Santa Rosa is going to pave your street soon but unfortunately you, dear homeowner, will be paying for it.

Those were the rules during the early 1910s in Santa Rosa, and doubtless elsewhere. The town owned the streets as well as the water/sewer lines beneath and maintained them, insofar as a water wagon roamed around during warm weather sprinkling down the dust. But if you wanted pavement – or to be clear, if a majority of neighbors on the street wanted it – please make your check payable to the city, cash also accepted (I’m sure).

Today it may seem bizarre to expect residents would pay for street paving, but it wasn’t so odd in the context of the times. Homeowners were also required to provide sidewalks, which meant losing several feet of your front yard to public access – and maybe the side yard as well, if the house was on a corner – and hiring a cement contractor, lest the town have someone do the work at your expense. (Gripes about the sidewalk issue were heard regularly by the city council, as described in an earlier article). Likewise paved streets were not desired by everyone; they were great if you had a car and didn’t want it to sink up to its axles in winter mud, but auto owners were still a minority in 1913. Pavement even could be a hazard for horses, as that spring Earl LeDue was on his colt riding home from the high school on Humboldt street when the horse slipped on the slick street and fell on him, badly breaking the boy’s leg.

Earl’s accident happened on Mendocino avenue near downtown, which we know because the pavement ended at the College ave. intersection. Beyond that, “at present the street north of College avenue is anything but inviting for driving, owing to its roughness in dry weather and muddy condition in wet seasons,” according to a Press Democrat article from the previous year.

These 1903 photos, probably taken on a windy spring day, show the unpaved street. The picture on the right provides a glimpse of the Paxton House, the lost Brainerd Jones mansion. Beyond that is a partial view of the Lumsden House, today known as the Belvedere.
Photos courtesy Sonoma County Library

 Mendocino avenue was slated to be part of the state’s first highway system which was then in the planning stage – but conditions were “almost impassible,” according to the city attorney, who told the city council that something had to be done immediately. That lawyer happened to be James Wyatt Oates, past president of the Sonoma County Automobile Association, avid automobilist and owner of a home on that street (which would become known as Comstock House).

At Oates’ urging the council held a special meeting a few days later and agreed Santa Rosa couldn’t wait for the state to take over responsibility for the street a year or more in the future, even though paving this stretch of Mendocino Ave. would be far more expensive than the average residential street; at the time it varied between 63-65 feet wide. “Should there be an effective protest it will only delay the work six months,” the PD reported, “as under the charter the council the authority to force the work after six months elapses in case of protest.” In other words: Pay or move.

We don’t know how much property owners were charged for the paving, but in 1911 when Mendocino avenue was paved from Fifth street to College avenue, the presbyterian church decided to sell the building housing their charitable operation because of the “very heavy expense to be incurred for street paving,” according to the local church history.1

Their building was in the triangle formed by the Mendocino / College / Healdsburg avenues intersection, which today is noted for a piece of art. (A Google search for the artist along with the sculpture’s name – spelled both “WholeSome” and “Whole Some” by the city and its maker – returns about 41 unique hits, demonstrating the popular appeal of this “distinctive visual landmark for the entrance into the city center,” which will continue to inspire us all for many, many, many years as we wait for the light to change.)

There the church had a building known as the “Chinese Mission”, which served to educate – and presumably, Christianize – young Asian immigrants. According to the church history their missionary work started around 1876 “when the Chinese population was relatively large” and the church bought the building in 1883, apparently expecting to serve an ever-growing immigrant community. They couldn’t have been more wrong; the Chinese Exclusion Act passed by Congress the previous year effectively ended Chinese immigration to the U.S. In the years following, racist anti-Chinese fever raged hot it Santa Rosa, with a banner hung over the Mendocino/ Fourth Street intersection just a few blocks from the Mission reading “THE CHINESE MUST GO. WE MEAN STRICTLY BUSINESS.” (MORE). From a peak of forty students there were “about 12 Japanese and one Corean” [sic] twenty years later. At its 1912 closing the Press Democrat noted there were only about “three or four who use the Mission at all.”2

The new owner of the Mission property was Raford Peterson, perhaps the county’s largest hops grower. Just a few weeks before the Great Earthquake, Peterson bought several lots on the northwest corner of the intersection. Just a door down from the corner at #451 College he built a modest home which, believe-it-or-not, is still there, hiding. The front was modernized as an office building sometime in the late 60s or early 70s, but you can see the original bones of the place from the rear. It is currently the offices of Gehrke Realty.

So what did Raford (also spelled Rayford) Peterson (also spelled Petersen) and wife Cornelia (“Nellie”) want with an odd-shaped lot on another corner of the intersection? He already owned the house next door at 611 Mendocino ave, where his son, Wilson, lived with his family. Did he plan to merge the lots? Apparently not – it appears he just wanted the old Mission building.

As no photographs or descriptions of the building survive, all we know is gleaned from the fire maps – that it was a single story and rectangular. It was certainly old, since the church began using in 1883, but we don’t know how old. It must have been pretty nice, however, because Peterson had it moved next door to his own house, right on the corner, where he had recently torn down another house. He left the triangular original location undeveloped to serve as a little park, which made the park-crazy Press Democrat very happy.

When Raford died in 1914 widow Nellie moved into the former Mission, which now had the address of #701 Mendocino ave (the same address as the present Chevron gas station). She was there at least through 1930, when she can be spotted in the census living with her grandsons.

All said, the old Mission had a unique place in Santa Rosa’s history; not only was it something of a sanctuary for immigrants at a time when they were widely hated outside its doors, it was likely the only building that occupied two corners of the same intersection. Such a pity that no picture exists.

Next in the 1912 neighborhood series: The Children of Jeremiah Ridgway.

1 Sweet, Julia Goodyear; Seventy-five years of presbyterianism: compiled for the Diamond Jubilee Celebration of Presbyterian Work in Santa Rosa, California; Press Democrat, 1930.

2 A Press Democrat article below states the property was “bequeathed to the Presbyterian Church in the ’70’s from the Rev. F. M. Dimmick, pastor at that time of the church,” but is incorrect. The church history details that most of the $1,000 to purchase it came from East Coast donations.


Raford Peterson, the well known hop man, has purchased the splendid lot at the northwest corner of Healdsburg avenue and College avenue. The former residence that adorned the lot is being moved around to make room for a handsome residence the hop man will erect there for himself and family. He is one of Sonoma County’s most enterprising men, and many friends will be glad to know that shortly he will be a resident of Santa Rosa as well as being a business man here,

Mr. Peterson stated today that he did not know just when he would begin building, but he may undertake the matter in the near future. When he does build, the public may expect to see one of the handsomest residences in the City of Roses on the site he has purchased.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 30, 1906

Chinese Mission Property on Mendocino Avenue Has Been Sold to Raford Peterson

The old Chinese Mission property at the intersection of Mendocino and Healdsburg avenues and Lincoln street owned by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, has been sold and will be improved.

The purchaser is Raford W. Peterson, who owns the adjoining property occupied by Wilson Peterson. He will remove the building, which as been used as a Mission, enlarge his present lot and improve the remainder and allow it to be used as a public square.

The property was bequeathed to the Presbyterian Church in the ’70’s from the Rev. F. M. Dimmick, pastor at that time of the church. Mrs. E. P. Wilson has been superintendent of the Chinese mission work in Santa Rosa since 1876, and at times there have been very large numbers of Orientals under instruction, but of late years the number dwindled down until at present there are but three or four who use the Mission at all.

– Press Democrat, January 14, 1912


The old Chinese Presbyterian Mission, which has occupied the lot at Mendocino avenue and Joe Davis street at the intersection of Lincoln for 25 years or more, is being dismantled and is to be moved to the vacant lot on College avenue adjoining R. W. Petersen’s residence. The lot, it is understood, is to be fixed up as a pretty little park site. This will add materially to the appearance of the corner and make it one of the most attractive in the city.


Campbell & Coffey, the marble men of this city have completed the work of placing marble steps at the entrance to the handsome cottage of Dr. S. M. Rohr, at College and Mendocino avenues. The steps are ten feet and six inches wide and five steps high. It makes a near and attractive finish to the front of the structure.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 19, 1912


Raford W. Peterson, who purchased the old Chinese Mission at the corner of Mendocino and Healdsburg avenues at Lincoln street, has removed the old structure to the lot adjoining his home on College avenue and the lot has been cleared and leveled ready to be beautified. The change is a marked improvement in the locality which will be increased when the site is prettily parked.

– Press Democrat, April 9, 1912

City Attorney J. W. Oates called attention to the almost impasible condition of Mendocino avenue on behalf of property owners on that thoroughfare and asked that some steps be taken to put the street in better condition until it is known how the State highway is to be constructed and then the property owners desire to continue the same character of pavement from the city limits to College Avenue.

– Press Democrat item on City Council summary, February 19, 1913


The immediate permanent improvement of Mendocino avenue from College avenue to the city limits was informally agreed upon by the city council at the special meeting held on Thursday evening. The plan is to grade the street, lay concrete curbs and gutters and a substantial pavement upon a heavy concret foundation.

The movement has the approval of a large number of property owners on the thoroughfare and will be very heartily welcomed by all who have occasion to use the street for a long time. Many of those who previously opposed improving the street are now warm advocates of the work.

Attorney J. W. Oates, who at a recent meeting of the council asked that temporary repairs be made and permanent work be held up until the State highway is completed, has now taken a stand for immediate improvement and will lend his encouragement in getting others who were standing out to join in the crusade for a good street.

A petition will be circulated at once for signatures by the property owners, and it will be presented to the council at the earliest possible date. Should there be an effective protest it will only delay the work six months, as under the charter the council the authority to force the work after six months elapses in case of protest, and it was agreed that such action should be taken in the case of Mendocino avenue if objection is urged. It is confidently believed that there will be no opposition at this time.

– Press Democrat, February 28, 1913

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Here’s how the Chamber of Commerce wanted to beautify Santa Rosa in 1912. Step #1: Get rid of those big trees lining Mendocino Ave. Step #2: Replace with palms, all the same size and the same distance apart.

(RIGHT: The present corner of Mendocino Avenue and 7th Street looking in the direction of College Avenue, c. 1905. The large house nearest the camera would be the current location of the Trek Bicycle Store. Photo courtesy Larry Lepeere collection)

Santa Rosa has always shown a willingness – nay, eagerness – to trash its own heritage when it stands in the way of progress. Sometimes “progress” is the justification for following a popular trend and as palm trees were quite the rage at the time, the Chamber of Commerce promoted a plan to fill the entire length of Mendocino Avenue with them.

“Mendocino avenue is the main thoroughfare north and south through the city and has on it some of the handsomest homes in the city, so it is only natural that is should be made one of the best so that strangers passing through town will take away a fine impression of the city,” the Press Democrat cheered. Apparently PD editor Ernest Finley feared motorists would go home and tell their friends, “Santa Rosa’s an alright place, I guess, except there’s not enough contrived landscaping to my taste.”

This wasn’t the first local case of palm tree fever. The year before, the Board of Supervisors endorsed a scheme to plant date palms all along the highway that was then in the planning stage. As Mendocino Avenue would be a portion of this new highway, it makes a certain bit of sense that it should match. But unlike portions of the road that would pass through farmlands, the plan here was to tear out mature trees. Click or tap on the photo to the right to enlarge and some of the trees in the distance must be 30+ years old – and the picture probably was taken years before the palm frenzy peaked.

That image also shows, however, why it could be argued the plan was somewhat forgivable; people were planting palm trees anyway and doing a bum job of it. Three, maybe four varieties are seen in the photo ranging in style from squat to spindly, which together makes it look like a patch of tall weeds (no argument from me there). And this sort of willy-nilly palm planting was underway all over Santa Rosa during the early years of the century; there’s hardly a street scene snapshot to be found from this period where there is not some forlorn palm or three to be spotted by the curbside (here’s another example from about a block away).

One of the articles transcribed below mentions the work should be done soon in order for the town to look its best for the upcoming Panama-Pacific Exposition (PPIE) in San Francisco. This is the first mention of Santa Rosa specifically planning for the 1915 mega-event, and “the attraction Santa Rosa will be for the great crowds of visitors during the exposition year.” What “attraction” the Chamber of Commerce hoped would draw hordes of tourists here was not spelled out, but it’s a safe bet they were thinking of Luther Burbank. If so, they were about to be disappointed; Burbank’s company was planning on advertising “Luther Burbank’s Exhibition Garden” near Hayward specifically to lure fans away from trekking to Santa Rosa and bothering the famous man. (UPDATE: A 1913 PD article confirms that yes, the Chamber was expecting Burbank to be the town’s star attraction, with tourists also drawn “on account of the fame the city has gained as the scene of many rose carnival triumphs in the past.”)

While here, though, out-of-towners could admire our new palm trees, all exactly alike. Visitors could scratch their heads and wonder why a town like this was trying so hard to look like it was next door to San Diego or somewhere else with a semi-tropical clime.

Improvements Being Carried Out on Mendocino Avenue North of College Avenue

Property owners on Mendocino avenue from College avenue to the city limits are planning to improve that street this summer. Already those on the west side of the block from College to Carrillo have removed most of the large elm trees and planted out palms which will make the thoroughfare a palm avenue if the work is continued.

Now the property owners, R. W. Peterson, H. H. Elliott, D. J. Paddock and W. H. Lumsden have begun the work of laying a concrete curb and gutter. This part of the work will be extended rapidly on both sides of the street as the city is assisting in the work by furnishing the gravel required and hauling away the dirt which it is necessary to remove. Other property owners have already signified their intention of continuing the work as soon as the first block is completed.

Mendocino avenue is the main thoroughfare north and south through the city and has on it some of the handsomest homes in the city, so it is only natural that is should be made one of the best so that strangers passing through town will take away a fine impression of the city. With the bitumen from the courthouse to College avenue extended to the city limits the street will be one of the most desirable residence sections of the city and make it a popular drive. At present the street north of College avenue is anything but inviting for driving, owing to its roughness in dry weather and muddy condition in wet seasons.

– Press Democrat, March 21, 1912

The further beautifying of Santa Rosa by the planting of palms along the streets, at uniform distance, and of uniform variety, met with very hearty endorsement at the meeting of the Woman’s Improvement Club, of which Mrs. Herbert H. Moke is president, held in this city on Monday afternoon.

Dr. P. A. Meneray and Max Rosenberg addressed the Club on the subject of palm planting and pointed out the charms of parking in the beautifying of any city. At the last meeting of the Chamber of Commerce the plan was endorsed.

Mrs. Moke and Mrs. John Rinner were named a special committee to call upon Luther Burbank and ask for his opinion regarding the best variety of palm to plant. The Club will also district of the city [sic] and have committees call upon property owners and solicit their co-operation in the campaign for palm planting. They will ascertain the names of those who will be willing to pay for the planting and purchase of the showy foliage. The plan is to plant one palm every fifty feet so that it can be readily seen that the cost will be very little.

With the approach of the Panama-Pacific Exposition and the attraction Santa Rosa will be for the great crowds of visitors during the exposition year, it is conceded that the making of the city as attractive as possible by that time should commence as soon as possible, and the planting of palms is a good start. With the backing of the energetic women forming the Improvement Club the scheme is sure to be successful.

– Press Democrat, December 10, 1912


A great plan of beautifying the city by the systematic planting of palms along the sidewalks, producing a park effect that will at once be a delight and an inspiration, is to be impressed upon the people of Santa Rosa through the co-operation of the Woman’s Improvement Club and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. The idea is to have Santa Rosa look as attractive as possible by the time of the holding of the 1915 Exposition when many hundreds of strangers will come within our gates, lured here by the fact that Santa Rosa is the home and work place of the greatest of scientific horticulturists, Luther Burbank, and also on account of the fame the city has gained as the scene of many rose carnival triumphs in the past.

The suggestion for palm planting in Santa Rosa has been urged for a long time but recently was given fresh impetus…the committee decided to recommend the Dracena, commonly known as the “Dragon palm” as the best for sidewalk planting. Another suggestion is that the Canary palm or orange or lemon trees are suitable for the yards so as to produce a tropical and delightful effect.

The joint committee hopes that people all over Santa Rosa will co-operate in this plan for the adornment of the city. They hope, too, that orders for the palms and trees will be left with the Chamber of Commerce. The palms can be obtained at a considerable reduction of cost if purchased to large quantities by the Chamber of Commerce for the purposes named.

Not only is Santa Rosa preparing to beautify for the world’s fair crowds but all over the State the same idea prevails and in many other places just such spirit prevails.

– Press Democrat, February 15, 1913

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It’s election day, 1910: Will you vote for California to create a state highway system? It’s not an easy decision.

Another use for the modern automobile: Dressing it up as a parade float. Florence Edwards, wife of Santa Rosa mayor James Edwards, and her sister Katherine Rockwell driving their entry in the 1910 Santa Rosa Rose Carnival. Underneath all those blossoms was a 1909 or 1910 model Buick Model 10 Runabout, which was a 22.5 horsepower three-seater (there was a “mother-in-law” seat in the rear not visible in this image). The local Buick dealer was Santa Rosa Garage at 216 B Street. Photo courtesy Rockwell family archives 

There were now three auto dealerships in downtown Santa Rosa and judging by the large, expensive ads crowding the pages of both local papers in 1910, the town was more car crazy than ever. Buying a car was usually no longer a newsworthy item, but the gossip columns kept track of whom was driving where for whatever. The first auto fatality was also recorded that year; a nine-year old boy was killed by an auto at the corner of Third and B. The coroner’s jury found the driver blameless – the child simply dashed in front of the car without looking.

But the most significant event of the year was the upcoming vote on the State Highways Act. California voters were being asked to approve a state bond for a jaw-dropping $18 million that would last until the futuristic year of 1961. The bond would pay for the construction of two highways running north-south. One would follow the the Central Valley through Sacramento, becoming more-or-less the route of today’s I-5; the other highway route would be “along the Pacific coast,” although it was left undetermined if that would be a true coastal road such as modern highway 1 or follow the trail of El Camino Real, becoming highway 101. “Several county seats lying east and west” of each highway were promised connections via new branch roads.

At this point, Gentle Reader’s mouse finger is probably getting twitchy; reading about old state bond measures sounds just about as boring as, well, reading about old state bond measures. But there is a point to be made and hopefully you’ll stick around for a few more paragraphs.

James Wyatt Oates, president of the Sonoma County Automobile Association, wrote a lengthy defense of the Act in the Santa Rosa Republican. He argued the new system would probably be more cost-effective (while admitting he didn’t know how much was currently being spent on county roads) and that the system would end the haphazard local maintenance (while overlooking it would be up to the same locals to maintain any new state road construction, and doing so without state financial help).

There were loopholes and other unsavory details in the Act that Oates neglected to mention but were being hotly debated in newspapers around the state. Warnings were sounded over the politically-appointed advisory board that determined the exact locations of the new roads; they would be wielding enormous political power – a sensitive issue in California, which was still trying to wriggle out from under the cloven hoof of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

There was particular concern over the repayment demands. Whenever any bond money was spent in a county, it was required to pay four percent back to the state (the amount of interest paid on the bonds). That sounds fair on paper, but consider that neither highway would cross through bridge-less San Francisco County – the wealthiest part of California – so the region most likely to profit from the new intrastate road system would pay little or nothing. Counties in the path of the highways might gain an income windfall for turning county roads over to state ownership, but that would create holy hell in Los Angeles County, which had recently sold $3.5 million in road bonds; paying the state its four percent for roadwork plus the interest due from those earlier bonds meant that Los Angelenos would be double-taxed. There were many poor, eastern counties such as Amador complaining they would see no benefit at all because they were too far away from the action. For these reasons and more, opposition was stiff. The popular California Good Roads Association and the Automobile club of Southern California campaigned against approval.

With all that it mind, let’s pretend it’s the morning of November 8, 1910, and you are an average Santa Rosa voter (meaning, you are male and have a receipt showing you’ve paid the poll tax). How will you vote?

Before marking the ballot yes or no, further consider this: You and yours can’t expect to personally ever enjoy the new road system. The average household income in 1910 Santa Rosa was around $600, which meant that a car big enough to seat your family would cost around two full years’ pay. Even the tiny Buick runabout shown in the picture above was out of reach (it sold for $900). Yes, the situation would change in the near future, thanks to Henry Ford; five years later, a new Ford would cost as low as $360, making autos affordable to nearly everyone – but 1910 voters couldn’t see into the future. So while the new highways might offer local advantages in trucking crops to market and such, cruising around the Golden State on those endless miles of beautiful fresh pavement was a pleasure reserved for the wealthy. People like James Wyatt Oates, relentless crusader for more roads.

Come election day, Los Angeles voted against it 3 to 1. It won 55 percent approval in Sonoma County and passed statewide.

Passage of the State Highways Act bond was a turning point in California’s history; it’s impossible to imagine the state would have experienced its later decades of explosive growth and agricultural development without those major north-south arteries. Sure, had it failed to pass, the WPA might well have built similar highways 25 years later – or just maybe we would have been stuck with a fractious system of county toll roads that evolved in its absence.

Yet it’s also hard to see California voters approving something like the State Highways Act today. That $18 million might not sound like much to our ears, but it was an enormous sum at the time; with inflation it works out to $8.6 billion in modern dollars, equal to about three-fourths of all California state bonds sold last year. Every special interest in the state would now fiercely lobby against such a proposition simply because it would suck all the air out of the investor’s bank vaults.

Still believe the Act would be approved by modern-day voters? Compare criticism against it in 1910 to recent arguments against funding the SMART trains. Just as then, SMART opponents charged the project is a boondoggle, that it will benefit only a privileged few, that the choices for the route (train stops) will be decided on political favoritism, that it can’t be completed as promised without additional rounds of future funding. It took two attempts to gain voter approval for SMART and it nearly faced a recall. Think back over all those years of heated struggle on SMART funding, then realize that cockfight was squabbling about two percent the relative size of the State Highways Act bond.

The 1910 Act passed because it won approval in counties that expected to gain state highway status – Los Angeles excepted – with a big boost from San Francisco, which at the time had a quarter of the state population. It should be noted, too, that 1910 was near the peak of the Progressive Era, when many people eyed civic betterment as more important than “what was in it for them.”

Skeptics were right, however, in predicting the State Highways Act bond would fall short on money. Additional bonds were passed in 1915 and 1919 to complete the work. Over the course of that decade Sonoma County built roads in a frenzy; by 1913, Santa Rosa was spending over $28,000 a year for highways – among the highest of California cities of its size – and the county was spending almost as much on new roads as larger Alameda County and far more than Marin. For better or ill, Sonoma County was among the vanguard in subsidizing the car culture using public funds.

Roads in Marin County From San Rafael to Sausalito Are to be Improved Soon

Santa Rosa autoists as well as those on all sides of the bay will be glad to know that through the efforts of the automobile owners of San Francisco and Marin county, aided by the proper authorities, steps are to be taken very soon to improve the roads in Marin county, particularly from San  Rafael to Sausalito, a road much used but in a very bad condition.

The Sonoma County Automobile Association, of which Colonel James W. Oates is president, will shortly take up some active work for the improvement of certain roads in the county. The Ukiah Good Roads Association, as has been stated heretofore, is doing fine work on the roads from the Sonoma county line northward to Ukiah. Already they have held two “good roads” days, and the members of the club have turned out in full force to help in the repair work on the roads.

– Press Democrat, April 29, 1910
Splendid Time in Prospect–Anyone Favoring Good Roads Can Join the Association

Today the much anticipated outing, annual meeting and bull’s head breakfast under the auspices of the Sonoma County Automobile Association of which Colonel Jas. W. Oates is president, occurs in Bosworth’s Grove at Geyserville.

All members of the Association and their families are expected to be present as well as all others who become members of the Association prior to twelve o’clock noon–you can join on the field–when the big feast will commence. Anyone interested in good roads, whether he or she be owner of an automobile or not, may become a member of the Association, a prime move of which is to encourage the building of good roads throughout the state.

There will be all kinds of good things on hand for the breakfast menu. The Bismark Cafe proprietors, Bertolani Brothers, have charge of the feast, and they have secured the services of a special Spanish cook of note who will superintend affairs. Saturday night a staff of seven men left here for Bosworth’s Grove so as to get everything in readiness, for the grand breakfast will be enjoyed under the shade trees. The thoughts of that perfectly good feed should be an inspiration to membership in the Association, let alone the splendid object that is to be the strong feature of the meeting following the breakfast, that of boosting good roads.

– Press Democrat, June 5, 1910

Synopsis of “State Highway Act” Now Pending

Santa Rosa, Oct. 19, 1910

I have been requested to give a synopsis of the “State Highway Act,” now pending and to be voted on by the people at the November election.

This act, speaking generally, provides:

1–For the issuing by the state of eighteen million dollars of bonds in serials, to fall due in equal amounts each year until 1961.

2–The funds raised from the sale of these bonds are to be for the construction of two main highways, one to run through the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, and from the Mexican line to the Oregon line; the other to run through the coast counties, both running north and south, and to connect every shire, or country town in the state.

3–These highways are to be constructed under the management and control of a state engineer.

4–The state pays the principal of these bonds by general taxation.

5–These bonds are to bear interest at a rate not over four per cent per annum, and each county in which any part of such highway is constructed is to pay the interest on the bonds represented by the amount of such highway fund expended in constructing such highway in such county.

6–After the construction of any highway inside a county, the management and control of the same is to be turned over by the state to the county in which it lies.

There are other provisions in the act, but they, in the main, deal with mere methods of procedure in putting the act into operation and for paying the bonds.

The way this act would operate in this country would be about this:

The only roads we have that would come under the operation of this act are the present ones from the Marin county line through Petaluma and Santa Rosa to the Mendocino county line, that from Santa Rosa through Sonoma to the Napa county line, and possibly from Cloverdale to the Lake county line.

These roads are now and have been for many years, county highways in more or less good condition, but never, within my knowledge, have they ever been in good condition throughout at the same time.

The construction of the state highway along these routes would be in all probability, by no means the same or as costly as the construction of new roads. In many places they would require much less work than in a new construction so that much of the expense of constructing new roads could be saved. All this, however, would depend upon whether the roads would be entirely reconstructed, and this is a matter of detail to be determined later by the proper authority.

To illustrate, we will say such construction within our county should cost $100,000 of this highway fund. When completed the roads would be turned over to the county government, and the latter would thenceforward have to pay the interest on $100,000 of the bonds, which would not be over $4000 per year at first, and would gradually grow less as the state paid off the principal of the bonds, till in the end the amount would be very small. The county, however, would have to keep up the roads.

From the Marin line to the Mendocino line, and from Santa Rosa by Sonoma to the Napa line is approximately 86 miles of road.

I have tried to find out how much money is spent each year on these roads, but from the present system it is almost impossible to do so. It would not, however, be far from the mark to say that such expenditure is annually not far from $4000 each year, which is the amount we would have to pay at first as interest on the bonds. Under the present system the results are by no means satisfactory. It is not much more than mere patchwork, at best. The system in inefficient and wasteful. Once a good road is constructed, the keeping of it in repair in a good system would not be very costly. Most of the nations of Europe have solved the trouble by letting a good road out to the lowest bidder for a term of years to keep it in good condition, and putting the contractor under bonds. One having a contract say on twelve miles of road, could watch it and by proper care keep it in complete repair at a nominal cost to him and make the upkeep to the county also much less than is expended now in patchwork, with the result of good roads all the time, instead of bad ones most of the time.

The economic advantages of better roads than we have had in America is just now attracting the attention of the people all over the Union; in fact the good roads movement is now on and will continue until a better system of construction and preservation is attained.

Some object to this “State Highway Act” because it is thought it might be better to have such portions of those highways constructed under county control. There are some advantages that might result from county construction, but the disadvantages greatly outweigh them. Inder that idea each county would have its own system of construction, and we would have nearly as many kinds of roads as we have counties. It would result in a huge piece of patchwork, and much of it, no doubt, would be a failure. Constructed under state control we would have at least uniformity of plan, construction and result; and it strikes me we can get that result in no other way. That this is a controlling consideration is obvious.

This plan is intended and will operate as an entering wedge for an improved road system in this state. With such highways through a county lie benefits and economic worth will soon be so manifest as to lead to similar treatment of all other roads in the county, from time to time, as the county can get at them. No one can rationally expect any system of good roads to be adopted and applied to all roads at once. A beginning must be made somewhere on some road, while other roads must wait their turn. In this way those fortunate enough to live on or near the first ones improved would reap an advantage, but under any system such would be the case. Unless some main roads are used for a beginning, all the roads will continue to be as they are.

The people vote in November on this “State Highway Act”; they can vote it up or vote it down; if they vote it up we have taken a long step towards bettering road conditions in the entire state. If they vote it down, we will have to continue to do the best we can with the road system as we have it.


– Santa Rosa Republican, October 21, 1910

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