Santa Rosa’s Rincon Nursery

Written By: Katherine J. Rinehart
Published: May 16, 2022

The Rincon Nursery was established in 1939 on the former Sheridan Baker ranch. Baker, founder and first president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, sold the 15-acre property on Sonoma Highway to prominent Santa Rosa prune grower Clyde von Grafen and his wife Genevieve in 1933. The ranch, located across the street from the Old Trail Inn (known today as Hank’s Creekside Restaurant), was considered suburban compared to the von Grafens’ previous Bellevue district ranch.

According to a Press Democrat article, Robert von Grafen, son of Clyde and Genevieve, opened the nursery in July of 1939. Robert, 25 at the time, had moved back to Santa Rosa from San Francisco where he had worked for the American Trust Company.

The Rincon Nursery specialized in ornamental and flowering shrubs and fruit trees. It

was one of eight nursery businesses operating in Santa Rosa during the 1940s. The others were Charles Cook, Jr. on West Barnham Avenue, Ellis Greenhouses on Sebastopol Road, The Flower Shop on Santa Rosa Avenue, Fred Grohe Company at 1313 McDonald Avenue, George King’s Nursery on Monroe Street, Prickett’s at 5173 Sonoma Highway, and Gail Wright’s Nursery at Wright’s Auto Court on South A Street and Redwood Highway.

When Robert joined the Army Air Corps in January 1942, nursery management was turned over to his father. After the war, he returned to Santa Rosa and the nursery and became involved in the Redwood Empire Nurserymen’s Association. He was president of the organization when Howard Gilkey, the landscape architect who designed Santa Rosa’s Juilliard, Burbank, Fremont, and Doyle parks, came to speak to the group in March of 1947.

Two years later, Clyde von Grafen acting as co-owner of the Rincon Nursery, donated seeds for a mass planting of young cedar trees planted along the Luther Burbank Memorial Highway between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol as part of the Burbank Centennial program. Among those planting trees were members of the Santa Rosa FFA who planted trees at the west end of the highway and Analy High FFA at the east end.

Ruth Cullen, the nursery’s bookkeeper since 1947, assumed management of the business in December 1949. Clyde became increasingly involved with the Sonoma County Fair, where he served as director of the flower show for many years, and Genevieve von Grafen died in 1950.

By 1953, Robert appears to have left the nursery – having opened von Grafen’s Sales Furniture Company.

Ruth Clough Cullen was born in 1899 and grew up in Merced County, where her father, Alfred Gilman “Fred” Clough, served as county assessor. After completing her studies at Fresno State Normal School, she worked as a kindergarten teacher in Fresno and married Lloyd Cullen, a graduate of the University of California’s College of Agriculture at Davis. In 1934 the couple and their daughter Mary (Mimi) moved to Santa Rosa from Honolulu, where Lloyd had worked for Shell Oil. The family lived at 4671 Sonoma Highway.

Lloyd was employed by Texaco Oil Company until being elected to the Sonoma County of Supervisors in 1940. After leaving the board in 1948, he took a job as business manager of the Sonoma County Hospital. When he retired from the hospital, he planned to spend time working with Ruth at the nursery, but sadly he died just a few months after she took over the business.

In addition to running the nursery, which maintained an extensive stock of trees, plants, and shrubs and provided garden design services, Ruth played an active leadership role in several local civic and social organizations, including the Rincon Valley Business Association, the Business and Professional Women’s Club, the Soroptimists of Santa Rosa, Eastern Star and the Redwood Chapter of the California Association of Nurserymen.

When plans to build the Flamingo Hotel on the original von Grafen property were approved in 1956, Ruth moved the nursery to a 4½ acre site at 4050 Sonoma Highway. Her daughter, Mimi, and her son-in-law, Will Bergwall, joined Ruth in running the business in 1974. Ruth died in 1986, and the nursery was sold in 1988 to Bill Buchanan, a Santa Rosa business park developer.

Buchanan renamed the nursery Calloway’s Nursery and Garden Center and managed it, along with his wife Lindy Buchanan and business partner Mike Christ until the early 2000s. Fifty-six homes now occupy the site. The only indication that one of Santa Rosa’s oldest nurseries occupied this location is the street named Calloway Drive.

Note: I relied on city directories for information about what nurseries were in business in Santa Rosa during the 1940s. It’s possible I left a business out—my apologies in advance if I did. If you have information to share about the history of a Santa Rosa nursery, please feel free to contact me at katherine@kjrinehart.com.

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