First, the bad news: Property values were down in Santa Rosa following the 1906 earthquake – but on the upside, at least everyone had a sewing machine.

Overall worth of the town declined that year because the tax assessor shaved half off property values of parcels in the “burned and wrecked district.” This was quite a generous knockdown for the landowners, and cynics should be forgiven for doubting that there likewise was a matching tax boost over the following years, since most commercial buildings on those properties were actually rebuilt in two years or less.

But the more interesting item from the assessor’s office was a summary of personal property in the county: There were 285 typewriters, 2,700 bicycles, 45 bee hives, and 13,470 sewing machines, among other items. In that era, you were taxed annually on all tangible personal property, not just land and vehicles, as we are today. This “Ad valorem tax” on household goods and personal effects was phased out during the Depression years as the state sales tax and state income tax were enacted, but not after decades of complaint about the absurdity of being taxed every year on those wobbly kitchen chairs and moth-eaten wool rugs. And it wasn’t even a reliable means of collecting revenue, as one anti-tax group griped in a 1928 pamphlet: “Every one knows how impossible it is to tax all persons on the actual value of their household belongings. Inevitably values will be canceled or overlooked. The cookstove, the piano and the radio catch the assessor’s eye. Only the burglar can find the diamonds of the rich.”

The last statistical item here finds the Press Democrat proclaiming that the town had grown in population despite the disaster, with nearly 11 thousand residents of Santa Rosa, an increase of about ten percent in two years. But as 1906 wasn’t a census year, how did they know that? A closer look at the data show that the paper made a simplistic calculation that every registered voter had to represent exactly five residents. The article continues by noting that the overall county voter registration had declined by several hundred since the presidential election of 1904, which would mean, by their logic, that people were actually leaving Sonoma County in droves.

The Total Assessed Valuation After Deductions are Made by the City Board of Equalization Recently in Session

From the recapitulation of the figures compiled by City Assessor Henry Silvershield and after the deductions made by the City Board of Equalization, it was announced last night at the Council meeting that the total assessed valuation of property in Santa Rosa is $4,524,742. Last year the assessed valuation was $4,754,712.

In making the deductions on account of the destruction on April 18, a basis of fifty per cent reduction on personal property and the same on real estate has been followed in the burned and wrecked district.

But for the disaster on the date mentioned the assessment roll for this year would have shown a great increase over the previous year. The figures given above show for themselves.

– Press Democrat, July 25, 1906
Some Odds and Ends Gathered From County Assessor Dowd’s Big Assessment Roll for 1906

Two thousand five hundred and ninety watches were assessed by County Assessor Dowd in Sonoma County this year; 6,560 gallons of brandy, 750,000 gallons of wine, 1,000 pounds of hops, 45 bee hives, 6 traction engines, 8,120 wagons and other vehicles, 120 tons of hay, 2,400 pounds of wool, 1,960 cords of wood, 65 tons of coal, 1,115,000 feet of lumber, 285 typewriters, 2,700 bicycles, 1,147 firearms, 13,470 sewing machines, etc.

– Press Democrat, August 1, 1906

Registration Shows a Marked Gain In Two Years
The City Now Has 10,990 as Compared to 9,830, Making an Increase of 1,160 Despite the Frightful April Disaster

According to the registration of voters in Santa Rosa this year there has been an increase of population during the past two years despite the April Disaster. There was a total of 1,966 voters registered here two years ago, and this year the total reaches 2,198, an increase of 232. These figures mean that the population of this city is now 10,990 as compared to 9,830 this time two years ago

The total registration in the county has fallen slightly below that of two years ago, when a presidential contest was bein waged, and this was to be expected. The total for the county will be about 10,000, while two years ago there was several hundred over this number…

– Press Democrat, September 30, 1906

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The first archival materials posted to the Comstock House electronic library are the January 1904 and November 1905 Press Democrat special sections promoting Sonoma County, which were primarily sent outside the region in hopes of luring new residents and businesses. Heavy with (mostly true) data, these inserts are a great starting point for anyone interested in the era just before the Great Quake.

Predictably there were items on industry and farming (“Manufactures Fast Increasing,” “Round About Us Orchards Sweep”) and boasts about the quality of local schools, medical care, transportation, and even hunting (“Where the Wild Goose Honks High”). Churches were given prominent mention, but more space overall went to wineries and saloons. There were photographs of dimly-lit hardware and drug store interiors, race horses standing awkwardly still, and many oval portraits of businessmen, most of whom, I’m sure, were coincidentally Press Democrat advertisers.

The greatest value in these sections may be in what they tell us about the smaller, outlying towns that were rarely mentioned otherwise in the newspapers. Land in Cotati was selling for $45-100 an acre, and the new county road connecting the village to Santa Rosa and Petaluma has been built (there’s even a picture). Green Valley – which would be renamed Graton in 1906 – boasted of “Piney Woods,” a 40-acre grove popular for picnics that the owner fancied to be a zoological park with pet deer, a raccoon, a pair of monkeys, and a brown bear.

Aside from a few creative headlines (“Where Hums The Busy Honey Bee”), though, there’s little entertainment here that hasn’t been already mined: See earlier posts on French Louie, the frog king and the summer Saturday nights downtown, where we all met to listen to the band as the out-of-towners leered at our hatless girls.

As the flip books for these entries are full-size newspaper pages, some of the text may be hard or impossible to read, even when magnified. To view a higher resolution copy of any page as a PDF file, select the page number from the popup in the lower right of the frame and click on “RAW PDF.” For more information, see the description of how to use flip books in the previous post.

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This survey of the 1904 Santa Rosa newspapers ends with 45 posts, 39 on them on distinct topics.

Two types of stories will never be included here unexpurgated: Suicides (at least, the successful ones) and bouts of insanity, although both were mainstays of the old papers. Sorry, but no one casually searching the web for their family surname deserves to stumble upon the horrific description of an ancestor writhing in pain after swallowing carbolic acid. That said, there were two stories from 1904 that lingered on my desk and deserve semi-anonymous mention, both for the poignancy of the tale and the writer’s talent in the telling.

The first appeared in the Press Democrat Feb. 16, with the irresistible headline, “BRIDE OF WEEK A RAVING MANIAC.” The poor woman really hadn’t gone Freddy-Kruger, of course, but had become delusional. “…The attending physician could see no hope for her but to remove her to a place where she could be given the attention given persons who mental faculties have become shadowed…her friends are extremely sorry.”

The March 6 PD sketched a story that intrigues: Only a few days after an Alexander Valley man committed suicide, a wealthy son from one of the earliest and most well-known white families in the county stood on his front porch and pressed the barrel of a rifle against his chest. He died instantly, even as his unsuspecting wife and a woman guest were inside the home. “…He was undoubtedly temporarily insane, as was the case with the other tragic death,” opined the Press Democrat writer. “These seem to be days of suicides, days fraught with unbalancing of mentality.”

There were at least 21 references of Mr/Mrs. Oates in the Press Democrat’s “Personal Mention” column. Most were business trips by Wyatt to San Francisco, Healdsburg, or Sebastopol, but on Feb. 6 he was a “party patron” and on Nov. 1 he was “seriously indisposed with stomach troubles.” The last mention of Comstock House in 1904 was Sept. 15, when the PD reported “good progress is being made with the foundation.”

Some notes for future reference: Santa Rosa’s 1904 population was about 9,000, with 725 telephones. 39 of 40 potential jurors listed their profession as farmer. A December vote for a $75,000 bond for the overcrowded Santa Rosa schools failed to pass.

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