Local History and Genealogy Notes

Five Carloads in Three Days

Photo courtesy of the Petaluma Museum

Lately I've been researching the importance of river and rail transportation to Petaluma's history. As I scroll through microfilm copies of local newspapers I come across all sorts of fun articles that provide a snapshot in time for when Petaluma was the center of commerce for the North Bay. Such articles include this one from the Argus dated June 15, 1922:

"On June 10th three carloads of Petaluma eggs were shipped to New York and on the 12th one carload was sent to Los Angeles, while on the 13th another carload was shipped to New York. The five carloads aggregated a total of 2504 cases for the three days which is not so bad."

Photo taken circa 1930 by Decker Studios. SCL Photo No. 21869

Those eggs could very likely have been shipped on the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railway which had just completed construction of the West Petaluma spur and trestle.

The spur linked to the P&SR's main line at approximately Payran Street, then ran south behind the businesses backing onto Water Street -  the Petaluma Poultry Company, Coulson Poultry & Stock Food Company, and Wilsey-Bennett Company - to Western Avenue. From Western Avenue and Water Street the spur continued onto the trestle with the G.P. McNear Company on one side, and the Petaluma River on the other. Having crossed the trestle, the spur continued south down First Street past Hunt & Behrens Feed Mill and warehouses, M. Vonsen Company Feed Mill, Cochrane Lumber Company, warehouses associated with G.P. McNear and the Poultry Producers and Central California and terminated at the Dow-Harriman Foundry, and the Petaluma Box Company at H Street, where Foundry Wharf is located today.


Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad Trestle Historic Structures Report prepared for the City of Petaluma by PAST Consultants - November 30, 2007

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Petaluma - December 1923

Polk's Petaluma Directory - 1929-1930

California Cattle Exhibit

SCL Photo No. 14662

I’m not sure what the story is behind this photo which according to the Sonoma County Library catalog was taken in 1959 at the Sonoma Marin Fair in Petaluma. The four nuns are unidentified, but the man in the middle is Earl Dolcini.

Chances are this image is not included in the exhibit currently on display at the California State Archives in Sacramento, but it got your attention – right?!

If you are looking to learn about an important part of California's agricultural heritage then you won't want to miss California Cattle – an exhibit focusing on the parallel development of the Golden State and its cattle industries which will be up through August 2013 at the California State Archives, 1500 11th Street, 4th Floor, Sacramento, CA. Open 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM weekdays. For more information go to http://www.sos.ca.gov/archives/exhibits/

Sonoma County Historical Society Seeks Nominations

Every March the SCHS recognizes the outstanding accomplishments of individuals and organizations serving the interests of Sonoma County history.  The competition is open to both members and non-members of the Society and nominations are due in January.

314 Bodega Avenue as it appeared in 2006. Photo courtesy of Katherine J. Rinehart

Rick and Trisha Young received the Brainerd Jones Preservation award last year for their amazing rehabilitation of a Petaluma bungalow located at 314 Bodega Avenue which is currently for sale. 

314 Bodega Avenue as it appears today. Photo courtesy of Westgate Real Estate.

Preservation is not the only category. There is also the Editor’s Award for Historic Scholarship, the Carmen J. Finley Historical Website Award, Robert Thompson Commercial Award and several others. For more information please contact SCHS president, Jeremy Nichols at Jeremy@cds1.net.

Wilsey-Bennett Co., Petaluma, Calif.

Wilsey-Bennett Co. Ships Eggs to London, England

Wilsey & Bennett, Co., yesterday completed packing 500 cases of Petaluma eggs which will go by steamer to London, direct. The firm has secured the entire compartment on the steamer and expect to land the eggs in perfect condition. They were carefully packed and processed for the long trip. The consignment was prepared by Manager I. Bureker. The cases were made by the Frasier box factory. The eggs were shipped under the brand of "Willbefresh" the trademark of the firm's processed eggs. On each case is printed in attractive letters: "Packed in packing house of Wilsey Bennett Co., Petaluma, California." (Source: Petaluma Daily Courier on May 28, 1922)

I believe that there are 180 eggs to a case so that means 90,000 eggs were shipped from Wilsey & Bennett, Co., which was located at 238 Main Street, to London on May 27, 1922 - perhaps that is when this photo was taken.

SCL Photo No. 295

Banned Books, Palm Trees & Hollywood

Today marks the end of National Banned Book Week. I’m disappointed that I was not organized enough to have put together an exhibit here at the Sonoma County History & Genealogy Library. I might have done something related to Storm Center, the 1956 film directed by Daniel Taradash that stars Bette Davis as a librarian who is asked by her city council, lead by a character played by Brian Keith, (remember Family Affair?!), to remove a book about Communism from the shelves of her library. The film was shot in Santa Rosa with most of the action taking place at the old Carnegie Library.

Santa Rosa librarian, Ruth Hall with Bette Davis - September 12, 1955. Photo taken by John LeBaron. SCL Photo No. 5193


In anticipation of next year I pulled out our “Storm Center” vertical file and came across some interesting bits of information including a short article that appeared in Modern Screen Magazine in which Bette is quoted as saying that “librarians almost always have been pictured as dowdy. Movies, novels, and short stories haven’t done right by librarians, and it is time somebody did something about it.” I love this - having just finished reading about stereotypes and librarians (fact, fiction or something in between?) for a school assignment. The article goes on to say how in preparation for playing the part of head librarian, Alicia Hull, Ms. Davis spent three months meeting with every librarian she could find and had come to the conclusion that librarians on the whole were not dowdy, but smart. Whether she meant smart in intellect or appearance or both is not clear, but she did question where the “dowdy librarian” cliché had originated. If Bette was here today I could tell her. It was Santa Rosa librarian Ruth Hall who Bette Davis modeled her character after. Ms. Hall describes the experience of working with a Hollywood star and the film making process in an article she wrote called Behind the Scenes of “Storm Center” that appears in the January 1956 edition of the California Librarian – a copy of which is in the vertical file as well as in the Rare Book Room.

Post card view of the Santa Rosa Carnegie Library that stood at the southwest corner of Fourth and E Streets - 1910. SCL Photo No. 4833


Ruth Hall tells a story that I didn’t see in any of the other newspaper clippings. At the time the library was constructed two palm trees were planted near the front entrance. As the trees matured some Santa Rosans, including Ms. Hall, found them unsightly. When the folks from Columbia Pictures asked if there was any civic improvement they might help with in exchange for permission to film, it was suggested that they pay to have trees removed. It’s hard to imagine just how unsightly those trees were given that the only photos I can find in the Library’s catalog are from when they were just sprouts. Today of course not only are the trees gone, but the old stone library as well. As far as I know Bette Davis never returned to Santa Rosa, but Santa Rosa continues to be a draw for Hollywood. For more on this check the Sonoma County Film Office web site. Meanwhile should you be interested, A DVD copy of Storm Center is available for loan from the Library.