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THE YEAR OF THE ANTI-CHINESE LEAGUE

There were up to 1,500 men crowded into Santa Rosa’s Armory that winter’s night. Some were there because they were angry, some were curious and some were frightened, but all there learned that racial discrimination was now a civic duty. It was the first official 1886 meeting of the Santa Rosa Anti-Chinese League.


SOURCE NOTES (37 page PDF)

Spoiler alert: this is not a pleasant story, yet it’s not nearly as awful as some try to portray.

A few days before, a meeting was held to elect a “Committee of Fifteen” which would write a mission statement.* They composed a resolution stating any Chinese presence in Santa Rosa was a “source of great evil” and detrimental to the “white race.” Chinese immigrants should leave town ASAP and Santa Rosans should sign a pledge vowing to boycott their businesses and fire any Chinese workers they might have.

Santa Rosa was actually a latecomer – and although about half the men in town showed up, attendance was relatively light. Meetings had been held previously in Petaluma (2,000 there) and Cloverdale (1,000). At Healdsburg almost the entire town came to their first meeting and their Chinese boycott was already going strong.

The resolution also asked the Santa Rosa City Council to appoint additional policemen for night duty to prevent “riotous demonstration by white persons toward Chinamen”. That was a very real concern; throughout the West, anti-Chinese sentiments had been escalating from grumbling newspaper editorials to acts of violence, even mob riots. Newspapers reported local bigwigs were having “secret meetings” to figure out how to get rid of the Chinese – although telling a reporter about it seems to defeat the whole secrecy biz.

In Wyoming, white miners went on a rampage and murdered at least 28 Chinese men with many burned alive. Three more were shot to death in Washington state over hop picking. A mob armed with clubs drove out Tacoma’s 350 Chinese residents which was followed by the razing of their neighborhood. Federal troops were stationed in Seattle because vigilantes were itching to attack the large Chinatown there, which was the home to 1 out of 10 people in the town. And matters were about to become far, far worse; even as our ancestors were getting organized in Santa Rosa, thousands of Chinese immigrants were escaping to Portland from Oregon’s interior under vigilante threats. It seemed as if an actual pogrom of an ethnic minority was rapidly sweeping the Western states and territories. The shadow of madness had fallen upon them and enveloped the sun.

Yet it’s quite possible the anti-Chinese frenzy might have bypassed Sonoma county – if not for the  Wickersham murders.

Sarah and Jesse Wickersham were a reclusive couple who were brutally killed at their remote cabin west of Cloverdale in mid-January 1886. The presumption of guilt immediately fell upon their Chinese cook, who could not be found and was presumed to have fled to China. As explained in my four-part series, it’s highly unlikely he had any hand in it but everyone at the time was certain of his guilt, thanks in great part to two racist law enforcement officers who were widely quoted in the initial accounts. They told reporters there was no question the “Chinaman” slaughtered them and hinted Sarah had been raped (possibly gang raped) – a lie they continued repeating even after the Wickersham family asked them to knock it off.

The charge that an American family had been killed by their live-in Chinese servant gave bigots a new, powerful weapon to demonize Chinese people as crazy, unpredictable, and, for the first time – extremely dangerous. James Ragsdale, editor of the Santa Rosa Republican and soon to become part of the “Committee of Fifteen,” dipped his pen in the bigot’s inkwell and wrote a vicious screed:

…The tragedy that occurred in the northwest portion of this county on Monday last, where two of our most highly respected citizens, man and wife, were murdered in cold blood by a Chinese fiend, has done much to increase the bitterness against a race that are most wicked and inhuman. It only proves the assertion that they have neither conscience, mercy or human feeling and think no more of murdering a human being than they do killing a pig. They are monsters in human form, cunning and educated therefore more dangerous and vile. Let us get rid of them and at once.

The first anti-Chinese Leagues in the county were formed just a few days later.

Up to then, both the Republican and Sonoma Democrat had occasionally used the popular catchphrase, “the Chinese must go” in an editorial or in a reprinted item but it was framed in the abstract, as if “the Chinese” were different than the immigrants who lived and worked here. Just two days before the Wickershams were killed, the Democrat ran a sort-of travel story describing a tour of the Santa Rosa opium dens. It concluded with mention that the Chinese community here had both a Masonic and an Odd Fellows lodge.

(RIGHT: ad from the 1885 Sonoma Democrat)

While our newspapers portrayed the Chinese immigrants as an exotic (but somewhat suspect) underclass, the local economy depended upon them. In the towns, the Chinese did our laundry and sold us produce from pushcarts on the streets – Santa Rosa had six roaming vegetable vendors. On the farms and in the vineyards they did the hard work no one else wanted to do. And everyone in town or country who wanted a cook or house servant could find a Chinese man or boy ready to hire. Because they did all this for less money than anyone else, they were in great demand; in 1885 there was a Chinese employment agency on Fifth street.

Their low wages led to accusations they were “taking jobs away from Americans,” exactly mirroring the anti-Latino immigrant bias of today. In some cases it was true; companies used Chinese workers as strikebreakers or to replace an entire workforce.

But in truth, good manual labor jobs were scarce at the time not because of the Chinese but because the national economy wasn’t so hot; effects of the Depression of 1882-85 began to be felt locally with an uptick of newspaper articles about “tramps” in the area. “These men, with few exceptions are in destitute circumstances and are compelled to move from place to place in search of employment,” sympathized the Democrat paper, while at the same time noting that many were responsible for burglaries and other theft. The paper suggested that the first Anti-Chinese League meeting have an aftersession so everyone could discuss what should be done to “protect the women and children” who were hesitant to leave home lest a vagrant break in.

Meanwhile, there were now an estimated 600+ Chinese living in Santa Rosa according to the Democrat – likely an all-time high. Some had just arrived from Cloverdale and other places where Anti-Chinese Leagues were already acting out.

A week after that big League meeting at the Armory, the Committee of Fifteen visited these locations as “forty or fifty citizens accompanied the committee on its rounds,” the Democrat observed, which probably made it look like quite the vigilante mob.

Committee president John Kinslow – speaking “in good pigeon-English” [sic] – told them that as of the end of the month, “all white men would cease to patronize them” and they should leave. From the description in the Democrat it appears some of the immigrants misunderstood and thought he was offering to pay for their passage back to China, which most greatly desired but could not afford.

The committee also divided Santa Rosa into seven wards, each with a few men expected to walk the neighborhood and ask residents to sign the boycott pledge. Lists of the ward men appeared in both town newspapers and are reproduced in the source notes. Both lists have 49 names, of which only five appear in any other articles about the League. Aside from some spelling differences the lists are the same with two exceptions: One adds “James Gray” in ward five and the other includes “Burbank” in ward two. On the basis of the latter mention, the Press Democrat published two articles and an editorial in May, 2018 claiming Luther Burbank was a racist and leader of the Anti-Chinese League – see discussion here.

(RIGHT: ads from the 1886 Sonoma Democrat)

As the month of February rolled on, news was mixed. There were regular items about Chinese immigrants trickling out of town, countered by articles of some vowing to stay. The Democrat found one Chinese laundry with half its workforce idle, followed a few days later by a story that the white laundry wagons “didn’t have enough aboard to make a decent load for a poodle dog.” An interview with an immigrant called Hoodlum Jim said the boycott only served to “get rid of the scum of the race, and the others were glad of it, but the better class would stay here, just the same.”

It was remarked that “white labor is scarce in Santa Rosa” while many Chinese men were out of work and crowding into the tenements on Hinton avenue to save money. It was also written that they were going hungry, reduced to foraging for greens along the banks of the creek and on the Plaza. It’s difficult to understand how that could be the case, given that Chinese truck gardens had been feeding the entire town not so long before.

Oddly, the only real conflict in Sonoma county centered on Duncan’s Mills. The League in that vicinity had a torchlight rally and marched on the little Chinatown there to demand the residents clear out. The mill owners contacted the U.S. Marshal and asked him to appoint a deputy to protect the Chinese workers. Complaints over this went on for weeks, with the Republican paper and the Leagues squawking over the involvement of a federal officer instead of local police, plus that it was really a labor issue because the mills brought in Chinese workers instead of hiring white men from the community.

The March 1 boycott deadline came and went, but apparently little changed. A banner was hung over a downtown street reading, “The Chinese Must Go; We Mean Strictly Business!” In terms of threats, that ranked down there with a schoolyard bully drawing a line in sand while toothlessly bellowing, “you step over this and you’re really gonna get it!”

In truth, there was little the Santa Rosa Anti-Chinese Non-Partisan Association (hey, new name!) could do to force the immigrants to leave, short of violence. Attention of the League – uh, Association – turned to Plan B: Boycotting fellow Americans who weren’t boycotting the Chinese. That sort of “nuclear option” was discussed at the beginning, but it was not believed matters would come to that. The Committee’s subcommittee on the issue hashed it over; local farmers were saying they depended on Chinese workers. If there was to be a boycott of the farmers as well as those who wanted to hang on to their Chinese domestics and other workers it would cause “strife and bitterness” in the county. “We do not believe that a general boycott can be made successful at the present time,” the subcommittee concluded.

By the end of the month, the Committee of Fifteen was hunkered down in its racially-pure safe space muttering about retribution against “backsliders.” State Assemblyman Allen suggested they should publish the names of all those who signed the pledge but still “either allowed their families to patronize the heathens, or did so themselves.” He was voted down.

In Santa Rosa, the fight came to a head over strawberries.

A Sebastopol man named Crawford raised what were considered the best strawberries around, but he used Chinese workers. Two hardcore members of the Committee paid a little visit to a downtown grocer who sold his fruit. They suggested they step out of the store to discuss the difficulty, but the grocer said they could talk right there, in front of his customers. The grocer said he had signed the pledge, but one of the Committee men remarked he did not think the grocer was “sincere in his action.” (Feel free to re-read this paragraph while imagining the Committee men as played by Sopranos goons Christopher and Paulie Walnuts.)

After receiving his own little visit from Committee “investigators,” Mr. Crawford took a wagon load of his strawberries to Santa Rosa. He hitched up on Fourth street, according to the Democrat, and began selling his berries. “His price to Chinese boycotters was $1 a box, and to all others thirty cents. It was but a very short time before he was entirely sold out.”

But pushback to the anti-Chinese movement was happening all over northern California. The Sacramento Bee ran a story about a housewife seen buying vegetables from a Chinese peddler and a “spotter” rushed over to confront her, demanding to know the name of her husband. When she indignantly refused he sneered, “You must be a lover of the Chinese.”

Yet the bigots in Santa Rosa kept wandering even farther into the weeds. The Committee of Fifteen appointed a Committee of Nine “to act on the outside, to keep their eyes open, talk with the people, see what is going on and report to the League.” For those who were unwilling to cooperate with the boycott “the League should not hesitate to treat them with severity.”

That Committee of Nine immediately went into executive session to appoint another secret sub-subcommittee of nine to ferret out the traitors to the white race who were not discriminating enough against Chinese immigrants. Oh, good grief…

Further, it was proposed that a committee “should go to all the business men in town and present the membership roll and request them to sign the same and pay the initiation fee of 25 cents. If they refuse then the League will know where to find them…there were but two sides to this question — either for or against the cause.”

Healdsburg appears to be the only place that followed through and publicized names of Americans who refused to boycott, and by summer their racist hatred of Chinese people had spiraled down into foolishness that bordered on lunacy. The Healdsburg paper reported a secret society had been formed:

…signs may be frequently seen done in chalk on the sidewalks. They, to us, unintelligible signs are in the form of a large arrow or dart, surrounded by figures and small signs. By following the direction of the pointing arrow you are led to a similar one on the next corner, and so on until you reach the place of meeting. At the last meeting, beyond the river, some forty of our citizens were seen to pass into a building. All our efforts to learn anything in regard to the organization have so far failed. It is a branch or lodge of a secret order existing in this state, whose sole object is to rid the country of the Chinese.

By every measure, Santa Rosa’s anti-Chinese campaign was a flop. The last League meeting I can find mentioned was poorly attended and came only seven months after the group was formed. A newspaper item revealed the League’s dues-paying membership at its peak was merely 43.

While the boycott certainly created economic hardships for the Chinese community, it was by no means catastrophic. One Chinese wash house closed and some landlords evicted immigrant tenants. The population was reduced to roughly 100-125 residents. From the Sonoma Democrat:

…the Chinese population in this city has decreased about one-half since the anti-Chinese movement started, and they are still going. There are a few who manage to live by taking in washing, and some who are still employed as servants; the latter, however, are very few. Within the last week three Chinese house servants have been discharged, and they were working for people who have not signed the pledge.  How they live is becoming a mystery. Dozens of them may be seen loitering on Hinton avenue every day…
1885 map of downtown Santa Rosa showing Chinese businesses and residences. Some of the locations on 9th avenue (better known as Hinton av) are estimates

 

It may seem a victory that the population had dropped by half after the League began in February, but even that claim is shaky on closer examination. House servants, pushcart sellers, laundry workers and the like were the smallest categories of Chinese immigrant labor – most men worked in the country for much of the year, staying in tents or bunkhouses near where they were employed. (The state Labor Commissioner said that year there were “30,000 Chinamen employed in the hop fields, vineyards and orchards.”) These men only came to live in the towns during winter, so it was the customary pattern for them to begin drifting out of Santa Rosa and other urban areas as spring approached.

What happened as the seasonal work ended that year is a mystery. Now that the League had fizzled the local papers lost interest in writing about all things Chinese, and returned to the old pattern of only covering the men when someone was arrested or created a commotion. There was one mention that because hop-picking was over “the Chinese are returning to San Francisco by the carload,” so perhaps some of the Sonoma county immigrants chose to spend their winter in the big city than come back here.

But the League had no long term impact; the 1890 census – taken during peak growing season, when farmworkers were away from town – shows 151 Chinese living in the city of Santa Rosa, a boost of at least 30 percent from the year of the League. (There were 277 found in the whole Santa Rosa Township during 1890.)

In the years that followed, Santa Rosa’s Chinese community migrated to the corner of Second and D streets to form a compact little Chinatown (see 1908 map here). There would be little or no growth of that neighborhood in the years that followed, but not due to any discrimination by the town or racist nonsense from white citizens; it was because a different place had emerged as a hub for Chinese-American culture and commerce in Sonoma county – Sebastopol’s two Chinatowns.

 

NEXT: SEBASTOPOL’S CHINATOWNS

 

* Membership of Santa Rosa’s “Committee of Fifteen” was never explicitly listed in the newspapers, which only named those in attendance at meetings. Membership seemed to fluctuate over the first part of 1886. Some either did not attend meetings regularly or dropped out while new names appeared. Looking over all newspaper coverage, there seems to have been an overall core group of thirteen men, with eight of them being very outspoken. In rough order of frequent mention: John Kinslow, David Sheward, Assemblyman Samuel I. Allen, Lawson Ross, Frank Muther, Peter Towey, James W. Ragsdale, Jacob Harris, Ellis Morrow, Charles Bane, M. V. Vanderhoof, John F. Smith and Frank Berka.

Poy Jam, who opened Santa Rosa’s long-standing Jam Kee restaurant. Shown here in a studio portrait taken in Oakland, c. 1875, he was Song Bourbeau¹s maternal grandfather. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Museum

 

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BURBANK AND THE CHINESE

“There are some Chinamen in this place. I like them very well. They know about four times as much as folks generally give them credit for. They are disagreeable in some respects.” That was in Luther Burbank’s first letter to his mother from Santa Rosa, October 31, 1875 – the same letter with that “chosen spot of all this earth” quote which has become the town’s brand.

But that same fellow has a “dark past,” according to a Press Democrat headline last week.

“Luther Burbank was a racist and leader of Santa Rosa’s Chinese removal project. He leveraged his local influence and heroic stature to villainize an entire community on the basis of ethnic difference…Burbank stripped Sonoma County of cultural diversity.” Then, there’s this: “Trump’s campaign ran off the same racism and xenophobia that Burbank employed in the 1880s, and it worked out pretty well for them both.” Good grief, what kind of monster has the Chamber of Commerce been promoting for the last 120 years?

The article that makes those accusations was written by Julia Modell, features editor for the Santa Rosa Junior College’s newspaper, the Oak Leaf. It appeared there in April, and on May 27, the PD reprinted it unedited.

Modell wants SRJC to rename Burbank Auditorium after pretty much anyone else, all in the cause of social justice. “He didn’t lead a Confederate army, and he didn’t enslave people,” she wrote. “But in the context of ‘liberal’ Sonoma County, where people point to the lack of diversity but fail to accept history of racism, Burbank is a perfect idol to fall.”

On Facebook and other low spots on the internet where opinions easily puddle, some agreed with Modell, and some thought it was a stupid thing to argue. Most dived in to take a position on its moral relativism – whether it’s proper to apply our modern values to 19th century doings. Also on May 27, the editorial board of the PD agreed “there’s a dark chapter in Burbank’s biography” and stated it was a sticky problem, like Confederate flags and racist team mascots.

But few are pondering the big question: What if the accusations aren’t true at all? What if it’s really “fake news” – or rather, “fake history?”

Again from Modell’s commentary: “A group of Santa Rosans formed the Anti-Chinese League in 1886 with the explicit goal of removing all Chinese residents from Santa Rosa. ‘Santa Rosa: A 19th Century Town,’ lists Burbank as the secretary of this committee.”

That book was written by Gaye LeBaron et. al. Trouble is, the book DOES NOT state Burbank was the secretary. Nor does it appear in any of the three biographies of Burbank. Nor did any of the 1886 newspapers name him as the secretary. Since the foundation of Modell’s entire accusation that he was a racist mastermind because of being the League secretary, methinks she needs to disclose her source of this information, pronto.

See the following article for details on Santa Rosa’s 1886 Anti-Chinese League, “THE YEAR OF THE ANTI-CHINESE LEAGUE“. But briefly, much of the West Coast was enflamed during February of that year in a frenzy of racist hatred against Chinese immigrants, fueled by the Sonoma county murder of the Wickershams, supposedly by their Chinese house servant – and no, he probably wasn’t the killer, as explained in my series.

Every town in the North Bay had their own League or Committee, and the local papers documented all their doings in detail because interest was so high; at one Santa Rosa meeting, up to 1,500 people attended. Names of officers were regularly mentioned and at the January 29th meeting at Santa Rosa’s roller skating rink, three secretaries were elected to correspond with other anti-Chinese groups: F. Berka, W. C. Kellogg and R. D. Cannon. (Note: No Luther Burbank.)

So what was Burbank’s involvement with Santa Rosa’s 1886 Anti-Chinese League?

At their February 8th meeting, it was decided to request every business and household sign a pledge vowing to boycott Chinese immigrant businesses and fire any Chinese workers. Ugly racism, yes, but it was in line with what was happening that same time in towns all over the west – in Healdsburg over 700 had already signed a similar boycott pledge. It’s also important to note that the boycott eschewed confrontation and violence. At that same meeting, the League asked City Council to add more police to night patrol to prevent “riotous demonstration by white persons toward Chinamen”.

To distribute the pledge, the League divided the town into wards with 4-7 men appointed to each. The full list of the ward subcommittees appears in the following article, but here are the lists for Ward 2 as they appeared in both Santa Rosa newspapers. “Burbank” only appears in one of them.

Santa Rosa Republican February 9, 1886; Sonoma Democrat February 13 and 20, 1886

 

As far as I can tell, “Burbank” was the only name which appeared on one list and not the other. What to make of this? Sans the discovery of the actual signup sheet from 1886, it means that his involvement with the League – even at this lowest level – is inconclusive. We can’t even say that “Burbank” was certainly Luther, as his brother Alfred was also living here at the time and his whereabouts for that year are unknown.

Thus: Unless heretofore unknown evidence surfaces, Luther Burbank’s “dark past” is that he walked around his neighborhood asking people to sign a petition. Maybe.

While waiting for an unpublished document to appear that shows Luther Burbank was a monster in human form, let’s review a few things about him that any social justice activist should cheer.

Start with those lines about Chinese immigrants from his first letter home: “I like them very well. They know about four times as much as folks generally give them credit for.” Do you have any idea how remarkable it was for someone to write that in 1875? Chinese people were rarely shown any respect at all, being treated more like work animals. In Burbank’s only other letter mentioning the Chinese, he sent home a receipt from a Chinese laundry, marveling at the written Mandarin. “Can you read it? I should like to see the white man that could.”

The first chapter of Burbank’s essay, “The Training Of The Human Plant,” was titled “The Mingling of the Races.” There he applauds America’s “vast mingling of races brought here by immigration” and writes approvingly of interracial marriage. That was far ahead of its time when he wrote it in 1906; the state of California would not drop the ban on interracial marriage until 1948.

As I wrote in my “Wide-Open Town” series, Santa Rosa was a pretty corrupt place around the turn of the century. The scene downtown was compared to a “mining camp” and our small community had a red-light district large enough to service, well, a mining camp. Saloons and hotels turned into casinos while cops and local officials looked the other way, or even joined the illegal gaming. Even local children were found alongside professional gamblers from San Francisco at roulette wheels and crap tables in the backrooms. All of this activity was condoned, even encouraged, by the City Council – as well as by the Press Democrat. Fighting this corruption were reform-minded citizens who called themselves the “Good Government League.” Their reform efforts did not have an impact for years, but it was a watershed event where the 19th century good ol’ boys began to lose their grip on the town. Know who was the Vice President of that progressive citizen’s group? Luther Burbank.

And as for the SRJC’s Burbank Auditorium, some institutional history is in order. The auditorium concept predated the Junior College by a decade. The city and Chamber of Commerce originally bought the land in 1921 to make it the “Luther Burbank Creation Garden” – although it had very little to do with Burbank, aside from a promise he would contribute some plants. It was really the latest installment in the perennial melodrama over Santa Rosa’s efforts to create its first public park, this time with the good juju of Burbank’s famous name and intentions that it would someday include a 3,000-seat community auditorium, another benefit the town lacked. Nothing much came of it (although they passed the hat at events for years, seeking donations) and the property was sold in 1930 to become the basis of the new Junior College campus.

While we’re still waiting for evidence to show Luther Burbank was “a racist and leader of Santa Rosa’s Chinese removal project,” there are a few other writing assignments that folks could start.

The Oak Leaf editor-in-chief and its faculty advisor could explain why there were no fact checking efforts. Julia Modell clearly stated that her information supposedly came from Gaye LeBaron’s book. That section of the book is four pages long and about half is taken up by pictures. Someone could have read it in a couple of minutes. But no one did.

The Press Democrat editor might also tell us why they did not bother to fact check this extraordinary accusation – and then doubled down by publishing a hand-wringing “whatever shall we do” editorial. Remember Gaye LeBaron, the woman who wrote that book? She’s on your staff! Couldn’t someone take a moment away from polishing that Pulitzer Prize to give her a call and ask, you know, is any of this crap even true?

And the PD can also apologize for giving its readers a severe case of whiplash. On May 20 we were celebrating community spirit at the Luther Burbank Rose Parade, and exactly one week later, readers are told it might as well have been called the David Duke Rose Parade. And now we’re all going to get another neck jolt when the paper publishes a double retraction. You are going to retract the article and editorial, right, Press Democrat?

Luther Burbank c. 1900 (Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

 

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SANTA ROSA’S DEBUT WAS A NIGHTMARE

Portrait of a bad dream: After years of dashed hopes, your greatest desire suddenly comes true. You are awarded a great honor, win the lottery jackpot, whatever. Now a thousand of your closest friends as well as VIPs (whom you’ve always hoped to meet!) are on the way to your house. Except your place is a mess, you don’t have enough food or drinks and everyone will have to hike in from a mile away because of work being done on the streets. That pretty well sums up Santa Rosa’s nightmare that came true on New Year’s Eve, 1870.

By that time, Santa Rosa had been yearning for a rail connection to the Bay Area for over five years. Several times it looked like a deal was a Sure Thing, only to have investors pull out or the developer lose interest. Some of those involved were interesting characters with wildly ambitious proposals (building a suspension bridge across the Golden Gate in 1868!) but that’s a complex story too long for today. Besides, I couldn’t tell the story any better than what’s found in “Redwood Railways” by Gilbert Kneiss – the county library has several copies available for borrowing.


HOW WE GOT TO SAN FRANCISCO BEFORE THE TRAIN
Before 1871 it usually took three or four days to make a quick roundtrip between Santa Rosa and the city. First there was the bone-rattling stagecoach to Petaluma over uncertain roads – see the transcribed articles below for complaints about the “horrible adobe flats between this place and Petaluma” where passengers sometimes had to get out and push during the rainy season when the wheels stuck in the mud. Then there was the 2½ mile trip from downtown Petaluma to the dock at Haystack Landing on a little trolley whose “speed resembles more the limpings of an old lame horse.” Or at least that was the scene up to August, 1866, when the train’s boiler exploded and killed four – after that, the trolley was even slower, pulled by actual horses. Petaluma also infuriated “up-country” travelers because steamboat schedules didn’t mesh with the stagecoach/trolley, so they usually needed to stay overnight at a Petaluma hotel. That trip down the Petaluma River ended at the Point San Quentin wharf, where passengers boarded a ferry which would make several stops in Contra Costa before (finally!) heading to San Francisco.

For purposes here, only two bits of background are important: First, the guy who finally made it happen wasn’t a banker or empire-building tycoon, but rather a San Francisco foundry owner named Peter Donahue. It didn’t hurt that his iron works made locomotives and ships.

Also, there were years of heated debate on what route the train should take from the Bay to Santa Rosa and points north. Santa Rosa pushed hard for the train to go through the town of Sonoma and terminate in Vallejo, where there were grain elevators to store Sonoma county wheat. The alternative was a straight shot north/south similar to modern Highway 101, where a ferry at “Saucelito” could take passengers into San Francisco. The route through Vallejo would not connect to Petaluma, so their town would probably wither away. There was a county vote on this in 1868 and the straight shot won.

But a referendum does not a railroad build. Nearly two years passed after vote with little to show; at the close of 1869 there was only 1½ miles of track laid north of Petaluma. Work had been suspended for the entire summer. The developer was having money troubles and a load of railroad track from England sank after the ship rounded the Horn. (There was so much railroading going on nationwide that U.S. iron foundries were at capacity.)

A popular conspiracy theory spread that Petaluma – whose high turnout of voters in the 1868 referendum settled the route question – was working behind the scenes to scuttle the railroad (or at least drag out construction as long as possible). “Cracker barrel gossip agreed the ‘earth scratching’ was just a vaccination to ward off a railroad,” author Kneiss remarked. Petaluma’s motive was supposedly to protect its monopoly on San Francisco travel via paddlewheel steamers.

Then suddenly, in August, 1870: “THE RAILROAD IS COMING! HURRAH FOR THE RAILROAD!” cheered Santa Rosa’s newspaper, the Sonoma Democrat. Voters had approved a $5,000/mile bounty for the first company to lay ten miles of Sonoma county track, and that month Peter Donahue bought the San Francisco & Northern Pacific from the developer who had made such little progress. Donahue’s operation hit the ground running with a crew of fifty Irish immigrants grading the road while schooners – with railroad ties and iron rails from his own foundry – were queued up to unload at Petaluma’s wharf.

Possibly the oldest photo of a train in Santa Rosa c.1871-1873, showing the first locomotive “San Jose” with Hewitt’s Planing Mill on Wilson street in the background. Courtesy Sonoma County Library

 

Everything now was moving fast, and there were lengthy updates almost every week in the Santa Rosa and Petaluma papers. A month after the whirlwind restart, some folks from Santa Rosa went down to check it out and beg a ride on the little construction engine on the rails. “Although there were no cars of any kind yet, when you’re building a railroad you have an itch to ride on it,” quipped Kneiss. He added that later that same week, “Petaluma’s tycoonery [was] clustered over the little engine like flies on a cook tent pie.” (Seriously, you’ll enjoy this book even if you’re not a railroad buff.) The Petaluma Argus had a full account of their September 13 trip:

After a delay of about half an hour, the engine moved out, the bell rang, and at the cry of “get aboard,” the crowd lighted on the engine like a swarm of bees, and it was with difficulty that standing room could be obtained by those anxious to make the trial trip. Convenience, however, was not particularly sought after, and no grumbling was heard as neighbor tread on his neighbor’s corns…

Crowded as they were, room was still made for a ten gallon keg of Edwards’ Cream Ale before the little engine went tootling down the track, stopping a couple of miles from town at Cinnabar Knoll where they polished off the keg with tributes and toasts to all involved.

Before another month passed the rail would be closing on Santa Rosa which was now suddenly a cause for worry – there were no firm plans about where the depot should be built. There were rumors that Donahue was planning to put it somewhere south of Santa Rosa Creek, or was negotiating with property owners to put it between the Creek and Third street. They didn’t settle on the final (current) location until just before Thanksgiving.

Sans depot and with not even a railroad bridge across the Creek, the first passenger train came up from Petaluma on October 22, 1870. “To many, it was a novel sight, as they had never seen one before,” gushed the Democrat, “and they could scarcely find words to express their admiration.” A week later they began running two trips daily, although the rail south of Petaluma – to the depot town named “Donahue” – was still under construction.

Still, the Santa Rosa paper purred with contentment: “At last the good work is accomplished… A new era has been opened in the history of our county, and its future is bright with promises of renewed life and activity.”

And then came the fiasco of December 31.


WHERE WAS DONAHUE?
From 1871 to 1884, the tiny hamlet of Donahue was the gateway to Sonoma county. About eight miles south of Petaluma on Lakeville Highway (there’s a historic marker by a turnoff on the west side) was the Petaluma River landing where paddlewheel steamers from San Francisco docked. From there, passengers boarded a train for Petaluma or Santa Rosa, with the SF&NP railroad in those years eventually reaching Cloverdale. Local produce was also usually aboard on the return trip to the city. A memoir by Mrs. Julia Gregory in the Petaluma Argus-Courier August 17, 1955, recalled Donahue as “a little town of 10 homes, a hotel, a saloon run by a man named Burdick, a stable and dance hall combined.” There was also a one-room schoolhouse with 30-40 children and two laundries. Mainly, though, it was there to offer a train depot as well as the railroad’s repair shops, roundhouse and turntable. Donahue Landing, as it’s called today, mostly disappeared in 1884 when the southern terminus of the rail line was moved to Tiburon, with the railroad buildings dismantled and barged down to their new location.

The Donahue river depot was now finished and ready to receive the first batch of visitors arriving directly from the city. And thus on the last day of the year, a steamer owned by the railroad left the Jackson Street Wharf, “loaded with passengers, among whom were some of the most noted and substantial men of the state,” according to the Argus.

Once aboard the train, they made the short hop to Petaluma, where “an immense concourse of people had gathered at the depot.” The tourists were greeted by the Hewston Guard (yes, that’s the correct spelling) and the Petaluma Brass Band. The cannon in the plaza was fired as well as rounds fired by the militia. It was a grand reception – but now on to Santa Rosa!

“Vague rumors were in circulation, during the early part of last week, that an excursion party from San Francisco was coming up to Santa Rosa on Saturday,” the Democrat explained later. “Nothing definite was known, however…On Friday, however, one point was settled, namely, that some excursionists were coming at the time mentioned, but as to the number all were in the dark.”

So picture this: It’s early afternoon and a “large throng of ladies and gentlemen” as well as the Santa Rosa Brass Band are waiting for the train to arrive. Until train service began a couple of months before some had never seen a train at all and since then, only an engine with a single passenger car and maybe a flat car. And now, here comes the excursion from San Francisco.

“There were, in all, eighteen cars, most of them open freight cars fitted up with temporary seats,” reported the Democrat. Over 1,200 people were on board.

And now the nightmare begins: The train got no closer than a mile from Santa Rosa – think of today’s Costco shopping center, or perhaps more accurately, the Baker avenue/101 interchange.

Making matters worse, the train would be going back in an hour. Worse still, there were only a few buggies and wagons waiting to transport the mob into town. Those who wanted to see Santa Rosa would have to run for it.

As this was suposed to be a day of bigwigs speechifying and drinking toasts, it’s safe to believe they were dressed in their finer clothes, and not prepared for a two mile sprint there and back. “The advance on the village itself was made in a disorderly manner,” reported the Alta California. From the Sonoma Democrat:

Owing to the great number of those present, it was utterly impossible to find vehicles enough to bring them all to town, and many of both sexes were compelled to walk in, a distance of nearly a mile. This was not very pleasant to begin with, particularly as but one hour was allowed to get to town and return in time for the homeward trip. Such a pushing, rushing and scampering down the road and across lots, has not been seen for many a day in these parts.

And still it became worse! Those who made it to Santa Rosa found there wasn’t enough food available. The Democrat continued:

In a short time Santa Rosa was full of people, nearly all of whom had arrived with appetites sharpened by fasting from the time of leaving the city, some six hours before. Again came disappointment, as it was utterly impossible to wine and dine such a multitude without preparation and within the brief space allowed for their stay.

According to the Alta, “…provisions were dreadfully slack in Santa Rosa. The hotel openly confessed its inability to meet the requirements of so great a host; shut up its dining room remorselessly; could not do it; could not begin to do it, but melted when besought for the sake of the Blessed Virgin a cup of tea for a suffering lady.”

“The visit was neither pleasant to our citizens nor to the excursionists,” the Santa Rosa paper admitted with admirable honesty, and “after bustling about for a few minutes in a most disagreeable and unsatisfactory manner, a grand rush was made for the cars to take them home.”

Back everyone went to Petaluma (“the down trip was remarkably jolly, under the circumstances” – Democrat) where they recovered from their Santa Rosa rout for an hour, then returned home to San Francisco on the boat where they enjoyed a banquet catered by Hendrick’s Hotel in Petaluma.

Santa Rosa probably could not have made a worst impression, nor Petaluma a better one. Looking over all that happened, you almost wonder if Santa Rosa had been punked by Petaluma and Donahue – revenge, perhaps, for pressuring the county to choose the route to Vallejo instead of the one that favored them.

 

 

Petaluma railroad affairs seem to have gotten into a muddle. Col. Bee, the Superintendent, and all hands, were discharged last week, and work consequently suspended. We are assured, however, that it will be resumed at an early day, though the prospect is not very flattering. Under the bill, if we recollect right, the Company is compelled to have ten miles north of Petaluma graded, ironed and in running order by November next. We need not disguise the fact that many of our citizens do not believe good faith is being shown in this matter. Since the vote we have endeavored to show that it would certainly be built inside the unspecified time, and regret exceedingly the manner in which affairs have been managed.
– Sonoma Democrat, May 29 1869
September 25 1869 – railroad work resumes
“How’s Your Railroad.”
It appears from a correspondence to the Healdsburg Flag that this question excites the belligerent organa of the people of Sonoma county. If a stranger goes into that county and asks “How is your railroad?” the chances are that he will be knocked down or sadly abused. The truth of the matter is, that the people have been humbugged, and kept out of a railroad till they are far in the rear of the State in the march of improvement. The citizens of Petaluma have always had an idea that a railroad would be injurious to their interests, aud have fought manfully against the construction of one. They did this openly until they saw it was of no use to do so any longer. They then pretended to favor it, and a company was formed, the citizens of Petaluma becoming large shareholders, and thus prepared, they elected the principal officers, to have the management in their hands, and they then let the whole matter go by default. A bill was passed by the last Legislature authorizing the county to donate five thousand dollars per mile towards the construction of the road, provided the people of the county would vote in favor of it. An election was held to decide the matter. By a very clever maneuvre on the part of Petaluma, it was incorporated so that the people should at the same time decide whether the road should be built from Vallejo via Sonoma to Santa Rosa or from Petaluma to Santa Rosa. A spirited canvass was made—the subsidy granted—the Petaluma route gained the victory. It was placed in the hands of a company, that, it is now seen, never intended to build the road and Petaluma is again victorious. Provision was made in the bill that ten miles of the road should be built in a certain time, or the subsidy be forfeited. That time has now about expired, and not a mile of the road is built. Thus a small portion of the people appear to hold the destinies of the balance of the county in their hands. The people, seeing that they are to have no railroad, and have been cheated out of the great advantages they had had a right to expect, feel very sore whenever asked “how is your railroad?” Sacramento Reporter, Nov, 2.
– Sonoma Democrat, November 13 1869
The Railroad Is Coming! Hurrah for the Railroad! This is the exclamation of everybody in this section of the county who favors this most important enterprise. There has been a feeling of doubt existing in the minds of even those who were the most confident that the road would be built, that by some hook or crook the managers of the new company would get into a wrangle over the matter, among themselves, and thereby cause great delay in the completion of the road. But it is gratifying to know that these fears have all been dispelled, and that the people are now confident that the company intend to commence work immediately and push on as rapidly as possible. We are informed by a gentleman who is one of the most prominent business men in Petaluma, that several large schooners have arrived at that place within the past week, loaded with ties for the Sonoma county Railroad. He also stated that it was his impression that a force of some fifty men were now at work on the grade, and that in a few weeks the company would have some two hundred men at work on the line. This looks like business, and it is now a settled fact that Sonoma will soon be linked to the Metropolis by iron bands, and the shrill whistle of the iron horse will ring through her beautiful valleys. With the railroad Sonoma will take the lead ol all other counties in the State, for her soil cannot be excelled.
– Sonoma Democrat, August 20 1870
Railroad Matters.— Since the arrival of a portion of the rail at Petaluma, which are to be used in the construction of the Sonoma County Railroad, things generally in this vicinity have began to brighten up, and we bear no more complaints as to the possibility of our county being compelled to remain in the back ground for the want of this great enterprise. The movements of those who are managing the interest of the company within the past two or three weeks, have completely allayed the fears of even the most skeptical. It is no longer a question of doubt. The iron has arrived and workmen are now engaged on the road. Those who are in a situation to be well posted on the matter, feel perfectly confident that within three months time Santa Rosa will be connected with the Bay by rail. Instead of a man being compelled to take three or four days to go to the Metropolis and transact his business and return home, he can then make the trip in a few hours by a much more pleasant mode of conveyance than the slow and lumbering stage coach. Our citizens are rejoiced that their labors on behalf of this enterprise are now about to be crowned with success. They have waited long and patiently for it, feeling a consciousness that it would rebound to the benefit and prosperity of every section of the county, and when the shrill whistle of the Iron horse announces the approach of the cars, our people will send up a good hearty cheer as they bid goodbye to the horrible adobe flats between this place and Petaluma.
– Sonoma Democrat, August 27 1870
It is Coming —The work on the railroad is being pushed on with vigor. The tents of one of the camps is now five miles this side of Petaluma. A portion of the track has been laid, and a construction car is running. So far all the work has been done bv white men, and it is the intention, we are told, to employ no slavish Chinese labor in the completion of this enterprise the people of our county will award Mr. Donahue the praise that he is deserving of, for employing white men to work on the road instead of Chinese slaves, who contaminate everything they come in contact with.
– Sonoma Democrat, September 10 1870
The Railroad Is Coming.
If there is any skeptical individual in our community who thinks we are not now destined to have a railroad, we ask him to take a ride down the Petaluma road, and ere he reaches within five miles of that thriving little city he will become convinced that it is no longer an imaginary affair, and having an existence only on paper. On Monday last, we had occasion to pay a short visit to Petaluma, and as a matter of course was looking out for the approach of the cars and listening for the startling shriek of the locomotive. The object that attracted our attention was a number of white tents in a field some five miles this side of the city on the ranch of Mr. Ely. Here we found a large number of men busily engaged in leveling the grade preparatory to laying the ties and rails. From this point all was bustle and activity, and soon we hove in sight of that portion of the track which is now completed a distance of three miles. Upon entering Petaluma at the head of Main street, we came upon the main force of workmen employed on the road, and joyfully beheld the first locomotive which was just preparing to start on its trial trip. After a brief stay in the city and finishing up our business, we proceeded in company with Mr. Berger’s well known citizen of that place, out to where quite a number ot people had congregated, to witness the move incuts of the iron horse. In a short time after arriving upon the busy scenes, our guide introduced us to Mr. Harris, the energetic and gentlemanly superintendent of the road. He very politely invited us to get on the engine with him and take a ride. Scarcely had we stepped upon the platform before the bell began ringing and the hissing sound of the steam announced that the time for starting had arrived. We proceeded up the road a short distance and then returned to the starting point, everything seeming to work perfectly satisfactorily. Mr. Fenton, the engineer, has had great experience in railroading, and Mr. Craig makes an excellent conductor. Immense piles of ties and rails are now lying on the bank ot the slough, and more arriving daily. The Superintendent, Mr. Harris, informed us that in consequence of the great amount of carpenter work that is to be done, it will be impossible for the road to be in running order to Santa Rosa in less than six or seven weeks. The construction cars have now arrived, and the track will be completed as soon as possible, which will be one ot the best and safest in the State. The surveyors are now at work a short distance below town, and but a little time will elapse ere our people will bid good by to the lumbering stage and in its place enjoy the comforts and ease of the beautifully finished car…
– Sonoma Democrat, September 17 1870
The Railroad.— Work is being pushed ahead as rapidly as possible on the road, and it is thought by some that it will be completed to this point by the last of October. During the past week Mr. Donahue and a number of other gentlemen connected with this enterprise paid our town a visit. As yet it is impossible to tell where the depot will be, although it is rumored that the company have purchased land on the other side of the creek for depot purposes.
– Sonoma Democrat, October 1 1870
The Depot.— Now that the railroad is nearly within our town limits, much speculation is going on as to where the depot will be located. It was rumored here some weeks ago, that arrangements of a satisfactory character had been completed between Mr. Donahue and Messrs. Boyce and Clark, for the purchase of eight acres of land lying near the creek at the foot of Third street. This, however, turns out not to be the case, as do final arrangements were ever completed between the above named parties. There is a petition being circulated now, and signed by the property owners ot the town, for the purpose of having all the property taxed proportionally, and the sum so realized to go towards the buying of the land we here named, whereon the depot will be located. The chances are favorable for the location to be on the Boyce and Clark property.
– Sonoma Democrat, October 22 1870
THE RAILROAD.
The first passenger car, bearing the name of “Donahue,” arrived at this place crowded with passengers on Saturday last. Considerable rejoicing was manifested by our people over its arrival, and in the afternoon large numbers went to the terminus of the road, about a mile from town to get a sight of the first railroad car that ever made its appearance near Santa Rosa. To many, it was a novel sight, as they had never seen one before, and they could scarcely find words to express their admiration. All seemed fully conscious of its great advantages over the slow, lumbering stage, and were anxious to experience the delightful sensation of ”riding on a rail.” In the afternoon an excursion party, composed of the prominent citizens of our town, in conjunction with a number from the lower end of the county, went over the road on a pleasure trip to Petaluma. Being in charge of Captain Wright, the genial and affable Superintendent of the road, it was impossible for them to have anything less than a jolly good time. The locker was supplied with any amount of champagne, cigars, etc., and many a toast was drank to the health of Mr. Donahue and the rest of the gentlemen connected with the road. Capt, Wright is finishing up the work on the road between this place and Petaluma as rapidly as possible. On Sunday last we had the pleasure of making a trip with him, during which he generously furnished us with all the information we desired. In consequence of the amount of carpenter work to be done on the road between Petaluma and Lakeville, it will be fully a month yet ere that portion of the work will be finished. Until it is completed they will continue to run the one passenger car, in addition to an open car which can be used by those desirous of being out in the open air. The trip will be made regular each day, leaving Petaluma at eight o’clock in the morning, and returning from here at four o’clock in the afternoon. The fare will be one dollar each way. So far the track reflects great credit upon those who have had the management of its construction, and it will bear comparison with any in the State. The time consumed generally in making the trip from here to Petaluma, sixteen miles including stoppages, is aboat forty-five minutes. When the heavy, powerful engines are in operation, it is thought that thirty minutes will be the time made. All on board enjoyed the trip greatly, and returned to town in the afternoon with glowing accounts of having to encounter neither dust nor adobe mud on the way. We desire to return our thanks to Capt. Wright, also, to Mr. Craig, the conductor, for favors shown on the trip.
– Sonoma Democrat, October 29 1870
The New Locomotive.
During the past week the large and powerful locomotive “San Jose” has been put on the route between this point and Petaluma. The cars are now making two trips daily, and connect with the boats for San Francisco. Messrs. Clark & Bostwick, representing the “Fashion” and “California” stables, run their stages daily to the termini of the road, and go crowded each trip. These gentlemen stand foremost among our enterprising citizens and deserve to meet with success. Work is being prosecuted vigorously on the track between Petaluma and Lakeville, and in a few more weeks the passenger trains will be on, and the people of Santa Rosa will be within three hours ride of San Francisco. This is certainly a glorious change for the better, and will be fully appreciated by our people, who have for years in the winter time been compelled to pay a high price for walking through adobe mud and dragging a lumbering old stage to Petaluma, taking at least one day and a half to reach the Bay city. The completion of the railroad has played sad havoc with the arrangements of those who formerly mapped out the course of travel, and now the people in this vicinity can visit the metropolis much cheaper and more comfortable, besides saving a great amount of valuable time.
– Sonoma Democrat, November 5 1870
The Depot Question Settled.—The question which has been uppermost in the minds of our citizens (or the past month as to where the Railroad Company would permanently locate their depot, has at last been definitely settled to the satisfaction of all parties concerned. On last Saturday a meeting was held, and the vexed question brought to a termination. The company is to have seven acres ot land, situated half a mile from the Court House, and lying between Third and Fourth streets. This property formerly belonged to Messrs. Boyce and Clark, each of whom gave $100 toward its purchase for the use of the Railroad Company. The citizens of the town subscribe $300, and the Board of Trustees become responsible for the balance. The company have purchased the property of Henry A. Peabody, Esq., which adjoins that which has lately come into their possession. It is the opinion of Captain Wright that in thirty days the depot will be established on this side of the creek. A pile-driving machine will be brought up from the city in a few days, so that work can be commenced on bridging the creek. The value of the land to be used for depot purposes was estimated by the appraisers at $1,000. The place selected is the most advantageous one that presented itself, and will give universal satisfaction to our citizens.
– Sonoma Democrat, November 19 1870
Railroad.
The cars are making their regular trips daily from this place to Petaluma, and considerable travel and freight are passing over the road. The travel through our county now, although much greater than what it was formerly, will be largely increased as soon as the road is completed and in running order to Lakeville. At present there is but one passenger car on the road, and in making a trip from Petaluma to this place on Monday  last, we were convinced, from the crowded condition of the passengers, that they thought the accommodations entirely too limited. However, all were willing to adapt themselves to circumstances, feeling thankful for having escaped the jolting and adobe mud which they formerly had to encounter when traveling by stage. In a few days more the lower end of the road, which is being worked under the supervision and guidance of that clever gentleman, Captain Wright, the Superintendent, will be completed. The Captain has met with many arduous difficulties in constructing the portion of the work, but his energy has overcome them all, and shortly the snort of the iron horse, accompanied by his long train of handsome and highly finished cars, will be heard at Lakeville. At that place the beautiful and fast steamer Sacramento is now waiting to be called into service. She is a fast boat, and her accommodations for the comfort and convenience of passengers are unsurpassable. The trip from the city into the very heart of old Sonoma—with her delightful climate and fertile fields, will then indeed be one of pleasure and recreation. Hundreds will visit our county then, who, until the locomotive began to traverse our valleys, would never have visited our county. The officers of the road are, with no exceptions, noted for their affability and politeness. Captain Wright, the Superintendent, has made a host of warm friends, and they continue to increase daily. To take a trip on the cars with him is a sure guarantee of a day’s pleasure. Mr. Craig, the conductor, has also become very popular with the people. He is a clever and genial gentleman, and understands the duties of his position thoroughly. The officers are all clever gentlemen, and are always found, as they should be, courteous and polite in the discharge of their respective duties.
– Sonoma Democrat, November 26 1870
two artlcles written by “Handy,” and published recently in the Crescent, in regard to dividing Sonoma County…There should not be any jealousy between our city and Santa Rosa. Petaluma only differed with Santa Rosa in claiming that the railroad must accommodate both towns, instead of passing directly from Santa Rosa to Vallejo. Petaluma has succeeded in getting it where she desired; both towns have the benefit of the road; we are within thirty minutes run of the county seat, and liberal minded men should be satisfied. Nature has given us the best point for trade, while the railroad will tend to equalize the advantages of the up-country towns, and bring them in competition with Petaluma. Santa Rosa is much nearer the centre of the county, and is, therefore, entitled to the Court House. We were in hopes that the railroad would so connect us that all ill feelings between our towns would be dispelled, and we regret to know that even “Handy” desires to disturb our harmony and dismember our grand old Democratic county.
– Sonoma Democrat, December 31 1870
The Railroad —By the beginning of the new year the railroad will be completed and the cars running to Donahue, which will link us to the great cosmopolitan city of San Francisco, For years this has been the hope and desire of many of our enterprising citizens throughout the county. Various efforts were made by them to unite our fertile fields by bands of iron to this great commercial market but their labors signally failed through various causes. But at last the good work is accomplished, and the produce raised by the farmers of old Sonoma can now be transported speedily and cheaply to market. A new era has been opened in the history of our county, and its future is bright with promises of renewed life and activity.
– Sonoma Democrat, December 31 1870
The Excursion on Saturday Last.
Vague rumors were in circulation, during the early part of last week, that an excursion party from San Francisco was coming up to Santa Rosa on Saturday, at which time the first train would run through from Donahue to Santa Rosa. Nothing definite was known, however, and up to Thursday evening, on going to press, we were unable to say positively that there would be an excursion, but gave the report as it came to us. On Friday, however, one point was settled, namely, that some excursionists were coming at the time mentioned, but as to the number all were in the dark.
LIGHT ON THE SUBJECT. The following day cleared up the mystery. A long train of cars came in sight of the depot, with over twelve hundred persons on board. There were, in all, eighteen cars, most of them open freight cars fitted up with temporary seats, and gaily decorated with flags and evergreens. Three bands of music, including the juveniles of the Industrial School, a bright set of little musicians, under the charge of Mr. Pelton, accompanied the party; also, two or three military companies from the city and Petaluma.
THE ARRIVAL. The scene at the depot on the arrival of the party was a sight well worth seeing. A large throng of ladies and gentlemen from our town had gone out to welcome their visitors, attended by the Santa Rosa Brass Band, and the train was greeted with music, cheers and waving of hand kerchiefs, which was returned with interest by the immense crowd of excursionists. Owing to the great number of those present, it was utterly impossible to find vehicles enough to bring them all to town, and many of both sexes were compelled to walk in, a distance of nearly a mile. This was not very pleasant to begin with, particularly as but one hour was allowed to get to town and return in time for the homeward trip. Such a pushing, rushing and scampering down the road and across lots, has not been seen for many a day in these parts.
IN TOWN. In a short time Santa Rosa was full of people, nearly all of whom had arrived with appetites sharpened by fasting from the time of leaving the city, some six hours before. Again came disappointment, as it was utterly impossible to wine and dine such a multitude without preparation and within the brief space allowed for their stay. In consequence of this the visit was neither pleasant to our citizens nor to the excursionists, who, by the way, were as jolly a crowd of good fellows and fair ladies as we have ever seen together, and after bustling about for a few minutes in a most disagreeable and unsatisfactory manner, a grand rush was made for the cars to take them home.
MORE BLUNDERING. Here again came trouble. Many of the people of Santa Rosa desired to accompany their friends on the return trip as far as Donohue, but could net ascertain definitely, until the train was about to start, whether any provision had been made to bring them back, that night. In addition, invitations had been issued with a sparing hand. Consequently, only a small number from this place went down. On whose shoulders rests the blame for all the mistakes and blunders which characterized this excursion, we are not prepared to say, but there is enough of it to go round on all concerned.
HOMEWARD BOUND. The down trip was remarkably jolly, under the circumstances. On reaching Petaluma the cars stopped one hour, giving all an opportunity for a brief visit to the metropolis of our county. At the expiration of that time the whistle sounded, and the train started for Donahue, which was reached in a very short time. At this new town the steamer “Sacramento” was lying alongside the company’s wharf, ready to carry the gay voyagers to the city. A splendid collation was spread on board the steamer, and the manner in which the good things disappeared showed that this was emphatically one of the substantial pleasures of the trip. On the way down the company had a glorious time, dancing and speech-making being, the order of the day.
PERSONAL. Among the visitors to Santa Rosa on this occasion were Peter Donahue, President of the Railroad Company, Senator Wand, Assemblymen Griswold and Homer…and a boat of others, old friends and good citizens, whom we cannot now recall by name.
– Sonoma Democrat, January 7 1871
Going to Work. —We are informed that work is to he commenced at once on the railroad bridge across Santa Rosa creek.
– Sonoma Democrat, January 7 1871
Inauguration of the S. F. & N. P. Railroad
Last Saturday was the occasion of a grand jubilee for Sonoma county. The long-hoped for railroad through her center was built, and the formal inauguration of the same gave an opportunity for a first-class “blow out.” Invitations were pretty generally issued by President Donahue for an excursion from San Francisco to Santa Rosa. Accordingly several from this city availed themselves of the opportunity and went to San Francisco in order to make the first through trip. The Company’s steamer Sacramento left Jackson Street Wharf, San Francisco, about eight and a half o’clock, loaded with passengers, among whom were some of the most noted and substantial men of the state. Two fine bands of music accompanied the excursion, as also the California Guard and Capt. Bluxome, with his celebrated battery, which did lusty service in firing salutes at different points along the route.
PETALUMA ASTIR.
Our citizens knowing that the train was expected here about eleven, kept a sharp look-out across the valley for the train, and all good observatory points contained more or less of humanity, eagerly watching to see the iron horse come up the track. Owing, however, to some detention, it did not arrive until after twelve, and was several minutes behind the time of the steamer Petaluma, whose passengers arrived in this city some minutes ahead. In the meantime an immense concourse of people had gathered at the depot in East Petaluma. Maj. Armstrong, with the Hewston Guard, headed by the Petaluma Brass Band, turned out to welcome the excursionists, and receive their brothers in arms. As the long train, consisting of three passenger and twelve platform cars, came in sight, the cannon from the Plaza fired a salute, and was soon replied to by Bluxome’s Battery. After stopping about three-quarters of an hour, on order to take aboard the excursionists from this city, the train proceeded on its way.
TO SANTA ROSA.
The day was surpassingly pleasant, and every one looked happy and seemed to enjoy the run up, which was made in fifty minutes. The beautiful appearance of our valley, that in passing farm houses, residences, or even single individuals, the enthusiasm would find vent in prolonged cheers, while ladies handkerchiefs waved in profusion. At Santa Rosa the train was met by a brass band, and many citizens in carriages and wagons, while anvils were improvised for cannon, and kept hot with echoing salutes. The people at the County Seat must certainly have fancied they were taken, as the immense numbers poured into the town, filling the streets with a life and bustle, rarely witnessed on Montgomery or Main. The excursionists passed the hour allotted to them there, by wandering around the town, admiring its locality and the many pretty and cosy residences that are observable on every hand. More particularly did the San Franciscans admire and even go into raptures over the climate, whose mildness was such a pleasant and agreeable transit from the bitter winds and cold fogs of the Bay City.
HOME AGAIN.
Stopping at Santa Rosa for about an hour, the train returned, making the down trip between Santa Rosa and Petaluma in thirty-seven minutes. After tarrying at Petaluma long enough for the military to go through with their usual courtesies, proceeded to Donahue, where they arrived about dark. On going aboard the Sacramento, the hungry excursionists were delighted to find an ample dinner spread out for them in the spacious cabin, while received ample attention, as most of the party had not broken their fast since leaving their homes in the morning. After their greedy appetites had been thoroughly satisfied at Hendricks’ well-filled tables, post prandial toasts and speeches were indulged in by the passengers, and remarks made by Mssrs. H. M. Newall, Esq., of San Francisco, Peter Donahue, and others…
– Petaluma Argus, 7 January 1871
DONAHUE’S RAILROAD.
…The crowd at Santa Rosa was hardly less than Petaluma supplied. A score or more conveyances of various descriptions carried a portion of the excursionists to the town; the remaining portion enjoying the delights of a pedestrian trip to same point of destination. Santa Rosa was taken by surprise, it having been announced only that morning that the inauguration was to come off that day consequently Santa Rosa was unprepared to receive visitors, who, after an hour spent in inspecting the streets of the pleasant little village, returned to the cars and turned homeward…
– San Francisco Chronicle, January 1 1871
Opening of the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad.
…A very pleasant ride by the train in an hour or so brought the excursionists, to the vicinity of Santa Rosa, through a pleasant country, but looking rather parched now, in much need of the life giving rains. The advance on the village itself was made in a disorderly manner — partly on foot, and partly in conveyances of every possible character. A well-known railroad man — and as jolly as he is well-known — made his entry into that smiling village with a large party of ladies and gentlemen in a truck, drawn by two very powerful, but deliberate mules. The vehicle, so far as elegance is concerned, could not be pronounced a success, but it rumbled along nevertheless with great effectiveness. There was no other conveyance on the road that could bar its progress at least. Never was such military pageant ever understood before in Santa Rosa — two whole companies of soldiers parading there in all the panoply of war, marching and countermarching on the principal street. In the distance cheerful anvils, handled by resident gunners, sent forth constant explosions as a token of greeting. But provisions were dreadfully slack in Santa Rosa. The hotel openly confessed its inability to meet the requirements of so great a host; shut up its dining room remorselessly; could not do it; could not begin to do it, but melted when besought for the sake of the Blessed Virgin a cup of tea for a suffering lady. On returning to the station, a lunch was provided for the hungry excursionists, to which we need not say that ample justice was done…
– Daily Alta California,  January 1 1871

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