Sonoma County Ag and Land Use History Part of Endangered Archival Collection

Written By: Katherine J. Rinehart
Published: March 2, 2021

Hidden away off Highway 12 at the base of Hood Mountain is a 1950s warehouse, once part of the Los Guilicos School for Girls. Since 1995 the building has housed the Sonoma County Archives (Archives). This treasure trove of historical records narrowly escaped destruction by both the Nuns Fire in 2017 and the Glass Fire in 2020.

The Sonoma County Library was established as the official Archives in 1965 by a joint resolution of the County of Sonoma and the City of Santa Rosa. The Archives collection consists of ledgers, architectural drawings, maps, surveys, petitions, photographs, and more. These unique materials tell the story of who we are and where Sonoma County fits within the context of state and national history.

A large percentage of the Archives contains records created by employees and volunteers working for Sonoma County departments, commissions, and committees, some of which no longer exist. Other materials include records from the Board of Supervisors and cities of Santa Rosa and Petaluma dating back to the mid-19th Century and items donated to the Library by individuals, businesses, and non-profit organizations.

No comprehensive inventory exists for the Archives, but partial indexes found in various formats and locations do. These indexes provide just enough information to make clear that this is a collection worthy of preserving and making accessible to the public in ways it has never been before.

A few highlights discovered via the Library’s catalog and the Online Archive of California include records associated with Dairyman’s Coast Bank (1901-1928), Lytton Springs School (1911-1951), McMillan Silver Mining Company (1877-1927), Ocean Township Justice Court (1916-1931), Petaluma Cooperative Creamery (1914-1978), Petaluma Treasurer’s Office (1867-1948), Santa Rosa Police Department (1890-1928), Sonoma County Clerk (1850-1988), Sonoma County District Fair (1891-1916), and Sonoma  County Hospital and Farm (1900-1929)

For those interested in the history of Sonoma County’s fruit industry, the Sonoma County Horticultural Commissioner reports (1889-1928) provide a unique perspective. These original documents predate the Sonoma County Crop Reports found on the Sonoma County Department of Agriculture and Weights & Measures website.

The California State Legislature approved an act that called for establishing Boards of Horticultural Commissioners for each county in March of 1889. The Board of Supervisors challenged the legality of the act, calling upon the district attorney to provide an opinion.  In the end, it took a lawsuit initiated by the Sonoma County Horticulture Society, whose members were represented by fruit packers, orchardists, nurserymen, and grape growers, to force the Board of Supervisors to comply with the act. It wasn’t until November of 1889 that the first Sonoma County Horticultural Commission met and set about their work of inspecting orchards and vineyards for “noxious insects” and providing for their “purification.”

Discovered amongst an overflowing banker’s box labeled miscellaneous petitions are items associated with Sonoma County’s participation in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, including a telegram to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors from J.M. Samuels, Chief of the Department of Horticulture, mentioning Mark McDonald. At the time, McDonald served as a commissioner for the World’s Fair, the only one from the Pacific Coast. McDonald was also one of the first to be appointed to the Sonoma County Horticultural Commission.

In another box of petitions, Walt Ryan, former Sonoma County Farm Bureau director and chairman of the Farm Bureau Agricultural Education Committee, found information about the creation and relocation of a road that helped settle a legal dispute concerning access to the Fitzpatrick Ranch at Bodega. This ranch was established in 1887 by Walt’s great great grandfather, Andrew Fitzpatrick. A 21st-century issue resolved through the use of historical documents.

Even before the fires, the building housing the Archives was identified as unsuitable. It has no environmental controls and is situated far from those who manage it. Librarians must transport materials back and forth from the warehouse to the Library in downtown Santa Rosa to address cataloging and rehousing issues and fulfill patron requests, turning simple research questions into lengthy, costly, and staff-intensive endeavors.

The Library paid for a space planning document in 2019 that provides specific recommendations on how and where the collection can be moved. Funding to carry out this work is available from revenue generated by the 2016 Measure Y sales tax measure.

An “Archives Update” is now a regular Library Commission agenda item, and Director Ann Hammond has authorized staff to begin a preliminary in-house inventory of the Archives. She and the Commission hope “that a solution can be identified as to custody, location, and management before the next fire season.”

To learn more about the contents of the Archives, search the Library’s catalog and the Online Archive of California. Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library staff are available to assist with searches and may be reached through the Library’s website https://sonomalibrary.org/locations/sonoma-county-history-and-genealogy-library

To find more information about efforts to preserve and relocate the Archives, go to the Advocates for the Sonoma County Archives website, Facebook, and Instagram pages.

Sources:

Santa Rosa Daily Democrat: “The Horticultural Law,” April 5, 1889; “The Sonoma County Board of Horticultural Met,” November 5, 1889.

Sonoma Democrat: “Horticultural Work. Plan of Work Adopted by the Board,” November 23, 1889.

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