You took a risk driving, riding a buggy, or even walking at night in Santa Rosa’s 1908 neighborhoods; streets were frequently dark because the electricity was off, and unwary travelers might crash into wet-cement barriers or hit the piles of building materials that were obstructing streets and sidewalks. So bad was the situation that the Press Democrat – loathe to expose any flaw in the town whatsoever – openly called for contractors to put out 19th century kerosene lanterns to alert the public to the dangers.

The PD was prodded to mention the issue after a woman was thrown from her buggy and seriously injured when the horse became spooked by an unexpected encounter with a pile of stuff blocking the street. The newspaper also complained that there was some sort of wire fence across the freshly-poured sidewalk at College and Mendocino Avenues “which could not be seen even with the light burning, [and] was a snare when the light was out.”

This item states that “the electric lights [are] going out nearly every night for a time,” and the previous article revealed there was a steam whistle for summoning a lineman to “answer lamp kicks at all hours of the night” (“kick” was common slang for “complaint” at that time, so I presume that meant customers were reporting electric outages and providing light bulbs was a service of the electric company).

Santa Rosans were understandably angry that the power company couldn’t keep the lights on, and a couple of weeks after these incidents, the Chamber of Commerce demanded answers from the superintendent of the Santa Rosa Lighting Company. Alas, he told them, he only did as he was so ordered by a PG&E engineer in another county: “I receive a message from Napa to cut out the street lights until further notice. Out they go.”


A number of building and sidewalk contractors are growing careless and indifferent regarding the matter of putting out lights at night where obstructions are left in the streets and sidewalks. The matter is one of importance as was shown last Saturday night when a runaway was caused which resulted in a lady receiving a compound fracture of her arm and a fine buggy was demolished.

With the electric lights going out nearly every night for a time, contractors should use lanterns. A wire fencing was left across some new walks on Mendocino street at College avenue Thursday night which could not be seen even with the light burning, was a snare when the light was out. A number of other obstructions were left unguarded in different parts of the city.

– Press Democrat, October 2, 1908

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Was there ever a fire chief more vigilant than Santa Rosa’s Frank Muther? Sometimes it seemed that more was accomplished at the Fire Commissioners’ meeting than City Council. Just a few months after he ordered his men to keep a sharp lookout for lawn-watering scofflaws that could endanger the city, here he was, urging town fathers to finally take action on the “temporary structures” that quickly popped up following the 1906 earthquake. Now almost a year-and-a-half later, many “shacks” apparently remained.

Frank Muther died in 1927 and is buried in the old Odd Fellows’ Cemetery (lot 21), just on the other side of the fence from the Fulkerson crypt in the Rural Cemetery. But today his grave is completely unmarked, likely because he had a wooden tombstone that was destroyed by a mid-century burn at the Rural Cemetery to control weeds. Oh, irony.

Also below is a letter to the editor complaining of high fire risk conditions (in the fiscal year that ended the day before this letter appeared, there had been 23 fire alarms, 9 of them false). Between the ramshackle shacks and the weed-choked backyards, Frank needed to stay on his toes.

Important Recommendation Made at Last Night’s Meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners

At the meeting of the Fire Commissioners last night Fire Chief Frank Muther recommended that all temporary buildings that remain untenanted for thirty days should be torn down as a matter of precaution against fire.

The Fire Chief reported two fires during the month; that at the Yandle foundry, entailing a total loss of $3,572.20 upon which insurance was paid thereon to the amount of $1,272.20.

The Fire Chief at the conclusion of the reading of the report said that there area a lot of old shacks that were built temporarily that should be removed.

The Chief also reported that owing to the removal of Charles Connolly from the city he had appointed Chas. Bowman to fill the vacancy as a call member of the Santa Rosa Fire Department.

The hook and ladder wagon of the department has been painted and returned spick and span to the fire station.

The Chief also presented some correspondence regarding the repairs of the old La France engine, providing of a new boiler, etc.

– Press Democrat, September 18, 1907

Editor Republican:
I do not sign my name to this, but all the same I am a bona fide citizen of this hamlet, and what I say is the truth, and also, what I say will be understood.

I think this is a disorderly, untidy, and unkept town. Not only are the business thoroughfares in need of attention in the way of repairs, but the residence streets are also neglected. Notwithstanding the request of the street department that the sidewalks be cleaned, grass and weeds removed therefrom, hardly any attention was paid to that notice. In many places the back yards have gone to waste and the high, dry grass growing there has made the places fire traps. Day after tomorrow fire crackers and other explosives will be burning all over town, and how many dry grass lots will be ablaze? Cannot the powers that be in this city be awakened to some of the simple needs of the place? I am afraid to go out into the country for even a day for fear that I may return and find my home in ruins. With the water supply sometimes in the air, would it not be a practical thing to remove all cause of fire, especially during the next few days?


– Santa Rosa Republican, July 2, 1907

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Early 20th century Santa Rosa had plenty of rules and regs on water use, and gave city workers broad powers to enforce them. As noted earlier, a policeman who heard water running overnight could wake up homeowners and require them to shut off the faucet; a city inspector could come into your home and write a $2.50 citation for every leaky fixture, and as shown below, firemen could enforce a city ordinance requiring all lawn and garden watering to cease when the fire bell rang. The “irrigation hours” mentioned here was another water regulation holdover from the last century; depending upon your address, homeowners could only water at certain hours in either the afternoon or evening, the starting and ending times announced by the tooting of the town’s steam whistle, not to be confused with the fire bell, which signaled that all water should be shut off . It wasn’t the Edwardian Era in America – it was the Pavlovian Era.

Ordinance Will Be Strictly Enforced–Meeting of the Fire Commissioners Last Night

There is a city ordinance that provided when a fire alarm is sounded persons who are irrigating their lawns shall immediately shut off the water.

At a meeting of the Fire Commissioners last night, Fire Chief Muther in ____ [illegible microfilm] to have his his men keep a sharp lookout to see that the ordinance is strictly obeyed.

There were four alarms of fire during the month. The most serious conflagration being at the old Ladies’ College building on McDonald avenue. The Chief called attention to the lack of water to combat this fire, explaining that the hydrant is on a “dead end” and the fire occurring during “irrigation hours” sufficient water could only be obtained for one stream.

– Press Democrat, May 22, 1907

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