The long history of The River House from home to restaurant to offices in Petaluma

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The River House now sits on Weller Street, filled with small offices. But that wasn’t always the case. Completed in 1900, the house was once the home of William Farrell, who served as mayor of Petaluma. At that time, it sat at the corner of East Washington and Williams street. As the decades marched on, the stately Victorian fell into disrepair. In the late 1970s, the fast-food chain Wendy’s made plans to open a restaurant on the property, and considered taking down the ragged structure. Helen Putnam, who was then representing Petaluma on the County Board of Supervisors, couldn’t bear the loss of one of our city’s historic homes. In 1979, she convinced restoration expert Skip Sommer, also an Argus-Courier columnist, to buy the run-down house. But there was a catch, he’d have to move it to a new location. She told him about a lot available right on the Petaluma River at 222 Weller St. It was $30,000, a high price for the time, but Putnam arranged for Sommer to purchase the house for just $1, so the deal was made. After carefully relocating and restoring the Victorian, he named it The River House and opened a restaurant in the mid-1980s. It was a popular spot for locals and visitors, earning several write ups in the San Francisco Chronicle. It later became The Old River Inn, a small bed and breakfast, before being transformed back into The River House restaurant by partners Boyd Jackman and Sharon Bourne. Through the 1990s, diners particularly enjoyed the Chelsea Room, a private space on the second floor with sweeping views of the river. It is pictured above in 1978 before the house was moved, in 2001 when it was a restaurant and in 2016 when it became an office.

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