LeBARON: Santa Rosa forms historical group to plan city's 150th birthday
Published: Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 5:44 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 5:44 p.m.
It is an understatement to say that Sonoma County has a rich history. The diversity of its landscape and the people who live on it makes it unique. None of the other 57 counties in California can tell more interesting stories than Sonoma County's accounts of the last 200 years.
These stories of the past are well represented by many organizations founded for exactly that purpose — preserving and maintaining that precious history. Heading the list is the Sonoma County Historical Society, a group founded in the 1950s that began preserving artifacts of the past in a tiny museum on Summerfield Road shared with glass-cased dioramas of Hugh Codding's big game trophies.
Because each town and community in the county is different from the other, there are, in addition to the county society, which was the founding body for the Sonoma County Museum and the impetus to move the Old Post Office, many smaller societies working to keep the past alive in Sonoma, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Windsor, Glen Ellen, Monte Rio, West County, Cotati, Bodega Bay and West Marin's Tomales (which includes Valley Ford). I'm sure to have missed some.
And near the geographic center of this interesting county is Santa Rosa, with a population nearing 170,000, which, as the official seat of government, considers itself the capital city of this domain.
Such an air of importance makes it hard to understand why it is the only city in the county that does not have a historical group of its own. At least, not up until now.
THERE IS every reason to believe that, after 158 years of existence, 144 of them as an official chartered city, Santa Rosa has finally been “discovered” by the history community.
This issue was raised last spring when Santa Rosa's relatively new city manager started asking around about a group that might take on the planning of the city's sesquicentennial, which will come up in 2018.
In the city Kathy Millison last managed, the centennial planning had been done by the historical society. But Santa Rosa, she discovered, had no such thing.
She mentioned it to people who talked to other people. And a buzz began. Nowadays, one might say it went viral, since word of mouth is the original social media.
As a result some three dozen interested citizens met early this month to talk about the prospects for such an organization. Not a city committee, they were quick to point out, but a freestanding, proper historical society — just like the ones in all the other towns around.
They were high school history teachers, retired college professors, architects, archeologists, writers, members of “old families,” and representatives of some of the special interest history organizations that are active in the city, like Luther Burbank House & Gardens, Friends (and relations) of the Carrillo Adobe, the Cemetarians and, most assuredly, the Sonoma County Historical Society, with its 550-plus members, many of whom live in Santa Rosa.
So where does it go from there? There was a committee appointed to talk about by-laws and the steps necessary for nonprofit status. And there will be more meetings. The word will get around.
There are important things to talk about. The Carrillo Adobe, where Santa Rosa began, is crumbling away despite the best volunteer efforts on the part of the FCA to maintain what they don't own and can't truly protect.
The city archives are not readily accessible to all. Plans to bring the Hoag House, once the oldest wood frame dwelling in the downtown area, back from its exile near Spring Lake Park have faltered. Then there's the question of Old Courthouse Square. And, if Measure Q passes, mini-histories of those seven districts — come to think of it, not a bad project even if Q doesn't pass.
And, hanging out there waiting to be addressed is the matter of the sesquicentennial. A little more than five years to plan a blockbuster of a birthday party.
By California standards, 150 years is not to be taken lightly. Santa Rosa was an economic and political force in its formative years. You'd be surprised at how important it was in the days when Northern California dominated.
IT'S A WORTHY beginning. It would seem that this new organization has potential to introduce many Santa Rosans to a town they have yet to meet, a town with a past that may surprise them at times.
There are undoubtedly lessons to be learned. How did Santa Rosa of 2012 get this way? How did it become the county seat? Has it always been the biggest town?
As retired Sonoma State professor Dan Markwyn likes to remind us: “History is not only to describe, but to explain.”
This is the charge.
So I predict that this dedicated band of three dozen will be 100 or more by this time next year — or my name isn't Nostradamus.
ACTUALLY, when we start talking about 100s, my name is Mud.
Last month I wrote about Mead Clark Lumber Company's 100th anniversary. And I thought it would be nice to name the other businesses that could claim 100 years in Santa Rosa.
Alas, I waded into a journalistic morass and, apparently, I'm still sinking. Every week brings notification of a business I missed. This week it's Stevenson Equipment Company, family-owned since 1908. Last week it was King's Nursery, family-owned since 1896. Next week ... I don't want to think about it.
Obviously, I ignored one of the basic laws of journalism: Avoid using terms like “largest,” “first-ever” and “only.” To these I would now add “oldest.” And close the book on this chapter.
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