Local History and Genealogy Notes

  • Book cover of Frances Dinkelspiel's new book photo

Fascinating New Book on California's Wine History

I just finished reading Frances Dinkelspiel’s new book Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession, and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California and recommend it highly. For those thinking that California’s wine industry had its start in Sonoma and Napa Counties you’ll be in for surprise.

Another surprise for me was learning of the connection between the author’s great, great grandfather, Isaias Hellman, and Joseph T. Grace, of Santa Rosa’s Grace Brothers Brewery.

Ms. Dinkelspiel writes that in 1920, after Prohibition went into effect, the California Wine Association, with headquarters in San Francisco, split its operations in two. One company kept the property and another kept the wine. Joseph Grace then purchased the CWA name and its wine which included two barrels of 1875 Port and Angelica which came from Hellman’s Cucamonga vineyard. It’s seems more than likely that Grace then had the wine bottled. For more of the story you’ll have to read the book.

Tangled Vines has been available since October of this year and the Sonoma County Library has purchased eight copies of which seven are circulating. There are 27 holds at the moment so if you’ve read the book and would like to donate it to the Sonoma County Library I’m sure it would be welcome.

  • Santa Rosa Water Works Ledgers Donated to the Library

    Santa Rosa Water Works Ledgers

Santa Rosa Water Works Ledgers Donated to the Library

Two collection ledgers for the Santa Rosa Water Works: 1897-1901 and 1905-1907 were donated this week to the Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library. These books will be of great use to anyone researching the history of a Santa Rosa property. Knowing when a property started receiving water service usually indicates that a building had been constructed.

According to Gaye LeBaron, Dee Blackman, Joann Mitchell and Harvey Hansen's book: Santa Rosa A Nineteenth Century Town, Santa Rosa Water Works was incorporated in March of 1873.

Mark L. McDonald purchased controlling interest in the company in 1875. This would explain why the ledgers were found in a dumpster years ago that was placed next to the grand residence of Mark and Ralphine McDonald at a time when the mansion was slated for demolition.

The woman who "retrieved" the ledgers took them with the idea that she'd eventually donate them to a research facility where they'd be used. That day came on December 3, 2015.


  • Not Mariano Vallejo's Casa Grande

    Sonoma County Library Photo No. 182

Salvador's Adobe Not Mariano's

The Press Democrat featured an online photo gallery - Things You Will Never See Again in Sonoma Valley - a few weeks back that included images from the Sonoma County Library. One photo, described as depicting Mariano Vallejo's Casa Grande, caught the attention of Emily Walski, an interpretative specialist with Sonoma State Historic Park. Emily was under the impression that no photo of Vallejo's "Casa Grande" existed and that the Library's photo actually showed a building that is now home to the El Dorado Hotel. After a bit of research and input from Dr. Peter G. Meyerhof we've discovered that the photo in question was one of two adobes owned by Mariano's younger brother, Salvador Vallejo. According to one source, a portion of the building was occupied by the El Dorado Hotel in 1849. Between 1858 and 1864 it was the home of Cumberland Presbyterian College, and then again, the El Dorado Hotel. The north end was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, but rebuilt and is still occupied by the El Dorado Hotel. Salvador Vallejo's other adobe would later be become the Swiss Hotel. 

  • Pacific Methodist College, Santa Rosa, Calif.

    Pacific Methodist College, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Beautiful Historic Photograph Donated to Library

The Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library received a wonderful donation last week from John Schubert, local historian and Guerneville Regional Library Advisory Board member. John was the winning E bay bidder on this beautiful photograph. The only identification given was that of the photographers: Downing, Rea & Rauscher. In 1875, John Henry Downing, Thomas L. Rea, and Henry Rauscher formed their Santa Rosa partnership by taking over a business established by E. Kraft. The studio and gallery was located on Third Street in downtown Santa Rosa.

It was a sketch in Gorman's Santa Rosa Directory for 1887 that tipped me off that John's photograph was of the Pacific Methodist College that once stood on College Avenue at King Street.

According to the directory, the Pacific Methodist College had its beginnings at Vacaville, Solano County, California in the year 1861. During that year Rev. W.T. Lucky was President, a position he held until 1865. From 1865 to 1871, Rev. J.R. Thomas, D.D. was president of the College. In 1871, the College moved to Santa Rosa where "the citizens of that town had presented the institution with grounds and a building." 

In March of 1887, the faculty consisted of J.S. Austin, A.M., President, and Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy; Rev. S.M. Godbey, A.M., Professor of Natural Sciences; Ferdinand Kenyon, Professor of Mathematics; Rev. George B. Winton, A.M., Professor of Latin and Greek; E. Lerch, Instructor in Instrumental Music; and Miss Callie Brook, Instructor of Vocal Music.

Dan and Geraldine Peterson, in their book Santa Rosa's Architectural Heritage, speculate that A.P. Petit was the architect of the Pacific Methodist College. 

The Sonoma County History Index, which is accessed via the Sonoma County Library's online catalog, has several references to the College making it quite easy to learn more about this substantial structure as well as A.P. Petit. In the meantime, we are happy to be able to include this treasure in the Library's collection of photographs and make it available to the public. As it turns out we do have other images of the College, but none quite as impressive. Knowing the names of the photographers is significant too. Their works show up in a number of special collections around the San Francisco Bay Area.


  • A British Ranchero in Old California

    Portrait of Henry Dalton courtesy of the California Historical Society

Understanding Local History Within a Broader Context

Before there was a Sonoma County History & Genealogy Library there was the California Room located on the second floor of the Central Santa Rosa Library. In 1998 the "room" was moved to the Annex, a building located adjacent to the Central Library that was built for and occupied by the North Bay Cooperative Library in 1967. We refer to this building today as the Annex. In 2002, Sonoma County Library Commission, adopted a new mission statement for the California Room which was being called the local history and genealogy division of the Central Santa Rosa Library. Along with a new mission came a new name.

Although, no longer the California Room, the SCH&G Library houses a large collection of California history books including A British Ranchero In Old California: The Life and Times of Henry Dalton and the Rancho Azusa by Sheldon G. Jackson which I just completed.

As it turns out  Henry Dalton (1803-1884)  is my 3rd Great Grand Uncle. His niece, Elizabeth Dalton Perry, who was my paternal 2nd Great Grandmother. Henry settled in Southern California in 1843 which qualifies me for membership to the California Society of Pioneers. The California Society of Pioneers has beautiful museum, library and archive at the San Francisco Presidio that I visited for the first time in July while on a tour that was arranged by the Western Archives Institute of which I was a student.

My own personal genealogy aside, this book would be of interest to anyone wishing to gain a real sense of what life was like in early California - at least for one segment of the population. Names of those we think of as Northern California pioneers such Vallejo, Carrillo, Fitch, Larkin, O'Farrell, Limantour, Atherton, and Leidesdorff are included in Jackson's well written book. 

In keeping with the California history theme I've started a new book: Tangled Vines - Greed, Murder, Obsession in the Vineyards of California by Frances Dinkelspiel. Although the book starts in Napa County, I know that Ms. Dinkelspiel will take her readers back in time to Southern California where her, 2nd Great Grand father, Isaias Hellman (1842-1920), had a vineyard at Rancho Cucamonga where he produced wines in the 1870s.

All this has me thinking that perhaps I should initiate a California History Book Club here at the Sonoma County History & Genealogy  Library. To appreciate local history to its fullest, its important to be able to place that history within a broader context.

Please let me know if this is something of interest.