At the very top of Mount St. Helena is a marker commemorating the founding of Fort Ross in 1812. Why there is a sign concerning a place 32 miles away is not explained, and should anyone examine the monument further, a deeper meta-weirdness is revealed: It's really a sign commemorating an earlier sign.

After slogging up that steep and unforgiving trail for about three hours, a weary hiker also gets a mental workout in trying to grasp what the monument actually stated - which was that on this spot in 1912, a group of descendants of famous people put up this sign because on this spot there used to be a sign reading, 'two Russians were at this spot in 1841' which was removed from this spot in 1853.

Whew.

Intrigued but hopelessly confused, our intrepid hiker pulls a mobile phone from his/her backpack, certain that the cell towers also at the summit will provide a blistering signal (and hopefully not enough microwave energy to cause actual blistering).

From the internet, our visitor learns the monument actually describes how the mountain was named - which is a bit odd considering "Helena" does not appear anywhere on the marker. To paraphrase the top three results currently found by Google: During the 18th century Baron Count Rotchef visited Fortress Ross with his beautiful young wife Princess Helena, who was held in high regard by her people because. Helena joined a Russian survey party who ascended the peak in 1841, where they left a copper plate inscribed with her name and the date.

And that wasn't all; had our hiker Googled a bit further, (s)he would have discovered that as the Russians came down from the mountain, an Indian chief tried to kidnap the princess.

As Gentle Reader can surely guess, there's a whole lot of hokum to this story - problems that began even before the strange marker-about-a-marker was placed up there in 1912. It's been like a very old and pretty tangled ball of yarn that everyone likes to handle but no one bothers to unwind and fix.

Here is what we know to be facts: Some Russians actually climbed the mountain in 1841 and left a copper plate there. There really was a "Princess Helena" around here at the time. End of facts.

We don't know who the "Helena" was in the name, if the Russian named it before the day of their visit, or even that the Russians named it at all. Alexander Rotchev - the last administrator of Fort Ross and Helena's husband - did not mention the mountain at all in his memoirs.1

The only written evidence the Russians were on the mountain at all comes from Ivan Voznesensky, who was sent to the Russian colonies by the Imperial Academy of Sciences to document the territory. All he states in his travel journal is that on June 16, 1841 he climbed "one of the highest mountains on whose summit no one had then yet been."2

His journal didn't mention the plaque or that anyone else was with him, but there were two names scratched into the metal: His and Yegor Chernykh, an agronomist who was at Ft. Ross to train the colonists in better farming techniques. Together they traveled widely in the area, visiting Pomo villages and mapping the Russian River as far as modern Healdsburg.

And, of course, there's the copper plaque, which we know was actually on the mountain from a sighting of it in 1851. A letter to the Daily Alta California (transcribed below) described how nine men climbed the mountain and found a copper sheet about three feet square, "upon which was engraved hieroglyphics not by us decipherable." The group - none of whom had obviously ever seen Cyrillic - wondered if it could be Aztec, or the "handiwork of the Mongolian race as far back as the time of Confucius." The (un)helpful editor of the newspaper explained they saw the "latitude, longitude and altitude of the mountain, as ascertained by a party of Russian navigators," and that "it is said that similar copper-plates were placed on several other high peaks in the vicinity of the coast."

By 1866 the sign was gone. Another correspondent to the Alta wrote, "some years ago a fool or vagabond vandal removed an inscription that had been left on the summit" and the next year another informed the paper, "at the summit I found the post on which the Russians affixed the copper plate which was taken down several years ago by some persons who gave it to the State Geological Survey."

And that's the last we hear from anyone who had first-hand knowledge of anything related to the sign. Notice, too, that no one had yet claimed the Russian visit or the copper sign had anything to do with naming the mountain "Helena." That all changed forty years after the Russians had gone away.

(By the way: The village of St. Helena was given that name in 1855 because the local chapter of the Sons of Temperance men's group already called itself the "St. Helena Division." As their Division names usually reflected a town or landmark, it's safe to presume the mountain was commonly called Mt. St. Helena by then.)

From what I can find, the 1880 Sonoma county history was the first place the princess-namesake story shows up. The claim appears in a lengthy quote from Charles Mitchell Grant, an explorer and member of the Royal Geographical Society who then lived in the Bay Area. He had no expertise about the Russian colony at Fort Ross but twenty years earlier he had bummed around China and Russia, so apparently that made him an authority on all things Russian.3

Besides Grant's matter-of-fact claim that the mountain was named for the administrator's lovely wife, he also dishes up the first printed version of the kidnapping story. Grant wrote, "The beauty of this lady excited so ardent a passion in the heart of Prince Solano, chief of all the Indians around Sonoma, that he formed a plan to capture, by force or stratagem, the object of his love..."

That's a paraphrase from a story in General Vallejo's unpublished memoir, where supposedly Vallejo's key Indian ally, Chief Solano (Suisun tribal leader Sem-Yeto), meets Princess Helena while she and her husband are visiting Vallejo in Sonoma. That night Solano tells Vallejo he planned to abduct her and asks for Vallejo's approval. Vallejo is horrified and shames Solano into abandoning the notion. A translation of the full tale is found in the footnote.4

This isn't the place to really dive into a full analysis of the story, but I'll say only I don't believe it happened as Vallejo described. It fits too perfectly with the school of humor which could be called the "wise captain and the fool," where a stupid person is the butt of the joke because he must be instructed on how to behave properly. Vignettes with that theme were popular in newspaper entertainment pages during the 19th and early 20th centuries, usually with an underlying racist message - "those people" have strange ideas and aren't as good as the rest of us.

The less titillating info in the 1880 history was further news about the Russian plaque: "In the year 1853 this plate was discovered by Dr. T. A. Hylton, and a copy of it preserved by Mrs. H. L. Weston of Petaluma, by whose courtesy were are enabled to reproduce it. The metal slab is octagonal in shape, and bears the following words in Russian: RUSSIANS, 1841 E. L. VOZNISENSKI iii, E. L. CHERNICH".

Unfortunately, that terse description left unexplained whether Dr. Hylton took it away with him or just traced over what was written. Nor was it explained how large the original was. It was later stated the paper copy given to Mrs. Weston was only about five inches across and shaped like an octagon.5

If nothing more was written of the tale of the Russians on Mt. St. Helena, it would have ended up as an obscure anecdote to the history of Fort Ross. But starting in the early Twentieth Century, the story was transformed into a myth about the mountain of the beautiful princess and her thwarted Indian paramour. And all that is thanks to Miss Honoria R. P. Tuomey.



Honoria Tuomey was born in 1866 at her family's ranch off of Coleman Valley Road. Most of her life she was a grammar school teacher and principal in West County; the Sonoma County Museum has a box of her memorabilia which is greatly filled with yellowed photos of her posing with farmkids in front of one-room schoolhouses. She started by writing poetry and had a lengthy profile of Luther Burbank printed as a Sunday feature in a 1903 Los Angeles paper; Gaye LeBaron wrote a 1990 profile of Tuomey worth reading for general background on her life and works.


(RIGHT: Honoria Tuomey, 1912. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Museum)

Tuomey is best known today for her two-volume Sonoma county history published in 1926, and although LeBaron's remarks about those books might seem unkind, they really are worthless except for the biographies that makes up the entire second volume. The first book is interjected with a mish-mash of random facts, dubious hand-me-down stories and bits of melodramatic narrative  - complete with made-up dialog. Parts are even irrelevant to Sonoma county history; while there's hardly a word about the Chinese there is a full chapter on "the French in California." Overall it's even worse than Tom Gregory's 1911 history, and I suspect some of his research came from tall tales he swept up in Santa Rosa barrooms.

Honoria's history focused on West County - which isn't at all a bad thing, as all the other local histories dwelled heavily on Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Sonoma. Still, LeBaron quipped, "It weighted so heavily toward the coast that it threatened to tip the whole county into the Pacific Ocean." So it's not surprising Tuomey's book contains much on the history of the Russians and Fort Ross, with four chapters on it - far more coverage than she gave the Bear Flag Revolt and founding of the state.

Her passion for the Russian colony extended to the legend of the lost marker on Mt. St. Helena, twice climbing the mountain in search of clues, as she later revealed in an article.  "For several years I had read and researched, and interviewed old settlers, and all to no avail so far as obtaining a clue either to the existence and whereabouts of the plate, or its possible location on the mountain."6

Tuomey's quest for the marker ended when she came across an old pamphlet mentioning the business about Dr. Hylton and Mrs. Weston. That she didn't realize the same info could be found in Sonoma and Napa county histories published in the early 1880s says lots about her scholarship.

 With an eye on placing a replica on the very same rock to mark the centennial of Fort Ross, Honoria got busy. She asked the Kinslow Brothers - a company more accustomed to carving tombstones - to donate a marble plaque, with this engraved in the center: "RESTORED JUNE 1912 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING OF FORT ROSS." She asked a Santa Rosa jeweler to engrave three copper plaques: a reproduction of the original Russian, another with an English translation, and the largest of all with the names of some of Sonoma county's famed Mexican and American families. And she trekked up the mountain for a third time by herself to make sure she knew the proper place for all this to go. Say what you want about Honoria Tuomey, but she had remarkable dedication to her mission; she was around 45 years old while doing all this.

And thus on the 20th of June, 1912, Honoria led a small army of celebrants climbing up the mountain. At the summit the American flag was raised, messages and poems were read and speeches delivered. There was a stirring benediction and everyone sang "America" at the end. I have absolutely no doubt this was the happiest moment of her life.

Honoria Tuomey at the dedication of the Mt. St. Helena plaque. 1912. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Museum



A few weeks later the San Francisco Call presented a Sunday feature on the ceremony with an article by Tuomey. Per the Russian visit in 1841, she wrote:

...The complete personnel of this doughty expedition is not revealed in any records of history, but besides Doctor Wosnesenski and his friend, E. I. Tschernech, it included the handsome young Helena, Princess de Gagarine, wife of Alexander Rotcheff, the last governor of Ross settlement, and John Edward Mcintosh, grantee in 1837 by General M. G. Vallejo of the rancho Estero Americano to block Russian encroachments inland; also a small guard of soldiers. There were some lively thrills on that trip of some forty miles, not the weakest being occasioned by the attempt of old Chief Solano to abduct the princess. Up the rough, almost perpendicular side of the mountain the party mounted to the summit of the north peak, the highest point of elevation. Here upon a flat rock the copper plate was spiked and additional blocks were fitted to form a cairn. While the others knelt, the princess, raising her right hand, proclaimed the name of the mountain forever "Helena" in honor of her royal mistress and namesake, Helena, empress of Russia...

In this new, never-before-told version, it's getting pretty crowded up there at the summit, what with the princess, the soldiers and all. But thank goodness an armed escort was along on this trip because an Indian chief tried to snatch the princess. It's all a perfect example of classic Honoria Tuomey: 10 percent was probably true, 10 percent was iffy, 10 percent was clearly junk and the rest was stuff she heard somewhere and thought it sounded good.

It would be easy to presume she just made most of that up, but thanks to her 1924 article, we learn her embroidered details came from Dan Patton, who ran the Mount Saint Helena Inn (7 miles from Calistoga on highway 29) back when Tuomey was on the hunt for all things Russian.

It seems Patton was pals with William Boggs, a notable figure in Sonoma and Napa counties in the decades after statehood. Boggs had known a guy (no name given) who supposedly was one of the soldiers in that pack of Russians who went up the mountain in 1841; when the rest of his countrymen abandoned Fort Ross and left for Alaska at the end of that year he was left behind for some reason. The Russian told the story to Boggs who told the story to Patton who told the story to Tuomey.

"Documentary evidence may not always be obtainable, may not exist," she wrote, "but the free testimony of those who have lived and made history can be accepted, when known to have come down to us through veracious channels." Dear Honoria; I know a few people who might disagree with you on that - namely every historian.

Tuomey had other novel and elaborate ideas about how the mountain came to named that won't be detailed here. In a series of coincidences which Robert Ripley might have found hard to swallow, she believed it was independently christened "Saint Helena" three times - first by a Spanish friar, then by the Russians, and finally by Captain Stephen Smith of Bodega Bay.

Honoria R. P. Tuomey died in 1938. Besides the plaque on the mountain, she left hand-painted signs all over the county marking historic events - most (all?) are gone now, or stored away. But her real legacy is the unfortunate trail of misinformation about the Russian connection to Mt. St. Helena.

One afternoon I dived down the rabbit hole to see what people were writing about it since Honoria's heyday. In travel guides, books, newspaper and magazine articles I found 27 new and unique details to the three Tuomey theories before I stopped counting. Some lowlights:

The princess on the mountain named it after her aunt, the empress of Russia (who wasn't her aunt or named Helena); her arms were flung wide, Christlike, or she knelt in prayer as she named it after her patron saint; Russian sailors prayed or sang hymns. Another thread had Chief Solano and other Indians capturing the party at the base of Mt. St. Helena when Salvador Vallejo happened to come riding along to rescue them, or General Vallejo having to negotiate their release with the Vallejo silverware being Rotchev's gift for saving his wife. The original plaque was given to the Society of California Pioneers museum in San Francisco by Dr. Hylton, where it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake although it was never there.

Never, ever, is the simplest and most likely explanation discussed: That the "plaque" was possibly just the equivalent of 19th century grafitti - two guys taking a break after a long hike and scratching their names on a piece of scrap metal.

As of this writing (December, 2017) the park is closed because Mt. St. Helena burned in the Tubbs fire. I have been unable to reach anyone in the park service who can tell me whether the marker is still intact; the copper could have melted or the whole thing could have been run over by a big CalFire truck.

But if it's really gone, let's not rush to replace it - we don't need to keep inspiring people to write phony history. Should the sign be indeed replaced, let's at least offer an honest representation of what it said: "Russians Eli and George, June 1841." And just leave it at that.


1 Most of Rotchev's papers were destroyed in a 1974 fire, but in the Argus-Courier, October 12, 1963, there was a quote from a 1942 letter from Mrs. Harold H. Fisher: "Mr. Redionoff (chief of Slavic Divison, Library of Congress) wrote me that the A. G. Rotchev memoirs do not mention the mountain..."

2 The odyssey of a Russian scientist: I.G. Voznesenskii in Alaska, California and Siberia 1839-1849 by Aleksandr Alekseev, 1987

3 An overview of Charles Mitchell Grant's travels appeared in the Royal Geographical Society's 1862 proceedings. Grant had only one leg and frequently had to travel in a cart when the only transport available was via camel or mule.

4 When Senor Rotcheff...came to see me, he was accompanied by his wife, the Princess Elena, a very beautiful lady of twenty Aprils, who united to her other gifts an irresistible affability. The beauty of the governor's wife made such a deep impression on the heart of Chief Solano that he conceived the project of stealing her. With this object he came to visit me very late at night and asked my consent to putting his plan into effect. The story horrified me, for if it should unfortunately be carried out my good name would suffer, for no one would be able to get it out of his head that my agent had acted on my account; and besides seeing the country involved in a war provoked by the same cause which actuated the siege of Troy, I, who had never hesitated at expense or trouble to please my visitors...would be stigmatized as the most disloyal being that the world had ever produced. It was necessary for me to assume all the authority that I knew how to assume on occasions that required it to make Solano understand that his life would hang in the balance if he should be so ill-advised as to attempt to break the rules of hospitality. My words produced a good effect, and that same night, repenting of his conduct, he went to Napa Valley, where I sent him to prevent him from compromising, under the impulse of his insane love, the harmony which it was so urgent for me to reestablish with my powerful neighbors...But, fearing that Solano might ambush them on the road, I went to escort my visitors to Bodega. (Nellie Van de Grift Sanchez translation as found in "Spanish Arcadia" by Sanchez, 1929)

5Dr. Thomas A. Hylton was a Petaluma physician in the mid-1850s, and H. L. Weston was the publisher of the Petaluma Journal, having purchased it from Thomas L. Thompson in 1856. His wife was mentioned in 1868 for her skilled needlework for having crocheted portraits of famous men and even De Vinci's Last Supper. Caroline died in 1909, having lived in Petaluma for 52 years, and Henry died in 1920.

6 "Historic Mount Saint Helena" by Honoria Tuomey, California Historical Society Quarterly, July, 1924


The reproduction plaque and English translation (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

In The Presence Of Representatives Of The Sonoma Pioneer Families Of
General M. G. Vallejo - Senora M Lopez De Carillo
Captain Henry D. Fitch - Captain Stephen Smith
Jasper O'Farrell - C. Alexander
Donner Party - Bear Flag Party
And Of
The Native Sons Of The Golden West
The Spanish, British, Russian And Mexican Consuls At S. F.
Dr. T A Hylton Removed The Original Plate From This Rock
In May 1853 And Gave A Copy To H. L. Weston Who Has
Authorized Miss Honoria R. P. Toumey
To Make This Restoration




The Mysterious Copper Plate on the Top of St. Helena.

A correspondent of the Marysville Democrat writes as follows:

"Napa Valley is unquestionably one of the loveliest spots on this earth... At the upper end of the ralley rises St. Helena, an abrupt, lofty mountain — the highest peak north of the bay — upon the very highest point of which there rests, or did rest, a copper plate, the history of which is buried in the silent tomb of oblivion.

"As wonderful as that relic of by-gone ages is, I do not recollect ever having seen even a newspaper paragraph in relation to it. Eight years ago last July, three gentlemen from San Francisco, three from Sacramento city, two from Napa and myself, having heard of the existence of said plate, ascended that mountain's rugged form and gratified as far as possible, our curiosity. It was indeed a wonder. The plate was thin, about three feet square, upon which was engraved hieroglyphics not by us decipherable, notwithstanding that our company, altogether, understood five different languages.

"While wondering over the defunct history of that old copper plate, we could not help speculating upon the probable race so advanced in the arts which could possibly have occupied this interesting country at so remote a period. Is it not possible that this continent mar have once been connected with the north-eastern coast of Asia? One might be led to look upon that valuable plate as a piece of handiwork of the Mongolian race as far back as the time of Confucius, were it not that the characters do not resemble their language.

"Again, it is not impossible that the original Aztec tribe, the founders of those splendid ruins of Yucatan, may have originated from the Caucasian stock, and gradually worked their way towards Bhering's Straits [sic] down the continent, having temporarily occupied different portions of the now Alta California in the course of their gradual migration."

The mysterious character alluded to in the above correspondence, are those of the latitude, longitude and altitude of the mountain, as ascertained by a party of Russian navigators, who made a hasty survey of the coast, when the Russians had possession of the coast near the mouth of Russian river, and expected to hold a large part of California. It is said that similar copper-plates were placed on several other high peaks in the vicinity of the coast.

- Daily Alta California, January 1 1860



Places of Note.

...To me, one of the most interesting points is Mt. St. Helena, not because of any peculiar natural attraction, but it haa bern consecrated by the footsteps of the great Humboldt, and I never look up to that dark mountain pile without feeling as if it had been rendered a sacred spot by the influence of such a presence. Some years ago a fool or vagabond vandal removed an inscription that had been left on the summit by that greatest of philosophers. It was a copper plate set in the rock, and was a valuable memento of long years of the past.

- Daily Alta California, August 30 1866



LETTER FROM CALISTOGA

...At the summit I found the post on which the Russians affixed the copper plate which was taken down several years ago by some persons who gave it to the State Geological Survey. It should be replaced with another plate containing a translation of its inscription...

- Daily Alta California, May 3 1867



ACROSS THE MAYACMAS.

...St. Helena, the highest and most shapely mountain in this lofty chain, is visible from base to crest, the line of light and shadow on its rugged slopes is so plainly marked, its clean-cut outline against the sky is so well defined that it is difficult to realize the intervening space of foot-hill, valley and wooded Slope, which makes up the foreground of this far-reaching and surprisingly beautiful landscape. This view of St. Helena, or at all events a similar one, doubtless, inspired the Russian naturalist Wossnessensky, who was the first to ascend it, and who named the mountain in honor of his sovereign, the Empress of Russia. He imbedded, in a rock on the summit a copper plate, to commemorate the event. Upon the plate was inscribed the date of the ascent, “June 12, 1841,” the name Wossnessonsky, and that of his companion, Techernich, and the word “Russians,” twice repeated in the Russian language and once in Latin. This plate was removed by some vandal and afterwards came into the possession of members of the so-called State Geological Survey, who probably took it out of the State where it has no local interest.

- Sonoma Democrat, May 28 1881



THE SHORT STORY CLUB HAS MEETING

Miss Honoria R. P. Tuomey read a charming description of the life and writings of Robert Louis Stevenson, having secured the local color for her sketch by a visit to his old camp on the southwest side of Mount St. Helena. It was here that he wrote "The Silverado Squatters.”

- Press Democrat, June 19 1910



RESTORATION ON ST. HELENA
HISTORIC PLATE TELLS OF RUSSIAN OCCUPATION
Old Spanish Families Represented at Notable Ceremonies on the Mountain’s Summit Thursday

On Thursday last, June 20th, the great Mount St. Helena was awakened from its sleep of age into a new historical life. Its rocky gorges, its thorn-brushed ridges and its lone wild peak away up against the blue sky, all rang with the echo of a Voice. It was the Voice of the age one hundred years distant from the white hand of the Czar of all the Russias. One hundred years away from the black bearded Muscovite who toiled and climbed from old Fort Ross by the Pacific, through primeval redwood forests o’er meadowlands deep grassed, but angered into life by the growl of the grizzly and the leap of the stag. On and on they came, those Russians of the frozen sea and the aurora land of ice. Wosnesenskl, the Third, Tschernech, and their beautiful princess, up and up the steep mountain side, scaling the cliffs and tearing their chaparal pathway to the wild, desolate peak of the great unnamed mountain.

The story is of June, but the pathway was as December, wild in its every setting. The sacred burden of their pilgrimage was a rudely carved copper plate bearing the inscription
RUSSIANS
P. L. WOSNESENSKL III
E. I. Tschernech
RUSSIANS
This in the rude character lettering of the kingdom of the Czar. This they bolted to a rock of the peak in June of 1841, and as they stood on this great mount "Helena." Later, woven in a triple story of romance, it became the “Sainted” mountain.

The years that made this story of christening have gone, and too, the rude plate of record was taken from its fastenings and lost to the world forever, save its replica on a film of paper, almost miraculous in its preservation.

Another age has come, the years of the city, the orchard, the vintage; the years of the puffing engine, the harnessed bird of the air, and conquered light of the clouds. It is the day of "Restoration,” and the great mountain feels the footprints and hears the sound of the English-speaking voice.

Sonoma county may well be proud of the little lady who made possible this day of restoration on the old mountain peak.

The notable historical event in all its minute detail and plan, was under the skilled management of Miss Honora R. P. Tuomey, an educator and writer of Sonoma county. She bears a great love for the preservation of these historical landmarks and, too, of telling the story in writing of those days and times, of those men and incidents of early days of this western life.

To Miss Tuomey was given the authority of restoration, and well did she complete the task in every detail. As a princess of the Russians first gave the mountain name, so it was but fitting that a lady of this western land should replace it under the western sun.

It is a long, interesting story, the story of the original plate, of its placement and its final untimely destruction, of which limitations deny in this brief article.

The day of the restoration last Thursday was one of threatening clouds and storm. Invitations had been issued to representatives of the pioneer families of the county and a few guests. Those going to the summit of the mountain from the southern portion of the county chose to go by the Patton toll house trail; those going from this city and section were to climb the mountain from the west, over a trail of steep ascent and heavy with overgrown brush. Those in the party from the Healdsburg section were...

... The copper plates were given by Hood Brothers of Santa Rosa, and the marble tablet by Kinslow Brothers. Harry Parks had charge of the masonry work and bolting to the rock, and was assisted by Mr. Frates...

.. Bolted to the rock on the peak of the great Mt. St. Helena, the story retold, a companion of the mighty storm, the blow of the wind; the drift of the snow and the flash of the clouds of heaven, this tablet bolted to the mountain peak shall stand forever, a leaf from the page of history of the great State of California.
J. M. ALEXANDER.

- Healdsburg Tribune, June 27 1912



RUSSIAN TABLET IS RESTORED ON MT. ST. HELENA
THE 100 TH ANNIVERSARY OF FONT ROSS SEES A NOTABLE CEREMONY IN THE HISTORIC SONOMA PEAK
By Honoria R. P. Tuomey

EARLY in June, 1841, there arrived at Fort Ross an adventurous naturalist attached to the national museum of zoology at St. Petersburg, Dr. P. L. Wosnesenski, commissioned to make collections on the northern Pacific shores of Asia and North America. From the summit of Mount Ross this enterprising man of science saw on the far eastern horizon a quadruple peaked mountain looming conspicuously above the lower summits of the Coast range. Speedily he organized a party, caused a copper plate to be made and inscribed by the artisans at Ross and pioneered a journey to the mountain that until then had been unvisited and unnamed by the Russians who had seen it from afar for a generation.

The little riding party passed across pastoral Sonoma, occupied by Indian tribes not wholly friendly and claimed by Mexico, always hostile to the Muscovite "intruders," whose stout stronghold she dare not attack.

The complete personnel of this doughty expedition is not revealed in any records of history, but besides Doctor Wosnesenski and his friend, E. I. Tschernech, it included the handsome young Helena, Princess de Gagarine, wife of Alexander Rotcheff, the last governor of Ross settlement, and John Edward Mcintosh, grantee in 1837 by General M. G. Vallejo of the rancho Estero Americano to block Russian encroachments inland; also a small guard of soldiers.

There were some lively thrills on that trip of some forty miles, not the weakest being occasioned by the attempt of old Chief Solano to abduct the princess. Up the rough, almost perpendicular side of the mountain the party mounted to the summit of the north peak, the highest point of elevation. Here upon a flat rock the copper plate was spiked and additional blocks were fitted to form a cairn.

While the others knelt, the princess, raising her right hand, proclaimed the name of the mountain forever "Helena" in honor of her royal mistress and namesake, Helena, empress of Russia.  The party returned without mishap to Ross, and the close of 1841 saw the settlements at Ross and Bodega abandoned in obedience to the imperial decree to quit this region, since it had finally been found unsuitable for the purpose for which it was founded in 1812—the victualing of the Russian possessions In the Aleutian islands.

The plate disappeared from the mountain and, while our California historians mention its disappearance, they do not claim to have seen it, and all give its inscription incorrectly in part and misstate the method of its depositing. They give the first word as "Helena," whereas, that name does not appear, the christening by the princess de Gagarine being entirely verbal. Nor did she call it "Saint Helena." By two successive coincldences the mountain was named "Saint Helena," first by a missionary in the early 30's and in '42 by Captain Stephen Smith, whose ship, the St. Helena, brought him to Bodega bay. It is stated that a post was erected and the plate nailed thereto, while in fact it was secured to a rock.

The lost Russian plate became one of my quests in my study of local history. For a long while I could find no clew. Finally, while a guest at the Mount St. Helena inn - the tollhouse of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Silverado Squatters" - I was shown by the host Dan Patton, a venerable and widely known Napa pioneer, a copy of an ancient local publication that led me soon to make a pilgrimage to Petaluma. There I called upon a courtly old gentleman for half a century prominent In Petaluma's business and social life, now, at four score and six, retired within the beauties of his fine old home and big, old fashioned flower garden. After a little teasing of his memory, crowded with the recollections of his long and busy career, Mr. Weston unearthed in his antique secretary a long forgotten scrap of paper, the only copy In existence of the Russian plate. It is of heavy, white linen paper, an octagon 5 1/8 inches in diameter. The face bears this inscription, given here in English:

"Russians, June, 1841, P. L. Wosnesenski III, E. I. Tschernech, Russians." The latter word, "Russians," is in Latin. "Jose," Spanish for Joseph, appears across the upper left corner, and we may but conjecture that this Jose was an Indian or Mexican guide. The remainder of the inscription is in Russian. Upon the reverse side is penned the autographic certification: "Exact copy of the inscription found on a copper plate nailed to a rock on the summit of Mount St Helena by T. A. Hylton in May, 1853."

 "Doctor Hylton gave me this copy, made by himself In 1853," said Weston. "He was an old friend and fellow townsman. He died on his way east In 1859."

 The seeker after rare historical relics can best appreciate my rapture on that day.

 The year 1912 is the centenary of the founding of Ross settlement, and June the anniversary month of the Wosnesenski party's visit to Mount St Helena. Therefore June, 1912, was fixed as the time to erect a memorial tablet.

  The north peak is accessible from more than one point But the only cleared trail leads up the south peak and along the summit, starting at the Mount St. Helena inn, 2,300 feet elevation, on the highway between Calistoga and Middletown. The inn possesses a superabundance of hospitable spirit, but is rather limited as to actual bed and board accommodations. So invitations to the restoration ceremonies were limited to those whose presence was deemed necessary to give dignity and significance to the occasion. The list included Hon. Hiram W. Johnson, governor of California; the consuls at San Francisco of Spain, Great Britain, Russia and Mexico, since each of those countries in succession claimed this territory.

Rev. John R. Cantillon, representing the early mission fathers and particularly Padre Benito Sierra, who as chaplain of the sloop Sonora celebrated at Bodega bay the first religious services ever held on Sonoma soil.

Mrs. L. Vallejo Emparan, daughter of General Mariano G. Vallejo of distinguished memory. Juanita Bailhache Waldrop, Temple Bailhache, Benjamin E. Grant Sr., Benjamin E. Grant Jr., descendants of Captain Henry D. Fitch, accomplished New England shipmaster, Pacific coast merchant and grantee of several large tracts, including the peninsula of Coronado, the Potrero in San Francisco and the Sotoyome rancho near Healdsburg; also relatives of Senora M. I. Lopez de Cabrillo, grantee of the Rancho Cabesa de Santa Rosa and mother of Mrs. Vallejo, Mra Fitch and Mrs. J. B. R. Cooper.

Mrs. Stephen M. Smith and daughter. Mrs. E. Juanita Smith-Rose, of San Francisco, relatives of Captain Stephen Smith, who In '42 received title to the great Bodega and Blucher ranchos without renouncing his prized American citizenship, but only on condition that he establish certain manufactories. Captain Smith brought round the Horn from Massachusetts a whole shipload of machinery, including the first steam engine ever brought to California, plants for a saw mill, grist mill, tannery, distillery, etc., and four skilled mechanics to erect and manage them. He came the best equipped pioneer that ever settled on this coast. On his way he called at a Peruvian port and married a young Castllian lady, Dona Manuela Torres, to whose brother, Don Manuel, was granted the region about Fort Ross, known as the Muniz rancho.

Miss Elena O'Farrell. daughter of Jasper O'Farrell, who surveyed much of San Francisco, one of whose streets bears his name, and who barely escaped lynching at the hands of irate owners of lots along Market street because he sliced deeply enough into their property to give to the infant city the wide thoroughfare he foresaw it would need. Mr. O'Farrell bought the Ranchos Estero Americano and Canadade Jonive adjoining the Bodego rancho. He made his home at Freestone, renaming his estate the Analy ranch in memory of the principality of Analy in Ireland, ruled for centuries by the O'Farrells, princess of Analy.

Mrs. J. V. A. Frates. daughter of the venerable James McChristian, survivor of the Bear Flag party, and niece of Mrs. Jasper O'Farrell.

George Donner Ungewitter, grandson of George A. Donner of the illfated Donner party.

Mr. Julius M. Alexander, nephew of Cyrus Alexander, a pioneer settler in Alexander valley.

Mr. H. L. Weston, possessor for 59 years of the only existing copy of the Russian plate.

Mr. Donald Mcintosh, grandnephew of John Edward Mcintosh, present at the ceremonies of June, 1841.

Claude O. Howard, district deputy grand president of the Native Sons of the Golden West.

 Mr. George Madeira, Mr. Dan Patton and a few other friends, including Mr. and Mrs. Fred. Cummings, Mr. and Mrs. Jirah Luce, Mra A. H. Graeff, Miss Nina Luce, Emile Bachman, T. G. Young, Calvin E. Holmes and Harry Parks, who as a member of the establishment of Kinslow Bros., marble workers of Santa Rosa, who generously donated the marble slab, went along and, assisted by Mr. Frates, made a capital piece of work by securing the tablet In place.

  Upon a roughly set tufa platform some 4,500 feet above the level of the Pacific a streak of blue to the west, the party assembled after a reunion and lunch. Three-quarters of California lay smiling below under clear skies. The long serrated wall of the Sierras ran along the eastern horizon, sharply notched where the Truckee flows. Shasta's white peak to the north, Whitney lording it In the south, Hamilton, Diablo, Tamalpais, Lassen, the northern Buttes lesser features. The bay and city of San Francisco lay near. Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties spread immediately below.

  The program opened with the raising of the American flag. Father Cantillon's invocatlonal utterance followed. Messages were read from Mr. Weston, Governor Johnson and the consuls at San Francisco for Spain, Great Britain, Russia and Mexico, accompanied by the raising In turn of the flag of each of those countries. The bear flag again waved and dipped to Its great successor, the stars and stripes The stories were recited of Cabrillo, Drake, Bodega, the Ross settlement the mission at Sonoma, the raising and lowering of the bear flag and Captain Stephen Smith's Bodega flagpole. Mr. Patton contributed most of these historical sketches. A poem, 'The Restoration," by Julius M. Alexander, was recited by Mrs. Waldrop. Mr. Howard, on behalf of the Native Sons, made a stirring address Benediction and the singing of "America" closed the exercises.

The memorial tablet is of white marble, an octagon 18 inches in diameter and one inch thick. The engraved copper plates are recessed and riveted In place and the slab is fastened with long extension bolts set with solder far into the tufa boulder. Americans are finally commencing to learn that memorial tablets and other monuments are meant to be left intact and not carried away piecemeal as souvenirs. So we feel that this newly erected memorial to the Russians and the Sonoma pioneers will be safe under the sun and the snow on the summit of Mount St. Helena.

There were many intensely funny and a few near tragic incidents on the trip. There was the surreptitious attempt of a well known Healdsburg physician and his son to circumvent the Healdsburg section of the party and scale the mountain by an almost inaccessible ridge to raise a crude Russian flag on the summit and throw bombs at the rest, but the attempt failed ingloriously because those burlesque adherents of the czar got lost and had to return home in chagrin. Then there was the veteran mountain climber, who sat down to rest on the Kellogg trail, was left by his fellows, wandered miles to the inn and finally left on the outbound stage for San Francisco, still laden with 15 pounds of ham, an American flag and a canteen. Again there was the modest Healdsburger upon whom some wag had palmed two left shoes for the climb, and who will, because of an innocent but unlucky observation of Father Cantillon's, be known for the rest of his life as "the left legged man." And then the fair daughter of an ancient house, who showed the fearless blood of her ancestors by hastening to view an old, yellow, fierce eyed rattlesnake, declaring it the first of its kind she ever had encountered, and which, through the mercy of providence, was pleased to continue gliding into the brush instead of turning upon its admirer, almost, in her eagerness, treading on its many rattled tail.

- San Francisco Call, July 28 1912



FOURTH OF JULY GREETING FROM CALL
Two Thousand Pounds of Red Fire Will Burn
MESSAGE TO FLASH TO PEOPLE FROM HISTORIC TABLET
In Every Direction Will Be Seen The Call's Best Wishes and Faith in Great State

When selecting a location to make a red fire display upon the night of July 4, The Call chose a spot full of historical significance, for on the very top of Mount St. Helena, where, on the night of July 4 The Call's red fire will blaze, stands a bronze tablet defying time and weather and telling of a visit made there in 1841 by the Russians.

The original tablet was long ago removed from its place upon the rocks because of the value attaching to it as an historical relic. This removal took place in May, 1855, in the presence of representatives of the Sonoma pioneer families of General M. G. Vallejo, Captain Henry D. Fitch, Jasper O'Farrell, members of the Donner party and Senora M. Lopez de Carillo, Captain Stephen Smith, C. Alexander of the bear flag party, the Native Sons of the Golden West, the Spanish. British. Russian and Mexican, consuls at San Francisco.

COPY OF TABLET PLACED
Actively in charge of the work was Dr. T. A. Hylton,. who. took a literal copy of the inscription and gave it to H. L. Weston, who a little over a year ago authorized Miss Honora and P. R. Toumey to place upon the rock which bore the original tablet the copy which is now there. The inscription is as follows: "Russians. June, I841. C. L. Vosnisenki III. E. I. Tschernegi. Russians."

The original tablet was destroyed when the Pioneer building was lost during San Francisco's great fire, and today all that remains to mark the visit of the Russians to this part of California at that early period of the state's history is the present tablet, which stands defying the winter's winds and snows .and the blaze of the summer sun to tell of that visit of the Russians who scarcely realized the splendor of the domain, which they overlooked.

WHERE MESSAGE WILL FLASH
Within 10 feet of the spot where tliis tablet rests will flare on the night of July 4 a message of good will, from The Call to its California friends...

- San Francisco Call, June 15 1913

Millenia from now, historians will puzzle over our love affair with phones. Museums will have exhibits where our distant descendants can handle one of the ancient devices (or more likely, a recreation) so they can marvel that such poor quality sound was once acceptable, and how their ancestors even used the things to send text messages, although the device wasn't designed for it.

Welcome to 1885.

This is the story of how the telephone came to Sonoma county. It happened much earlier than you might expect - before electric lights (and only shortly after gas lighting was available in the larger towns), before Santa Rosa had a sewer system and even before Petaluma hatched its first Leghorn chicken.

It's not necessary here to rehash who invented it and when; for practical purposes it emerged when Bell exhibited a working telephone at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. Almost immediately, it became America's first must-have gadget.

As few people back then actually knew what it was like to use a phone (spoiler alert: Faint and muffled sound over crackly connections), wild and silly claims were made about how it was about to transform the world. People who were nearly deaf would be able to understand a whisper. The 1876 New York Times lamented this was the end of the Republic because we would soon all stay at home or in "telephone rooms" listening to live music or great sermons. The Santa Rosa paper griped that a major 1878 San Francisco music festival (see ad at right) would be transmitted by "telephonic connection" to Sacramento but not available for our community to enjoy.

(Lest we feel too smug about the old-timers being snookered with unrealistic expectations, anyone over thirty years might remember the TV commercials promoting the early hype about the internet in 1994 and 1995. According to AT&T, every aspect of our lives would be enslaved to the corporation, using AT&T video pay phones and sending each other notes handwritten on AT&T tablets. The old telecom MCI presented its vision of the future was more Zen, as a little girl scampered around a beach, pausing only long enough to recite a few garbled remarks about "empowering technology.")

Sonoma county first got its hands on a telephone in 1878, when the telegraph company commandeered the wire between Santa Rosa and Petaluma for a two-hour demo one Sunday night. Papers in both towns gave it a good review; the Sonoma Democrat remarked "conversations and music on flute and piano were distinctly heard" and the Petaluma Courier said it "sounded as though it was but a short distance away." Before the official start of the demonstration, however, apparently a wise guy in the Santa Rosa office got on the line (the Courier reporter described it as "a voice that sounded something like a little boy speaking from under a bed cover") and passed on some local gossip. The telegraph company supervisor told him to ignore that as "telemischief," which is a pretty good word which deserves to be revived today.

The earliest telephones in the county were more like intercoms connecting no more than a handful of receivers. First were probably the 1878 lines in Petaluma connecting the McNear's store with their mill and family homes; the next year there was a network based at a Cloverdaie station reaching the Skaggs Springs resort and Geyserville. (That included a line to the tavern called "Fossville" where daredevil stagecoach driver Clark Foss would speak to Robert Louis Stevenson, the author struggling to use a telephone for the first time - see The Silverado Squatters.) And there was a wire across the west end of the Russian River, so the ferry could be summoned from the Duncans Mills hotel ("just how much unnecessary yelling - and swearing, too - this arrangement saves, will be known and appreciated by persons living up the coast").

During the early 1880s more of these customized telephones were installed in Santa Rosa and Petaluma (a man named "Parshley" apparently did most of the work) but it's unclear if they were all connected together in a single in-town circuit. My guess is they certainly were, and they used a ring code to let someone know whether the call was intended for them. Nothing about this was mentioned in the papers, however.

Newspapers in Santa Rosa and Petaluma also displayed a near-obsessive yearning for the thing we could not have: Reaching San Francisco and the world beyond. Probably every weekly issue of the Democrat had some reprinted item revolving around telephones. Sometimes it was an element in the serial novel unwinding chapter by chapter each week, but usually it was the catalyst for a funny item which ended up with someone mortified in embarrassment. A NY grocer couldn't afford a telephone so he had a dummy made and pretended to take big orders to impress his customers - until he was caught faking a call from a hotel which no longer existed. A San Francisco dance hall promoter thought he was ordering racy posters from a printer but was connected by mistake to the matron of an exclusive girl's school in Oakland. O, Victorian-era humor, thou art such polite gentle fun, teehee.

Sonoma county's years in the telephonic wilderness ended in the summer of 1884, when a 7-line phone cable (!) was dropped across the Golden Gate. The Sunset Telephone Company signed up enough subscribers to bring the service through Marin to Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Guerneville and Sebastopol. Rates were never mentioned in the papers but it must have been quite expensive; there were few residential customers - although one of the early home subscribers was consummate tech nerd James Wyatt Oates.

But just as Santa Rosa was cuddled up to the idea of talking to people far away, the Democrat announced that it was obsolete - in the very near future we would be typing text messages to each other. "Any One Capable of Manipulating a Typewriter May Easily Transmit and Receive Messages," read the 1885 headline.

The article reprinted from the NY World explained, "It is not a verbal telephone, but will supersede that instrument by silently and rapidly recording all messages upon paper." The reporter claimed, "forty to fifty words per minute were easily sent by a person who was not at all an expert, and received automatically at the other end of the line without errors."

What was being described was an early teleprinter system, and unfortunately the paper did not mention the name of the inventor or company. If the device really worked as described it was far ahead of its time, as there would be nothing like this available commercially for over twenty years.

It may seem hard to imagine why such a device did not catch on; "its simple and inexpensive construction and the ease of operating it" should have brought it widespread appeal. Its Achilles' heel, however, was the need to have a dedicated line between the teleprinters, and in that era almost every telephone customer was on a party line. Thus if you texted your sister in Pomona about your lumbago, teleprinters in a dozen or more offices or homes near her might also clatter to life. Because of this weakness, the optimistic 1885 article suggests that tens of thousands of new telegraph offices would have to pop up all over the country to send and receive these texts.

 But the telephone endured despite its limitations, and the very idea of it continued to fire imaginations. So exotic was the telephone that scores of paper startups called themselves the "telephone" - the closest to us were in Sausalito and Eureka, but there Daily Telephones and Evening Telephones all over the country. A Santa Rosa barber shop in 1885 even offered a free "Telephone bath" with every haircut; what that meant is a mystery, but on Facebook author Elissa DeCaro guessed it could have meant rinsing off with a handheld bathtub attachment. (The "New Orleans Rub" is also a puzzle, but probably was not naughty at all, sorry.)

A later version of the ad mentions, "A Telephone bath or a New Orleans Rub without extra charge. Hair tonic for sale warranted to cure dandruff and all skin diseases"






...Recently some very interesting experiments have been tried on the wires in communicating musical sounds. An instrument called the telephone has been invented, which transmits directly the pitch of a sound to a distant station so that, for instance, when an operator at one end of a wire sings or plays any tune on it it will be heard and distinguished plainly at the other...


- Sonoma Democrat, November 20 1869



It is related that deaf persons, who have great difficulty in nearing ordinary speech, find that by applying the telephone close to the ear they can hear even a whisper with distinctness.

- Sonoma Democrat, April 27 1878


Telephone.—Preparations are making to place several cities in telephonic connection with San Francisco on the event of the grand concert to be given in that city in the near future, that other people may have the benefit of the music without the expense of a trip, in addition to the price of a ticket. Why not Santa Rosa be favored in a similar manner? If Sacramento can hear and enjoy the sweet sounds by means of the telephone, why not Santa Rosa?

- Sonoma Democrat, May 4 1878





The Telephone.

Yes, we have seen and heard it, and now propose to tell all about it...We were invited to take a seat by a table, on which was a box about the size of a candle box with a lot of loose wire and other things in it. We at once concluded that this must be the telephone, and having determined before we reached the office to act just as though we had been familiar with such instruments all our lives, we pounced into the chair, and placing our ear just over the loose wire above spoken of, were prepared to hear anything that might be passing. Pretty soon we heard a commotion among the wires and a voice that sounded something like a little boy speaking from under a bed cover. It said look out for news from Santa Rosa, and it came about as follows: Major Clark has quit swearing, taken out a license to preach, and will in a few days be married to one of the belles of Santa Rosa (We wanted to congratulate the Major, but the news kept coming.) Mr. Bridge Williams has become a ranting Democrat, and is giving Col. Byington and his former Republican friends particular thunder for their obstinacy in trying to bolster up a broken down party. (We thought, can dose dings be drue? [sic] But on the news came.)...

... Here Mr. Bayly chipped in, and asked us if we were asleep. We said, no but were receiving some wonderful news from Santa Rosa by the telephone. "Telemischief," said he; "that is our waste box and we get no reliable news from that. Come this way, sir, and I will show you the America speaking telephone." We found it to be a little oblong box about six inches in length by four in width and over an inch in thickness. This box having been connected with the wire the fun commenced. We were told to talk, and listen at the little bung hole at the side, in which was the vibrator. We confess to a little trepidation as we put the mysterious little box up to our ear, well remembering the the many times we had been deceived by finding in nice boxes ugly jumping jacks, and not forgetting how that old waste box played us earlier in the evening. However, we listened and heard distinctly what was said by parties in the Santa Rosa office. The music of the flute and the flute and piano together was beautiful, and sounded as though it was but a short distance away...

- Petaluma Courier, May 9 1878



The Telephone Wonder.

We are indebted to Mr. P. Drake, manager of the telegraph offices in San Francisco, and to Mr. Doychert, of the telegraph office in this city, for the courtesies extended which enabled us to be present and enjoy the pleasure of an exchange of social courtesies with parties in Petaluma, sixteen miles distant, by means of one of those most wonderful human inventions, the telephone. To what extent are we being carried by this power of mind over matter? From the time that Franklin flrst bottled the lightnings from the clouds, what wonderful, awe-inspiring inventions have been brought forth to reduce the lightnings to subjection and render them subservient to the will of man. Morse came with his telegraph, and improvement after improvement followed, until now it spans a continent with its wires, and enables us to annihilate time itself in the transmission of news along its wires through the unfathomed waters of the mighty deep from the eastern to the western, and from the western to the eastern shores of a great ocean. And now comes yet another wonder in the telephone, by which we are enabled to converse, not in character, or simply by sound, but by words actually spoken, which fall upon the ear with a distinctness that satisfies the doubts of the most skeptical.

Mr. Drake brought telephonic instruments to our city with him on Saturday evening, 4th inst., and a trial of their powers was made between the railroad depot and the telegraph office in this city, a distance of about a half mile, with but imperfect success. But Sunday evening communication was opened with Petaluma, sixteen miles distant, with the most perfect success. Conversations and music on flute and piano were distinctly heard at either end, and duly applauded by the clapping of hands, which was listened to with delight on the part of those present. The Mocking Bird, played upon the flute by Mr. Felix Brown, of Santa Rosa, was distinctly heard, recognized and encored by those listening in Petaluma; and the playing of a flute and singing and whistling in Petaluma were distinctly heard and applauded in Santa Rosa. Mr. A. E. Shattuck on the piano, accompanied by Mr. Brown, on the flute, were distinctly heard in Petaluma, and requested to repeat time and time again. In order to test more fully the powers of the wonderful instrument, we were told to read a piece of poetry. In compliance we recited a few lines from that beautiful and affecting poem, “Mary had a Little Lamb,” etc., with a concluding, “How is that for high?” and were gracefully complimented with the response coming back distinctly, "Way up!” These tests were continued for full two hours, when good nights were spoken, and the wonderful machine was disconnected from the wires and all parties retired for the night. We hope in the near future to be able to be present at a test between San Francisco and Santa Rosa. If this wonderful machine will transmit words distinctly sixteen miles, why not at a distance of fifty miles; and if at a distance of fifty miles, why may we not annihilate space and have a direct talk with the Emperor of China relative to the speedy removal of his Celestial subjects from the confines of the golden State? The rushing, pushing, traveling American, has already a world-wide reputation as a talkist. What will be the result when he enters the field fully equipped with telephone and phonograph? (The fact is, we shall be able to talk the stone Sphinx into a perspiration and make him shake his head in wonderment.

- Sonoma Democrat, May 11 1878



...The telephone of which I spoke in my laat letter is now up, and has been in successful operation during the past week between here and Geyserville. This morning connection was made to Cloverdaie and and as there is a telepone from there to the Geysers, we are in speaking distance of those springs. Every word spoken at Geyserville or Cloverdaie is as distinctly heard in the office here as if the persona were in the same room carrying on a conversation.

- Sonoma Democrat letter from Skaggs Springs, July 19 1879



...Those of your readers who have to cross Russian River by the ferry, near its mouth, will be glad to learn that a very good telephone has been placed there. When they come to the river bank, a call, in a natural tone of voice, is instantly heard in and answered from the hotel opposite. Just how much unnecessary yelling—and swearing, too—this arrangement saves, will be known and appreciated by persons living up the coast.

- Sonoma Democrat  letter from Russian River Ferry, April 24 1880



Van Alstine & Swanton, who have put up several of Parshley telephone lines in Petaluma, came up Friday, to put up a line to connect Ludwig’s business office with his lumber yard, but had to postpone the matter in consequence of bad weather. They will return as soon as it clears up, when an opportunity will be given all who wish, to avail themselves of this great convenience.

- Sonoma Democrat, December 1 1883



Hello! San Francisco. — Mr. T. J. Gallagher, agent for the Sunset Telephone Company is in this city for the purpose of ascertaining the feasibility of establishing telephonic communication under the auspices of the company he represents. This company has just completed a circuit which includes Sacramento, San Jose, Stockton, Vallejo, and all the adjacent town and villages with the metropolis, and they expect to connect Santa Rosa, with the same general system. Mr. Gallagher has met with great encouragement in Petaluma, and does not doubt that he will secure the requisite number of subscribers here to justify the company in establishing itself here. There is no doubt that the presence of a system of telephones, both here and in connection with San Francisco, would be a great convenience.

- Sonoma Democrat, March 22 1884



The sum of $400 has been raised to construct the telephone line between this city and Sebastopol. The estimated cost is $600.

- Sonoma Democrat, March 22 1884



The Telephone. — The right of way has been secured for the telephone line between here and San Francisco, and the wire will be placed between here and Petaluma in the course of a few weeks. The cable to extend from San Francisco to Point Tiburon is being manufactured. It is expected that by the time the cable is completed, the wire will be up from here to Point Tiburon, and it will only be a month or two until residents here can “hello” to friends and acquaintances in San Francisco or Petaluma.

- Sonoma Democrat, April 26 1884



Messrs. Lawrence and Delaney, of the Telephone Company, are in town, and report that companies of men are at work in three places on the line--one between this city and Petaluma, another between San Rafael and Petaluma, and the third between San Rafael and Point Tiburon. The line between here and Petaluma will be in working order in two weeks. When the line is completed, the cable will be ready and laid, from Point Tiburon to San Francisco. It will contain seven wires, and will be similar in all respects to the one which now connects San Francisco with Oakland.

- Sonoma Democrat, June 14 1884



Hello, Petaluma! The wires for the telephone are being attached to the poles, which are all in position, and it is thought that we can talk with our neighbors this week.

- Sonoma Democrat, June 28 1884



A telephone message to the Democrat, dated Sacramento, January 20th, says: The Republican caucus met to-night and nominated Governor Stanford for United States Senator on the second ballot.

- Sonoma Democrat, January 24 1885



ANOTHER TRIUMPH. TELEGRAPHY REVOLUTIONIZED AND THE TELEPHONE SUPPLANTED.
Any One Capable of Manipulating a Typewriter May Easily Transmit and Receive Messages Over a Telegraph Wire—Details. [New York World.]

A new application of electric science has been made here that promises to go far toward revolutionizing telegraphy and supplanting the telephone in popular favor. It is nothing less than the discovery of means by which anybody capable of manipulating an ordinary type-writing machine may, with equal ease, rapidity, and precision, send and receive messages over a telegraphic wire. Should this invention do all that is claimed for it, and, indeed, that it seems fully capable of, there seems to be no good reason why the places of expert Morse telegraphers may not be filled everywhere by girls, clerks, expressmen, station agents and other non-experts, so at once reducing greatly to the public the cost of telegraphy and increasing facilities by the establishment of at least 40,000 new telegraph offices throughout the country in places where they have not heretofore been. For reasons best known to the company controlling this most important invention its operations have until now been kept a secret. The office and operating rooms, have been carefully guarded against reporters and the men interested have been as closemouthed as if it had been a political mystery instead of a step in progressive science that they were concealing. However, the writer found means to be present at a series of exceedingly interesting tests of the practicability of the new system, which constituted an entirely private exhibition.

The distinguishing features of the new system, are the entirely novel transmitter and receiver employed. Those two instruments although put near together here upon a table, have between them about a hundred miles of ordinary telegraph wire coiled about the room, through which their connection is made. In point of fact the transmitter and the receiver are exactly alike, the same machine serving for either use as required. Its front is almost the same as the keyboard of a caligraph or typewriter, the letters of the alphabet and the numerals are in high relief. Behind this is a vertical column, around which blank paper is placed and by a simple mechanical device moved up line by line as desired. The paper almost touches the lettered face of the wheel. A small inking roller governed by a spring supplies color to the lettered wheel. Inside the column is a small hammer that strikes the paper against whatever letter may be directly before it and so prints it upon the surface of the paper. All that seems simple enough.

The mystery is below, in the intricate and delicate electrical attachments which variously graduated currents are led over the thirty-eight or forty wires from the keys to the printing apparatus, and at the same time to a connected instrument far away to record both simultaneously and with perfect accuracy on every key that is struck. The wire connecting the instrument is single, but those graduated currents not only pass along it without confusion, but even meet in opposite directions at the same time. This was fully demonstrated in the tests. The touching of a key instantly produced a letter upon the paper of both instruments, and letter after letter followed as rapidly as a skillful type-writer operator could touch the keys until many messages had been exchanged. It was observed that the wheels, when retrogression in the order of the alphabet was necessitated, whirled clear back to a fixed point each time, as the wheel of a "gold and stock indicator” instrument does, but it moved with much greater rapidity and so little affected transmission that forty to fifty words per minute were easily sent by a person who was not at all an expert, and received automatically at the other end of the line without errors.

One of the gentlemen connected with the new enterprise--one, by the way, of high standing as a practical electrician--said concerning the novel invention: “The distinctive advantages claimed by this system overall other telegraphic, telephonic and typewriting instruments are in its simple and inexpensive construction and the ease of operating it. Any person who can read can transmit and receive messages through it as correctly as could the most experienced expert Morse instrument. It is as rapid as it is accurate, and all messages by it being automatically printed, both at the point of transmission and that of reception, they can be received with safety and reliability in the absence as well as to the presence of the recipient. The recording of messages at both points precludes all questions of errors in transmission. It cannot be read by sound, and is consequently the only method for preserving privacy in electrical communication. It is at once a stock indicator, telephone, and type-printing telegraph. For railroad and express companies, bankers, brokers, marchants, and all commercial purposes—it being adjustable to any system of wire communication and capable of working with any number of tributaries—it is of inestimable value. It is not a verbal telephone, but will supersede that instrument by silently and rapidly recording all messages upon paper. There are no formidable complications in its construction, and it is regarded by expert electricians as a wonderful achievement.

- Sonoma Democrat, June 6 1885




New Telephone Line.

The work of constructing the telephone lines between this city and Sonoma via Glen Ellen will be begin in about thirty days. The enterprise was subscribed to liberally by the citizens of Sonoma and Glen Ellen.

- Sonoma Democrat, April 24 1886



Hello, Eureka!

The Sunset Telephone Company is preparing to extend its line clear through from Santa Rosa to Eureka. The poles are heieg rapidly gotten out and the line will Iw* speedily completed. The connection with Eureka will greatly enlarge the telephone business at the Santa Rosa exchange, The Eureka station has 400 subscribers and all their San Francisco business will have to be handled through the Santa Rosa station, which manages all the territory north of Petaluma.

- Press Democrat,  April 23 1898



The New Telephone Directory
Telephone subscribers will today receive a new directory card and will find It very useful. The new directory gives the names and “numbers” of every subscriber, together with the names of the agents and’ the public stations in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. During the past year communication by telephone has been greatly increased in both counties, until now almost every place in both counties, in town and hamlet, or neither, there is a telephone station. The efficient manager of this district is J. J. Barricklo of this city. The past year has been a very busy one for him.

- Press Democrat, December 29 1900

After its old high school burned down, Santa Rosa had the will to quickly rebuild a fine modern school and soon was ready to break ground. Then suddenly the project was stopped indefinitely, thanks to a rich old crackpot with a lawyer, a famous name and a big chip on his shoulder.

This is the second part of the story of Santa Rosa High School's rebirth; see part one for details about the terrible 1921 fire and the threat it posed to the town. But this is also the tale of Sampson B. Wright, who filed a series of lawsuits to block the new school. The stalemate led to community leaders calling an unprecedented town meeting to fight back.


Despite the loss of their school, it seems that a spirit of optimism energized Santa Rosa teenagers in the months right after the November 15, 1921 fire. Yeah, classes were scattered in halls and churches all over town, but it was only temporary and heck, was probably kind of an adventure to many.

But after a winter of dashing through the rain, Roy Heyward, the 1922 student body president, wrote in the yearbook that kids were becoming demoralized: "The classes are so broken up that there is no unity. Some students do not see their friends for days at a time and under these conditions they are bound to lose interests in school activities."

Now flash forward to the next winter as the children were still making their 20 minute dashes to classes. In January, 1923 - the height of a bad flu season - the Press Democrat reported, "The exposure and trying conditions to which the teachers of the Santa Rosa high school are being subjected is proving a heavy tax to their health and strength." The PD continued:

The study hall and five recitation rooms are located in the Congregational church with poor light, ventilation and accommodations for drying out wet clothing. Two other classes are located in the Methodist Episcopal church where the conditions are not much better. Four classes are housed in the old Mailer hall on Fourth street and five in the old Mailer warehouse at Fifth and Mendocino avenue. This is made of corrugated iron and is not warm or comfortable in such weather as is prevailing at present.

And if that wasn't depressing enough, everyone knew that during the following 1923-1924 winter the faculty and students would either still be slogging through downtown puddles or shivering in temporary canvas tents. It was as if they had been woefully transported into the bleak world of Scrooge's Christmas Yet to Come.

How had this happened? The path forward had seemed so certain, so safe; the day right after the fire, members of the board of education and chamber of commerce began to negotiate with Rush and Bertha Todd, who owned a large spread on the north end of town. They had recently sold part of it to be the future home of the Junior College. Except for keeping a few acres around the baronial “old Ridgway mansion” on the corner, they agreed to sell the town all the land it wanted for the future high school. An option deal - no money involved - was announced two weeks later (for more, see "RIDGWAY’S CHILDREN").

The stars were also aligned to make the new high school the crown of our public education system. Just that summer, the state legislature finally recognized that an education beyond grade school was essential and a local high school had to be part of the school system. Grammar school districts now could be annexed under a local high school district, and that's what also happened here immediately after the fire; a meeting brought together supervisors of the 25 rural school districts around Santa Rosa and along the Russian River. It was agreed their kids would come to Santa Rosa for high school and the little districts would have a voice on the new school board - as well as contributing some of the district tax money to pay for the education and upkeep of the buildings. So far, so good.

All that remained was to raise enough money to build the school. For reasons never explained, Santa Rosa first asked voters to approve bonds for two new elementary schools - as noted in part one, the Lincoln and Fremont schools were considered firetraps. Early in April 1922, Santa Rosa voted in favor of those bonds by an astonishing majority of 27 to 1. Again, good news - it showed the pubic enthusiastically supported new schools.

Now came the high school vote a few weeks later, in mid-May. On top of the $241,000 just approved for the grade schools, voters of the City of Santa Rosa high school district were being asked to approve another $375,000 to pay for the property and new building. Taken together, the bonds were worth about $9 million in today's money - a steep commitment, given that the population of 1922 Santa Rosa was as small as modern Cloverdale.

Even though it looked like the bond would easily pass, the town campaigned hard. There was a big Chamber of Commerce dinner and gushy articles can be found in almost every edition of the Press Democrat. "High School Is To Have Museum Worth Thousands," read one PD headline, promising that Jesse Peter, a respected amateur archeologist, would donate his collection of artifacts to the school for a "museum of anthropology devoted to the Sonoma county Indians." (The collection went to the Junior College instead.)

There was a big parade with floats and over 2,000 students from fourth grade through junior college marching downtown on the eve of the vote. From the descriptions in the paper, it was one of those heart-tugging moments worthy of a visit the next time you take the time machine out for a spin.

The various clubs and classes were represented; as reported by the PD, "The cooking classes of the high school with their aprons and working utensils added an interesting touch to the parade and showed that the growing generation was assured of some good cooks, to say the least." They were followed by the ag students, some carrying a fruit tree while others wore "spraying outfits" to fend off their classmates "dressed to represent large destructive insects hovering about." The event ended in front of the courthouse, where everyone watched girls from the elementary schools dance around three May poles.

The next day, the bonds passed 16 to 1.

A week later, Sam Wright announced his first lawsuit.



The nicest thing anyone can say about Sampson B. Wright is that he was a fool. You can bet residents of Santa Rosa called him worse things between 1922-1923. Far, far worse.

Besides approving the bonds, the same ballot asked voters to pick a location for the future high school and the Todd property was the overwhelming favorite, 20 to 1. The other option was the Leddy tract, about 2½ west of Santa Rosa, close to Highway 12 and just east of Fulton/South Wright Road (there's still a Leddy avenue there). There originally was a third choice offered by the Wright family on the west side of Fulton/South Wright Road - probably the current location of the Wright Charter School - but it was withdrawn from the running by Sampson before the election, with no reason given.*

In his lawsuit to block the high school's construction, Wright's attorneys crafted a legal roadblock made from top quality bullshit. It was argued that the new state law allowing elementary school districts to be annexed by a high school district was unconstitutional. Why? Because it ceded some decision-making powers to a county's superintendent of schools rather than its board of supervisors. At its core, this was a classic nuisance suit, coyly intended to harass the school district and/or bollix everything up for months, years, maybe decades, as appeal followed appeal in the court system's higher echelons.

The crazy thing about his Quixotic war was that Wright didn't seem to care about that trivial constitutional issue; nor did he have objections to kids receiving high school educations (all his children did) and he wasn't opposed to selling bonds to build the school. The thing that really, really ticked him off was that it was to be on the Todd property.

The first we heard on the issue from Sampson B. Wright came just before the bond election, when a lengthy letter rant appeared in the Press Democrat. Alas, he was responding to something from Hilliard Comstock, president of the board of education, which appeared in the Santa Rosa Republican and that edition of the newspaper has not survived.

Wright insisted that the Leddy property was the only good option, waving off the many obstacles to the project because it was out in the unincorporated countryside. No matter that kids would have to take the electric train to school ("railroad officials well know how to transport children") or that there was no city water or sewer hookups ("an abundance of water can be had on the Leddy tract by pumping"). All that mattered to him was that (A) the land was cheaper and (B) it wasn't in Santa Rosa.

His particular obsession about the Santa Rosa location concerned the Noonan stockyard and slaughterhouse four blocks to the west (about where highway 101 crosses West College). The smell from there would be so awful, he wrote, that the city would have to condemn the property and reimburse Noonan $250,000, paid for by a huge tax increase. At the same time, he argued - with remarkable mental agility - that runoff from the school would damage the meat packing plant. Wright was "reliably informed that Mr. Noonan is not going to tamely submit to present drainage conditions," he stated.

The next day, a letter from the Noonan Meat Company appeared in the PD denying all of Wright's claims. If there was to be any runoff from the Todd property they would welcome it: "we could use the water on our pasture." Neighbors closer to the slaughterhouse than the proposed school had never complained about odors, and they closed with an endorsement for the bond and the Mendocino ave location.

Even after his lawsuit stopped construction plans, Sampson B. Wright would not shut up about the awful, terrible, no-good high school plan approved by the voters. He handed out a printed circular filled with his nutso ideas, because that's what unhinged people did before Twitter was invented.

Printed in full by the Press Democrat on May 27, the transcript appeared after the graduating class of 1922 was reduced to holding ceremonies at the blocked off Humboldt street between Benton and College. Wright's handout still charged there was a plot afoot to funnel public money to the Noonans: "As soon as the high school is located on the Todd site there will, I expect, be complaint against a certain property and then we shall be asked to contribute $250,000 on that score."

His screed filled a full column in the Press Democrat, printed in the smallest type. It was crammed with numbers - distances, valuations, projected expenses down to the penny. It was a spittle-flecked manifesto dripping with his rage to prevent the "saddling upon us of a young university under the disguise of a high school."



The only reason Wright had any credibility was because the Wright name was still widely known and respected in the early 20th century. His father, Winfield had been one of the richest men in the county, owning great swaths of land between the coast and Santa Rosa; Winfield's 1892 obituary says he had about 4,500 acres but in the preceding years he was spotted regularly selling hundreds of acres to his only son, Sampson. It would be a safe guesstimate to say the Wrights owned 6,000 acres of prime Sonoma county farmland. Everywhere you find the Wright name on some place today is because of Winfield, and until it was torn down in 1923, the enormous Wright dairy barn at the corner of Stony Point and Sebastopol Road was a county landmark known to everyone.

The Wrights were an intriguing family; Winfield's first wife, Sarah, was the granddaughter of mythic American hero Daniel Boone. Anyone who has toured the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery has probably noticed the unusual tombstone for Davis Wright, a “Colored Boy” - although the child was probably never a slave, he was a member of Winfield's father household. That man (also named Sampson) was a slave owner in Missouri just prior to joining his son in California, when Davis would have been about a year old. Indefatigable researcher Ray Owen has more background on that story.

Our antihero, Sampson Boone Wright, was born in Santa Rosa in 1854, a silver spoon tucked into his little baby mouth. According to his profile in the Honoria Tuomey county history, he was in his early twenties when he "conceived the notion that it would be profitable to drive a flock of sheep through to the grazing lands of Texas," which is such a ridiculous idea it suggests he was dropped on his head during infancy. "This he did amid difficulties that may better be imagined than described." I'll bet.

If you asked Sampson who he was, he would have told you he was a dairy rancher and a stockman, a respected breeder of prize hogs and a horseman with a stable of race-winning trotters. All true - but from 1876 until his death, it appears he was always party to some lawsuit or another. Most were apparently run-of-the-mill disputes related to the vast amount of property he inherited, but some reveal him as a quarrelsome man who was quick to file lawsuits out of spite.  Here are just a few of the lowlights:

*
1903: After the county drilled a well on the side of a road to supply water to sprinkler trucks, Wright presented the road commissioner with a demand to be paid $50/day - over $1,500 today - because they were using "his" groundwater. The suit went to the state supreme court twice before the county won six years later.

*
1908: Four years after a court settlement allowed the electric railroad line a right-of-way across Wright family land near their famous dairy barn on Stony Point, the railroad sued because workers for the Wrights were throwing manure from the barn over their fence. The Wrights contended the tracks were in the wrong place all along.

*
1909: Wright sued to stop the phone company from erecting telephone poles along the road next to his property.

*
1916: Years earlier, Wright's stepmother hired a girl to live with her as a helper. Jarena Wright came to regard the young woman as if she were her own daughter and gifted her 140 acres. Immediately after his stepmother died - even before the funeral - Wright sued to recover title to the land.

*
1926: Wright sued to stop the dredging of the sandspit at the mouth of Russian River, claiming that the river bar was needed for him to drive cattle back and forth across the river. He did not own any land on the north bank and had no right to move his cows there. Bonus: He also sued to block the highway 1 bridge across the Russian River.


Starting around 1919, however, Sampson B. Wright began devoting his energies to a new project: Being the angry taxpayer fighting the Board of Supervisors. He formed first the "Tax Payers Protective Association" and then the "Sonoma County Economy League." In truth, he was the president of the League of Grumpy Old Men.

In a memorable 1923 showdown, Wright and his anti-tax buddies stormed the Supervisors meeting to insist the county shut down its auto garage and fire all the mechanics. "When asked to name a way in which the county cars can be cared for they had nothing to offer."

Just like his verbose rant against the high school location, he wrote many other lengthy letters to the local papers demanding decisive action on whatever injustice happened to offend him at the moment. One of the Healdsburg newspapers commented,

It would be comical, were it not somewhat pathetic, the way newspaper offices are besieged every day by their friends, urging them to “roast” this and that: to see to it that and that is done in the city or county: to start this and that kind of movement to correct evils in the state government. These friends actually believe that it is the newspaper’s business to handle all these affairs.

A final Wright lawsuit worthy to note: In 1924, his second wife filed for divorce on grounds of extreme cruelty - particularly because he refused to allow electricity in their house.

By that year electricity was no longer a luxury; besides lighting, electric kitchen appliances, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, space heaters and radios were common. Nor was power unavailable because the Wrights were far out in the country; they were then living in a cottage on Garden street off of West Third.

Add that to his opposition of the county owning cars and trucks, telephone poles along "his" road and a bridge over the Russian River; a picture emerges of a man who is not merely a skinflint, but someone held in the grips of fogeyism - disliking anything that didn't exist in his Victorian-era youth.

An early 1920s "school auto-bus" (image courtesy Sonoma County Library)

His fight against the high school shows this anti-modernism clearly. Key to shuttling kids from the rural districts to the centralized Santa Rosa high school were these new things called a "school auto-bus." That circular Wright was handing out fixated almost entirely upon the transportation costs of operating a schoolbus fleet. His solution was to first build a high school on the Leddy tract, which Santa Rosa kids could reach by the electric trolley line. For the others, his plan was outlined in the circular's title: "Build High Schools in Rural Districts." Wright wanted to construct "three or more schools in the outlying districts," which children could reach by foot, bicycle or horse. Building more local high schools would be much cheaper in his mind simply because it eliminated all transport costs. Never did he consider that more teachers would be needed in that scheme - or maybe he did, because, you know, teachers work for free. (Snark aside, teachers did almost work for free at the time, earning an average of $2.50/day.)

Press Democrat cartoon, March 20, 1923


We pick up again the Battle of Santa Rosa High in February 1923, about nine months after Wright filed suit and threw everything in limbo - the bond offering was suspended, talks with architects were canceled and even contingency plans to cobble together some temporary buildings were stalled. As expected, Wright lost in court here and everyone was awaiting a decision from the state supreme court.

Wright stayed uncharacteristically mum until the Supervisors decided to put the bonds up for sale anyway. As he was at that meeting (naturally) the cranky bear awoke and began defending his cause. They couldn't sell the bonds until the supreme court weighed in, he protested, so their vote that afternoon was illegal, the bond election was fraudulent, and so the purchase of the Todd property was also a crime.

With that outburst, Sampson B. Wright had accused the top officials of Sonoma county of breaking multiple state laws, including criminal conspiracy, election fraud and felony misappropriation of public funds. Given that the guy had such a history of filing frivolous lawsuits and had such deep pockets he always refused to settle, you can bet that there was a moment of silent contemplation as everyone wondered: How far is this lunatic willing to go with this?

Board of education president Hilliard Comstock finally spoke up and "...expressed his resentment on behalf of the board against the insinuation that they had been guilty of fraud," as reported in the PD. Comstock also diplomatically jabbed him by making the point that  if the bonds couldn't be sold, Mr. tax-hater would force them to raise taxes to build temporary buildings.

The crisis came a month later, in mid-March 1923.

Two things happened almost simultaneously: The supreme court threw out Wright's lawsuit on the grounds he had no standing in the case - at the time he was living at the family ranch within the Analy school district, which was not annexed under Santa Rosa.

Wright was clearly expecting that decision and was ready to immediately fire back with a new and more ambitious lawsuit. This second action was filed under the name of his adult son, Girault, who did live in the Santa Rosa school district, and this time he wasn't suing over a dry point of order about the state constitution. The new suit charged the bond election was "unlawful and fraudulent" and the board of trustees - which he saw as a bogus group invented via "said pretended election" - conspired to break the law by using public money to buy the Todd property. In other words, he indeed pulled the trigger and accused county officials of crimes that could send them to jail.

The next day the Press Democrat blasted Wright with the front page cartoon shown above and an emotional editorial, "Stand Out of the Way!" It had been over a dozen years since editor Ernest Finley took such a hard personal swipe at anyone local, much less a man of such great wealth:

...Unless the people follow his plan, they will never have a new high school if he can prevent it. In wintry weather our children can continue to plow back and forth between improvised quarters and in summer they can sweat and swelter in draughty fire-traps. Families can decline to locate here and continue to move away, disgusted at what appears to be our lack of public spirit and want of appreciation regarding educational necessities. All these things mean nothing to Sampson B. Wright, if he can only have his way...

Finley's editorial was dead on; Santa Rosa was facing the possibility that no high school could ever be built as long as Sampson B. Wright lived. There would always be another suit to come, another appeal after that, particularly now that there were complex criminal charges and not merely constitutional minutiae.

A meeting for the entire community was called for March 20, the first - and to the best of my knowledge, only - town meeting to discuss a public crisis in Santa Rosa. Interest was such that the location was moved to the largest auditorium in town, the Cline movie theater (corner of 5th and B streets).

Fury at Wright was so great that the citizen's committee organizing the townhall warned "the meeting will not be of a radical nature, and that no suggestion of violent measures will be countenanced."

That night the movie house was packed; on stage was a lineup of men who would speak. The meeting began with everyone rising to their feet and singing "America the Beautiful."

"The school condition in Santa Rosa is intolerable. The people are incensed and they have a cause to be," began William F. Cowan, the attorney who chaired the meeting. He recapped the purpose of the state law and the vote on the bonds. From the Press Democrat we learn he went on for "considerable of an address" before coming to the point:

"In the series of conferences held this afternoon and this morning," Cowan said, "everyone concerned met in a spirit of harmony, with the result that a method was suggested whereby the bonds may be sold and the work of construction begun without further delay."

Suddenly it was over. Three hours earlier, Wright had agreed to drop his new lawsuit in principle. "Then a burst of applause broke out. It was realized that the fight had been won," the PD reported.

 Wright did not attend but his attorney was there and told the crowd he was unapolgetic. His client did not seek to delay construction of the high school, but felt he had "certain rights in this manner." Okay, sure, whatever makes you feel good about yourself.

Because of the unexpected settlement, the meeting ending early, so they lowered the house lights and everyone enjoyed a silent movie. The next morning's Press Democrat offered a screamer headline: "NEW HIGH SCHOOL ASSURED."

Wright said a few weeks later he was filing yet another lawsuit against the bond sale, but apparently nothing came of it. Hilliard Comstock later estimated all the delays from Wright's first suit cost the district $65,000.

And now, the happy ending: On November 21, 1923 the cornerstone was laid, complete with a copper box time capsule, and on December 29, 1924 the doors were opened to students for the first time. After all the chasing over town to make classes during the previous three years I'm sure the kids had an appreciation for the building we can't grasp today. Even a basic service like a school cafeteria must have seemed a joy to them and 300 crowded in for the first lunch, where they could choose swiss steak for a dime or "weenies and hot rolls" for 7¢ - dessert was apple pie, brick ice cream or "Arctic Cakes" for 6¢. Chocolate cake was just a penny more.



* It was later said that another possibile high school building site was at/near the current location of the Santa Rosa Plaza, which would have blocked development of the mall and/or highway 101. That location was never under consideration.


TOP: 1926 photo (Sonoma County Library) BOTTOM: 1925 photo (SRHS Foundation)


CO-OPERATION FOR HI SCHOOL IS PROMISED
Grammar School Districts Annexed For High School Purposes - Promised Representation on School Board

Hearty co-operation of the outlying grammar school districts in the extension of the high school system and enlargement of its work was assured as the result of the conference between the directors of the Santa Rosa chamber of commerce, the Santa Rosa board of education and trustees of the rural school districts held at the rooms of the chamber of commerce last night. It had been shown that both the local school authorities and the chamber of commerce were on record to provide for district representation on the high school board of education as quickly as the necessary steps could be taken.

The meeting was well attended and a thorough discussion of the problems was held, in which the outsiders showed their kindly spirit and willingness to do their part in providing for suitable school system centering in Santa Rosa if given their rights of representation and assurance that there was no intention of forcing them to be taxed without representation.

LAW OUTLINED

President Wallace Ware presided at the meeting, which lasted two hours. District Attorney Geo. W. Hoyle was present and gave a resume of the law and steps leading up to the recent act of the supervisors in adding 25 rural school districts to the Santa Rosa districts for high school purposes and the steps which remained to give them their proper representation on the board of education.

DIRECTORS MEETING

After the conference the directors of the chamber held a session in which the matter was again gone over, and Hilliard Comstock was named a committee of one to see that the work of clearing up the school problem is pushed forward as rapidly as possible.

District Attorney Hoyle is at present engaged in a thorough search of conditions, law and decisions bearing on the case in answer to queries propounded by the school authorities, and as soon as this is ready it will be submitted, together with the opinion of the attorney general. It is hoped this will open the way for immediate action in securing a union high school board...

- Santa Rosa Republican, November 23, 1921


SCHOOL PARADE FOR BONDS WILL BE ON MONDAY

At 2 o'clock Monday afternoon a parade boosting school bonds consisting of the high school, Junior College and the elementary students will start from the Congregational church and march west on 4th street to Davis street. Superintendent Jerome Cross has appointed Miss Alice Koford as grand marshal of the parade as a reward for her work in making it possible.

The students will carry large banners on which are printed slogans for boosting the bonds. A number of cheers have been worked up by the students and will be given every alternating block.

The formation of the parade will be as follows...

- Press Democrat, April 2, 1922



SCHOOL BONDS VOTE BETTER THAN 27 TO 1

Santa Rosa's $241,000 school bond issue was carried in the election yesterday by 3,082 to 113.

This is believed to be the largest majority ever accorded any issue in Sonoma county, and speaks eloquently of the overwhelming sentiment for new schools here...This is a remarkable growth in sentiment over the figures of two years ago, when the bonds carried by approximately 4 to 1. At that time, however, there was by no means the elaborate organization working for the bonds that was built up for the campaign ended yesterday...

- Press Democrat, April 5, 1922



SCHOOL BONDS TO BE PUT UP FOR SALE NEXT WEEK

No time is to be lost by the board of education in replacing the ramshackle Fremont and Lincoln school buildings with the moder structures Santa Rosa proved it wanted at the election Tuesday...It is the tentative plan of the board to begin the tearing down of the old schools the day following the end of the term. Time will be made the essence of the contracts and the new buildings ready for occupancy, completely appointed when the September term begins...

- Press Democrat, April 6, 1922



 $375,000 BOND ISSUE FOR HIGH SCHOOL ON MAY 18TH
 District to Vote at Same Time on Choice of Three Proposed Sites; Wright Property and Leddy Tract on Sebastopol Avenue Offered in Addition to 30-Acre Todd Property

 The voters of the City of Santa Rosa high school district, which includes the Santa Rosa grammar school districts surrounding the city, at a special election May 18, will be asked to authorized a $375,000 bond issue for the purchase of a site and the erection and equipment of a high school building and improvement of the grounds.

 At the same time the question of a sight will be submitted to a decision of the voters. On the same ballot with the bond proposition, but as separate and distinct proposals, will be listed three sites from which the voters will be asked to select the one wanted for the new high school building...

...It is felt by the board that the Todd property is the most acceptable owing to its being so centrally located to all the main arteries of travel from the surrounding country and as convenient, if not more so, for the town people than any other site which could be secured for school purposes.

The Leddy tract and the Wright property are both within a very short distance of the west line of the district which separates the Analy high school district from the Santa Rosa district and are off the main traffic highways through the country.

THE PRICES

The trustees have been offered each of the various Wright properties at various prices raging from $350 to $1250 an acre. This includes the Esther Wright, the Sampson Wright and the Girault Wright tracts. The Leddy tract is offered at approximately $1,000 an acre...[The Todd] property is held by the trustees under an option at $1000 an acre or a total of $30,000. The option expires June 1.

- Press Democrat, April 23, 1922




 WRIGHT TRACT IS WITHDRAWN

 Sampson B. Wright has withdrawn his property facing the Sebastopol highway from the list of possible sites for the new district high school.

 Announcement to this effect was made Wednesday. It leaves only the Leddy tract, alson on the Sebastopol highway, and the Todd property facing Mendocino avenue, for the people to vote on at the election May 18.

- Press Democrat, April 27, 1922




 DRIVE FOR HI SCHOOL IS ON
 Committee Dispels Confusion About Location of Todd Site; Many Bodies Represented

 Two meetings were held here yesterday for the purpose of planning active campaign work in behalf of the high school bond issue...At both meetings it was brought out that some confusion had arisen over the name "Rush B. Todd site," some believing that this referred to the Todd district. The committee and school authorities are anxious to have it understood that the proposed site is the old Ridgeway [sic] property at the northern edge of the city on Healdsburg avenue...

- Press Democrat, May 10, 1922



RURAL SCHOOL TRUSTEES FOR HIGH SCHOOL BOND
Representatives of 16 Districts Attend Chamber of Commerce Dinner, and All Are Enthusiastic in Approval of $375,000 Issue to Be Voted on May 19.

Representatives and trustees of 16 school districts, both in and near Santa Rosa, voiced unanimous approval Thursday night for the high school bond election to be held May 19 and for the Rush B. Todd site in Healdsburg avenue for the location of the proposed school...

...A great number of the most prominent architects in the state have been interviewed by the school board in regard to the construction and price of the proposed school buildings. [City Superintendent Jerome O.] Cross stated, and in ever instance the architects recommended a class "C" type building. This is very plain in architecture, it was stated, but one that gives the best of service for a school building.

Regarding the proposed location of the school on the present Todd property, or what is known as the former Ridgeway property, and the conflict that is arising over this location due to the Leddy tract on the Sebastopol highway being offered at a lower figure, Cross explained that not only is the Todd property the exact geographical center of the district, but it has the advantages of city water, electricity and gas, fire protection and sewage system. The price of this land as offered to the board is $1000 an acre, a price that is cheaper than many unimproved tracts of land in other communities.

The Leddy tract was offered at a much lower figure, but being so far out of the city limits, some two and one-half miles, it would mean a large expense to bring the necessary water, light, gas, sewage, and so forth to this location. Another bad feature, it was pointed out, was the fact that it would cost several thousand dollars to level the Leddy tract sufficiently to build on it...

- Press Democrat, May 12, 1922



 Editor Press Democrat:

 Major Comstock quotes me incorrectly. I said: "Major Comstock told me that unless the deal for the Todd property could be closed by June 1st, 1922, the chamber of commerce would lose $500 cash bond put up."

 That statement surprised me because it was apparent that the chamber of commerce would find a way to protect the option. But if I be given false premises my conclusions are likewise apt to look a bit unreasonable. He told me the option would expire on June 1st, 1922, and that as to a renewal, Mr. Todd would be difficult. The signing of the $4000 note seems of minor importance.

 The major first denies that he ever signed any such note and then seems to qualify that statement by saying: "I have no individual responsibility whatever in connection with the Todd property." Mr. Walter Price attended a meeting between certain members of the chambers of commerce and representatives of the Santa Rosa realty board. He states that at this meeting certain gentlemen from the chamber of commerce wanted the real estate board to underwrite absolutely 34 acres of the Todd property and to agree to take over the other 29.65 acres in case the voters refused to accept the latter as a site for the new high school.

 Mr. Price has verified his former statement to the effect that at that meeting it was freely stated that three members of the chamber of commerce -- one of whom being Major Comstock had acted as a committee for that body and had signed the note referred to for $4000. He also says that while Major Comstock did not attend that meeting the other two (2) members of that committee were present. So it may be that technically Major Comstock is not personally liable in this matter.

 There is one objection to the Todd property as a high school site which should eliminate it from consideration. It is the fact that it lies within the lines of the southwest winds which sweep over the Noonan slaughter house and corrals during almost every day during the summer and fall. It is incomprehensible to me that sponsors for the Todd property, especially the high school trustees, should have failed to note and direct attention to this objection.

 Again if the school be located there about the next move will be a condemnation proceeding against the Noonan plant to compel its removal and then $250,000 or more will have to be provided by the tax payers with which to pay damages to the Noonan company.

 This will mean a tax of $1.92 on every $100 on the 26 school districts and if the 25 outside districts withdraw from Santa Rosa it will mean a tax of $3.84 on every $100 inside Santa Rosa. Moreover the Noonan plant to be destroyed might be appraised at $030,000. [sic]

Drainage from the Todd lands is over the Noonan property and I am reliably informed that Mr. Noonan is not going to tamely submit to present drainage conditions.

An abundance of water can be had on the Leddy tract by pumping. The City of Santa Rosa pumps water. Why not pump on the Leddy tract?

The railroad officials well know how to transport children and they will have guaranteed in writing that they will transport them. An objection to the Leddy park on that score seems puerile.

Major Comstock declares that transportation to the Todd property will be refused to the 383 students living inside the limits of Santa Rosa and that it must be allowed if Leddy park be selected, Then parents generally in town should vote for Leddy park in order to let their children ride.

The major says that in order to transport 383 school children a year on cars at 12 cents each day the cost will be $13,788. According to my calendar there are 52 Saturdays and 52 Sundays in a year. Usually there are 60 days summer vacation, 14 days around Christmas and other holidays to interfere with school attendance might amount to six days and institute week five days, a total probably of 189 days. Deduct these from 365 and there are 176 days left. At 12 cents the cost of transporting one student 176 days would be $21.12 and 383 would cost $8,088 -- 5,700 less than Major Comstock figures. Major did you cause this statement, $13,788 as the cost to appear, two times in the Santa Rosa Republican through error or was that done advisedly?

It is well to note that the present high school trustees may not live always and admitting that they will so live they are not going to be able to control the situation. If Santa Rosa is to make a city a growth of two miles along the electric car line is not much of a growth.

I am urging all voters to support the Leddy park tract for a high school site and to oppose the bond issue as submitted. In submitting a bond proposal for a high school the trustees should be those who can function for the entire 26 districts sufficient time should be allowed for people to be registered 30 days before election and every schoolhouse should be a voting place. It is claimed that these trustees want to be fair and yet a large percentage of the people living in outside districts are disfranchised so far as this bond election goes.

A new call should be made and in asking for that amount of money should be stated which is to be spent in improvement of the grounds, the amount to be spent on insurance, the amount to be spent on furniture and apparatus, the amount to be spent in the purchase of a lot and the amount to be spent in the construction of buildings. A statement upon these points outside the proclamation does not bind any one nor is that the law.

- Press Democrat, May 13, 1922 [paragraphing added for clarity]


High School Is To Have Museum Worth Thousands
STATE UNIVERSITY TO AID IN ESTABLISHMENT OF FINE EDUCATIONAL FEATURE HERE
By HERBERT W. SLATER

When the Santa Rosa High School District acquires its new, strictly up-to-date school building, we are promised a very valuable accessory in the form of a museum, rich and complete in anthropology.

The acquisition of the museum has been made possible largely through the effort of Jesse Peter, graduate of the Santa Rosa high school of some years since, who is a recognized anthropologist and is by profession a civil and mining engineer. He returned from Alaska a short time ago to again take up his residence here...

...Here is what Mr. Peter has to say:

"Santa Rosa and Sonoma county have long felt the need for an historical museum and from time to time a museum of one kind or another has been talked of. One of the features of the new high school and junior college will be a museum of anthropology devoted to the Sonoma county Indians. This is a unique educational feature in California schools and is capable of far-reaching scientific results...The faculty of the department of anthropology of the University of California has generously offered and assistance within their power to make the Santa Rosa high school museum a success...

 - Press Democrat, May 13, 1922



 High School Site Offered Free Would Permit Pupils To Travel On Li'l Gondola

 Not to be outdone by others who have high school sites on hand, Messrs. Gray and Gremott Saturday came forward with the offer of a site absolutely free of charge!

 The property is a tract of 20 acres, described as being "only 20 minutes from the court house by Duesenberg Special or 70 minutes on a bicycle."

 Having sold all the balance of their sub-division, the two public-spirited citizens have no ulterior motive in offering this site, it is said. The property is on the Petaluma-Sebastopol highway and only a quarter of a mile from the electric line.

 There is a beautiful lake on one end of the property, which could be used for bathing in the summer and boating in the winter. During the latter season this lake is said to become somewhat enlarged, so that the high school on that site might present the appearance of a Venetian villa, or something like that.

 The generosity of the owners of this property is to be commended, and doubtless some adequate expression of thanks will be prepared by the women's auxiliary of the chamber of commerce.

- Press Democrat, May 14, 1922



HIGH SCHOOL PUPILS TO MARCH DOWN 4TH TODAY TO URGE BONDS

The schools of Santa Rosa assisted by several from outlying districts who are in the high school district will stage a demonstration this afternoon at 3 o'clock in favor of the high school bonds. A parade will be held with the pupils from the fourth grade up participating and there will be a number of interesting features in the way of floats and various displays...

- Press Democrat, May 18, 1922


 WRIGHT ATTACKS SECTION OF NEW HIGH SCHOOL LAW

Considerable interest was aroused yesterday morning by the announcement that Sampson B. Wright plans to attempt, through litigation, to delay the construction of a new high school here.

It is understood that in Wright's opinion Section 1734b of the political code, under which elementary districts may be annexed to high school districts, is unconstitutional. Wright's contention is reported to be that the State legislature erred in attempting to delegate certain power to county superintendent of schools together with a single supervisor, rather than to the board of supervisors as a whole... [section of 1921 law cited]

- Press Democrat, May 26, 1922


TWO CITY HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS ILL; CLASS ARRANGEMENTS CAUSE EXPOSURE

Miss Ellen F. Deruchie and Miss Edith Troxell of the high school facility were laid up Wednesday by illness and it is not expected the former will be able to return to work for several days at the best. The exposure and trying conditions to which the teachers of the Santa Rosa high school are being subjected is proving a heavy tax to their health and strength.

A visit to the high school Wednesday showed under what difficulty both teachers and pupils are working since the destruction of the old building the night of November 15, 1921. At the present time the school is divided among more than half a dozen buildings scattered over many blocks which must be traveled between each class during the day either by the teacher or pupils.

The study hall and five recitation rooms are located in the Congregational church with poor light, ventilation and accommodations for drying out wet clothing. Two other classes are located in the Methodist Episcopal church where the conditions are not much better. Four classes are housed in the old Mailer hall on Fourth street and five in the old Mailer warehouse at Fifth and Mendocino avenue. This is made of corrugated iron and is not warm or comfortable in such weather as is prevailing at present.

The Junior College with eight recitation rooms in the Masonic Temple is the most comfortably provided of any of the schools with one class in the Labor Temple adjoining. Two bungalows are being used and several class rooms at the Annex in conjunction with the junior high school classes which overcrowds that building making good work exceedingly difficult.

"I can truthfully say that the teaching corps has proven highly efficient and loyal under all the handicaps," said Principal E. H. Barker in commenting on school conditions in Santa Rosa. "The school is maintaining a high standard despite the great lack of accommodations and proper equipment and both teachers and pupils are showing the right kind of spirit. It will not be to our advantage, however, if a number of the best teachers accept positions another year where they can have better accommodations, but we must expect to meet such conditions, as there is a demand for teachers in places having the best of facilities."

- Press Democrat, January 25, 1923



Stand Out of the Way!

After having failed in one attempt to set aside the will of the people as expressed at the polls, Sampson B. Wright again brings suit to prevent the construction of a new high school here. The present suit is not brought in his name, but it is his, nevertheless.

The question of building a new high school to replace the one destroyed by fire was submitted to public vote and the bonds carried by a tremendous majority, but Mr. Wright steps in and says, "No." Unless the people follow his plan, they will never have a new high school if he can prevent it.

In wintry weather our children can continue to plow back and forth between improvised quarters and in summer they can sweat and swelter in draughty fire-traps.

Families can decline to locate here and continue to move away, disgusted at what appears to be our lack of public spirit and want of appreciation regarding educational necessities.

All these things mean nothing to Sampson B. Wright, if he can only have his way...

...It is probably Sampson's Wright's contention that outlying districts should not be taxed to keep up a hight school in Santa Rosa. He favored the construction of a new building under the consolidated district plan as long as he though it could be located out of his way. He fought hard for it, and even made public tender of part of his property as a site--at a price.

Then when the people voted on the question and decided to build the structure in Santa Rosa, the central point, he recanted and became a bitter opponent of the whole idea. The thing looks bad, but let that pass. Let's consider the point he now raises.

Should the outlying districts be taxed to build and maintain a new high school, or should Santa Rosa build it and pay for it and maintain it for the benefit of the outside districts? That is all there possibly can be to the question back of Wright's suit...

..The people have said what they want, so let Sam Wright stand out of the way!

- Press Democrat editorial, March 16, 1923


Now For a New High School

Sampson Wright's suit questioning the validity of the bonds vote a year or more ago for the construction of a new high school has been withdrawn, and the probability now is that within the next few weeks actual construction of the much-needed building will be under way. This is good news, and the outcome of recent efforts will be welcomed by the community generally.

Any citizen has the right to bring suit in our courts where he believes his interests are jeopardized. Nobody questioned the right of Sampson B. Wright to test the law on this high school question, or object if he believed the law was not being followed properly. The trouble with Mr. Wright's suit was that under the procedure employed, a necessary and vital improvement was retarded. Nothing could ben done to replace a high school that had been destroyed by fire, although its speedy reconstruction was absolutely necessary. Under the terms of the agreement just reached, the work of rebuilding will begin at once and the legal points raised by Mr. Wright will be fought out later. This method of procedure should have been adopted in the first place. It might have been induced long ago, if the community had united and made its demand to that effect sooner. The outcome of this matter affords a striking example of the power of united public sentiment when properly and intelligently directed. Nothing can withstand it.

- Press Democrat editorial, March 27, 1923


WRIGHT TO SUE AGAIN

A new suit, directed against the sale of $375,000 worth of bonds for the construction of the Santa Rosa high school building, is to he filed by Sampson B. Wright, a rancher residing west of Santa Rosa, he announced Wednesday.

"It is the only feasible plan right now," Wright, plaintiff in the former case, declared. Nor will a bill, passed hy the legislature, validating the existence of a Santa Rosa high school district, block the way to bring such a suit, Wright explained, "The legislature," he continued, has no right to pass any retroactive measure. The suit, brought previously, questions the constitutionality of the law creating such high school districts.

"When I signed the stipulation in the dismissal of the last suit, it was on the understanding that I should sacrifice none of my rights in the case.”

The necessity of re-advertising for bids is set up by Wright as the reason for the latest attack on the construction of the high school building.

- Healdsburg Tribune, May 3 1923



2,500 TURN OUT FOR RECEPTION AT NEW SCHOOL
New Educational Building Proves Delight to Visitors

Santa Rosa appeared to have turned out en masse last night for inspection of the new half million dollars High School building erected on the Redwood highway at the northern city limits on a 30-acre campus and occupied for the first time yesterday.

Despite the storm, filly 2500 patrons of the school with the children gathered at the new building and spent several hours inspecting the rooms and facilities provided for the care and education of the children of the community.

Members of the high school faculty and board of education with their wives acted as a reception committee. Each room was decorated in some manner and all contained potted flowers. Miss Helen G. Cochrane, supervisor of music in the high school rendered an impromptu musical program in the music room during the evening with some of her pupils. The program consisted of choral work duets, trios and solos as well as instrumental number and proved quite an attraction to many. This was the only attempt at entertainment during the evening...

...Judges, lawyers, bankers, business and professional men and women, ranchers, laborers and retired men and women and even whole families of Chinese mingled and exchanged felicitations over the possession of such a wonderful plant for the district work. All were delighted with the convenience, the adaptability and compactness of the structure. One visitor here from the East, who took a great interest in examination of the structure on leaving remarked to the writer, "Never before in all my life have I seen such a magnificent school for a city of this size. It is simply wonderful."

- Press Democrat, December 30, 1924


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