You can bet jaws were dropping all over 1912 Santa Rosa when rumors spread Luther Burbank was moving out of town. He wasn’t going far – only about a mile from downtown, to a new subdivision called “West Roseland” – but Santa Rosa without its Burbank was unthinkable. Being the home of the “plant wizard” defined Santa Rosa’s image, with a perpetual stream of visitors coming from far away to see him and his gardens. And that’s exactly why he would have wanted to move away from the well-beaten path; Burbank was besieged by pesky pilgrims whenever he worked in his fields.

Financially secure for one of the few times in his life, Burbank could afford building a new place. A couple of months earlier he had signed a deal with investors to create the Luther Burbank Company, which would henceforth sell his seeds and plants. He was paid $30,000 up front, worth about $4 million today. Work was also underway at the newly-formed Luther Burbank Press to finally create an encyclopedic series of books on Burbank’s works. All in all, 1912 was very likely his happiest year.

Everything was going so well that he even risked a few days off. In August Burbank was part of the “flying legion,” a ten day junket to promote the upcoming Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Traveling on a special Southern Pacific train, about a hundred men took the trip up the coast to Vancouver and back, with stops at all major cities on the way. The only other local man in the delegation was Robert John, an officer of the Luther Burbank Press and Luther Burbank Society, who appears to have been the linchpin in both projects.

Burbank kept a very low profile. He was toasted at a banquet in Canada but told the audience he wasn’t much of a speaker unless the topic was something like “spuds,” which he could discuss at length. A reporter in Oregon quoted his views on the importance of the trip, where in characteristic Burbank fashion he managed to complain and boast in the same breath: “This is almost the first day’s vacation I have taken in ten years, and I came at a time when I have on the place, working toward the publication of my books, 43 stenographers and typewriters, besides my usual executive work is hard to get away from.”

After the trip, nothing more about a planned new home was reported and the Burbank archives have no entry regarding a possible move to West Roseland. It’s more likely he bought the land on speculation; central Sonoma County was then enjoying its first building boom of the Twentieth Century. Ads for new subdivisions appeared regularly in the papers, and developers competed with each other by offering choice locations or no-money-down contracts. Here, it seems the developer was promoting West Roseland as an upscale neighborhood, where buyers would rub elbows with Burbank, George Dutton, Max Rosenberg, and other well-heeled local luminaries. And to cement the link to Santa Rosa’s favorite son, the main road was named “Burbank avenue.”

It appears none of the movers-and-shakers built grand homes in the subdivision. Today, Burbank avenue – which runs north-south, between Stony Point and Dutton Ave. – is almost entirely post-WWII construction, with a couple of older cottages. As you move farther away from Sebastopol Road it turns into a pleasant country lane with pastures and large empty lots that are surprising to discover so close to downtown. Much of it looks like it probably did in Luther’s era, when it was unincorporated county land. Of course, as it’s part of greater Roseland it is still unincorporated county land, only now surrounded on all sides by Santa Rosa proper. Of all the subdivisions then being developed outside of Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and Sebastopol, West Roseland was the only one that didn’t make it into city limits.

Report Says He is Going to Build New Home

Luther Burbank, the well known resident and great horticulturist of this city, has purchased 16 2/3 acres of the Richardson tract on Sebastopol avenue, one mile west of this city. When asked as to his plans of use of the property, Mr. Burbank stated that he had made no plans to announce at present. The report was current on the streets, however, that he intended to build a fine, modern residence there.

The property adjoins the property recently purchased by Max Rosenberg, Dr. J. H. McLeod and John Rinner, and which they are now having surveyed to be placed on the market. The survey includes an avenue a mile long, which runs southerly from the Sebastopol road and which the purchasers will name Burbank avenue. The tract being subdivided will be called West Roseland.

Mr. Burbank made his purchase through the agency of Barnett & Reading.

George Dutton has purchased a piece of property adjoining Burbank’s new property and is planning a fine residence on his new possession.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 3, 1912

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Pity Santa Rosa; hardly anyone wanted to move here in the early 20th Century. While some communities in the state were doubling in population every decade, our numbers were as stagnant as swampy backwater, with the city growing a pathetic average of only about a hundred people a year between 1900 and 1920. Or so sayeth the U.S. Census.

The numbers might have been technically accurate, but in an editorial about the 1910 count, Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley railed the city was being cheated because the real total had to be double the 7,817 officially tallied. Finley should have counted his lucky stars; according to the census reports, the towns of Sonoma and Cloverdale would supposedly lose more than a hundred people in the following decade, with San Rafael reportedly losing 400.

Were any of these census counts reasonably correct or no? Academic discussions of census problems concerning that era focus on undercounts of minorities, the poor living in dense big city slums, migrant workers, and so on. But looking at summaries for all California towns between 1900 and 1920, it seems that urban areas steadily marched forward while agricultural towns often curiously wobbled.

Part of the reason could be because those three census enumerations were taken in different parts of the growing season. The 1900 census was in June; the 1910 count came in April, and the 1920 census happened in January. Anyone connected to farming might understandably be elsewhere in January when the land was fallow and fruit trees dormant, which could explain the apparent anemic growth (or even lack thereof) in the North Bay between 1910-1920. As a specific example of seasonal tilt, I knew there were lots of people living in Sebastopol’s Chinatown(s) at the turn of the century, yet the 1900 census reported almost no one was around – but census takers found Chinese ag workers all over West County that June, working in the orchards and hop fields. Thus at best, more than a few footnotes are demanded whenever any scholar uses any of these census reports to draw overreaching conclusions about Sonoma County development during the early 20th century. Pleaseandthankyou.

Both the Press Democrat and the Santa Rosa Republican commented Santa Rosa’s census numbers were too low because the city limits were overdue for a greatly needed expansion. A letter-writer to the Republican commented Santa Rosa needed to be more inclusive of the west side and Roseland specifically should be annexed to the city:

Ten years ago the Roseland tract was field of grain and an orchard. Today it is a thickly populated district, not only composed of small farms, but many people reside there who enjoy all benefits of a city, and who come daily to the shopping district of Santa Rosa and traverse the streets, utilizing the rights of the taxpaying citizens…there are in the neighborhood of 3000 to 3500 people residing within a radius of a quarter of a mile west of the present boundary of the city of Santa Rosa.

One wonders what our ancestor would think to learn that more than a century later, Roseland still would not be welcome in the city.

PD editor Finley also complained that the city was unfortunate in having the census taken soon after huge factory fires, which threw many out of work:

The town’s largest three factories were burned but a short time before the census enumerators began their work–the Levin tannery, the shoe factory, and the woolen mill…the fact that the census was taken just after those great fires cost Santa Rosa at least 1,000 population in the census figures.

None of that was true, however; the census was in April. The tannery/shoe factory fire happened in late May, and the woolen mill was destroyed in August. And the consequential unemployment estimates that appeared in the PD at the time were a fraction of the number he now claimed. Seeing as these events had occurred only a few months before his editorial was written in January 1911, it’s hard to understand how Ernest Finley could have honestly turned the sequence of events upside down.

And although the PD editorial ended with a drum-thumping call to expand city borders (“We must have a Greater Santa Rosa!”) it worked to the advantage of the town’s ruling elite at the time to maintain the town’s status quo, with its borders hemmed to the older and more affluent core neighborhoods. The newer subdivisions to the west and south offered modest homes for laborers, and voters from those new districts potentially could shake up municipal elections by electing men who were not players in Santa Rosa’s political machine.

The history lesson takeaway is that the problems of 1910 continue to reach forward into today. Roseland remains an unincorporated island within Santa Rosa, certainly in part because of the same fear that its voters could have a sizable impact on city elections, which are still under the sway of a political bloc. Even the questionable census numbers linger as a problem, particularly in overstating the impacts of the 1906 Santa Rosa Earthquake; lower census counts create the misleading picture that the destruction and death toll were comparatively much worse here than in San Francisco (see discussion).

As a bonus, there is also transcribed below a lengthy letter from the census enumerator of Salt Point and Fort Ross, filled with humor and many interesting descriptions of his encounters.


Santa Rosa’s neglect to make its boundary lines cover the whole city has put the town back into the same class with towns of only 7,000 or 8,000 population. The new census gives us but 7,817 inhabitants.

If Santa Rosa had done as it should and taken all the city into the city limits, the census would have given us the fourteen thousand or fifteen thousand to which we are rightfully entitled. But we failed to do it, and so for ten years every atlas and every geography and every gazetteer will hold misleading figures about Santa Rosa’s population. There is no help for it now, and the fact is regrettable, for in many respects a town’s importance is gauged by its census figures.

We have none but ourselves to blame–we and our suburban neighbors, who are denied the privilege of the city’s free postal service by carrier twice a day, and who have the poor substitute of a rural mail service once a day that reaches some of them in the evening with the morning mail. Also they are denied the advantage of the city’s fire and police protection, the city’s free water system, the sewer system, express delivery, and the privileges of the municipal library. They are also denied the privilege of pointing to Santa Rosa on the census rolls with [illegible microfilm] which it certainly has but for which it gets no credit because the whole city is not incorporated.

The people of Santa Rosa must wait another ten years before the error in the census can be corrected; but the evil may be mitigated by the prompt action in extending the city lines to where they belong. In all reason, they should be coterminous with the lines of the school district. And again, in all reason, the name of the school district should be changed to Santa Rosa school district instead of Court House school district. There is a little district near town that bears the name of Santa Rosa district. At one time there was talk of putting those names right, but the fact that one of the districts had outstanding bonds called a halt in the proceedings. There certainly is a way to give Santa Rosa school district its right name to give Santa Rosa city credit for the population it actually possesses, and to make the geographical limits of the two identical.

There is another point that has counted against Santa Rosa in the census. The town’s largest three factories were burned but a short time before the census enumerators began their work–the Levin tannery, the shoe factory, and the woolen mill. These disasters threw out of employment more than 400 people, most of whom were heads of families, and most of whom soon afterward left town with their families to seek employment elsewhere in the callings of their crafts. The tannery has since been rebuilt on a larger scale and has recalled its quota of the population and added more; the shoe factory has done the same; the woolen mill will doubtless follow later on, and a new shirt factory is about to open its doors here. But the fact that the census was taken just after those great fires cost Santa Rosa at least 1,000 population in the census figures.

Santa Rosa’s city limits should be extended so that they will include all of Santa Rosa; and it is unfortunate that another enumeration cannot be made at the present time, when conditions are so much more favorable than they were when the count was made. It is probable that a more careful enumeration would have helped matters at that time. The future is what we must now consider, however, and not the past. We must have a Greater Santa Rosa!

– Press Democrat editorial, January 5, 1911

Why and Where Santa Rosa Should Have Increased

Editor of the REPUBLICAN:
It is with interest that many of the citizens of this community read the census figures just announced by the officials at Washington and published in your paper…

…Santa Rosa’s population showed an increase of 1144 people over the enumeration of ten years ago, or a percent of 17. This does not seem quite as great in comparison with other towns as could have been possible. Many of the residents have been guessing at the amount the figures would show, but in many instances their imaginations outnumbered their real thoughts. These people did not calculate upon the number of people taken from this city by the great fire and earthquake of some years ago, and furthermore, that the incorporated limits of Santa Rosa were filed many years ago, and at that time the men framing the charts of the city did not figure upon the great increase that would, and was bound to come, to this fertile spot. When they bounded the city on the west by Santa Rosa creek, little did they expect that in time to come enough people would move to that section to start another city larger than the one of which they were laying the limits.

But nevertheless, such has been the fact, and today the corporated limits of the beautiful city of Santa Rosa do not include what they should and many acres of land and taxes and benefits to the people are being lost by not including this tract in the limits of Santa Rosa.

Ten years ago the Roseland tract was field of grain and an orchard. Today it is a thickly populated district, not only composed of small farms, but many people reside there who enjoy all benefits of a city, and who come daily to the shopping district of Santa Rosa and traverse the streets, utilizing the rights of the taxpaying citizens.

This seems unfair, inasmuch as they in some instances, conduct business in this city and derive their source of living from these stores. Santa Rosa is incorporated on other sides of the city for many rods more than on the west, but to that side have the greater number of people bought homes to settle upon. A very jagged outline was formed when the city limits were made, and many people who have had occasion to visit that section and see the great numbers of homes and the people who made that their abode, wonder at the men composing the body of people who framed the city’s boundary, and why a more regular line was not made.

Now I come with an earnest appeal as to why this section of land, with its many people have not been added to the city of Santa Rosa? Is Santa Rosa ashamed of the country? Or is it afraid to undertake such a task? We have a body of men who are able to cope with the situation and it is certain that the law making body of this city would do something that would bring applause to the multitude and something that would make them a body of people not to leave office and become forever unknown, without some showing for betterment for the city.

The census just shown proves that Santa Rosa has not grown as she should and one of the reasons is that, with rough calculation of people who have made a study of numbers, and calculated upon many bodies of people and homes that there are in the neighborhood of 3000 to 35000 people residing within a radius of a quarter of a mile west of the present boundary of the city of Santa Rosa. Now this is one of the rasons our census enumeration has not increased as great as should have been, and it is earnestly urged that some steps be taken to ascertain the reasons why that section of land should not be added to the city.

In these districts lying on the borders of the town are two schools which are supervised and under the direction of the city superintendent, receiving all the benefits derived from the city taxpayers and being attended by the children of people who do not aid the city’s treasury in any manner. Again of all the 3500 people they are without any modern facilities, such as sewers, free water, fire protection and improved streets. All these reasons are placed before the people and the question is asked why do not the city fathers make the addition. These people, in almost every case, are willing to become part of the city and derive the city advantages, but they cannot rise up in arms and demand to be admitted to the folds of the city.

Many other California towns have changed their city limits in the recent years, owing to the rapid growth of population, and it is now time that something was being done toward the advancement of the city of Santa Rosa.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 6, 1911

According to promise, I make good to your worthy army of brightest, tip-top newsboys. From top to bottom, I am deeply in love with news paperdom. Kill off the newspapers and we would be in midnight darkness. Encourage them, and we save and glorify mankind.

My experience as a census enumerator interested myself, and I hope it will interest the newsboys and the many readers of the REPUBLICAN. So here we go.

It required some months to prepare to take the test, and when it finally came, the cart seemed to be hitched up before the horse, and I felt like a cock of hay going to the press. I told Mr. Emmett Phillips, our up-to-date supervisor of census, that I expected to get left, but little tons of instruction kept on arriving until I felt as weary as Mr. Ballinger. Then I received my commission, with the promise of four-fifty per day. Uncle Sam told me to be a good little boy, or I would be fined five hundred dollars, and maybe go to the calaboose. I was to gather no news for the papers, nor talk politics, and leave all rag-chewing to the goats. And boys, I swear I have kept the faith. I did not write down a single item, but the news gathered itself to me; and somehow or other, stuck all over me, inside and out, so I am not goung to give you the forbidden fruit, only just everyday facts.

On the 15th day of April, at 7:00 a. m., I cammenced [sic] work on my own family (by the way, the largest in Salt Point township), then I loaded up like a little Boer from South Africa and started to enumerate the greatest township on earth. Afoot, with the mighty wealth of a single one cent stamp, I started on my mission. However, as I closed the gate, there at the window stood my mountain of strength and success. It was the sweet, little watching, loving eyes of my baby boy, and his mother, saying, “Jack, be good and come back.” The people from the first showed a willingness to answer all the questions, only, “Oh, mister,” or “that is a sticker,” was occasionally brought out. Away up here in the redwoods, I soon found the sound of the political pot. “I am not allowed to talk upon these matters,” I said. “But you cannot prevent us,” was fired back. In every walk of life men who can vote are brim full of politics. Some are for Debs, some are for Hearst, others for Taft. “Teddy will be out next president,” “Bryan is the best of them all,” and so on. For Governor Hiram Johnson leads with the Republicans, but Charles Curry is hanging up his picture in every home. Theodore Bell hold his own to the end.

Tie making is in full blast, bark peeling is well along, haying has commenced, the fruit crop is good, excepting prunes, the dairymen are in luck; thus from one end of the township to the other everybody is busy, not an idle man to be found. It is true I found five silent saw mills, but that is because lumber is cheap and so it is more profitable to make split stuff. I had found out in a  day or two that I must have a horse, or I would not make it in time. By now my one cent stamp had grown to be twice its value. Yes, every day proved beyond doubt that Salt Point township is the banner township for generosity. “What is my bill?” I asked at every house at which I ate, but there was no charge. “Glad to have you, old man; come again,” was the reply. Back and forth I went through some of the finest forest to find tie makers in mountain and canyons. Just one thought I was the assessor and said, “I am only twenty,” but he was soon able to say “I am twenty-three.” Chinamen spoke in the inquisitive way. One young fellow ran away from the line number thirteen, but he came back, as I told him it was the luckiest number on earth. A few foreign born chaps took me to be a detective and thought I had come for them. I gave them my hand and their nerves were soon easy. Indians thought I was the Great Father’s son all the way from Washington to give them a piece of land. Good old John Linderman at Salt Point told me to send him a dollar if I ever got my pay, but he doubted if I ever would. Still on I went, for I was charmed by seeing the country in all its glory. I arrived at night in Fort Ross, yet my welcome was so sincere and kind. All is well at the fort. By this time my letter day came and I explained to my good friend, William Morgan, the postmaster, that I did want so much to send a letter to Annapolis, but I only had a one cent stamp. Mr. Morgan furnished the other cent and I was so grateful, but I was broke. I received five dollars from my wife and you know pin money is the very best, and I felt like a lark and went singing over the divide, viewing the sleek flocks and herds of a a contented people. I found many happy children, but not enough of them. Happier would be the homes with them. Bachelors swarm in the township, but there will be less of them in the fall, as quite a number of them are moving from the danger zone to married life.

I only met one typical old maid in the district, and she could be heard to talk over two city blocks away. By now, I find Salt Point township as big as a county, and great as a kingdom, yet there is no doctor, no preacher, and no tinker living herein. There are eight schools and more teachers. There are four saloons and one church. Drunkenness is decreasing, as I only met two so far gone, no more than six with about seven fingers in the washtub. Only two desired to treat. I only saw three men play cards for money, and they had more gold and silver than there is in the bank of Annapolis. One young lady was uncertain as to just what class of breadwinners she belonged. After giving in the household I asked her occupation. She blushed, so I thought I would suggest she could take her choice. “Then,” said she, “I would like to be a Gypsy.” “Well,” said I, “just become a census enumerator and you are it.” You should have seen her beautiful pearly teeth, boys! They seemed as inviting as the gates of “The Holy City.” I was afraid she was about to take up her bed and walk. Then I saw my wife and baby and said, “I must not talk.” I found only two weak-minded children, and if they can be given the sun light and company, they are saved. I met one locked gate and just one wicked crank that threatened to blow up a family of sweet little children. Two people remembered seeing Halley’s comet 75 years ago, Mrs. Rachel Throop and A. J. Lancaster. By the by, “Jack” Lancaster, with his crown of 80 and more years, is a very interesting person. “Jack” should have been a lawyer, and he once came very nearly being it. Mr. Lancaster had business in court at Santa Rosa over horses, and a bridle was produced to prove that it would not shut off a horse’s wind, “and now if Mr. —– will come forward, we will shut off his wind.” “Jack” must be the only man in history that ever had such a chance in court.

I found no one in the township that kept a complete record of their business. Generally those who owned the most were the quickest to answer questions. I only went twice without my dinner, and slept twice like a rabbit, once my horse was sick, but I felt strong enough to carry him….

…During my travels through the district I was very anxious to get up in the morning to see the comet, and once I tried every door in the house, and I would have been trying yet if I had not been taken for a lock picker. I worked twelve hours a day and traveled almost 250 miles to do the work. At the end of twenty-five days I folded my portfolio and made for home, hoping and praying that the day will come soon when the electric railway will come to glorious old Salt Point so that I might take all the newsboys of Santa Rosa through the beautiful township by the sea.

I slipped up to the window, took hold of my wife’s hand without her seeing me, as she was sewing, and she screamed, thinking she was being held up by a tramp, and so she was.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 21, 1910

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