seat of a new county?

Recently I conducted a scientific survey of expert historians (I asked guests at a Christmas party, a few friends, some followers on Facebook and that know-it-all cashier at Trader Joe’s) and the consensus was that it’s happened two or three times. The correct answer?

Nine…probably; I hedge because there could be yet another skirmish or three that could crawl out of the late 19th century woodwork.

A couple were like war campaigns and lasted more than a year; others apparently went little further than a committee being formed or the passing around of petitions. Some efforts are difficult to evaluate because few newspapers from that particular time still exist.

While all of the schemes end up with Petaluma becoming a county seat, they are remarkably different otherwise. Sometimes a new county is formed, borrowing a bit of northern Marin (or not). Sometimes Sonoma county is broken up into three counties – four, in one proposal – and sometimes Petaluma is annexed to be part of Marin. A common thread is that Petaluma has more in common with Marin and points south than everything north of them in Sonoma county, which is hard to dispute; until the train arrived in 1871, it was easier for the Petalumi to get to San Francisco than Santa Rosa, particularly in winter.

Here’s a summary of the various proposals:

1860 Marin annexes everything south of Cotati
1861 Move Sonoma county seat to Petaluma
1865 Marin annexes everything south of Santa Rosa
1870 Create a new county from southern Sonoma county
1872 Divide Sonoma into four with south, north, central, and river counties
1883 Move Sonoma county seat to Petaluma
1906 Create a new county from N Marin + S Sonoma + coast down to Tomales
1920 Create a new county (discussed below)
1950 Create a new county from N Marin + S Sonoma + coast down to Stinson Beach

The 1883 plan was hashed out in the preceding articles and was the most rancorous, as Petaluma and Santa Rosa had agents fanned out all over the county urging – and maybe, paying – residents to sign petitions or counter-petitions. This attempt also highlighted how difficult it was to make such a sweeping change; this petition wanted the Board of Supervisors to allow voters to weigh in on the issue, but (as I understand it) the decision still would be ultimately left to the legislature. These rules would later become increasingly byzantine.

Although the Petaluma/Santa Rosa rivalry puts a unique spin on the matters here, there was an outsized prestige in being the county seat a hundred years ago and more; other communities had no choice but revolve around it as planets circle a star. Besides a courthouse it meant having all the county offices and the best professional services – lawyers of all types, major bankers, specialist doctors, etc. It also meant busy stores, hotels, restaurants and saloons along with the higher rents paid to downtown landlords who really owned the whole place. Those are reasons why Petaluma was willing to donate $100,000 in 1883 to move the courthouse there – and hey, maybe the local nabobs would achieve a bit of immortality by slapping their names on a prestigious building or something. After all, there’s also more than a dab of vanity motivating some of these plans.

Another main incentive that year was for Petaluma to dodge paying for a new courthouse in Santa Rosa. That was also the major objective of the 1872 petition, which asked the legislature to create Russian River county as well as new northern and southern counties as afterthoughts. This petition apparently collected a number of signatures in West County but was never mentioned by the other local papers so it obviously went nowhere. It’s fun to read, tho, because the author seemed to think he was appealing to Parliament – I can only wonder if he wore a powdered wig while writing this: “…respectfully petition your Honorable Bodies to consider and pass to enactment the bill offered herewith…” At the same time, he thought it appropriate to include petty gripes: “…the County Buildings at Santa Rosa are inconvenient and insufficient (with one exception, and that accommodates but one County officer).”

It’s doubtful the 1870 separation even made it to the petition stage but it’s uncertain because its advocate was the Petaluma Crescent, a short-lived pro-Democrat paper. No copies survive so we only know about it from comments that appeared in the semi-allied Santa Rosa Democrat. This effort was oddly specific that Petaluma needed to have its own County Hospital because the county wouldn’t pay for emergency medical care away from the hospital when “a man is shot or stabbed in an affray and unable to settle his doctor’s bill”. There’s quite a story behind that, I’ll bet.

Likewise we have an incomplete picture of the 1865 Marin annexation because no Petaluma newspapers from that year are (currently) available on microfilm or digitally. That’s particularly sad because this was the most interesting effort of all: Petaluma was circulating a petition that would take away everything south of Santa Rosa Creek – essentially, half of Sonoma county. It seems clear this was intended to be a kind of war reparation; as explored here, the Civil War ended earlier that year with Sonoma county more divided than ever, with Petaluma cheering the Union victory and Santa Rosa still rabidly pro-Confederacy. Noting the overall county voted against Lincoln in 1864, the Sonoma Democrat muttered bitterly, “If the Abolition [Republican] ticket had been successful in this county, last September, nothing would have been said, at this time, about division.”

There’s little to write about the 1860 and 1861 proposals, except the latter was cut short at the start of the Civil War – there’s some discussion of both in “PETALUMA VS SANTA ROSA: ROUND ONE.” Nor is there much about the 1906 attempt, except it was the first launched under the auspices of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce. The most memorable thing about it was the San Rafael Independent’s great pun in calling it a “hen coup.”

The financial and political backers of these propositions were never identified until the Chamber appeared, but there were sometimes hints. In 1920 the Press Democrat wrote the new proposed county might be called “McNear county” with George F. McNear’s approval, although it’s possible that was intended as a joke.

Of all the various proposals, the one in 1920 first looked like a sure thing. Not only was the Petaluma Chamber behind it, but this time there was financial backing (McNear, I presume?) for a legal team and Sacramento lobbyist.

The PD claimed “certain prominent residents of Petaluma who desire to see Petaluma made a county seat and a new county” convinced State Senator Lewis L. Dennett of Modesto to introduce SB 648, which would make it much simpler for a county to divide. (In fairness, there were then up to ten other communities in California where a county split was desired, the only other in the Bay Area being recently founded Richmond, which was the anchor for the booming western end of sprawling Contra Costa county.)

Directing the 1920 campaign was Homer W. Wood, editor of the Petaluma Morning Courier, and a “Committee of Fifteen.” Since this scheme involved land in Sonoma and Marin counties, their game plan was to present to the Board of Supervisors in both counties with petitions calling for a popular vote. The Supervisors were expected to refuse to call for the elections since the laws by then made it nearly impossible for such a ballot measure to win, requiring election results to meet certain approval ratios among “new-county” and “old-county” votes, acreage and population minimums kept for the “old-county,” and so on. Once they were turned down by the Boards, the plan was to ask the state Supreme Court to throw out the complex formulas and turn the clock back to 1907, when only approval from two-thirds of the voters in the new county territory was required. Easy peasy!

First, however, they had to come up with a name and boundaries for the new county. Many names were suggested, including Marisoma, Marinoma, Novato, Tomales, Bay Coast, Northbay, American Fertile (!), Chanticleer, San Pablo, Petaluma and San Antonio. They picked San Antonio because “San Antonio is a historic name, a Spanish name, a northern Marin name, and the name of the creek…” That lasted for two months before they settled on the name Petaluma county. See above, re: vanity.

The continually shifting boundary lines were clues that their plan might not be ready for prime time. During the two month lifespan of the San Antonio version the southern border originally ended just before Olompali State Park, then was snapped back to the existing Sonoma/Marin border. In the east it first did not include Sonoma Valley, but then went all the way to the Napa county line. Later the town of Sonoma opted out, so the border didn’t include the Valley of the Moon again.

Composite map of the proposed "San Antonio county" boundaries, Jan.-Mar. 1920
Composite map of the proposed “San Antonio county” boundaries, Jan.-Mar. 1920

 

They dropped the northern Marin component because the central tenet of the deal was that tax rates would be lower in San Antonio county, but when the Committee actually crunched the numbers they discovered the former Marinite’s taxes would actually go up. That was such a fundamental mistake it probably should have killed the project.

But an even greater snafu happened in August when the northern border was shifted to Monte Rio (the borderline now dropping south just east of Occidental), absorbing most of West County – no matter that the new county seat of Petaluma would be considerably farther away than Santa Rosa. Making such a substantive change at such a late date shows more poor planning, particularly since it meant that petitions signed up to that date were now invalid – backers had to scrap five months of work gathering signatures and start all over again.

The year ended, more months passed, and the petition was presented to the Supervisors who predictably rejected it. The Committee filed the planned writ of mandate with the Supreme Court and waited some more.

Finally in November 1921 – nearly two years after the new county was proposed – the court rendered its opinion: No, the Board of Supervisors wasn’t required to put the issue on the ballot. It was the narrowest decision possible, ignoring the question of whether the laws needed to be overturned or not. “As matters now stand, we are just where we were before we inaugurated the New County movement,” moaned the Petaluma Argus.

Courier editor Wood vowed to fight on, suggesting another writ might “force the hands of the supreme court” but that was that.

The last attempt to make Petaluma a county seat was in 1950, and came as a surprise to residents of the city of eggs. A small group of disgruntled Marin ranchers, a retired sea captain, and a “frequent critic of the Board of Supervisors” descended on the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce to make their case for a N. Marin-S. Sonoma county. Their gripe was that their area hadn’t “received enough consideration from ‘resort-minded’ Southern Marin county officials,” according to a story in the Mill Valley paper.

The new county would reach down to Stinson Beach and would be named “Drake,” “Tomales” or “Petaluma.” The group was in the process of forming committees.

Petaluma chamber president Ed Fratini told the paper the group was received with “open mouths and considerable amazement, but we listened with a great deal of interest and have invited them to return at any time.” They didn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

ANNEXATION. – We are told on what we believe to be reliable authority, that a very large majority of the present residents of Marin county have avowed it to be their earnest desire that at the next session of the Legislature the county line of Marin should be extended eastward so as to include all that portion of Sonoma county lying between the present county line of Marin and Sonoma and the Napa line, and as far North as may be necessary to embrace Two Rock Valley, Big Valley, &c., thence on to the mouth of the Estero Americano, and that Petaluma shall become the county seat of Marin. That such an arrangement would be greatly to the advantage and accommodation of a majority of the residents of Marin, no one at all conversant with the county will doubt. A large majority of the residents of that county, either reside along and in the immediate vicinity of the present line between Marin and Sonoma, or in the northern and western portion of the county. To these people Petaluma is of easy and speedy access, and much nearer than San Rafael. Further it is the point where they transact all their ordinary business affairs of trade. That they should, under these circumstances desire the change, no sound unbiased mind can marvel. To the inhabitants of that portion of Sonoma thus proposed to be annexed to Marin, we believe from all that we have been able to learn, that the change would be agreeable and profitable, and from a similar cause. Petaluma is likewise their point of trade, (with the exception of those of the Sonoma Valley,) and to make it the county seat of Marin county would as a sequence greatly accommodate and benefit them. From present indications this matter will be laid before the Legislature at its next sitting, and it is quite possible it may even be before the people as one of the local questions to be provided for during the approaching political canvass. It may be well therefore, for such as have not already done so, to look this matter squarely in the face, and calmly, cooly, and dispassionately, discuss its features.

– Sonoma County Journal, August 3, 1860

 

The Reorganization.

We have patiently waited to see what arguments the Argus of Petaluma or Standard of Healdsburg would offer the people in favor of a change of boundary between Sonoma and Marin counties. Our contemporaries both favor the idea of ceding to Marin the major part of the wealth, territory and population of Sonoma, and as neither of them have adduced a single reasonable argument in support of the position assumed by them, we are forced to conclude they are actuated solely by selfish motives, that they desire only to establish in their respective towns a county seat, and in order to gain this distinction they would sacrifice the best interests of tbe people at large. But one difference seems, to exist between them on the subject, and that is as to the division line, the Argus proposing to cede four-fifths of the county to Marin, while the Standard would be content with donating a little more than half.

Outside of Petaluma but little has been done or said about the matter yet. A meeting of the citizens of that city was held on Saturday last. We learn from one who was present that the attendance was very small. The following are the proceedings of the meeting; it will be observed that McNabb of the Argus was bell-wether of the flock:

Hon. J. H. McNabb called the meeting to order, and after stating the object of the meeting, O. Swetland, Esq. was elected President, and Thos. L. Carothers, Secretary of the meeting.

G. W. Reed, being called for, addressed the meeting. Hon. J. H. McNabb introduced the following resolution which was unanimously adopted:

Resolved, That the citizens of Petaluma and vicinity are in favor of changing the boundary of Marin county, so as to include all that part of county lying south and east of Santa Rosa creek, so that the northern boundary of Marin county shall be as follows: Commencing at the mouth of Russian River, and running up said river to the mouth of Santa Rosa creek, thence up said creek to its source, thence south easterly to the Napa county line.

On motion of G. W. Reed,, a committee of three consisting of H. L. Weston, A. McCune and H. Meacham was appointed to report a committee of nine to the meeting, to take the necessary steps to secure the passage of an Act by the Legislature, changing the line of Marin county as in dictated by the resolution…

– Sonoma Democrat, December 16 1865

 

THE BENEFITS OF DIVISION. — To divide the County as proposed by the Argus, running the line at Santa Rosa Creek, will leave Sonoma county with a voting population of 1,500, while it will give to Marin 3,000 voters in addition to her present population. This would entitle the county of Marin to one Senator and three Assemblymen, while Sonoma would be represented by one Assemblyman. Again, the State and county taxes of Sonoma this year amount to $2.50 on the hundred. These added to the enormous Federal taxes paid by our citizens are no inconsiderable sum. Divide the county and incur an additional expense of transcribing records, removing county seats, the construction of new buildings, etc., and we will be called upon to pay at least one dollar per hundred in addition to what we are paying now And all for what? Simply to gratify the whims and caprices of a few disappointed politicians ot the McNabb, Cassiday stripe. Tax payers will do well to consider the responsibilities they are about to assume in petitioning for this change. If it is absolutely necessary that Petaluma should be made a seat of Government it would be better to change the present county seat than to ruin the county by dividing it up…

…If the Abolition ticket had been successful in this county, last September, nothing would have been said, at this time, about division. McNabb and Cassidy may attempt to ignore politics in the matter, but they belie their consciences whenever they assert that they are not actuated by personal political considerations in advocating this measure, and the people know it.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 16 1865

 

Unwise Agitation.

Contests concerning the local interests of different parts of a county are always of a bitter and unpleasant character, and therefore should never be undertaken without the strongest and best of reasons. This is particularly true of contests relative to the division of a county and the removal of the county seat. Nothing but the most absolute and imperative necessity, looking solely to the material benefit and accommodation ot the larger portion of the people, can excuse the agitation of such a question. In the case of Sonoma county this necessity does not exist; and yet we find a correspondent of the Petaluma Crescent in its issue ot Tuesday last, stirring up this strife in a boastful, unreasonable and intemperate communication. Without advancing a tangible reason to support his position, he demands that the county shall be divided and Petaluma made a county seat. This, we are told, must be done, and that hereafter the people of our neighboring city will support no man for office who is not in favor of making Petaluma “the county seat of a new county, to be comprised of territory surrounding her.” This idea is worthy the brain of a reckless radical politician, who knows that his party, being largely in the minority, has nothing to lose by breaking down party lines; but we are astonished to see it pass unrebuked through the columns of our Democratic contemporary. However, such a threat can alarm nobody, and we do not believe that our fellow citizens of Petaluma will give it their sanction.

Chief among the reasons (?) assigned by this enlightened correspondent for dividing the county and locating the county seat at Petaluma, are that sick persons cannot be immediately taken to the County Hospital, and the Supervisors allow no pay for “outside attendance” that when a man is shot or stabbed in an affray, and unable to settle his doctor’s bill, (it strikes us there is a good deal of physic in the communication) the unfortunate medico gets nothing, but it the party is arraigned before the Court, on a criminal charge, and cannot himself employ counsel, our legislators have provided a fund to pay an attorney to defend him. It is scarcely necessary to say this is stupid nonsense, and without any bearing upon the question. Petaluma is now within thirty minutes of the county seat; every tax-payer knows it would bankrupt the county for the Supervisors to allow bills for “outside attendance” on the sick; and finally, there is no provision whatever for the payment of attorneys appointed by the Court to defend impecunious parties.

No good can result from the agitation of the question of a division of the county and relocation of the county seat. It will embitter the minds of the people; array section against section; involve the expenditure of large sums of money, and prove a positive injury to all concerned. Petaluma tried it before, under more favorable circumstances, and signally failed…

– Sonoma Democrat, December 3 1870

 

The following petition far the creation of a new county is being circulated for signatures in the northern part of this county, and is being very generally signed.

To the Honorable Senate and Assembly of the State of California:

Whereas, It is not only the privilege, but the duty of a constituency to petition the law-making power to remedy any defect or make any change where it will be for the best interests of the community, we, the undersigned citizens of Sonoma county, therefore, respectfully petition your Honorable Bodies to consider and pass to enactment the bill offered herewith, entitled, “AN ACT TO CREATE THE COUNTY OF RUSSIAN RIVER AND DEFINE THE BOUNDARIES THEREOF,” for the reasons that follow, to-wit:

1. That the great extent of the present County of Sonoma renders it exceedingly inconvenient and expensive for citizens of remote parts of the County to visit the County Seat when required to do so by business or imperative legal summons.

2. That the great distance to be traveled in reaching the different parts of the County of Sonoma, with its present boundaries, greatly increases the cost of service of all processes of law over what the cost of such processes would be in the said proposed new Counties.

3. That the towns of Healdsburg and Petaluma are geographically, as well as by established lines of travel, the centers of the proposed new Counties, and easy of access from all parts thereof.

4. That the County Buildings at Santa Rosa are inconvenient and insufficient (with one exception, and that accommodates but one County officer), and in a short time must be replaced by new buildings at large expense to the County, whereas the expense of County Buildings for the proposed new Counties would be borne in great part by the voluntary contributions of tha citizens of Healdsburg and Petaluma.

5. That, after the proposed division shall be made, the smaller of the two Counties will be more extensive in area, greater in natural resources, and richer in assessable property than any one of many other Counties of California; and in population will be greater than any of thirty-four other Counties of the State.

6. That the vast extent of the County of Sonoma, as now existing (equal to that of the State of Rhode island), the expense and inconvenience of necessary journeys to the present County Seat, and the rapid growth of the County in wealth and population, have caused the almost unanimous opinion among its citizens that sooner or later a division of the county will be an imperative necessity; and it is therefore for the best interest of the whole people of the County that the division be made before new County Buildings shall be erected at the present County Seat at a great expenditure of money.

[Note. — Many of the undersigned, through misconception of the facts, were induced to sign a “Remonstrance” against the proposed creation of a new County, long before the circulation of this or any similar Petition.]

– Russian River Flag, February 1, 1872

 

NEW COUNTY MEETING HELD

Pursuant to a call issued by J. L. Camm of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce, upon request of a number of prominent Petalumans, a meeting of local citizens was held at the city hall there Friday evening for the purpose of discussing the advisability of inaugurating a “New County” movement. The Council chambers were well filled and the meeting was called to order by Mr. Camm. who stated the object and outlined the proposed new county plan. The project, as stated, was to form a new county, with Petaluma as the county seat, by taking that portion of Sonoma county south from a point north of Sonoma, including Penngrove, Bloomfield, Valley Ford and Bodega, and by taking that portion of Marin county lying north of a straight line running westerly from San Antonio creek to the ocean including the town of Tomales…

– Petaluma Argus, June 30, 1906

 

NEW COUNTY DIVISION PLAN
PETALUMA IS TO ATTACK LEGALITY OF PRESENT LAW

Petaluma is again planning to divide the county. The scheme has been quietly working for some time, and at a meeting to be held there on Wednesday evening of next week the plans of its promoters will be formally announced.

The present plan differs from the last one in that “full publicity” is to be the watchword.

During the closing days of the last session of the state legislature. attention was directed to a mysterious bill introduced by a representative from Los Angeles county simplifying the method by which counties might be divided. Upon investigation, the real sponsors of the measure were found to be certain prominent residents of Petaluma who desire to see Petaluma made a county seat and a new county formed out of the southern part of Sonoma county and the northern part of Marin.

The strong light of publicity directed toward the measure resulted in its defeat, and it was generally believed that nothing more would be heard of county division, at least for some time to come.

But it now appears that following the defeat of the measure here referred to, advocates of the plan to divide the county soon got to work in an effort to see what else could be done.

They consulted an attorney, who is said to have advised them that, in his opinion, the present law governing the division of counties in this state is unconstitutional in that it carries no enacting clause.

The present plan, therefore, is to attack the constitutionality of the present law and if the attack results successfully the old law will prevail.

The difference is that under the old law, only those desiring to form a new county have the right to vote on the proposition, while under the law as it now stands residents of the entire territory affected are allowed a vote.

In other words, if the present law is set aside only those living in the southern portion of Sonoma county and in the northern part of Marin, will have a right to vote on the question of dividing these counties and establishing a new one. And on the other hand, if the present law be upheld all the residents of Sonoma and Marin counties will have the right to vote on the proposition.

Present plans have not yet developed to a point where a name for the proposed new county has been agreed upon. It is understood, however, that “Petaluma county” is quite generally favored.

When the matter was under discussion before, George F. McNear, at one of the meetings, is said to have asked. ”What are you going to call this county?”

“We will call it McNear county, if you say so,” some one replied. “I have lived in Sonoma county a long time,” Mr. McNear is said to have remarked, “and am not sure that I would care to live in a county known by any other name.”

Advocates of the proposed new county will base their appeal upon the argument that better and more economical government can be obtained in a small county than in a large one. They will also contend that the population of Sonoma and Marin counties is increasing rapidly, and that the establishment of a new county government will not materially increase the rate of taxation in the territory affected. They contend that a good portion of northern Marin county already does business in Petaluma and that residents of that territory find it inconvenient to transact their private business in one place and their public business somewhere else.

There seems to be no question but that a determined effort is to be made to secure a division of the county along the lines above indicated, and that the constitutionality of the present law governing county division in this state will play an important part in determining the outcome. If the entire territory affected either one way or the other is permitted to vote on the question, there is little likelihood that the proposed new county will be established. If the people of Petaluma, southern Sonoma and northern Marin counties are given the entire say, however, the result may be different.

– Press Democrat, January 17 1920

 

CITIZENS MOVE TO FORM NEW COUNTY

Is the present county division of this state unconstitutional? Will the Supreme Court so declare?

Upon the answer to the foregoing questions hangs the fate of the proposition of creating a new county by taking certain territory from Sonoma and Marin counties. If the Supreme Court shall, when the time comes, declare the county division law unconstitutional, then an election will be held to ascertain the will of the people residing in the new-county territory. If the Supreme Court decides the law IS constitutional, then some other method of acquiring a new county will have to be adopted.

The present law requires a sixty-five per cent vote in new-county territory and, in addition, a fifty percent vote in old-county territory not included in the new county. Under such a law, division of counties is ninety-nine and nine-tenths per cent impossible. Should this law be declared unconstitutional, the law of 1907 would be restored. Under that law, a sixty-five per cent vote in new-county territory would be sufficient without a vote in old-county territory.

Three local attorneys and some of the best constitutional lawyers in the state have submitted opinions to the local new-county committee, which has been in existence for over one year, that the present county division law will be held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court if the matter is presented in good faith by the people desiring to create a new county.

At a meeting of citizens interested in the formation of a new county, with Petaluma as the county seat, held at the Fraternal Brotherhood hall on Wednesday evening, the foregoing situation was fully set forth by various speakers, after which, by unanimous vote, it was decided to proceed with the new-county plans so as to present the matter, in good faith, to the Supreme Court. In order to accomplish this result, petitions for the formation of the new county, signed by fifty per cent of the voters residing in the new-county, will be presented to the boards of supervisors of Sonoma and Marin counties. The boards of supervisors cannot do otherwise than refuse to call the elections prayed for in these petitions. The petitioners will then go to the Supreme Court on mandamus proceedings to compel the boards of supervisors to call the elections under the law of 1907, which provides that if the people of any given section of the state, with certain restrictions as to population, desire to form a new county they can do so, provided sixty-five per cent of the electors vote for the formation of such new county. The matter of preparing and circulating the petitions and the general conduct of the new-county campaign was placed in the hands of a Committee of Fifteen to be named by the chair.

…Homer W. Wood, originator of the new-county movement, presided. He explained in great detail the various steps needful for the formation of new counties and what has been done in the past by the new-county committee. He also set forth the various points of law upon which the attorneys base their contention that the present county division law is unconstitutional. These points will be covered in a separate article either in this or future issues of the Argus.

Editor Wood also explained that the effort to have the present county division law declared unconstitutional, thereby restoring “self-determination of peoples” in this regard, is statewide and that a number of cities over the state have shown a willingness to lend whatever assistance is needed, both in coin and legal talent, to help the people of southern Sonoma and northern Marin counties win back their “birthright.”

The purpose of last night’s meeting was to reach a final decision as to the advisability of launching the new-county movement and taking such steps as are needful to get a decision from the Supreme Court. This matter having been disposed of favorably and unanimously, and by the unanimous adoption of the address to the voters published elsewhere in this issue of the Argus, many matters relative to the proposed new county were discussed.

Many names were suggested, among them being Petaluma, Marisoma, Marinoma, Novato, Tomales, etc. The matter of a name, which must be inserted in the petition, was left to the Committee of Fifteen.

The boundaries of the new county, which must also be set forth in the petition, were tentatively outlined as follows:

Starting at the mouth of Salmon Creek, draw a straight line one mile north of Cotati to the crest of Sonoma mountain; thence in a general southeasterly direction, following the trend of the mountain range to Sears Point and San Pablo Bay; thence follow the trend of the San Pablo Bay coastline to a point one-half mile south of Novato; thence slightly southwest via Nicasio, between Olema and Point Reyes Station to the head of Tomales Bay; thence follow the eastern shore of Tomales Bay and the coast line of the Pacific Ocean to the point of beginning.

There will be some variations of these boundaries in order to follow township, school district or election precinct lines, the final decision for the purposes of the petition being left to the Committee of Fifteen.

The estimated area is 600 square miles and the population 20,000.

The matter of taxation was discussed at great length. Editor Wood and others, who have been studying the question for over a year, were very positive in their assertions that there would be a decrease in taxation in the new county, so far as the Sonoma county portion thereof is concerned, and no increase in the annexed portion of Marin county. This is a matter that will be discussed at length in future issues of the Argus. The Committee of Fifteen will also promulgate much information along these lines.

As to the necessity of acquiring a new court house, the opinion was expressed at the meeting that the immediate needs of the new county would be provided for by the enterprising citizens of Petaluma without cost to those living outside the city.

As to the amount of the bonded indebtedness to be inherited by the new county from the old, it was explained that none of this indebtedness to be inherited by the new county from the old. It was explained that none of this indebtedness would fall upon the people of northern Marin county; that the people of southern Sonoma county would assume responsibility for that portion of the county road bond issue actually expended within the new county; that probably the Sonoma portion of the new county would not continue to pay court house bands. This matter would be adjusted by three commissioners, one to be appointed by each of the old counties and a third by the state.

Many columns of space would be required to impart to the readers of the Argus the mass of information resulting from the discussion at Wednesday night’s meeting. As the campaign for signatures to the new-county petition progresses, our readers will be fully and impartially enlightened upon all the phases of the project.

– Petaluma Argus, January 22 1920

 

TO THE VOTERS OF SOUTHERN SONOMA AND NORTHERN MARIN COUNTIES

A movement having for its purpose the formation of a new county, Petaluma as the county seat, has been under way for some time. The movement has now reached a stage where its success is reasonably assured. Therefore, we, the undersigned, respectfully urged all voters to sign, when it is presented to them, a petition for the formation of the proposed new county, said petition being the first necessary legal step in that direction. In support of this request, we respectfully represent:

1. That the proposed new county will afford its residents and taxpayers better government, better roads, and a larger measure of participation in the management and control of their affairs as a smaller cost than under present conditions.

2. That the territory proposed to be embraced in the proposed new county is now so detached from the seats of government at Santa Rosa and San Rafael that the people residing therein have not, and cannot have, that degree of intimate relationship with the conduct of their affairs so essential for true progress and proper development.

3. That experience teaches that whenever and wherever large counties have been divided and new counties created the resultant development has been many fold greater than could have occurred without such division, with no increase in taxation.

Petaluma is today the social and business center of this area proposed for a new county and should be the governmental center. There is no just reason why the people of this section should not govern themselves in a new county rather than to be a minority of two counties. Likewise, there is no just reason why this movement should be opposed by anyone.

For the foregoing and other substantial reasons which will be submitted to the voters of southern Sonoma and northern Marin counties in due season, we have hereunto attached our signatures this 21st day of January, 1920.

[56 names]

– Petaluma Argus, January 22 1920

 

SOTOYOME COUNTY WITH HEALDSBURG THE SEAT OF GOVERNMENT. WHAT!

A number of Healdsburgers are watching with interest the attempt of Petaluma to have a new county out of the southern end of Sonoma county and the northern portion of Marin county. Petaluma will attack the constitutionality of the new law which says that the whole county should vote on it instead of only the within the proposed county. Should Petaluma be successful in her contention, there is every probability that a similar movement will be inaugurated in Northern Sonoma looking toward the formation of a new county in this portion of California with Healdsburg as the county seat.

Such a plan has been under consideration for a number of years by some of the large thinking people of the community who have wearied of being the tail-piece of Santa Rosa’s kite and seeing that town hog every thing In sight. The plan to be followed here will be similar to that inaugurated in Petaluma, that of getting a petition signed by at least fifty per cent of the voters in the interested districts, which petition will be presented in proper form.

The principal part of the tax monies raised go toward the building of roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, a jail, if one is needed, and in the formation of a new county, road taxes are expended only on roads within the new boundaries. In other words the taxes we would pay would be utilized in our own district. At present large sums of money go into the pockets of Santa Rosa merchants for county supplies that come out of the pockets of taxpayers in and around Healdsburg. For instance a lot of taxpayers’ money is going into the well-lined pockets of the Santa Rosa printers which facts can be easily verified and mighty little of it gets into any Healdsburg print shops, as well as other business houses here.

The Petalumans held an enthusiastic meeting Wednesday night and the legal preliminaries are being carefully arranged. The list of signers to the petitions so far shows the leading citizens of southern Sonoma are taking hold with a rush. Santa Rosa is genuinely worried over the outlook and one newspaper in particular is devoting much valuable space to ridiculing the idea and hurling diatribes and anathemas in large chunks.

The boundaries of the new county in Northern Sonoma would be along a line drawn east and west through or near Windsor and would include a large and valuable territory, the tax money from which would carry the new county along in fine shape, whereas now it is scattered over a lot of poor territory in other sections. The plans are being held in abeyance until the Petaluma people are to determine their legal status.

– Healdsburg Enterprise, January 24 1920

 

COMMITTEE OF FIFTEEN MEETS

The Committee of Fifteen for the formation of a new county, met at the offices of Attorney F. A Meyer Saturday evening for the purpose of making plans for the circulation of the petition to call an election of the voters, the petition to be used for the purpose of testing the constitutionality of the present law providing for the division of counties.

Reorganization resulted in the election of the old officers, as follows: Chairman. Homer W. Wood, Secretary, F. J. Burke, Treasurer, E. E. Drees.

After an outline by the chairman of the course to he pursued, the first order of business was the choosing of a name for the new county. Many names were considered, among them being Bay Coast, Northbay, American Fertile, Chanticleer, San Pablo, Petaluma and San Antonio.

The first vote was taken on San Pablo, the committee being almost evenly divided on this name. A second vote was taken and the result was 5 to 4 against it. The next name considered was San Antonio. This name received seven votes for and three against. So without further voting this name was adopted.

San Antonio is a historic name, a Spanish name, a northern Marin name, and the name of the creek that will flow almost thru the center of the proposed new county. so it is particularly appropriate….

– Petaluma Argus, January 26 1920

 

Now Santa Rosa IS In Bad
Healdsburg Wants a County
Joins Division Agitators

Oh. gosh! Now we are in bad!

Petaluma doesn’t like us, and neither does Healdsburg.

Both of ’em have announced campaigns for new counties.

And it looks like Sonoma and Cloverdale and Sebastopol may get the same idea, and then look what we would be up against.

We’d have to take our pretty court house and our nice Ionic county jail out in our own back yard and play all by ourselves.

It would be a pretty bad situation all right, alright. If it were not for the fact that we can still retaliate. After all the rest of them get through trying to divorce themselves from us we can still do as well as they did, and try and divorce ourselves from ourselves.

This talk of county division Is all damphoolishness, anyway. According to the law it can’t he done, because Sonoma county has to be left with 1200 square miles and 25,000 population, and you simply cannot figure any combination like that without Santa Rosa in it unless you draw a nice puzzle picture line all around Santa Rosa, carefully connecting all the other towns of the county by a corridor of land. And then you’d have to steal half of Napa and Mendocino counties to get away with, and it seems like the people of those counties don’t much like the idea of breaking up their happy families.

The fact of the matter seems to be that some other parts of Sonoma county are jealous of Santa Rosa, just like Chicago is jealous of New York and Los Angeles is jealous of San Francisco. They can’t understand how Santa Rosa stays the biggest town in the county, when all we have is “boobs,” and they have all the smart and clever people residing within their borders.

Petaluma is adopting a real dignified stand in her divorce trial from Santa Rosa and Sonoma county, and it’s just as well. Santa Rosa has no particular quarrel with Petaluma people. and probably wouldn’t mind letting them go and play with their new county, if it were not for the fact that it can’t be done legally, and it seems so foolish for anyone to say that two families, or two counties, can live as cheaply as one. It ought to be made a crime to hand out “pap” like that to the voters.

But a couple of Healdsburg editors – and Gee! but it’s hard to believe they’re serious are openly advocating county division so that Santa can’t “hog everything,” and directly accusing county seat newspapers of grabbing all the county printing business (just as if we still wouldn’t have the county business if they were successful in taking their own county home to play with) and of course, (this is a secret) they never tell the world that the reason the county seat papers get certain county business. is because the county seat papers have the only equipment for the work.

And. as far as the whole of county division goes, seems like there never was a small town anywhere on the face of the globe but that thought its bigger neighbor was trying to “hog” everything in sight. Why. even right here in Santa Rosa, some of the most widely known people in town go to San Francisco to buy their shoes, stockings, furniture. etc. so why blame Healdsburg and Petaluma people if they come to Santa Rosa to buy.

– Press Democrat, January 27 1920

 

M’NEAR COUNTY BEING OPPOSED
Southern Marin County Bitterly Opposed to County Division for Giving New County to Petaluma.

SAN RAFAEL, Jan 28.- McNear county, the new county which Petaluma is proposing to slice out of Marin and Sonoma counties, will meet with bitter opposition from the entire southern section of Marin county. The opposition has been taking form of late and will cumulate in a meeting which is to be held In San Rafael within the next few days to formulate plans for an organized fight against the division of Marin county.

The plan will be to fight the declaring of the present law unconstitutional, which if accomplished, would mean that a majority vote of those within the proposed new county would he all that is necessary to make the change.

Under the law as it stands now a 65 per cent vote of those within the district of the proposed new county together with a 50 per cent vote of all electors in both counties would be necessary. San Rafael is preparing to wage its fight against a declaration that the present law is unconstitutional.

– Press Democrat, January 29 1920

 

NOW CLOVERDALE AFTER COUNTY SEAT
CITIZENS NOT WILLING TO BE TAIL TO HEALDSBURG KITE THEY SAY

The Cloverdale Reveille, in commenting on proposal of the county of Sotoyome with Healdsburg as the county seat, has this to say:

“With Petaluma working on plans to secede from Sonoma county and establishing a little county that will be very much her own comes the announcement that Healdsburgers also have ambitious plans in a similar direction. Those at the head of the Sotoyome metropolis would slash a slice off old Sonoma at Windsor and create another county out of what is now northern Sonoma. These plans, of course, are contingent upon the Petalumans succeeding in having the present law creating new counties declared unconstitutional. If our southern neighbors are successful, then the Healdsburgers declare they will go to bat.

“In sounding out some of Cloverdale’s prominent citizens, they declare themselves as not altogether satisfied with Healdsburg’s program. They decline to be the tail to Healdsburg’s kite. If old Sonoma — the best county in the golden state —- is going to be mutilated by our good friends of Petaluma and Healdsburg, they say they are not going to sit idly by and watch the surgical operation without having a say where the cuts shall be made.

“They have no objection to Petaluma being made the county seat of San Antonio but the don’t like the idea of Healdsburg being the county seat of Sotoyome. Cloverdale is going to be just as generous with Mendocino’s landscape as Petaluma is with Marin. Why not cop off a few hundred square miles from southern Mendocino’s fertile acres, taking in Hopland and Booneville? Southern Mendocino’s natural trading place is Cloverdale. It would be a distinct advantage to them to come in. This would give sufficient territory to form a county that would have ample resources to give it high standing among the counties of the state.

“And the location of the county seat? Well, Cloverdale is the logical place.”

– Healdsburg Tribune, January 30 1920

 

DIVISIONISTS CHANGE PLANS

SAN RAFAEL, Feb. 23 —County officials received word today from the committee of fifteen in charge of the Petaluma movement for a new county, that the plan of including a portion of northern Marin in the proposed district has been abandoned. The reason given is that it will be impossible to establish a tax rate as low as Marin county’s outside rate, which is $1.88. The minimum for the new county, it was stated, will be 10 cents higher than this amount…

– Press Democrat, February 24 1920

 

‘PETALUMA’ NAME OF NEW COUNTY

PETALUMA. March 6. – The “Committee of Fifteen” at a meeting held in this city Saturday evening, decided definltely that the name of the new county which they propose to slice from Sonoma county will be named “Petaluma County.”

The committee decided to drop the plan to take any portion of Marin county for the present, because of the fact that the new county cannot hope to have a tax rate as low as Marin county has, although the rate figured now will be about 80 cents on the hundred dollars below the present Sonoma county rate.

According to the present plans of the committee the line on the north will be drawn almost due east and west from a point about a mile north of Cotati, running east to the Napa line and south to the southern boundary of Sonoma county. The line will cross the Sonoma valley near the Eldrldge home and will not include Kenwood or Glen Ellen. The committee expects to start a campaign of education in the near future in the Sonoma valley and also in the Valley of the Moon.

– Press Democrat, March 9 1920

 

NEW COUNTY PLAN FOUGHT BY WOMEN

That Petaluma is going to meet with some opposition to its plan of dividing Sonoma county and especially to the plan of including Sonoma valley within its boundaries is evidenced by a resolution recently passed by the Women’s Club of Sonoma, the county’s historical city. The resolution has been forwarded to the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce and is as follows:

Whereas, there is a movement under way to divide Sonoma county, whereby Petaluma and contiguous territory is to be the nucleus of a new county,to he known as San Antonio county: and whereas, Sonoma Valley has been invited to join in said movement and to become a part of the new county of San Antonio; and

Whereas, Petaluma has expressed a desire to know something of the sentiment of Sonoma Valley toward the plan to include Sonoma Valley; now, I therefore,

Be It Resolved, that the Sonoma Valley Women’s Club, representing over 125 members in every section of the Sonoma Valley, deplores the division of Sonoma county, one of the old and majestic counties of our Golden State, and expressed most decided opposition to; any effort on the part of Petaluma to include in their plans Sonoma Valley, whose history is so interwoven with the county which bears its name that it can never he disassociated with it…

(Signed) AMELIA BATES, Chairman of Committee on Resolutions.

– Press Democrat, March 16 1920

 

SONOMA PEOPLE ESCAPE CLUTCH OF NEW COUNTY
Committee of Fifteen Abandons Designs on Resort Section; Hostile Sentiment Given as Reason for Changing Plan.

PETALUMA, May 4.—At a meeting of the Committee of Fifteen in charge of the proposed new county at the law office of F. A. Meyer on Saturday evening, a change was made in the boundary lines for the division of Sonoma county, whereby it was decided to eliminate the City of Sonoma and the resort section of Sonoma valley.

The northern line of the proposed county will go from the Pacific ocean east to the Sonoma creek in the Sonoma valley, thence southerly following the meanderings of Sonoma Creek to Napa street, thence easterly to the corporate line of the City of Sonoma, thence southerly along the city line to the south corner of the City of Sonoma, thence easterly near the boundary line of the City of Sonoma to the Napa line, thence following the Napa, Solano and Marin county lines to the point of beginning.

The change in the boundary line was made owing to the fact that the people in the City of Sonoma are desirous of remaining with the old county. The proposed county according to revised plans, will include El Verano, San Luis, Vineburg, Schellville, Wingo, Fairview, Sears Point. The boundary lines as laid out by the committee will take in practically all the ranches in Sonoma valley.

– Press Democrat, May 5 1920

 

SONOMA PEOPLE MAY FLIRT WITH COUNTY OF NAPA
Valley Residents Say They’d Rather Join Napa Than Petaluma’s Proposed County, and Good Roads Cited as Reason

VINEBURG. May 14.— At a meeting held here last night Secretary Kerrigan of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce and H. H. Wood of the Petaluma Courier were the speakers to arouse interest in the proposed county division. They told their audiences of some forty persons that the new county could take in any part or the whole of Sonoma Valley even though the valley returned 100 per cent vote against it, provided 65 per cent of the people in the proposed new county voted in favor. In such case the only way Sonoma Valley could stay out would be by securing 50 per cent of the voters of the opposing district to sign a remonstrance against being taken into the new county.

There was a strong sentiment in favor of this valley uniting with Napa county, if division is to come, on account of good highway, the nearness to a good city with all county buildings already erected and with a tax rate lower that the proposed new county advocates are offering.

Three signatures, it is understood were secured to the petition for division.

– Press Democrat, May 15 1920

 

NEW COUNTY DIVISION PLANS MADE

WILL BRING BODEGA IN NEW COUNTY LINES, START NEW PETITIONS

The Committee of Fifteen, which has charge of the work of getting up the petitions to be submitted to supervisors seeking the division of Sonoma county and the formation of the County of Petaluma from the southern portion, decided at a meeting Saturday to recast the boundary lines and commence all over again the work of securing signatures for the petition.

It was announced after the meeting Saturday that the action was taken at the earnest request of half a dozen representative citizens of Bodega township who had meet with the committee and urged, that all of Bodega township and a small fraction of Redwood township be included in the territory to become a part of the new county of Petaluma. They promised their own support to the movement and the support of others whom they had conferred with.

The men who attended the meeting of the Committee of Fifteen and presented the matter were F. A. Cunninghame, H. C. McCaughey, Attorney Walter McCaughey, A. L. Tomasi, R. P. Baker, of Bodega; C. A. LeBaron of Valley Ford, A. H. Meeker of Camp Meeker. They declared that the sentiment in Bodega township was strongly in favor or uniting with the proposed new county and that it should be included at this time for the good of all concerned.

CHANGES IN BOUNDARY

The delegation submitted a written proposal to so change the boundary line of the proposed new county as to include the towns of Bodega, Occidental, Camp Meeker and Monte Rio. The proposed new boundary which will be drawn and again submitted for signatures will commence at a point in the Pacific Ocean three miles off the mouth of Russian River and follow that stream to a point a short distance east of Monte Rio and then south or slightly southeasterly to a point about ten miles east of Bodega and then due east to the Napa county line.

This would mean that the line which runs just north of Cotati directly westward to the Pacific Ocean will be changed about six miles west of that place and turn northward to the Russian River.

TO START WORK ALL OVER

It was said at Petaluma Saturday that the original boundary petition only lacked one or two hundred names to be ready for presentation to the board of supervisors, but that with the promises made by residents of Bodega it was considered far better to drop the petition entirely and prepare a new one to take in all the new territory proposed, as if would make a larger and better county in all respects.

It is admitted in Petaluma that the proposed new county is still far in the distance, as it is known that even after the petition is submitted to the board it will be rejected and then will come a hard and bitterly contented legal battle in an effort to have declared unconstitutional the present statute on county division as well as constitutional restrictions before it can be submitted to a vote of the people.

– Press Democrat, August 1 1920

 

BLOOMFIELD OPPOSED TO SEPARATION

[…]

– Press Democrat, August 21 1920

 

PETITION FOR NEW COUNTY “OVER THE TOP”

On Monday morning the New County petition went “over the top.” The 3,000 signatures needed to make the petition valid for presentation to the Board of Supervisors had been secured at that time….

…When the petition is filed with the Board of Supervisors it will be rejected by the board as not being in compliance with the present law governing the division of counties. An appeal will then be taken to the supreme court on a writ of mandate, in an endeavor to have the present law declared unconstitutional and to have the law of 1909 restored…

– Petaluma Argus, January 3 1921

 

COMPLETING PLANS FOR NEW COUNTY PETITION

…It is not generally known that a new county division act, was introduced in the legislature prior to its recess, by Senator Dennett of Modesto, and will come up for passage at the final half of the session next month. This act will provide for the formation of new counties when the decision so to do is confirmed by the vote of the people of the territory affected…

– Petaluma Argus, February 4 1921

 

NEW COUNTY PLEA LOSES FIRST ROUND

The petition to the board of supervisors for an election to submit the question of the formation of the proposed new Petaluma County was denied by the board yesterday morning, on the grounds that the petition had not been signed by 65 per cent of the qualified electors of the county at large, also it appears upon its face to reduce the area of Sonoma county to less than 1200 square miles, and does not comply with the statutes of the state relative to the organization and classification of new counties…

…The Senate County Government committee at Sacramento has amended the new county division bill pending before it so as to make it a measure to strengthen the present laws and cure any defects it may have, according to word received in this county, and it is expected that the measure will he passed by the legislature before the supreme court can pass upon the writ of mandate from the petitioners, in which case they will not gain anything by their efforts up to this period.

– Press Democrat, April 16 1921

 

Did the New County Committee of Fifteen make a fatal mistake when it outlined the New County area by making it so large as to reduce the area remaining in Sonoma county under 1200 square miles? … The matter of area remaining in the old county is the only instance in which the New County Committee did not comply with the law of 1907 which must be restored if we are ever to get a new county. This being true, it is feared in some quarters that both laws of 1907 and 1909, will be declared unconstitutional in which event the only way in which counties could be divided would be by act of the legislature.

– Petaluma Argus, August 21 1921

 

COUNTY DIVISION GIVEN SETBACK IN SUPREME COURT DECISION

[article only says analysis to come]

– Petaluma Argus, November 12 1921

 

The decision of the supreme court in the New County case decided nothing except that the board of supervisors will not be required to call the election petition[ed] for. The legal points raised in the case are untouched by the court…As matters now stand, we are just where we were before we inaugurated the New County movement. There are still good and sufficient reasons upon which to base a new petition for a new county…the New County movement is just getting a good start. We have “all the time there is” to finish it.

– Petaluma Argus, November 16 1921

 

PETALUMA DIVISIONISTS WILL CONTINUE FIGHT TO SEPARATE SONOMA COUNTY

While checked in plans for the division of Sonoma county by reason of the decision of the supreme court announced Saturday, the Petaluma county divisionists have not given up, and will keep on fighting, it was announced yesterday.

The opinion rendered by the court has been received and is not regarded as satisfactory by Petalumans because its practical effect is to decide nothing except the bare question of denying the writ sought to compel the supervisors to call a county division election. Attorney E. J. Dole, representing the divisionists, received a copy of the opinion yesterday.

In referring to the case, the Petaluma Courier of this morning will say as follows:

“From the standpoint of the petitioner. the opinion is extreme!’ unsatisfactory, as its practical effect is to decide nothing except the bare question of denying the writ.

“The court expressly reserves all questions of the constitutionality of the various acts that were raised In the argument.

“The court merely holds that If the acts are unconstitutional that there is no law by which a new county can be created, and if not unconstitutional, then petitioners have not compiled with the law.

“The proponents of the new county and the lawyers who handled the case have been expecting a decision one way or the other as to whether the county division laws were partly or entirely unconstitutional. If entirely unconstitutional, then the legislature would be compelled to pass a good law, rather than one that would prevent county division as in the past.

While it is claimed that the supreme court studiously avoided saying whether the laws were unconstitutional or not, those who understand the matter believe that either both laws are unconstitutional or that the supreme court justices are divided in their opinion as to whether the part of the law of 1907 and all of the amendments of 1909 are unconstitutional as contended by the lawyers of Petaluma in the case.

“Why the supreme court should leave the matter in such a period of uncertainty is a mystery, unless it is that the justices were divided, which is often the case. The opinion has been expressed by different ones that the supreme court justices were divided from the fact that the dismissal of the writ of mandate was so late in forthcoming.

“The case was finally argued and submitted on the 15th day of August. Usually there is a quick decision in such proceedings, but nothing was heard from this case for three months lacking three days, and then comes what is almost no decision at all.

WILL KEEP ON FIGHTING

“While the proponents of the new county have had no conference as to what will be the next procedure, it is expected that the fight will be kept up. Perhaps another court procedure will be determined upon to force the hands of the supreme court for a decision as to whether the entire law is unconstitutional or not. It the 1909 and 1907 laws are both unconstitutional, then the legislature will be compelled to pass a good law under which we can operate and carry the formation of a new county on to a successful conclusion.

About fifteen other towns are as strongly interested in the matter as is Petaluma, and it is not thought that the fight will ever be dropped until the legal tangle is unravelled and this state has on the statute books a proper county division law, the same as is in existence in eastern states.

– Press Democrat, November 16 1921

 

North Marin Seeks to Form New County

Irked at being ignored by county officials in San Rafael, a group of dissident Northern Marin farmers and dairymen yesterday declared that they would pursue their proposal to secede from Marin and form a new county with southern Sonoma county and have Petaluma as the county seat.

“We’ll be back,” spokesmen said yesterday in referring to the invitation of the startled Petaluma chamber of commerce for them to meet with it again. A small but determined group of ranchers laid the new county proposal before the Petaluma chamber Monday.

David Rogers, publisher of the Haywood Press at Pt. Reyes and frequent critic of the board of supervisors, was one of the delegation, Also included were Capt. A. S. Oko of Inverness, a retried merchant marine skipper who carried refugees to Israel, and two others.

The new county would be named “Drake,” or possibly “Tomales” or “Petaluma.” It would include all of Northern Marin except the Novato area and would extend down the seacoast as far as Stinson Beach. Oko said that the group would continue with their plans and form committees to gather support and sound out public opinion.

As for Petaluma – the plan was received with “open mouths and considerable amazement,” according to Ed Fratini, president of the Petaluma chamber.

“But we listened with a great deal of interest and have invited them to return at any time,” he said.

Courthouse officials in San Rafael yesterday predicted that the move would be short-lived and pointed out that a similar suggestion was made about 27 years ago. Both geographically and economically, southern Sonoma and northwestern Marin areas are closer than Northern and Southern Marin. Essentially dairying, agricultural, and poultry farms, the area has long felt that it has not received enough consideration from “resort-minded” Southern Marin county officials.

Sentiment In Northern Marin in recent months has been against the acquisition of Angel Island and the construction of the Marin district hospital at Greenbrae. Chambers of commerce of southern and central Marin cities have likewise been demanding a master county highway plan because of a feeling that too much county money is being spent on little-traveled Northern Marin roads.

– Mill Valley Record, April 14 1950

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vigilancebellFB

CRACKING THE VIGILANTE BELL STORY

Ask any history buff about Sonoma County during the Civil War and you’ll probably hear two stories. “The Battle of Washoe House” claims a mob of Petaluma men, angered over Santa Rosa’s support for the Confederacy, started marching north but got no further than the famous roadhouse, where they drowned their fury in suds. But there’s no proof that story is even partially true; nothing can be found written about it during that time (MORE) so it gets four pinocchios, at least for now. The other favorite is the stealing of the “vigilante bell,” and that tale’s true – although nearly all versions of that story deserve at least two pinocchios.

The background of the story is consistently told and truthful. Manville Doyle, a prominent Petaluma livery stable operator was tasked to buy a nice, big bell for the town’s Baptist church. In San Francisco he found the one used by the infamous Vigilance Committee of 1856. It was rung to summon members to their warehouse HQ known as “Fort Gunnybags” and sounded the death knell of four men who were lynched by the group.

Once the bell was installed in the Petaluma church belfry, it was agreed that it had an unusually beautiful tone and powerful enough to be heard for miles. Then years later, Doyle made off with the bell. After it was returned to the church it became damaged, losing its lovely voice. Here’s a composite version of the many retellings of those events, with the falsehoods struck out:

In 1864 or in 1865 following Lincoln’s assassination, Matt Doyle, a Confederate sympathizer, was angry because the bell was being rung to celebrate the North’s military victories. One dark night he and others who were pro-South removed the bell and took it to a warehouse where it was hidden under a pile of potatoes. Several of Doyle’s accomplices were brought before Judge Cavanagh, who postponed action indefinitely after their lawyer dragged the hearing out past suppertime. Days, weeks or months later, citizens retrieved the bell and returned it to the church belfry where it was cracked and irreparably damaged either by vigorous pro-Union ringing after the assassination or by pro-Rebel vandalism immediately after its return, probably done by Doyle using a sledgehammer.

Ain’t much meat left on them poor ol’ bones.

Some misinformation crept in over the following few years (mainly the sledgehammer theory and fuzziness over when the bell was damaged), but the bulk of the misinformation traces back to Tom Gregory’s 1911 county history, where he milks the story for a whole chapter – and easily 90 percent of it is hyperbole or bullshit that he probably made up or heard in a saloon. While telling the story he detours to muse about Edgar Allen Poe, mentions someone in Petaluma was supposedly hiding a Mexican cannon on a boat, and notes there weren’t many religious differences between Baptists and Campbellites (don’t ask). Best read when very drunk, very stoned or very both. From his pile of reeking compost has sprung a garden of weeds – a century of misinformation found in magazine articles, newspaper columns, and books on county history.

Overall it’s a textbook example of how easily the historical narrative can become  corrupted when writers just repeat twice-told tales. And as it turns out, the actual story was quite different and more interesting – the incident with the bell was just a sideshow to what was really upsetting everyone in Petaluma. Since the relevant newspapers from that time survive along with a later interview Doyle gave about the events (all transcribed below) it serves as a lesson why it’s always critical to use primary sources. End of lecture.

So what actually happened?

In the space of just a few months straddling 1857-1859, Petaluma grew up. The town was incorporated, its first volunteer fire department was organized, and the big “Brick School” was built on Keller street. Self-government, fire protection and public education are all good things – and as a bonus, two of the three also came with bells.

(RIGHT: The First Baptist Church, c. 1890. It was across from Hill Plaza Park on Kentucky street, currently the location of the Park Plaza building. Postcard courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Besides the new downtown fire bell and the one in the school’s belfry, three Petaluma churches added bells to their steeples. The Vigilance Bell that Doyle found was the biggest and loudest of them, and that was the reason he bought it; the Baptist church trustees had instructed him to seek a bell that weighed between 1,000-1,200 pounds. They were that specific because they apparently wanted to poke the Congregationalists, who had purchased a 600 lb. bell just a couple of weeks earlier. Too bad the bible says nothing about pride being sinful.

As another sign of progress Petaluma decided it needed a town bell, and the Baptist Church’s new monster fit the bill. The town hired someone to ring it three times a day, marking morning, noon and night. Take a moment to sensitize yourself to how important that was in the mid-19th century; every mantle clock and watch was set by that bell, along with schedules for the boat and stage – being the town’s bellringer was a position of great responsibility.

But it was still the bell for the church, so it also rang for church services as well as births, deaths, weddings, funerals, plus any other reason the preacher saw fit rejoice or mourn or call parishioners. All of the churches did this, and it was driving some Petalumans nuts. In 1858 “Belle” complained in a letter to the Sonoma County Journal, “To hear them banging (I can not say ringing), whatever may be the occasion, one would imagine himself in an old Spanish town on a gala day, when, as is well known, the only object of the ringers is, to make the most infernal noise possible.”

During the Civil War, the church trustees later stated supporters for both the North and the South were allowed to ring the bell to celebrate military victories, but ringing it for the Union didn’t stir Doyle’s ire. What really pissed off Matt Doyle and his friends was being kicked out of their church.

The 1864 elections were only months away and as explained in the previous article on Sonoma county’s voting history during the Civil War, Lincoln would win 61 percent of the vote in Petaluma, an even stronger show of support than when he was first elected. Much of the background leading to stealing the bell was explained in Santa Rosa’s pro-Confederate paper, the Sonoma Democrat; despite the writer’s strong rebel slant and gossipy tone, the relevant details can be verified elsewhere.

The First Baptist Church’s new preacher was a Rev. A. Gould, who took up that pulpit in the autumn of 1863 (nothing further can be found about him). Over the next few months he lobbied the nine-member business committee to pass a set of resolutions which would fundamentally change the church.

The very first resolution declared only male church members could vote to admit or discipline other members. Men also controlled all financial affairs.

The second resolution stated any member who didn’t attend church for a month without a good excuse could be disciplined or kicked out.

Resolution three excommunicated “those whose sympathies are with this rebellion and slavery.”

These new bylaws were published in the Argus, on April 21, 1864, along with a notice that the new pastor of the church was one Rev. James A. Davidson, a 40 year-old travelling “temperance talker” who apparently had no role in any of this.

A week later Matt Doyle stole the bell.

“It was not stolen from the steeple, but was taken down in the middle of the day by myself and a number of sailors I had hired from the sloops in the creek,” Doyle defended himself in an 1893 interview. “When the bell was removed many persons stood around, among them being members of the city government.” So much for the “dead of night” version of the story.

Nor was it hidden under a sack o’ spuds; the next issue of the Argus reported “[Doyle] with a posse of men, on Friday last, and by means of a block and tackle, hoisted the bell from the belfry, placed it on a dray and stored it in Baylis & Co’s. Warehouse.”

Doyle was not coy about why he took the bell – the Argus quoted him as saying it should not ring for a “[damned] Abolition congregation.” He was more specific in 1893, explaining he justified it “Because that fanatical Republican, Davidson, the pastor, who came to Petaluma from the East, had turned all the Democrats out of the church. I said at the time that no bell in which I had a cent’s interest should hang over a church where such a sentiment was allowed to prevail. Others felt the same as I did on the subject.”

At the time and again in the interview almost thirty years later, Doyle insisted it was “his” bell because he contributed around $100 of its $550 cost. “After it was carted to Baylis’ warehouse I offered to give twice as much as any man in town to build a belfry on the plaza or put it over the engine house, but I was bound it should not hang over that church.”

His claim of ownership brought out the dry wit of Argus editor Samuel Cassiday:


The excitement consequent upon this defiant disregard of the feelings and rights of this community, was for a time intense, but it subsided, when it became manifest that Doyle with his bell, occupied as unenviable a position as did the man who drew the elephant in the lottery. Mr. Doyle, we are informed proposes give the Bell to our city; but while we fully appreciate the munificence of the proposed donation, we would suggest to our City Fathers that it would be well for them to be certain that he can give a bona fide title to his bell; otherwise, after they have incurred the expense of raising a pole to hang it on, it might be spirited away by any one owning a fractional interest therein. The only interest our citizens now feel in the matter is such as naturally attaches to the precedent established; and as there are institutions of public interest and utility, the origin of which is in joint contributions, it is important to know whether they are jumpable, if so we have our eye on the belfry of the Congregational church, and a friend of ours has visions of a crop of beans, where our stockmen most to congregate to try the mettle of their fiery steeds.

That segment also shows there was initial upset in the community when the bell first disappeared, but people adjusted – and presumably the town bellringer moved over to the Congregational Church. “It is highly probable that the matter would have rested there,” Cassiday wrote, “had not the ears of Union men been daily offended with the declaration that they ‘dared not attempt to replace it;’ that if they did, vengeance dire would be visited upon them, etc.”

Then twelve days later, Doyle and his fellow Copperheads escalated their war. Now they claimed to own not just the bell, but the actual church building. “Tuesday morning the windows of the Baptist Church were nailed down and the doors closed, after which the officers of the church were notified that they could no longer occupy the building,” the Argus reported.

The Argus: “This was the last straw that broke the camels back; forbearance was no longer a virtue, and the loyal citizens of Petaluma at once determined that, regardless of cost or consequences, the church should not only be opened, but the Bell should be restored to its place in the Belfry, before night.”

So in mid-afternoon a group went down to Tom Baylis’s warehouse on B street and placed the bell on a dray. “As it passed up Main street, Merchants, Professional men, and artisans, as if by common consent joined the throng and proceeded to the church,” wrote the Argus.


With a block and tackle the Bell, which weighs over 1000 lbs., was hoisted to its place, and as its “familiar voice” reverberated over hill and dale, the elfin was made to ring with the huzzas of the bystanders. A patriotic song was sung in front of the church, in the chorus to which all joined with a vim. The Stars and Stripes were unfurled from the cupalo, and received three lusty cheers after which the crowd quietly dispersed.

But the trouble would carry over for months. The next Sunday someone tried to throw a large rock through the church window during evening services, hitting the clapboard instead. The next month, Rev. Davidson’s home was the scene of a bedtime attack, with a brick thrown though his bedroom window and two more through the parlor window. And then in August, Rev. Gould – the man who stirred all this up – was stoned in Healdsburg as he and others left a night church service.

And now we come to the crack.

No, Matt Doyle didn’t creep into the belfry and give it a mighty whack! with a sledgehammer – although that’s such a good story our loveable but awful historian Tom Gregory undoubtedly would have claimed it happened, had not Doyle still been alive when his history book was written. When the bell was returned to the church, Doyle sold his “interest” in it to a trustee, who told Doyle a consoling white lie that it was actually being bought on behalf of the town.

Nor did the damage occur during the Civil War. An item in the first 1866 issue of the Argus noted “it has either received a fracture or chafes against something which deadens its sound.” The next issue confirmed the bell was cracked, and in his private journal Cassiday noted the cause was “purely accidental.” So perhaps it split that New Year’s Eve or the following day.

The town’s best blacksmith tried to fix it, but such things can’t be mended. Even though its ding-dong was now more of a clunk-thunk, the bell continued to be used until 1911, when the building was torn down to be replaced by a new church (designed by Brainerd Jones). The bell was stored in the basement of Schluckebier’s Hardware Store and they wrestled it upstairs on Egg Days to show it off in the store window.

Petaluma July 4 parade, 1976. (Photo: Sonoma county library)

 

In 1916 there were feelers out that suggested it should be in a San Francisco museum. The Baptist church trustees published an open letter that was surprisingly emotional, insisting it was theirs alone: “…It called the people of this community to public worship, and tolled in announcement of the death of scores of the early residents of this city and surrounding territory for years prior to the Civil War…we believe it to be our duty to retain possession of the old bell as the property of the Petaluma Baptist church and as soon as possible to arrange for its being kept where the public can view it from time to time. ”

The subject came up again in 1925 when San Francisco asked to borrow it, and this time the trustees agreed the historic relic deserved better than Schluckebier’s storeroom. They donated the bell to San Francisco and the following year about a dozen citizens there “gifted” the Baptist church $891 to retire its mortgage for their new building.

During the 1976 Bicentennial, San Francisco returned the favor and loaned it back to Petaluma for a couple of months. During the Fourth of July parade it was driven around in the back of a pickup, oddly shaded as if it might be sunburnt. Today it can be seen at the Society of California Pioneers in the San Francisco Presidio at 101 Montgomery.

Soon after the fight over the bell, Manville Doyle sold his interest in the livery stable and moved to Nicaragua, returning to Petaluma around the time the Civil War ended. In 1890 he and son Frank founded the Exchange Bank in Santa Rosa. Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley recalled he was a “square shooter” who always stood by his friends, but remained a “bitter partisan.” When he died in 1916 he left a big pile of “friendship notes” – bank loans he did not expect to be repaid. One has to wonder how many of them were gifts to his old rebel cronies.

The surprise epilogue belongs to Rev. James A. Davidson, the poor devil who was named the Baptist pastor just the week before Matt Doyle declared war on the church. Davidson wasn’t even a career preacher; he was a leader in the “Independent Order of Good Templars,” a Freemason offshoot focused on temperance. After leaving Sonoma county he was their top speaker in Pennsylvania, then retiring as editor/publisher of the Geauga [County] Leader in Burton, Ohio.

Someone from Petaluma ran into him in the East and wrote to the Argus, “He occasionally laughs loud and long in talking over some of his experiences there. He says his experience at Petaluma partook of both comedy and tragedy, and when he publishes his life he calculates the chapter headed ‘A Year in Petaluma,’ will increase the value of the copyright many thousand dollars.”

Photo: Wikipedia

 

ANOTHER BELL.-A paper is now in circulation among our people for the purpose of raising funds to purchase a bell, to weigh from one thousand to twelve hundred pounds, and to be placed upon the Baptist church in this city. We are told that the principal portion of the required sum has already been subscribed. This will make the third church bell that has been purchased by subscription on this place within the past few months.–Verily, our people are bound to hear their loose change jingle out of pocket, if not in pocket.

– Sonoma County Journal, October 1 1858

First Baptist Church, Petaluma.

The following Resolutions recently adopted by the First Baptist Church in this city, if faithfully carried out, and firmly adhered to, are well calculated to remove the odium that has been attached to this denomination here in consequence of the irregular manner in which its business has in times past been conducted, and the notoriously disloyal tendency and character of some who have arrogated to themselves an important influence in the business matters of the denomination; an influence that has manifested itself to such an extent that many respectable parties in this city and vicinity have kept themselves aloof from the church. Although Baptists in principle, and christians in heart and life, they desired to have no fellowship with rebels or the sympathizers with Rebels. These Resolutions will have the effect of ridding the church of the drones, Copperheads, and rebels, and we heartily wish the Baptists much success in their effort to maintain in their purity messages of the Body and the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ:

[Resolved that male church members can vote to admit or dismiss other members, and also control financial affairs; that any member who doesn’t attend church for a month without an excuse can be disciplined or dismissed]

Whereas, We believe that the existing rebellion in the Southern States of our Union was conceived in wickedness and oppression, and that it is the natural result of the system of American slavery, and that both are contrary to every divine and moral law, and to the best interests of our country therefore,

Resolved, That as Christians we cannot have fellowship with those whose sympathies are with this rebellion and slavery.

At a regular meeting of the Church, held on Monday evening, Rev. James A. Davidson, of San Francisco, received the unanimous vote of the meeting to act as Pastor for the church here, and has accepted the position. We certainly wish the Baptist Church much success in their efforts to maintain the preaching of the Gospel, and to keep themselves unspotted and unpolluted by the abominable leprosy of disloyalty to God and their country.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus – April 21, 1864

Rev. J. A. Davidson, well known as a temperance lecturer, and lately travelling agent of the Evangel, has accepted a call to a Baptist pastorate at Petaluma.

– Daily Alta California, April 29 1864

An Historic Bell.

On Friday last an incident transpired in our city, which, though trivial in itself, aroused antagonistic passions and prejudices which like a slumbering mine, required but a spark to cause an explosion; but thanks to that genuine courage most praiseworthy when manifest in forbearance, the counsels of cool heads prevailed and we were spared an outburst which might have led to results most disastrous. The circumstances were in brief as follows: Several years since our citizens were afflicted with a bell mania. The inhabitants of the lower portion of the city having, by contribution purchased a bell for the Song Church; the inhabitants of the upper portion of the city at once determined to purchase a bell that would “weigh more” and “sound louder” than the one destined to call the inhabitants of Lower Petaluma to their devotions. The result of this determination was the contributing, by divers and sundry persons, of a sum amounting to six or seven hundred dollars, which was entrusted to Mr. M. Doyle, who with it purchased the old Vigilance Committee Bell, the solemn cadence of which warned Casey and Cora that the time had come for them to shuffle off this mortal coil. By common consent this Bell was hung in the belfry of the First Baptist Church, in this city, with the conditions that it was to be used not only a s a church bell, but by the city, and on all occasions when bells are usually in requisition; and in accordance with this arrangement, the city has kept a man employed to ring the bell at morning, noon and night. In consequence, however, of the revolution which is shaking our country from centre to circumference, a revolution, on a small scale, was inaugurated in the Baptist congregation, and the result was the enacting of a set of loyal Resolutions, very unpalatable to the secession element in our community. “Revenge is sweet,” so sayeth the poet, or some “other man,” and the parties, considering themselves grieved, foremost among which was Mr. M. Doyle, determined that the bell should not give forth its brazen notes over a “d—d Abolition Congregation;” and as he (Doyle) had invested the sum of $105, in lawful U. S. coin in the aforesaid bell, he proceeded with a posse of men, on Friday last, and by means of a block and tackle, hoisted the bell from the belfry, placed it on a dray and stored it in Baylis & Co’s. Warehouse, much to the inconvenience and detriment of sleepy citizens who were wont to be released from the embrace of the drowsy god by its familiar peals. The excitement consequent upon this defiant disregard of the feelings and rights of this community, was for a time intense, but it subsided, when it became manifest that Doyle with his bell, occupied as unenviable a position as did the man who drew the elephant in the lottery. Mr. Doyle, we are informed proposes give the Bell to our city; but while we fully appreciate the munificence of the proposed donation, we would suggest to our City Fathers that it would be well for them to be certain that he can give a bona fide title to his bell; otherwise, after they have incurred the expense of raising a pole to hang it on, it might be spirited away by any one owning a fractional interest therein. The only interest our citizens now feel in the matter is such as naturally attaches to the precedent established; and as there are institutions of public interest and utility, the origin of which is in joint contributions, it is important to know whether they are jumpable, if so we have our eye on the belfry of the Congregational church, and a friend of ours has visions of a crop of beans, where our stockmen most to congregate to try the mettle of their fiery steeds.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus,  May 5, 1864

The Bell Again.

In our last issue we gave an account of the removal of the Bell from the Belfry of the Baptist Church. It is highly probable that the matter would have rested there had not the ears of Union men been daily offended with the declaration that they “dared not attempt to replace it;” that if they did, vengeance dire would be visited upon them, etc. Aside from those who lacked the discretion to profit by the forbearance shown their premeditated insult to this loyal community, there was yet another class, true to their Copperhead instincts, who hypocritically professed to deprecate the action of those who removed the bell, but who could see in any attempt to restore it to its former place just cause for riot and blood-shed. After the deed had been consummated they were immediately transformed into blatant lambs of peace and were tremulous lest the loyal people of this city should dare to resent insult and injury, and thus “fire” the hearts of those who had thrust a fire brand into this community. But all their tears were of no avail. Tuesday morning the windows of the Baptist Church were nailed down and the doors closed, after which the officers of the church were notified that they could no longer occupy the building. This was the last straw that broke the camels back; forbearance was no longer a virtue, and the loyal citizens of Petaluma at once determined that, regardless of cost or consequences, the church should not only be opened, but the Bell should be restored to its place in the Belfry, before night. At 3 o’clock P. M. the Bell was taken from Baylis’ Warehouse, where it had been stored, was placed on a dray, and as it passed up Main street, Merchants, Professional men, and artisans, as if by common consent joined the throng and proceeded to the church. With a block and tackle the Bell, which weighs over 1000 lbs., was hoisted to its place, and as its “familiar voice” reverberated over hill and dale, the elfin was made to ring with the huzzas of the bystanders. A patriotic song was sung in front of the church, in the chorus to which all joined with a vim. The Stars and Stripes were unfurled from the cupalo, and received three lusty cheers after which the crowd quietly dispersed. Things now stand just as they were prior to the removal of the bell; and if there are any aggrieved we should say to such, you have thus far been protected in your rights, both of person and property; however odious your sentiments to loyal men, in your capacity as citizens you have received every courtesy and consideration at their hands; and as it has been so it will continue to be, unless you wantonly provoke a collision. If the Bell in question, belongs to joint contributors, let those interested meet and honorably determine what disposition shall be made of the same. This is but just and proper, and could not fail to give satisfaction to all. If the Church Edifice is the private property of a few individuals, by a proper showing of the facts in any court of justice they will be protected in their rights. Let this course be pursued and there will be no need of any apprehensions of further trouble; pursue a different course and time will determine whether or no you have acted wisely in your choice.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus,  May 12, 1864

A COPPERHEAD ARGUMENT.—During Divine service in the Baptist Church on Sabbath evening, quite a number of noted Copperheads were observed prowling around the building, taking care, as is their style, to keep under cover of darkness. While the Pastor was in the midst of his sermon, a large stone was hurled against the house, evidently intended for the church window, but which fortunately struck a few inches lower on the clapboard. There was a large congregation present, larger than usual in the evening, and some excitement. Such barbarous conduct deserves the most condign punishment. We are informed the authorities have a clue to the perpetrator of the outrage, and we can only hope he may be arrested and meet his deserts. The rowdies of Petaluma must be taught respect for law and order, and they certainly will be taught, if an indignant public is much further provoked by them.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus,  May 12, 1864

LETTER FROM PETALUMA.
(From an Occasional Correspondent)

Petaluma, May 10, 1864. Editors Alta: On the 29th of April last the bell, for several years used in the First Baptist Church, was taken down by a party of citizens of very questionable loyalty, and placed in a storehouse. The Church being about to try some of its members for disloyalty, it is generally surmised the parties who took away the bell were actuated by motives anything but lovely and loyal, and wished to intimidate the Church, and prevent action in reference to the parties on trial.

The Church, in due time, excluded the disorderly ones, to the number of a dozen or so, and the public generally considered that the action of the Church was just and proper. Every effort failed to reclaim them.

One of the excluded members, having more zeal than knowledge, attempted to trespass on the Church property yesterday morning, rendering himself liable to a heavy penalty, and this circumstance awakened a very indignant feeling in the minds of the better class of our citizens, and they, yesterday afternoon, went in a large body, and took the abstracted bell out of the hands of the Copperheads, and replaced it on the church belfry, with cheers and loyal songs, and finished their work by ringing out a loyal peal, and hoisting a large Flag of our Union on the church steeple.

By this vigorous movement Petaluma has wiped out a stain on its fair fame, and lawless men have been taught a salutary lesson. The Baptists of Petaluma are a peaceable, loyal, mind-their-own-business set of people, and they have a splendid church edifice erected by friends of that denomination, and recently called a loyal Pastor, and are endeavoring to live peaceably with all. But a gang of graceless young and old rowdies have for some time been very impudent to this church. Stones have been thrown and mischief attempted, but our citizens are determined to make a marked example of the first one of these rowdies caught transgressing. Because a church sees fit to adopt loyal resolutions, and has the honesty and courage to enforce them, the candidates for San Quentin here seem to think they have full privilege to annoy. But woful will be the doom of the first one caught attempting violence after this time.
Citizen.

– Daily Alta California, May 13 1864

Spiritual Communication with a Bell. —Some fellow at San Francisco has been holding spiritual communication with that historic church bell of Petaluma. The bell is intensely loyal and accuses its owner of establishing the reign of Dixiedom in Petaluma, because he saw fit to remove it from its elevated position. An appeal to the Spirit of Revolutionary Fathers is made, and just at that juncture a severe shock of an earthquake arrived and brought him to his senses. See Argus.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 14 1864

Baptist Church Difficulty at Petaluma.

Editor of Sonoma County Democrat : The undersigned an humble and quiet spectator in Israel, familiar with and cognizant of all the facts and circumstances out of which the difficulties of the First Baptist Church, of this place, arose, and about which so much has been said and published, has witnessed with deep regret, not to say mortification, the actions and conduct of many of the principal movers in the affair, and which in the judgment of the writer, savors much of injustice, oppression and persecution towards a portion of the members of that Church.

For the sake of the truth and the cause of Christianity, the writer, with your kind permission, will candidly state all the facts to the public through the columns of the Democrat, and ask all charitable and liberal members of the community to withhold a judgment of condemnation against those members of the First Baptist Church of this place, against whom so much has been said, until they know the sequel.

Should you conceive it consonant to your duty as a public journalist to give publicity to the facts, they must run thus:

In September or October, 1863, Rev. Mr. Gould, professing to be a minister of the Baptist persuasion, arrived in Petaluma, and took shelter, meat and drink, at sister F—‘s, (now expelled from the Church), where he and his wife remained for several weeks gratis, preached several sermons, was received by the society and regularly paid and supported tor several months, and until many of the members became satisfied, not only that he was a bad man, but that he was a hypocrite; many things contributed to produce this conclusion, and finally induced several of the members to withhold their support; chief and foremost among which, was his marked discourtesy toward other ministers of the Gospel present in the Church, during divine service, observed not only by the ministers, but by the audience; suffering himself to become angry at trifling and frivolous things, and leaving the Church abruptly, declaring that he never would either preach or pray in it again; refusing to pray for his wife in her last illness, when requested by her, in the presence of members of his Church, his wife being a devout Christian and most estimable lady; gross neglect, and unchristian-like conduct towards his wife during her last illness; peremtory refusal to allow the sisters of the Church to dress the body of his deceased wife in a dress which she had prepared with her own hands, in view of her approaching and anticipated dissolution, and expressly directed and requested that she might be buried in, (true it was more valuable than the one she was buried in); but these are only some of the facts and circumstances that induced the belief that he was unworthy of the support of the members subsequently expelled.

The Rev. Gould being fully aware of all these objections and the consequences, too ignorant to please and too lazy to work, with the duplicity and cunning of a fifth-rate politician, devised a plan by which he fancied he could be continued in the service of the society, and compel it to support him. The scheme opened by calling a business meeting and receiving by previous arrangement, into the Church, nine recusant members, upon their professions, promises, etc.

Rev. Gould and one or two of his devoted friends, being the principal movers in this plan, knowing the objection of a majority of the society to political sermons, made free use of political arguments to carry out the scheme.

The next step was the passage of the following resolution, also by prearrangement among the friends of loyalty and the Rev. Pastor, to wit:

“Resolved, That all the business of the Church, pertaining to financial affairs and discipline, be transacted by the male members of the Church, the female members having the right to vote upon the admission and dismissal, of members.”

This resolution was earnestly protested against by the female members, as well as one or two of the male members, as a gross violation of Baptist usage and Church government.

The adoption of the resolution having given rise to considerable dissatisfaction, as it deprived the female members of a voice in the selection of a pastor, a right which they had always enjoyed as Baptists, was further considered at a business meeting of nine male members, held at the house of the newly admitted members. At this second meeting it was thought, notwithstanding but two male members voted against the resolution, that it was the secesh element in the Church that objected to the Pastorage of the Rev. Mr. Gould, and the adoption of the resolution, although Mr. Gould had, at least generally, very properly abstained from preaching politics.

But, sir, this was the pretext and furnished the means by which seven out of the nine male members at this second meeting, subsequently carried out a portion of the scheme proposed by the Rev. Gould; these seven Christian brethren proposed and adopted the scries of resolutions to which exceptions were subsequently taken.

The very liberal and charitable seven (or a Committee appointed by them, with the aid of Rev. Gould,) first procured the publication of the series in the Evangel of the 17th of March, 1864, and afterwards reported the same to the Church for adoption and approval. The Church refused to adopt them by a decided majority; the moderator failing to declare the vote or result, one of the members requested an announcement, whereupon one of the loyal righteous seven arose in his pew, and with much gravity and in great humility, stated that the vote was only an informal one, and the result of course immaterial.

It will be observed that the first resolution of the series, as subsequently framed by the loyal seven, and published by their direction in the Journal and Argus, deprives the female members of any voice whatever in matters of finance and discipline.

As many of the female members, yea, all of them were bound by their covenant to support their pastor, some of them felt that it was unjust to deny them a voice in the selection of the one they were called upon to support; especially as the whole scheme was gotten up by and intended for the benefit of the devout Rev. Gould, and to continue him as pastor, but the disaffection toward the Rev. Gould was too general, and a committee was appointed to engage another. The committee first obtained the services of the Rev. Mr. Medbury with whom the society were generally pleased, but the very loyal seven and the disappointed Gould, thought they would serve the Lord a little further, and employ one who, in their own language, “would drive the secesh element out of the Church,” they succeeded in obtaining the services of the Rev. Mr. Davidson, who seems to know none greater than himself, and therefore swears by himself and the series of resolutions, prays day and night for the slaughter of all Rebeldom, the punishment and expatration of all Copperheads and sympathizers with slavery or the rebellion, and denounces all objectors to the resolutions as traitors, rebels and heretics.

Under the teaching and advice of this abolition Nomad, all those who refuse to indorse and approve the series ot resolutions, were excommunicated, except four or five who were necessarily absent, nine females and one male member of the society for refusing to approve the resolutions, were expelled, and now, out of these facts has been manufactured all the loyal editorials of the newspapers on the subject, and singular as it may seem, the only voter expelled was at the time and for years had been a Republican voter.

But for fear of writing too much in a single letter, let me add in conclusion that the members expelled, and the remaining few who objected to the resolutions and wore not expelled because of their absence at the meeting, were the founders and builders of the edifice from which they have been or are to be forced by the radical proscriptive spirit of these two Ministerial Nomads and their loyal followers; their labor, money and means, bought the land, built the house, even the American Flag that floats in the breeze, from the belfry, is the handi-work of, and was contributed by those who protest against the resolutions.

The few who built this church house did it when their members were so limited that it cost some of them almost all of their earthly valuables, yet, generously gave it, and like Roger Williams, the founder of the Baptist Church in the United States, sought it as a place at which they conid worship unmolested, unawed and untrammelled by political schismatics or intolerance; but they are now turned out of it for refusal to declare by resolution that the Sisters of the society are unworthy or incompetent to declare who would be a suitable minister for this Church, and for refusing to declare further by resolution that the Government of the United States, the Government of their Fathers is contrary to every divine and moral law.

To the hasty brethren who first gave publicity to those resolutions, we must say, you would have done better to have remembered the 9th and 10th verses of 25th Proverbs.

“Debate thy cause with thy neighbor himself; and discover not a secret “to another; lest he that heareth it, put “thee to shame and thine infamy turn “not away.”

Much has been said about the bell on this Church, which is an entirely separate matter, about which, with your approbation, I will write another epistle, until then believe me a prisoner, yet in the bands of peace.
SCOTUS. Petaluma, May 25th, 1864.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 4 1864

Letter from Scotus.

Editor of Sonoma County Democrat: In my last I promised to write you again, since which time I have visited the western part of the county, was much surprised on my return to this place to-day, to find that the few facts given in my letter about the Baptist Church troubles had been made the subject of three lengthy articles in the Journal and Argus. Have you read those articles? if not read them, the facts seem to trouble the loyal, the “late Pastor of the first Baptist Church,” A. Gould favors us with one of those articles; docs he take issue with “Scotus” on any of the statements of facts? does he deny that his wife was buried in an old alpacca, or that it was only fourteen years old? instead of a decent gown prepared by her own hands, and requested she might be buried in; does he directly deny a single statement made by “Scotus?” Not he, sir; when he does the “Scotus tribe” stands pledged to produce the proof; this, however, we venture to predict the Reverend and devoted gentleman will never call for.

Let the worthy gentleman understand and know that the “unknown assassin” may be found with but little effort. There is a single additional statement in the worthy Pastors letter deserving notice; he says, “the parties who have cooked up the slanderous letter,” etc., never come near my house either to enquire as to our wants (during his wife’s illness) or to proffer the sympathy and assistance so much needed. Now to this charge, “Scotus” pleads guilty, as he had no acquaintance with the lady or her husband, and was wholly ignorant of her illness; but if the pastor means to say that the sisters, then in this Church and since expelled, did not frequently call, sit up with, and as good neighbors and Christians, minister to his lamented wife, then, indeed, has he stated a falsehood, and hero is a tangible issue, on which if he desires, he can find “Scotus.”

Another article in the Journal and Argus, fathered by “Argus” says “it is true that Rev. Gould made the pews with his own hands and gave the thankless beggars then in the Church, $200 in cash and work.” Here is another falsehood the first we shall notice by “Argus,” and this makes up an issue with him on which he can find “Scotus” if he desires. The truth is that Rev. Gould agreed and undertook to put in the pews for a stipulated amount, worked a few days, and then sold his contract to Jas. Hosmer, and received his pay, and Mr. Hosmer performed the labor and received of the Trustees every dollar of the contract price; nor did Rev. Gould ever give two hundred cents to the Church.

Now, sir, these matters were first referred to, and here noticed simply in reference to Rev. Gould to justify the belief which the expelled members of this Church had, that he was not the right man in the right place.

But says “Argus,” “the present loyal members have paid off all the old debts of the Church,” etc. How much did they pay, “Argus?” We know that the Church did not owe to exceed $30. How did they pay it, by appealing in this trying time to those outside loyalists, who, like yourself have studied niggerology until they have strained the mind? We think yes.

As wo owe no potatoe, meat, bread, or clothes bills or grocery bills and pay our pew rent, and see no application of the other portion of “Argus’s” squib to the “Scotus tribe” we dismiss him with the suggestion that we think from his apt use of, and familiarity with small he would make a better “beach comer” than clerk of a church; he would make a full hand in gathering deselect waifs and treasure store.

There was also * * [sic] appeared in the Journal and Argus of the same date, but the “wise men of the cast” will never in all probability see the sign.

The author is evidently a loyal man, he mentions it in his prayers, all of his dreams are exceedingly loyal, he is too loyal to respect a Copperhead or the vile conductor of the Democrat, but stoops from his high loyal degree to notice “Scotus.” But we are writing too much in our letter, will notice them again with your permission. Truth is mighty and will prevail. June 16th, ’64.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 25 1864

Guerillas at Work.– The residence of the Rev. Mr. Davidson, Pastor of First Baptist Church, of, this city, was stoned last Sunday night, at half past 11 o’clock. One half of a brick was thrown through his bedroom window, striking the wall just above the head of his bed, and making a hole through the plastering. Two large stones were hurled through his parlor window one with such force as to go through the curtain, leaving a hole that looked as though it had been cut with a knife. Tho upper sash in the bedroom window was almost entirely destroyed. Mrs. Davidson, who is in delicate health, was frightened terribly. There were three of these murderous assassins, engaged in this outrage, who threw their rocks and then fled like cowardly hounds. We can imagine no reason for this, unless it is of a political nature. Mr, Davidson preaches loyalty and prays for the success of the Union Army! He is an active worker in the cause of temperance and for all worthy objects of charity. He attends strictlv to bis own business, is in offensive and quiet, and is much admired and respected by the loyal portion of this community for his many christian virtues. It is useless to add that this outrage has produced great indignation among our law abiding citizens. We earnestly hope, for the credit of our city, that the officers of the law will at least make an effort to ferret out the guilty ones. –Petaluma Journal.

Mr. Davidson is well known in Santa Cruz as a firm advocate of the cause of temperance, and a loyal man. We hope that all diligence will be taken to arrest and punish these offenders.

– Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, July 30 1864

FURTHER OUTRAGES. — The Petaluma Journal of August 11th gives another instance of Copperhead outrages in Sonoma county: The day appointed by the President for prayer was observed at Healdsburg, and religious services were held, in the Baptist Church in the morning, and Methodist Church in the evening. Rev. A. Gould preached a loyal sermon in the forenoon, arousing the Coyote and Hit-ite party. After service, in the evening, as Gould, in company with the pastor of the Methodist Church and several ladies, were on their way from church, they were assailed with stones, by concealed scoundrels. On the following evening, while Gould was alone in his study, the house was assailed with great violence, and a shower of blessings in the form of bricks and bowlders came against the house, smashing things considerably. Gould went to the door and heard the rowdies running as for dear life. We truly live in delightful times, when loyal Christian people are endangered in life and properly because they are true to God and the nation. Our Baptist friends seem special favorites of the rebels and their rowdy allies. We heartily sympathize with them in their persecutions, and only hope the Union people may be able, ere long, to “tie to” some of their assailants. Rev. A. Gould is as good and loyal a man as we have in California.

– Sacramento Daily Union, August 15 1864

We have noticed recently, and have heard others remark it, that the bell in the Baptist Church, wich is rung morning, noon and night, has lost much of its clear sweet tone. It has either received a fracture or chafes against something which deadens its sound.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus, January 4 1866

Cracked-The bell on the Baptist Church has received a crack which renders it useless for the present. This is unfortunate, as it was not only remarkable for the clearness and compass of its tone, but had an historic association – being the Vigilance Committee bell, during troublesome times in San Francisco, and sounded the death knell of Casey, Corey, Hethrington, and Brace, and struck terror to the hearts of other desperadoes of that city.

If the facture cannot be healed by brazing, the bell will have to be recast. For the present the bell on the Congregational Church will be rung morning, noon and night.

– Petaluma Journal and Argus, January 11 1866

Scranton, Penn.–…Your old friend Davidson is here. When I was in Petaluma you remember he was Pastor to the Baptists. Everytime we meet he has something to say of Petaluma, and always gives your town a fair name. He occasionally laughs loud and long in talking over some of his experiences there. He says his experience at Petaluma partook of both comedy and tragedy, and when he publishes his life he calculates the chapter headed “A Year in Petaluma,” will increase the value of the copyright many thousand dollars…

– Petaluma Argus, April 16 1868

THE OLD BELL
An Interesting Talk With M. Doyle About Its History.

Knowing that M. Doyle wan directly interested in the famous old bell of the Baptist Church in Petaluma, about which so much has been written, a Democrat reporter called on him Monday afternoon for a short talk on the subject.

“Yes,” said Mr. Doyle, “I know all about the old bell, and I want to say right here that it was never stolen, as the Imprint has it. I was the man who bought the old bell from Conroy & O’Connor for $550, and of that sum I had subscribed $110. It was not stolen from the steeple, but was taken down in the middle of the day by myself and a number of sailors I had hired from the sloops in the creek.”

“Why was it taken down?”

“Because that fanatical Republican, Davidson, the pastor, who came to Petaluma from the East, had turned all the Democrats out of the church. I said at the time that no bell in which I had a cent’s interest should hang over a church where such a sentiment was allowed to prevail. Others felt the same as I did on the subject. When the bell was removed many persons stood around, among them being members of the city government. After it was carted to Baylis’ warehouse I offered to give twice as much as any man in town to build a belfry on the plaza or put it over the engine house, but I was bound it should not hang over that church. Instead of being put back in the steeple on the next morning, it stayed in the Baylis warehouse for three months [ED: It was twelve days – je, July, 2018]. It is an historic old relic anyway, and when in its prime was one of the finest bells I ever heard. On a clear day it could be heard in Bloomfield and Sonoma. In fact, when it was rung in San Francisco at the time Casey and Corey were hung, it has been said, the wind being favorable, that it was heard in San Jose. But what I have said about the removal of the bell in the daytime many of the older citizens of Petaluma will bear me out. In order to keep my word about not letting the bell hang over the church I agreed, after it was put back, to sell my interest to the city, and John Shrofe, the chairman of the trustees, bought it on behalf of the city.”

– Sonoma Democrat, December 23 1893

A Famous Bell.

A proposition has been made to exhibit the bell in the Baptist Church in Petaluma with the Sonoma County display at the Midwinter Fair. The bell has a remarkable history; a history which will within a century make it almost as famous in California as the old Liberty bell of Philadelphia. It is a pure metal bell manufactured by Ho er & Co., of Boston, and weighs about 1,150 pounds [ED: It was cast by Henry N. Hooper & Co. in Boston, 1855 – je/July, 2018]. It is the identical bell owned and used by the famous Vigilance Committee in the historic days of 1860. It was then rang by the committee when William T. Coleman was its president. Those were days that tried the souls of San Francisco’s worst men. During the war it was stolen from the church steeple, and on being replaced was cracked one dark midnight, by a sledge-hammer.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 23 1893

OLD BELL TO STAY IN PETALUMA
Relic of Vigilantes’ Day Wanted for San Francisco Museum, Will Remain in Sonoma County Town

There has been a little agitation in Petaluma for a few days since the city of San Francisco sent a request that the old bell that hung so long in the belfry of the Petaluma Baptist church, be sent there for installation in a museum, or something of the kind. It is not likely, however, that the bell will be shipped away from Petaluma, for on Monday night the trustees of the Baptist church voted to keep the bell in the following resolution;

Whereas, It has come to our attention through a communication published in a local paper that certain parties desire that our old bell be presented to a San Francisco museum, we deem it wise at this time to state our position in the matter.

The bell was purchased with funds raised by subscription among the members and friends among the and became the sole property of the Petaluma Baptist church. [sic]

It called the people of this community to public worship, and tolled in announcement of the death of scores of the early residents of this city and surrounding territory for years prior to the Civil War.

During the early stages of the war it announced the receipt of news of victories of the contending armies. Friends of the Northern forces rang it to proclaim the news of Union victories and adherents of the South rang it on receipt of news of victories of the Confederate armies. It was on account, of such announcements that the bell was finally broken by a zealous adherent of one of the contending forces.

The bell was for a time used by the Vigilante Committee of San Francisco, but it has been the property of this church for more than half a century and has become more closely connected with the history of Petaluma than it was with that of San Francisco: therefore, be it

Resolved, That we announce through the press of Petaluma that we believe it to be our duty to retain possession Of the old bell as the property of the Petaluma Baptist church and as soon as possible to arrange for its being kept where the public can view it from time to time.

Trustees of Petaluma Baptist Church.

– Press Democrat, April 5 1916

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1860boxing

PETALUMA VS SANTA ROSA: ROUND ONE

To understand the origin of the rivalry between Santa Rosa and Petaluma, think of the relationship between the Smothers Brothers.

In their classic comedy routines Dick (the one who plays bass) is the smarter of the pair, cool and sometimes smug; Tommy usually plays the man-child, a dumb cluck who becomes flustered and petulant when Dick deflates his goofy ideas. (Yes, I know Tom is actually older than Dick, Tom was the genius behind their legendary TV show, these are just their comic stage persona, &c. &c. so don’t start blasting angry tweets.)

I don’t want to press this analogy too far, but in the late 1850s Petaluma was something like Dick Smothers, needling his kid brother when he would screw up or begin crowing as if he were cock of the walk. And Tom/Santa Rosa would usually be on the defensive, sometimes getting a bit whiny about not getting his due respect even though he was trying really, really, hard.

Santa Rosa was voted to be the county seat in 1854, although at the time it was little more than a camp staked out at a muddy crossroads with only about eight actual houses. The place had no purpose to exist other than to be a county seat; the numerous squatters in the surrounding area needed a centralized courthouse for pressing their shaky homestead claims. For more background on all that, see “CITY OF ROSES AND SQUATTERS.”

Sonoma Democrat, May 5, 1859

 

 

Petaluma had a two-year head start. While Santa Rosa was mapping out its first streets in 1854, Petaluma was already an established community with several hundred residents. They had stores and hotels, churches and meeting halls. A sketch of the town from the following year shows a mix of single and two story buildings – simply built, but not shacks, either.

Part of the deal for Santa Rosa to become the county seat required it to provide a courthouse before the end of the year. This courthouse issue would become the town’s Waterloo – or maybe a better comparison might be an albatross around Santa Rosa’s neck. (Arguing whether a bad situation is more like a dead bird or a lost battle would actually be a great setup for a Smothers Brothers routine, but enough of analogies within analogies.)

Santa Rosa’s first actual courthouse was a rush job – a temporary building later described as “a small wooden building built of rough up-and-down boards and ‘battened'” on Fourth street close to D st. Meanwhile. planning began for a permanent courthouse and jail at the current location of Exchange Bank.

Work on the courthouse/jail began in the summer of 1855 and finished just after Christmas. The Board of Supervisors called a special meeting afterward where they refused to pay the contractor, claiming the building didn’t meet specs. “Both sides got mad,” Robert Thompson wrote with considerable understatement in his history, “Central Sonoma.” After weeks of arguing the Board agreed to accept the work, albeit at a much reduced price.

Now shift forward a couple of years: The 1858 county Grand Jury declared the nearly-new courthouse was unsafe, dangerous and a “public nuisance,” with the roof leaking and walls cracked. Those drips and cracks foreshadowed a decade of woes ahead; later repairs and do-overs would about triple the cost of the original construction.1

By now Santa Rosa had its own weekly newspaper, the Sonoma Democrat, which charged the Grand Jury had “an unnecessary amount of spite at the courthouse.” Sure, the roof leaked, but it could be repaired. While there really were big cracks in the walls, “…we sincerely congratulate our county that they remained standing long enough to save the invaluable lives of this Grand Jury, and thereby reserved to future generations the vast amount of wisdom contained in their heads, and which thus far has been so sparingly imparted to their less favored fellows.”

While Democrat publisher/editor E. R. Budd pretended to laugh off the building’s problems, the Grand Jury’s findings clearly rankled; two years later – after many had likely forgotten all about it – he dredged it up again, sulking their courthouse remarks were written by “two or three Petaluma men” on a subcommittee.

The Hall of Records and Courthouse with the jail between them, 1875. View from Third street overlooking the west corner of the original plaza. Main photo Sonoma County Library

 

 

Mr. Budd appeared to be a fellow of unusually thin skin for a newspaper publisher as the Petaluma papers teased and taunted Santa Rosa. The same year as the Grand Jury report, the Courier ran a (probably fictitious) story about an out-of-towner visiting Santa Rosa and being unable to find anything that looked like a courthouse. Budd took the bait and reprinted it as part of an editorial titled, “Envy:”

The following specimen of petty spleen, shows how bitterly envious some of the inhabitants of Petaluma are of the place chosen by the people of this county for the county seat…it is quite evident that some of the more selfish denizens of Petaluma have been unable to appreciate Santa Rosa, and would like to make those at a distance look upon it in a similar light…

Budd also complained Santa Rosa was undermining itself. A bit later he wrote a lengthy editorial about his paper not getting the local support it deserved, carping that many local businesses “have not done their part” by taking out ads. There he also made a passing remark that, if close to true, provides valuable insight into how they lived at the time: “…one half the people composing this community go to Petaluma to trade.” As Petaluma was probably 90 minutes away (at least) by buggy or wagon, that shows Santa Rosa was still mostly an outpost in 1858.

But Santa Rosa’s fortunes began looking up the following year. We have an unofficial census of Santa Rosa from 1859 showing the town’s population and an inventory of businesses. (There’s a similar census of Petaluma from 1857, which enables us to neatly compare both towns at their five-year mark.)2

Primary among the new businesses was the Wise & Goldfish general store on the east side of the plaza – Santa Rosans finally had a real place to shop. “Dry Goods, Clothing, Boots, Shoes, Groceries, Hardware, Crockery, Glassware, Fancy Goods, Bonnets, and a general assortment of Ladies’ Goods,” boasted their first ad in July, 1859. Their prices were also the lowest in the North Bay, they claimed. But now that Petaluma’s hegemony over retail sales faced serious competition, the journalistic jibes from that town were no longer quite so brotherly.

Petaluma’s Sonoma County Journal ran an article on that Santa Rosa census which is mostly transcribed below. Read it carefully and you’ll find editor Henry Weston was actually damning Santa Rosa with faint praise.

The article slyly implied land titles in Santa Rosa might be disputed because of legal problems with its underlying Mexican land grant (in truth, the title situation here was among the cleanest in the state, beating Petaluma to approval by eight years). It exaggerated how much had been spent on the county buildings so far while pointing out “their present unfinished state.” And the article noted “the population of the town proper is about 400,” although the federal census the next year would show Santa Rosa was really four times larger after people in the surrounding township were included.

But the worst of it was their long list of Santa Rosa businesses, which included this bit: “…one shoemaker shop, one jeweler shop, eleven Jews, one paint shop…” (emphasis added).

Needless to say, the actual 1859 census did not include “Jews” as a business category (you can find the entire list in Thompson’s history). This was sheer anti-Semitism by the Petaluma paper and clearly aimed at undermining the Wise & Goldfish store, which was owned by the only Jewish families in town. In the history books H. L. Weston has been admired as the godfather of the Argus and Petaluma newspapering in general, but this calls for his sterling reputation to be reevaluated.

Increasingly nasty potshots between the town papers continued the next year, with the Argus accusing that county taxes were being used to pay for civic improvements in and around Santa Rosa (one of these items can be found below). But the final salvo in this early skirmish was the 1861 effort to move the county seat to Petaluma.3

Very little was written about this at the time or since; it appears neither Santa Rosa nor Petaluma newspapers took it too seriously – and as everyone was preoccupied with the Civil War which had just begun, that’s really not so surprising. The proposal popped up suddenly in California newspapers in March, 1861, as a petition was presented to state legislators. It’s unknown exactly what it said or how long it was circulating. A counter-petition was quickly organized, arguing that it was “unnecessary, unwise and burdensome” to move. The “stay” counter-petition supposedly had far more signatures.

As Sonoma county then was deep in debt, the Santa Rosa paper argued taxpayers couldn’t pay for a new set of buildings, and it was unlikely that Mr. Petaluma was going to open his purse for the honor. “It may be, however, that some wealthy citizen is about to immortalize himself by presenting some ‘noble edifice’ to his fellows! Happy thought! Toodles forever!” The Democrat also sneered Petaluma merchants were mistaken if they expected a windfall from providing “grub, liquor and lodging” to people coming to the county seat to appear in court.

There were no rallies for or against, as far as I can tell, and editorial support for the move in the Argus was tepid, particularly after it was mentioned some subscribers were so opposed to the idea they might boycott the paper. When it came to voting day the measure was soundly defeated, passing in only three of the county’s 18 voting precincts (including Petaluma, natch).

And with that, the bell rang to end the first round of Petaluma vs. Santa Rosa. The next part of the slugfest saw the editors of the Argus and Santa Rosa’s Democrat take off their gloves for bare-knuckle fighting over the Civil War, as told here in “A SHORT TRUCE IN THE (UN)CIVIL WAR.”

Before wrapping up this survey of 1855-1861, my newspaper readings from those years also turned up some details that may shed light on an important but murky question in Sonoma county history: Why was almost everywhere outside of Petaluma so anti-Lincoln and pro-Confederacy before and during the Civil War?

In 1859 there was a meeting in Santa Rosa to organize a local Democratic party committee endorsing “popular sovereignty,” which was the concept that every state and territory had a right to set its own laws and rules, even on slavery. While there were meetings like that nationwide with the general goal of getting pro-slavery delegates elected to state Democratic party conventions, here in Sonoma county it piggybacked onto the politically powerful settler’s movement, which had its own definition of sovereignty – namely, it wanted California to declare the Mexican and Spanish land grants “fraudulent,” in violation of the federal treaty with Mexico that ended the Mexican War. (Interested historians can read the full set of resolutions in the Sonoma County Journal May 20, 1859.)

This fusion of “settlerism” with “popular sovereignty” may help explain why Sonoma county overwhelmingly voted against Lincoln the next year in favor of the Southern Democrat candidate who wanted to uphold slavery as an absolute Constitutional right. Maybe it wasn’t so much that the majority of the county was saying “we like slavery,” as “we’ll vote for any guy who might get us clear title to our land claims.” This is an important distinction I’ve not seen historians discuss.

 


1 The courthouse construction in 1855 was just for the first story, not the two story building with cupola seen in all photos. In 1859 the top floor was built and again there was a fight with the contractor. His final bill included a whopping 75 percent cost overrun, presumably related to fixing structural problems with the underlying building. Again it went to arbitration, this time the contractor settling for about a quarter of what he asked. Problems with the original shoddy construction still were not over – the jail had to be torn down and completely rebuilt in 1867, just eleven years after it originally opened.

2 In 1857 Petaluma encompassed about a square mile, with a population of 1,338. Santa Rosa in 1859 was still its original 70 acres, with 400 residents. The decennial federal census of 1860, however, shows Santa Rosa with the larger population: 1,623 compared to Petaluma’s 1,505. This is due to counting people in the entire Santa Rosa Township, not just within city limits. The 1860 census of Santa Rosa proper was 425 residents.

3 One legislator hinted the proposed move of the county seat to Petaluma was (somehow) part of a scheme to have Marin annex Petaluma away from Sonoma county, and just the year before Marin actually had asked the state to expand their border northward and make Petaluma their new county seat. Those two efforts are probably linked but I haven’t found anything further on that angle, or who was behind either effort. It sounds like a good story, tho, and I’ll write more about it should more info surface.
Sonoma Democrat, May 5, 1859

SANTA ROSA–OUR COUNTY SEAT.– To those who have only heard of Santa Rosa as the county town of Sonoma county, and as being one of the most beautiful and thriving places in the State, the following facts and figures, condensed from the Santa Rosa Democrat, may be interesting:

The town of Santa Rosa is built on the fertile valley or plain of the same name, and on the old Santa Rosa “grant,” midway between Petaluma and the flourishing town of Healdsburg, on Russian River. To the enterprise of Berthold Hoen is the site of the place, and much of its prosperity, due. The site was fixed by him, and by him surveyed and mapped in the spring of 1854. In the year 1855, it was declared the county seat, Mr. Hoen tendering the county a building gratuitously, to be used for county purposes. The entire cost of the county buildings will be about $35,000, and even in their present unfinished state, present an appearance in structure and design creditable to the rich county of Sonoma. When completed, they will, in elegance and design, be surpassed by but few such buildings in the State. The private residence are mostly one-story cottage buildings, and for neatness and comfort will vie with those of any other county village we have knowlege of. The soil of the valley is a rich alluvium…

…Beside the public buildings, there is a fine academy for males and females, (accommodating 250 pupils); a district school, (numbering over 60 children); two churches, two resident preachers, nine resident lawyers, five physicians, two notaries public, one printing office, from which two publications are issued, seventy-five private residences, nine dry goods and grocery stores, one drug store, one hardware store, two hotels, two restaurants, two drinking saloons, two daguerrean galleries, one saddler shop, one barber shop, one tailor shop, one shoemaker shop, one jeweler shop, eleven Jews, one paint shop, three carpenter shops, two butcher shops, one cabinet shop, six blacksmith shops, one pump shop, one bakery, and two first-class livery stables. The population of the town proper is about 400. The climate is mild and salubrious, not being troubled so much by fogs and head winds, as the towns bordering on the coast. The greatest drawback is the unsettled condition of land titles — not peculiar to our own county — and these are in process of adjustment.

– Sonoma County Journal, November 25 1859

…Below, we give a small specimen of this talk, taken from the Argus of the 13th Jan. The editor goes so far as to call his statement “the prevailing opinion in this section,” (Petaluma):

“That Santa Rosa and Santa Rosa interests are being built up and protected, at the expense of the whole County, and to the detriment of some particular sections. That this has been, and now is, the policy of the citizens of Santa Rosa, no observant man, with any regard for truth, will dare deny. The governing policy for the last four years, has been to concentrate everything at Santa Rosa. No roads could be made unless they centered there. No bridges built, unless they benefit Santa Rosa. No regard is paid to the wants of Sonoma, Petaluma, and Bloomfield. But if Santa Rosa wants anything, even to the fencing of the plaza, the door of the county safe is thrown wide open. It is time these outrages upon the people at large should cease—this squandering of the public money for the benefiit of a few property-holders in and about Santa Rosa.”

We believe that the statement that the above is “the prevailing opinion” in that section, is untrue. That there are a few discontents in Petaluma, who find fault with this, as they do with everything else in and about Santa Rosa, is quite likely ; and that these compose the associates and intimates of the editor of that sheet, is still more probable. But we have no reason to believe that he is ever entrusted with the opinions of respectable men, even of his own vicinity. The quotation above, contains as much bare faced untruth, as we ever saw distilled in so small a space…

[lists county officials from Petaluma and Healdsburg, the 1858 Grand Jury report was the work of “two or three Petaluma men” on a committee]

…It is indirectly assorted, that the county authorities have paid for the fencing of the Plaza. This, of course, is just as reasonable as any other assertion; and yet not one dollar, directly or indirectly, has ever been paid or asked for for any such purpose. Equally false is his assertion of the building of bridges and roads for the exclusive benefit of Santa Rosa. Not one of the kind has ever been made. Altogether, we regard these complaints as very remarkable, even as coming from Pennypacker — certainly, they could come from nowhere else. [J. J. Pennypacker was the first publisher of the Argus 1859-1960 – JE]

Notwithstanding all this Billingsgate we speak of, seems to come from Petaluma, we are happy in the belief that the community in and around that place are not chargeable with them, but that among the respectable portion of that locality, a more liberal feeling exists.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 2 1860

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