Spitters beware: A new state law made spitting on the sidewalk – or anywhere else – a misdemeanor in 1907. Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley, quite the stickler to the law when it came to clean sidewalks, made sure readers were fully informed immediately about California penal code ยง372a.

Any item about expectoration is another welcome opportunity to plug my all-time favorite story, about the 1905 Santa Rosa motorist who was given a speeding ticket, then a few days later forced the selfsame cop to arrest himself for spitting on the sidewalk. At night. And during a downpour.

It might be just as well for some people to remember that it is now a state prison offense, punishable by both fine and imprisonment, to discharge mucus from the nose or mouth or spit upon any sidewalk of any public street or highway, or upon any part of any public building or railroad train, streetcar, stage, ferryboat, steamboat, or other vessel or vehicle used for the transportation of the public.

This is a law that should be rigidly enforced, for expectoration in public places is not only unhealthful but also disgusting in the extreme.

One of the most nauseating thing in the world is to have a man come into a street car or public office and spit slimy rings all around himself on the floor. No man of any culture or refinement would do such a thing, of course, and some of those who do would doubtless be considerably surprised if told they do not possess even the first instincts of a gentleman. Yet the following is as true today as it was when it was first written:

“The man who expectorates on the floor need never expect to rate as a gentleman.”

– Press Democrat editorial, April 2, 1907

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Santa Rosa’s streets were in terrible shape in the years before the 1906 earthquake, and they didn’t improve afterward, as noted in the Press Democrat editorial below. There still were still “chuckholes” everywhere, and at least one famous crater that could sink a buggy up to its axle.

It was the many bicyclists in town that mainly suffered from the abysmal conditions of the streets, and a couple of years earlier, an advocate had published a bicyclist’s manifesto in the paper, declaring the “laboring man” at least had a right to ride on sidewalks to get to work. Unswayed, the police continued writing hefty $5.00 tickets to riders of the “silent wheel” caught on sidewalks.

Following a convention of the Retail Bicycle Dealers’ Association in Fresno where a “good roads” resolution was adopted, locals asked the City Council to construct “cinder paths or other suitable tracks” on the streets for cyclists. And if that can’t be done, at least let us legally ride on the sidewalks, they requested. Nothing came of it, of course; as the PD noted, “the petition was placed on file.”


The weather has now cleared, and people expect to see some move made to put the city’s streets in order–not all dug up and entirely rebuilt, necessarily, but at least put in such shape that human life here will be reasonably safe. [illegible microfilm] with the plans then under way, and a hard winter followed, but the time has now come when something must be done. With very few exceptions, Santa Rosa’s streets are in a frightening condition. On almost every street in town dangerous “chuckholes” exist, and while there may perhaps have been some excuse for not filling them up while it was raining, the clouds have now rolled away–so far away, in fact, that people have begun to ask why the street-sprinkling wagons are not at work–and it is time to be up and doing. A few loads of crushed rock or gravel would in many instances make a street presentable, and in dozens of cases a few shovelfuls would make a crossing safe. But no shovel puts in an appearance, and the gravel and crushed rock refuses to budge. Our winter snooze is o’er. Spring “has come.” Wake up, everybody! Arise ye, and “get busy!”

– Press Democrat, March 31, 1907
Petition Presented to the City Council at the Meeting Held Here on Tuesday Night

Devotees of the silent steed who must not ride the sidewalks and desirous that cinder paths be constructed so that the streets can be used all the year round by cyclists, presented the following petition to the City Council last night.

“We, the undersigned, your petitioners, desire to call attention to the following facts:

“First, the bicycles are among the most used vehicles in this city, and that the aggregate number of miles traveled by riders of bicycles in good weather is probably greater on our streets than that covered by pedestrians, or by wagons and buggies. Most of our business and professional people depend to some extent on the bicycle for means of travel in the ordinary routine of their duties.

“Second, that for several months of the year most of our streets are impassable to a bicycle, and under the present law that means of conveyance cannot be used. This condition works a hardship upon many of our citizens.

“Therefore, we desire, request and petition that your honorable body make some provision by which bicycles can be ridden at all times upon the streets of Santa Rosa, and we respectfully ask your attention to the following suggestions:

“First, that cinder paths or other suitable tracks for bicycles be provided in the streets.

“Second, in the event that this is deemed too large an expense for the present time that some plan were enacted into law which will, with proper safeguards to life and limb, permit riding of bicycles upon the sidewalks.

Among the signers of the petition were…

…The Rev. L. A. Turney addressed the Council in support of the petition and suggested that possibly a small tax might be imposed and a number provided for each license so issued, and with proper regulations cyclists might be allowed to ride on sidewalks. The revenue might be applied to the construction of cinder paths, etc. The petition was placed on file.

– Press Democrat, January 16, 1907

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A vignette of life in 1906 Santa Rosa, when storekeepers just threw waste paper into the street and expected the city to clean it up. No wonder their kids tossed orange peels on the sidewalks as they walked to school.


John White, deputy street commissioner, will make an example of some of the Fifth street merchants if the practice of throwing papers on the streets is not discontinued at once. The street is the principal business thoroughfare of the city and each morning is littered by waste paper carelessly thrown from business houses. It is cleaned frequently by the street department, but never looks clean only while the men are at work. Mr. White will cause the arrest of merchants who persist in littering the street after this warning.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 19, 1906

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