WHEN OUR FUTURE DERAILED

Try to imagine the West Coast criss-crossed by electric streetcars. You could hop aboard a trolley in Santa Rosa and maybe step off in Sacramento a block from Aunt Mabel’s house, or you might start the weekend early by visiting friends in Oakland so the next morning you can all take a streetcar directly to the new amusement boardwalk at Santa Cruz. A world awaits.

Advertisement from the November 26, 1911 Press Democrat

 

 

Such was the bright future that seemed inevitable between about 1905 and 1910. Probably every cosmopolitan area in the country had an electric trolley system that offered an easy way to move around a city and its outlying towns. What later became known as the Key System served every community along the East Bay shore down to Hayward; the Northern Electric connected Sacramento and Chico and all the small valley towns in between, as just a couple of examples. Locally our interurban system was the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway, which carried our great-grandparents between those towns as well as to Graton and Sebastopol and forgotten country crossroads such as Liberty (about 1.5 miles west of the Petaluma Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze).

And it was only getting better. Everywhere existing “traction systems” (the formal name) were adding new routes and equally important, making deals to link up with other systems; Northern Electric would soon stretch down to the East Bay, sharing tracks and electricity with the Key System. There was talk about forming great interstate networks and maybe even a transcontinental route.

Thus there was excitement but no great surprise when it was reported in 1908 that plans were underway to build an electric railroad from Marin county to Lake Tahoe, with a spur stretching to Petaluma and Santa Rosa. Despite assurances by Bay Area newspapers including the Press Democrat and Santa Rosa Republican, the deal died quickly, not least because it required $12,000,000 from investors in one of the tightest economies in the nation’s history; it was only a year past the bank panic of 1907 which saw the U.S. financial system near collapse, and no one was in the mood to gamble on risky projects. Nor did it help that the mastermind behind it was Richard M. Hotaling, a San Francisco playboy who knew nothing about railroads, or for that matter, business.*

But aside from Hotaling’s complete lack of business acumen and the wildly ambitious scope of building a Lake Tahoe road, the deal wasn’t that unusual. Typically a group of investors formed a new company to build a specific small railroad. Bonds were offered for sale, and from the newspaper announcements it seems the company claimed work would be completed with remarkable (and improbable) speed and/or the hardest phase of construction was already finished. When they inevitably ran out of money or faced some sort of serious obstacle, work stopped and didn’t resume for months, years, or maybe ever. It was pay-as-you-go railroad tycooning.

Hotaling had also fizzled in trying to start a railroad company in 1905; that time he planned an electric line from Sausalito to Lakeport via Napa. The road was projected to cost up to $15 million, even more than he would later guesstimate to reach Lake Tahoe. Today it may seem like a crummy investment, but in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, it would have had great appeal for one reason alone: It reached Clear Lake, which was the Holy Grail for railroaders. At the time there was not a single railroad track of any kind in Lake county. Everyone went in and out of the area via bumpy stagecoach until 1907, when a company started offering bumpy auto transport between Calistoga and Middletown. And everyone, it seems, wanted to go to Lake county.

Lake county was then being promoted as the “Switzerland of America” (never mind that Colorado claimed the same after the Civil War, and New Hampshire used the motto a half-century before that) and its mineral spring resorts were world famous. Tens of thousands of visitors spent weeks there every summer. You rubbed elbows with royalty and world leaders; you could watch a boxing champion train at one resort and his upcoming challenger spar at another. The most opulent of the resorts, Bartlett Springs, was virtually a small city, accommodating  up to 5,000 guests and an even larger staff. It had a casino, gourmet European chefs, a resident orchestra, five hotels and hundreds of cabins. The Lake county Chamber of Commerce wrote a history of the resorts with a vivid (if somewhat purple) description:

Turrets and towers reaching nearly to the sky, adorned the multicolored flags waving festively in the mountain breezes, loomed high above the stately evergreen forests in which they were centered. These luxury hotels or baronial castles featured every type of architecture-from the airy Swiss Chalet style, Victorian, with accommodations for 500 or more persons in the main hotel buildings. Often these resorts would have their main hotel and several secondary or smaller hotels that could accommodate from 200 to 300 persons. Also dozens of individual housekeeping cottages, annexes, dormitory type buildings and even extensive campground facilities. Posh casinos, mirrored ballrooms, brocade and satin upholstered salons, music halls redolent with gold leaf and formal dining rooms gleaming with silver and crystal were just some of the luxuries offered the clientele.

My lord, it sounded like a county full of Disneylands.

Plans to construct some type of a railroad into Lake county went back to 1869. According to county histories, companies were also founded to lay tracks in 1896, 1900, 1903, two in 1905 (not counting Hotaling’s plan) and 1907. Hey, want to lose money on a sure thing? I’ve got some Lake county railroad bonds I’d like to sell you.

(RIGHT: Proposed Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad route map that appeared several times in the Press Democrat, 1910-1911)

Then come 1908, both Santa Rosa papers herald yet another Lake train scheme. The difference this time is that the 56-mile electric line was to be built by a Santa Rosa company: The Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad, headed by William Reynolds – who was also president of the Santa Rosa Bank. Hearing Reynolds’ presentation to the Chamber of Commerce were many of Santa Rosa’s real estate and investment heavy hitters.

Little was written of the project until almost exactly a year later, when the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce heard another pitch. This time it was from a group of Lake county investors with a company called Highland Pacific that proposed their own Lakeport to Santa Rosa train. Rival Reynolds was there and didn’t seem threatened, even proposing the two could share tracks into Santa Rosa from Gwynn’s Corners (the intersection of Old Redwood Highway and Mark West). Perhaps the Lake county guys were not aware how much they were revealing their hands to the enemy camp; a few weeks later the Press Democrat reported Santa Rosa’s mayor and the Chamber Secretary had been “busy for several days securing rights of way from property owners for the Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Scenic Railway” and they had “practically secured $3,000” to start work.

But the project gained no traction. The PD announced in 1910 that construction would begin at the end of the year and take twenty months. Work appears to have stopped after five miles were graded.

While the Santa Rosa efforts were on hiatus, yet another team showed up to play: The newly-created Clear Lake Railroad Company stated in 1911 they would construct a standard gauge road from Hopland to Lakeport. The shortest route of all at slightly less than 25 miles, it would be a spur from the Northwestern Pacific main line. The NWP would also sell them rails at cost, finance them with discount loans and would be in no hurry to be paid back.

The Press Democrat complained this sweetest of sweetheart deals was really aimed at killing Santa Rosa’s dreams: “The Northwestern revives again this old, old proposition at a time when its revival might have a chilling influence upon the new enterprise.” The PD announced shortly after that “work on the new Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad, which has been temporarily discontinued, is to be resumed at once.” Apparently it was not.

The Hopland project broke ground in November, 1911 and quickly became entangled in a labor dispute. Work sputtered along for over five years, the company selling more bonds and making (what appear to be) questionable insider deals concerning Clear Lake frontage. All they accomplished was a few miles of graded roadbed in Mendocino County. And thus endeth this chapter on Lake county rail.

It can be argued that the failure of the Santa Rosa electric line was the biggest setback to the town’s progress since the 1906 earthquake. Not that business interests had such love to serve their Lake county brethren; the attraction was all those wealthy people passing through town. As the Press Democrat explained: “In making Santa Rosa the terminal the city becomes a railroad center of considerable importance. It is estimated that over 50,000 visitors will pass through Santa Rosa in and out annually on their way to and from the various resorts.”

Perhaps just as important, the trolley line would have extended Santa Rosa’s sphere of influence north to Healdsburg; note the 1910 full-page ad that appeared in the Republican selling property in the “new subdivision” on the yet-to-be-built route. Lacking a boost in land values from developments and lacking the draw of a major transit hub, it seemed like Santa Rosa had again missed out on boom times.

But maybe that was for the best. Those were the peak years for interurban trains, and it’s no mystery why interest began to decline thereafter; in 1907 we began to go car crazy on the West Coast and in 1910 California voted to create a state highway system. People wanted their private cars and paved roads, not efficient public transit on rails. During and after WWI electric systems increasingly shut down or switched to freight-only; in the dozen years centered on the 1929 start of the Great Depression, 8,400 miles of track were abandoned nationwide. The Petaluma & Santa Rosa trolley ended passenger service in 1932 for lack of ridership. During those years the Lake county resort scene was also vanishing; several of the resorts – including the magnificent Bartlett Springs – burned to the ground and were not rebuilt. Had it been completed, the Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad would have been the train to nowhere after about two decades.

Still, those early years would have been marvelous. Imagine: Just a couple of effortless hours away from downtown Santa Rosa, there awaited “turrets and towers reaching nearly to the sky, adorned the multicolored flags waving festively in the mountain breezes.” I’d certainly buy a ticket. Maybe just one way.

* Richard (“Dick”) Hotaling (1868-1925) was a San Francisco millionaire and one of the heirs to the A. P. Hotaling whiskey fortune. Besides his short-lived railroad venture he managed the family’s 1600-acre Sleepy Hollow dairy ranch in San Anselmo for a few years. But his interest in business matters quickly wained; he was always described in the papers as a clubman and amateur actor, performing at the Bohemian Grove and with a theatrical company in Oakland which usually cast him in the leading roles. He specialized in Shakespearian roles and his interpretations would certainly raise eyebrows today – he performed Shylock with a Yiddish accent and Othello in “African dialect,” explaining to the San Francisco Call there was “no logical reason why Shylock and Othello should speak like Venetians” before laughing, “Wouldn’t it be funny to hear Othello declaim a la Uncle Tom?” Hotaling was also accused of attempting to defraud family members. He claimed his elderly mother gave him the ranch and handed over the one-quarter share in the business inherited by his brother Fred after she was embarrassed in 1913 by Fred appearing drunk after a society ball. His mother supposedly also gave him her own quarter share of stock with the understanding the deed would be recorded only after she died or in the case of a “German invasion,” meaning her fears that the widow of her eldest son was planning to marry a German nobleman seeking to occupy the San Anselmo mansion. The court returned Fred’s stock and ruled in favor of mom in 1919. Dick was also investigated by a grand jury a few months before his death regarding a murder-for-hire scheme to poison Fred and his wife, but was not indicted for lack of corroborating evidence.

 

NARROW GAUGE RAILROAD
Line Into Lake County Discussed Thursday Night

There was a good attendance at the regular meeting of the Chamber of Commerce Thursday evening and the time was largely devoted to discussion of a narrow gauge railroad from Santa Rosa into Lake county. This is a project in which W. D. Reynolds and J. W. Barrows have taken an especially deep interest for several years. Maps of the proposed line were drawn in 1906 and 1907 under direction of Mr. Barrows, and when he went east last year he gave the matter considerable investigation. At that time the REPUBLICAN gave the story of his investigations and some points in regard to such roads. The proposed road would have a width of 24 to 27 inches and such lines are declared to have proven very profitable. They go up and down grads much steeper than those of standard gauge lines and are declared to be very safe in their management. The meeting Thursday night was addressed by Judge Crawford, Rev. Peter Colvin, R. C. Moodey, Mayor Gray, A. Trembley , John Rinner, Frank Leppo, Dr. Harry Leppo, Dr. Jackson Temple, and others.

[..]

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 18, 1908
MAY MEAN BIG THINGS
Proposed Electric Road May Bring Eastern Lines

The proposed electric railroad that was mentioned in the REPUBLICAN of Thursday, beginning from Belvedere, and running north through Santa Rosa and other cities to Lake Tahoe, is really to be the connecting point with a large transcontinental route.

It will mean the entrance to this city and county and state from the northeast to the bay of either the Hill system, the Rockefellers’ St. Paul system, the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific project of David M. Moffat of Denver, or the Chicago and Northwestern.

The road projected by Richard M. Hotaling is to be 178 miles in length, and can be used for steam or electric trains. It is to cost $12,000,000 and work is to begin by next March.

At Sacramento the proposed road will connect with the Butters road known as the Northern Electric, which is built as far as Chico and is in operation. It will extend to Redding and form an important link in the transcontinental route. Since the death of Henry A. Butters, interested parties have proposed a combination of the Northern Electric and the Hotaling projects, and it is certain that a merger of these two properties will be made within a year. It is these two companies which will be eventually utilized by some big eastern road to get an outlet to the Bay of San Francisco.

The late Henry A. Butters, along with Louis Sloss, E. R. Lillienthal and other wealthy San Franciscans, built the Northern Electric system between Sacramento and Yuba City, Marysville, Oroville and Chico, and projected it north to Red Bluff and Redding because he has great faith in the development of Northern California.

Hotaling and his associates say they have the same faith in the growth of this part of the State and that the three firms of engineers employed by them reported that this section of the state is a fine field for railway development.

Interested parties in both systems said yesterday the logic of the situation pointed to a close affiliation or combination of both properties. They refuse to say when and how the companies might reach an understanding.

Like the Hotaling system is to be, the Northern Electric can be used by steam or electric trains, or both. It is now being operated by electric power furnished by the transmission mountain plants of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of this city. Presumably the Hotaling road will use powere from the same company. People who are interested in a merger of the two properties say that as one system they could handle by electric power all traffic purely local. In case of some big eastern road later on became interested in the system, it could readily use steam trains for through freight and passenger traffic.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 6, 1908
TALKS ABOUT THINGS HE DOES NOT LIKE

Kinsfolk, Neighbors and Friends:

We need an electric railroad to run from Santa Rosa to Lake county and we need it badly. It is a much easier matter to tell you why we need this road than to try to tell you why the devil is in hogs, or why there should be any devil at all. We can explain this matter to your enquiring minds more satisfactorily than we can tell you why Bryan is in Lincoln, Roosevelt in France or why the thieving Sugar Trust escapes punishment so easily.

We all know that this electric road should be built. We know that it would further the welfare of the county to have it and over a question that is so clear to our minds, we arenot going to divide and quarrel.

We must look after the interests of our county. We must encourage the promoters of this great scheme. Santa Rosa is destined to become a great railroad center. Thousands of people are headed this way. When they arrive, we must prove to them that it will be to their interest to remain…

…But that Santa Rosa and Clear Lake electric line! We must “boost” that. We need it in our business–we need it all the time. With a station every mile or two, the farmers will be able to ship their produce into town in large or small quantities , and at almost any time of day.

[..]

WES MAYFIELD.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 6, 1910
CONTRACT AWARDED FOR GRADING OF SANTA ROSA AND CLEAR LAKE ROAD
Work Begins on December 1st and Must Be Completed in Twenty Months
GREAT INTEREST IN A BIG PROJECT
Years of Quiet But Energetic Work Has Achieved Results–Passenger Steamers on Clear Lake

…For nearly five years the gentlemen at the head of the undertaking have been quietly, yet none the less energetically working to bring about the consummation of this railroad into Lake county. Their plans were well defined at the time of the disaster of April, 1906, and but for that set back the road would doubtless have been in operation for some time….

…the electric railroad from Santa Rosa to Clear Lake will be a “scenic railroad.” Every one familiar with the route will agree as to this. Through valley and canyon and over hill it will run until its termination on the shores of Clear Lake is reached. It will be the first railroad of any kind to enter Lake county–“the Switzerland of America,” famed far and wide for its unparalleled scenery and climate, eagerly sought after each year by thousands of tourists and pleasure seekers.

Route of Proposed Road

The route of the new railroad runs from Santa Rosa to Kellogg, and thence skirting St. Helena mountain, it will go to Middletown, and then on to Clear Lake. In Santa Rosa the terminus will be on Wilson street between Fourth and Fifth streets, and consequently it will connect for passengers from both the Northwestern Pacific and Petaluma & Santa Rosa railroad depots. It will run up Fifth street to North street to the Southern Pacific depot. From the depot it will pass the Odd Fellows’ cemetery, and will proceed along the line of the Healdsburg road, and then on by Mark West to Kellogg, passing the Knight’s Valley ranch where it is expected the California Trades ^ Training School will be located.

The Lake county terminus will be at deep water on Clear Lake. The plan is to put two large passenger boats on the Lake to connect with every resort frontong on or in touch with the lake.

[..]

– Press Democrat, November 15, 1910
COMMITTEE REPORT FAVORS LAKE CO. RAILWAY PROJECT
Chamber Commerce Representatives Review the Situation

…The local directors have agreed to sell for cash 15 per cent or $528.75 per mile of this stock, thus requiring the sale of about $30,000 worth of stock in Santa Rosa, along the route and in Lake county. Nearly $5,000 worth of stock has been subscribed, we are told, by residents of Middletown. Nearly $5,000 more will be taken at Lower Lake, and nearly $5,000 has already been subscribed in Santa Rosa…

In making Santa Rosa the terminal the city becomes a railroad center of considerable importance. It is estimated that over 50,000 visitors will pass through Santa Rosa in and out annually on their way to and from the various resorts. We believe the road will be a lasting benefit for the community and will be worthy of the attempt to secure same, and should receive the support of all our people…

[..]

– Press Democrat, March 23, 1911
PROGRESS OF THE CLEAR-LAKE ROAD
Northwestern Pacific Makes an Effort to Discourage it by Offering to Expedite Another Line

Subscriptions are steadily coming in to the capital stock of the Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad Company, the survey has been finished from Santa Rosa to Middletown in Lake county, and five miles of grading work has been completed in the most difficult part of the road. “The road will be finished before winter,” is the declaration of the men who are pushing the work.

The customary and expected effort to discourage and forestall the enterprise came to light with the publication in San Francisco Wednesday of the account of a conference held in San Francisco between the officers of the Northwestern Pacific and a delegation of business men who had been invited to the city for the purpose of the interview. According to this story, the Northwestern Pacific offers to expedite the building of a line from Lakeport to connect with and feed the Northwestern Pacific main line at Hopland. The road is to be twenty-two miles long, is to cost $200,000 and is to be financed by popular subscription at $100 a share. It is to be a standard-gauge gasoline motor road with a maximum grade of five percent.

The Northwestern Pacific agreed to furnish rails at cost price, and to bond the road at five per cent, to refrain from control of the line and to give ample time for redemption of the bonds. [? illegible microfilm ?] and published ever time it has appeared that the people of Santa Rosa and the people of Lakeport were doing something to connect the two towns by rail. Nothing has ever come of any of them.

Naturally, a direct and independent line from Santa Rosa to Lakeport would not bring as much business to the Northwestern Pacific as would a feeder line to tap the Northwestern at Hopland. Obviously, the direct line to Santa Rosa will bring more business to Santa Rosa than would the “feeder” line to Hopland. That explains, of course, why the Northwestern would prefer a “feeder,” and it also explains, equally of course, why Santa Rosa’s interests are with the independent line. Also, it explains why the Northwestern revives again this old, old propsition at a time when its revival might have a chilling influence upon the new enterprise.

But the new enterprise is not affected by the chill.

“We’ll have our road in operation before there is a tie laid on the feeder,” said one of the men engaged in the building of the Santa Rosa & Clear Lake road, when asked about it by a Press Democrat reporter Wednesday.

– Press Democrat, March 30, 1911
ACTUAL WORK TO BEGIN ON S. R. & CLEAR LAKE R. R.
Money Deposited in Local Banks to Start Work
J. W. Barrows Resigns Position With Western Pacific to Take Charge of Building for New Line–Will Make Headquarters in Santa Rosa

Work on the new Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad, which has been temporarily discontinued, is to be resumed at once. Milton Nathan of the Nathan, Brownscomb Construction Company was in this city yesterday and deposited $5,000 in cash with two of the local banks to start construction work and announced that there was plenty more on hand which would be forthcoming as soon as it was needed…

[..]

– Press Democrat, July 16, 1911

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WHEN WE SUMMERED IN LOST PLACES

In the years straddling the turn of the last century, it seemed everyone in Santa Rosa was coming and going to the Russian River during the summer months. For many of them, however, the appeal of the river area had less to do with water activities than the siren call of rocking chairs in rented cabins, croquet and bowling and billiards with friends from town, hotel service, and for some above all, eating.


View Russian River train stops and resorts c. 1900-1909 in a larger map

RIGHT: Russian River train stops and resorts c. 1900-1909. Blue markers indicate Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP) passenger stops; red markers show resorts or other tourist destinations

Much has been written about the river scene from the mid-1920s onward, but info about the first decade of the river resorts is scarce, although they were a central part of Santa Rosa life in early 20th century summers. Where exactly were these places, and what were they like? Why would someone prefer to go to Camp Vacation instead of Summerhome Park? After picking through out-of-town newspaper ads, railroad timetables, maps and atlases and all those “personal mention” columns tracking local residents, I present (what I believe to be) the first cross-referenced map of the Russian River byways during that era.

My early confusion centered upon the tangled names. Some spots were known by two or more – the Olivet train stop became Woolsey and Trenton became Laguna, for instance – and making matters worse, the Santa Rosa newspapers were sometimes sloppy about accuracy. Before Eaglenest became Rionido, then later Rio Nido, it was also in the papers as Eagle Nest, Eagle’s Nest and Eagle’s Nest Camp. And don’t even ask about Camp Six.

It’s also tricky to judge the popularity of any of these places. A new get-away popped up almost every summer during those years, while the paint was still almost fresh on the oldest resort, only about a dozen years old. Time spent anywhere on the river was still a novelty, something to talk about with your neighbors and friends, and the next time you went maybe you’d try another place that you’d heard good things about.

Today it’s hard to imagine the Russian River wasn’t always a tourist destination, but most thanks for transforming a no-man’s-land of redwood stumps into a primo resort area goes to north coast railroad baron A. W. Foster, president of the Northwestern Pacific (NWP). Mr. Foster is best remembered as a heartless supervillain in the 1905 “Battle of Sebastopol Avenue” (although it’s more likely that history has given him a bum rap). As logging was winding down in the mid-1890s, Foster saw an opportunity to cash in on the growing popularity of Sunday excursion trips and vacation rentals, as best told in the often-quoted (but rarely credited) book “Redwood Railways” by Gilbert Kneiss:


To Foster, however, belongs much of the credit for opening up the Russian River country as a vacation land. Informal camping in the forests and two-week rocking-chair sojourns at American plan, pitcher, basin, and thunder-mug resort hotels had long been common. Foster was thinking in terms of summer homes and traffic for the Guereneville Branch where logged out country had left rusty rails. He bought some of the cut-over land, now green an bushy with second growth…[soon] Guerneville converted itself from a hard-drinking, bullwhacking lumber camp to a village of parasols, mandolins, and ice-cream sodas.

It’s not the job of this Santa Rosa-centric blog to tell the story of railroads, but I wish more history was available on how Foster and his railway developed this area. Did the NWP plan and build the resorts, then selling or leasing them once profitable? The intriguing thread tying most of the resorts together was Santa Rosa’s industrious Cnopius family, who were apparently managing nearly all of them at different times between 1896 and 1906. Did they work for Foster? Mrs. L. C. Cnopius (no first name found, sorry) was particularly key to the progress, and her importance was even noted in San Francisco obituaries. Mrs. Cnopius is also known here for being the last direct victim of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake.

TOP: Section of the Camp Vacation dining room, 1908. Note the hungry fellow peering through the window
RIGHT: Boating at Camp Vacation, 1907
MIDDLE: NWP Locomotive No. 99, “Coffee Grinder”
BOTTOM: Boarding the eastbound passenger train at Guernewood Park, probably 1909. Note the pile of luggage at the far end

Dining room photo courtesy UC/Berkeley, all others courtesy Sonoma County Library

CLICK or TAP any image to enlarge

The first resort to open was Mirabel Park, which soon became a particularly popular spot for large groups – unions, churches, fraternal organizations – to hold day-long Sunday picnics. So great was Mirabel’s appeal that it threatened the overall success of the area. In the 1900 San Francisco papers it was reported  that “many families fear to take [Russian River trains] owing to the dread of coming in contact with Sunday picnics,” although the railway assured the public that “this road has had no trouble on this score.” Still, they promised to herd picnickers into separate train cars: “In the future, therefore, no one traveling on the California Northwestern Railway on Sundays will come in contact with Sunday picnics.”

Mirabel Park was also somewhat unusual in this era for having a “villa” offering actual boarding rooms. More common were partially-furnished bungalows for rent or sale, should you have the overwhelming urge to buy a tiny shack with no running water or electricity. And these cottages near the river did not sell cheap; ads from real estate brokers listed them for $400 up, about three times more than a place in Camp Meeker.

Bungalows were suited for anyone spending the season on the river or planning to entertain friends, as many people did. But most people vacationing for a few days or so stayed at one of the tent hotels, adults $2/day, $10 per week, children under ten half-price. An advertisement for Camp Vacation describes the accommodations: “To sleep beneath a tent, to pass the day in the open air and have nothing else to do is to camp with luxury. Camp Vacation makes this easy for all. It is a hotel under canvas. Regular hotel service is furnished, but the guests live in tents. The tents are provided with wooden floors, are well furnished and are taken care of by those in charge.”

Meals were included in the deal, and the all-you-can-eat grub seemed to be as much an attraction as the Great Outdoors. In a September, 1908, San Francisco Call how-I-spent-my-summer-vacation writing contest, 8th grader Ruth Moore told of her good times at one of the tent hotels:


My vacation was spent in the beautiful redwood groves of Sonoma county…we arrived at Montesano station about 3 p. m. and lugged our heavy baggage up hill, over stumps, rocks, brush and other obstructions to our camping grounds. Then our troubles were over. Nothing to do but eat, sleep and seek pleasure….

…When I first arrived at the camp I did not have a very big appetite, and I was surprised to see my friends eat. Their table manners seemed to have been left at home. They grabbed everything in sight with both hands. They would drink out of the bucket in preference to using a cup and wipe their mouths on the tablecloth.

But in about three days I was just as bad. I simply could not get enough to eat, and how good everything did taste. I never did get enough of hot cakes and maple syrup any morning…

For Santa Rosans and other locals, the most popular resorts – or at least, the most often mentioned in the newspaper columns – were Camp Vacation, just across the river from Bohemian Grove, and Eaglenest, location of modern-day Rio Nido. The latter included bungalows and a true resort hotel, complete with a “box ball” bowling alley (a cross between a half-length 9 pin bowling lane and and a looooong coffee table, often found in arcades at the time – photo here). Besides four miles of beaches,  Camp Vacation offered tennis courts, and it’s worth noting that tennis and box ball bowling were among the few genteel sports where women could compete against men.

But maybe the best part of those months was having the entire lower river available as your personal playground. When passenger and freight trains weren’t scheduled, the railway used the tracks to offer a kind of trolley service using an ancient steam engine and open railway car recycled from the old timber days. Meeting your friends at a particular swimming hole by catching a ride on the “Coffee Grinder” –  which looked like an oversized toy, and puffed away at less than ten miles per hour – added to summer’s delight.

Even the James Wyatt Oates family joined the river stampede, in their own way. The couple escorted a couple of girls a family friend and her daughter to a 1909 house party at the home of Charles Rule in Jenner, where they visited at least once a year every summer or autumn.

This chapter of the resorts ended in late 1909, when the NWP line finally met the narrow gauge railway that came up the coast. After that the railroad began promoting the “Triangle Trip” Sunday excursion trains from San Francisco, a 150-mile ride with a little stopover at Monte Rio. A day out of the city sitting on trains while watching some nice scenery, then home for dinner. Oh, look, there’s a beach. Those trees look tall. Gee, I wish there was only some way I could stop thinking about work.

NEXT: Big Changes on the Russian River in 1910
 

NO PICNIC CROWDS
To Interfere With Regular Sunday Travel.

The California Northwestern Railway is making heavy preparations for handling next season’s business, and among other things will give special attention to its Sunday travel. The section which this road traverses is more than attractive for short Sunday trips, but many families fear to take them owing to the dread of coming in contact with Sunday picnics. While it is true this road has had no trouble on this score, it is determined to eliminate from the minds of the public all idea of this contact. Although the picnics up the road to Mirabel Park, etc., have in the past been kept separate from the regular travel, there will be none whatever this coming year, and those attending Schuetzen Park will be run on separate boats and trains. In the future, therefore, no one traveling on the California Northwestern Railway on Sundays will come in contact with Sunday picnics.

– SF Call, November 11, 1900

 

I hear that box ball in the bowling alley at Eaglenest has been a fascinating pastime for a number of our society women who have been spending a portion of their vacation there during the past few weeks. So interested did they become, some of them, in the sport, that quite a little good-natured rivalry was aroused as to who could make the highest score. I know one lady who made a record score, but social excommunication is threatened if the newspaper divulges the name. Some of the best players, however, are members of the Irene Club and some of them have been guests of Mrs. Charles A. Wright at her bungalow at Eaglenest.

– “Society Gossip” Press Democrat, August 9, 1909

 

Colonel and Mrs. Oates, Mrs. Dorothy Farmer and Miss Hazel Farmer were included in a house party at Rule Ranch as the guests of Charles H. Rule. Colonel Oates will return the first of the week, but the ladies will remain for several days longer. The hospitality of Rule Ranch is always very cordial.

– “Society Gossip” Press Democrat, September 19, 1909

 

CHANGE NAME OF STATION
Camp Vacation Will be Known as Rio Campo

Camp Vacation  as the name of a railroad station on the Northwestern Pacific is a thing of the past. In future the place will be known as Rio Campo and unless the name of the popular resport which was created by Lewis C. Cnopius is maintained, the name of Camp Vacation  will disappear forever. To the efforts of Mr. Cnopius and the late Mrs. Cnopius Camp Vacation  owes its great popularity as a resort and its wide reputation over the state.

With the changes that come and go. the railroad company has determined to call the station at the place Rio Campo, and with the completion of the bridge near that place there will be no other stops on this side of the river for the trains will continue their journey across the bridge and on down to Monte Rio.

With the coming summer season the loop completed by this bridge will make the redwoods section even more popular than it has been heretofore. Annually thousands of visitors spend their vacations in this delightful section.

The rails are laid on the Monte Rio side of the river, and everything is in readiness to connect the same when the officials give orders for the same.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 21, 1909

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AND WHEN THEY WERE BAD THEY WERE AWFUL

Anyone who believes kids were better behaved in the “good ol’ days” answer this: How often do today’s ten-year-olds attempt to derail passenger trains?

This is the third and final item on Santa Rosa’s juvenile delinquents, class of 1908. Earlier installments covered lesser crimes, such as vandalism and burglary. Misbehavior, to be sure, but nothing like 1907’s summer of the incorrigibles, when kids were hustling stolen eggs, hijacking buggies, and starting fires. But the miscreants of 1908 were generally younger and their crimes more serious; aside from the aforementioned attempted train derailment, some of our great-grandfathers when young were robbing, stealing horses and bicycles, and riffling through the pockets of drunks.

The train incident involved a pair of boys, age ten and eleven. This was no spontaneous prank; they had planned it for a week, and wore blackface to disguise themselves. They placed the four-foot length of steel (apparently a scrap of old track) on a blind curve near Penngrove. “Fortunately the engineer of the Camp Vacation special noticed the obstruction and applied his brakes,” the Press Democrat reported. “He could not stop in time to prevent hitting the piece of old steel rail, but fortunately the wheel of the ‘poney trucks’ [sic] threw it to one side” (the “pony truck” is the two-wheeled leading axle of a steam locomotive, unconnected to the engine).

Thwarted in their “fun train wrecking,” the boys hung around the tracks until another train passed by, when they threw stones to break windows. Shattered glass cut passengers, and a San Francisco woman was hit directly in the face by one of the rocks. Chased down by two men, the boys were captured and sent to the county jail in Santa Rosa, where they were allowed to play outside their cells (although the jailer gave the 11-year-old and another boy a spanking “just to make them mind”). The 10-year-old was permitted to go home after a stern lecture; the other boy was sent to reform school.

Another 10-year-old was caught trying to sell a rented horse. The court turned him over to the custody of his father in Healdsburg, but soon he was in trouble again, this time for stealing a purse with $17 from a woman who gave him a lift in her buggy. The PD lamented that the young hooligan was probably going to reform school this time, even though “this youngster is a mere slip of humanity, who, when he goes to set himself in a chair has to step on the rung.”

Then there was the gang of five boys who had a stolen bicycle ring. Plan A was to rent bikes from local cycleries and pedal as fast as they could out of town. Somehow the storekeepers got wind of this, and the boys were chased back to Santa Rosa, getting no farther than Kenwood. No charges were pressed, but a few days later the group was in court for stealing “a number of bicycles and numerous other articles” around town. Apparently in their future likewise loomed the Preston School of Industry, the reform school that was a sister institution to San Quentin.

UNGRATEFUL BOY STEALS A PURSE
Healdsburg Ten-Year-Old in Trouble Again–Dilemma as to Know What to Do With Him

A ten-year-old boy is in trouble again. Some time since he hired a saddle horse from a Healdsburg liveryman and rode to Petaluma, where he tried to dispose of the animal. He was turned over to the custody of his father, who promised to take care of him in San Francisco, and find a place for him. It seems that he may have been remiss in the fulfillment of this promise to care for the lad.

At any rate the boy came back to Healdsburg and the other day, in response to a request, a lady gave him a ride. On the buggy seat was her purse containing seventeen dollars. The boy is charged with purloining the cash and the purse. Among other things he bought a bicycle for a dollar and a half, and shortly afterwards left for San Francisco.

District Attorney Lea will have the boy brought to Santa Rosa on Friday and will then ascertain what is best to do with him. Mr. Lea dislikes to send children of such tender years to any state institution for fear that their contact with boys whose characters are worse than theirs may contaminate them. This youngster is a mere slip of humanity, who, when he goes to set himself in a chair has to step on the rung.

– Press Democrat, August 21, 1908

ATTEMPT TO WRECK A TRAIN JUST FOR FUN
Two Naughty Boys Are Landed in the County Jail
Place Obstruction on Track Near Penngrove, Hurl Rocks Through Windows of Passing Train, Severely Hurting Woman

Two children, would-be train wreckers and hurlers of rocks through the windows of passing trains, occupy an upper room at the county jail on Third street, where they were landed shortly after noon on Monday. One is ten-year-old Austin Davis Studerbaker, and the other is eleven-year-old Henry Fehler. They do not realize the enormity of their offenses, and to the charge of attempted train wrecking they plead “only fun.”

The boys, who claim that when they put a four-foot length of heavy steel across the rail on a dangerous curve between Ely’s and Corona, near Penngrove, they did it just for fun to see what a big engine would do if it struck it, never thought, they say, that they were imperiling many human lives by their act. Fortunately the engineer of the Camp Vacation special noticed the obstruction and applied his brakes. He could not stop in time to prevent hitting the piece of old steel rail, but fortunately the wheel of the “poney trucks” threw it to one side.

After putting the obstruction on the track the lads went further down the road and hurled rocks through the windows of the passing train. Then they ran back into the fields and escaped detection for some time. One rock thrown through a car window struck Mrs. T. J. Boone, a San Francisco woman, in the face and painful lacerations resulted. Splinters of glass also struck and cut other passengers. The crashing glass and splinters occasioned considerable excitement aboard. When Penngrove was reached A. J. Ronshelmer was notified, and in company with another man, he started in pursuit and captured the boys. Later Deputy Sheriff and Jailer Joe Barry went down from Santa Rosa and brought the boys to jail.

In their frolic and to give their deeds a touch of the dime novel flourish the lads disguised their faces with the application of black crayon.

When District Attorney Lea saw the boys and took their statements they admitted having put the obstruction on the track, stating that they desired to see what the “cow catcher” on the locomotive would do when it hit the same, and that they did it all for fun. It was only in a childish frolic–a decidedly dangerous one–so they say, that they threw the rocks through the windows of the passing car.

The elder lad will probably be sent to a reform school as his conduct has been bad. What will be done with the other lad remains to be seen.

– Press Democrat, August 18, 1908
BOYS IN FROLIC AT THE COUNTY JAIL
Youngsters Have No Idea How Near They Came to Wrecking the Camp Vacation Train

Detective Helmore, of the Northwestern Pacific railroad, was in this city on Wednesday, and called at the jail to see the boys who placed an obstruction on the tracks near Penngrove, and came near wrecking the Camp Vacation train. He heard their stories and will report the same to General Manager Palmer.

When a Press Democrat representative called at the jail the boys were having a fine frolic in the room they are occupying there. The lad’s merriment was catching, and as Sheriff Smith remarked, they are “Just kids.” The youngsters have no idea of the enormity of their offense, even though it has developed that they talked over the matter for a week before they blackened their faces and sallied forth on their “fun train wrecking” escapade.

– Press Democrat, August 20, 1908
“TRAIN WRECKER” TO REFORM SCHOOL
Decision of District Attorney Regarding Older of Boys–Spanking Follows “Game of Jail Break”

District Attorney Lea has decided the best thing to do with the elder of the two lads who attempted wreck a train near Penngrove several days ago, and who threw rocks through the windows of another passing train, is to send him to the Preston School of Industry at Ione. He will be given an examination before Justice Atchinson today and Judge Seawell will be asked to commit the boy to the school. Mr. Lea has not decided what is best to do with the younger boy. He will see what his home conditions are. The little fellow is the best behaved of the two, and as Jailer Joe Barry says: “He tells the truth.” Barry was overheard telling the boy yesterday afternoon: “Tell the truth, my boy, whatever you do. I do like a boy who tells the truth, and I never punish one when he does.” Pretty good advice.

On Thursday night, during the temporary absence of Jailer Barry, the two boys and another also confined in an upstairs room, thought they would have some more fun by playing at jail breaking. The trio, on account of their youth and good behavior, had been allowed the freedom of the corridor upstairs. They managed to tear loose the upper portion of a wire screen above the bars at the top of the stairs, and were having a game of hid and seek when Jailer Barry arrived. To their stock in trade the boys had added some old keys. They quickly scampered back to bed and the two older ones were given a spanking by Barry just to make them mind. Whatever intentions the boys had in their game of attempted jailbreaking, they came off second best, for yesterday they were denied the privilege of the corridor and had to remain in their rooms in solitude.

– Press Democrat, August 22, 1908
TEN-YEAR-OLD IS GIVEN HIS LIBERTY
Youngster Who Played Train Wrecker is Turned Over to His Relatives on Monday

“Now remember, I want you to be a good boy. Do every thing that your father tells you to do. Don’t let foolish things come into your mind that will lead you to be a bad boy. You are going to be allowed to leave jail with him and make up your mind never to come back here or anywhere else on account of bad behavior. Let this be a lesson to you.”

Under Sheriff W. C. Lindsay gave this good advice to ten-year-old Austin Davis, before turning him over on Monday to the care of his foster father, Mr. Studebaker, who resides near Penngrove. The lad promised obedience and good behavior in the future. He left his room in the jail with the broadest smile of satisfaction on his face, poor little chap. He was one of the duo who placed a bar of iron on the track in front of the Camp Vacation train, “just for fun and to see how the train would look going over the embankment.” The older lad will go to the reform school.

– Press Democrat, August 25, 1908
LADS TAKE BIKES; COME BACK QUICK
Three Youngsters Do Not Proceed Far With Plan to See World Before They Are Balked

Three small lads named Allen, Ray and Davis, bethought themselves that they would leave their homes in Santa Rosa and strike out for themselves on Monday afternoon. They had arranged things pretty well to carry out their intentions, but they reckoned without the fast automobile that was to take after them and bring them back.

The lads chose the bicycle as the means of putting miles between their Santa Rosa homes and some other part of the country. Accordingly each lad went to a different cyclery in Santa Rosa and secured a wheel for a short time. Each boys had once in a while rented a bike and so the cyclery proprietors let him have one again readily enough.

The lads had a good hour and a half’s start before word came to Proprietor Henry Jenkins of the Acme Cyclery that the boys did not intend to return with the bicycles unless they were brought back. Word was also passed to the Cash Cyclery and to Burmeister’s Cyclery. The boys had been seen heading down the Sonoma road and Mr. Jenkins got out his automobile, and accompanied by Burmeister, gave chase. The automobile went the speed limit and one mile this side of Kenwood the boys were overtaken. Jenkins told them to “right about face” and head for Santa Rosa again as fast as they could ride. The automobile kept right up behind and the lads were not allowed to lag, but were encouraged by the men in the automobile to “keep going.” And they did so.

Finally, when still a number of miles from town Davis jumped from his wheel and bounding over the fence was last seen heading towards the hills. His wheel was placed in the auto and Ray and Allen went it alone the rest of the way to town. While riding down Fourth street the Allen boy came into collision and fell from his bike and got in under the front wheel of the automobile. Beyond getting his suit muddy it was ascertained that he was not hurt.

All the cyclery men wanted was their bicycles and will not prosecute the lads. Jenkins and Burmeister both agree that the race the boys put up in making time after their capture was in itself worth the price of the trouble they were put to in getting their bicycles back.

– Press Democrat, December 15, 1908

BICYCLE THEFTS TRACED TO BOYS
Five Lads Arrested Here Thursday Afternoon and Will be Detained for Examination

The theft of a number of bicycles and numerous other articles within a few days past in this city was traced by the police to a gang of young boys Thursday and late in the afternoon five were in jail pending an examination for their offenses.

John and Willie Allen, Henry Davis, Ernest and Russel Rhea are those accused of causing all the trouble. Three bicycles were recovered in various parts of town where they had been left by the boys, as well as a complete camp outfit, where they had made their rendezvous.

Several of the lads are old offenders, having been in trouble numerous times. They are well known to the police and it is probable that they will be sent to the reform school. The boys will be taken into court probably this morning to answer to the charges against them.

– Press Democrat, December 18, 1908

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