"All of the buildings fell at once; no one first," a man named Green Thompson told an investigator into the 1906 earthquake in Santa Rosa. He added the dust was so great on Fourth street he couldn't see.

Yes, the buildings that collapsed downtown were almost all brick, and mostly built 1883-1885 during the town's first building boom. Yes, unreinforced masonry buildings are not particularly earthquake friendly. But it has always rankled that the official 1908 State Earthquake Commission report put the blame on our ancestors not knowing the basics of building construction:

In general, inquiries as to direction of fall of buildings met no definite answer...many told me that there was no direction of fall; that the buildings simply crumbled to the ground. The Masonic Temple and the Theater, I was told, fell so directly downward "that the debris did not extend beyond the walls 10 feet in any direction"...The great damage in Santa Rosa may be accounted for by the physiographic conditions and by the weakness of the buildings in many cases. The sand for mortar has usually been obtained from the creek and contains considerable loam. Some of the mortar seems to have been made with good sand and with cement...usually throughout the wrecked area the mortar taken from the walls is easily crumbled to incoherent sand by pressure of the fingers.

It's understandable that too much loam is undesirable (although there's a 1903 researcher who says up to 10 percent dirt is actually beneficial) but we don't know what the investigator meant by "considerable", nor how he learned this. That goes to the heart of the question: before all the buildings fell down, did anyone know the mortar was weak? If it was always crumbly, that would have been apparent soon after the first brick buildings went up in 1883, and surely they would not have continued making the same mistake for another two years.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott

On Dec. 1, 1918, Grace Brothers' brewery was closed on account of madness.

Like other breweries across the country, the beer-making section of big plant at the foot of Second street in Santa Rosa was ordered shut down by government regulation. The given reason was the nationwide shortage of coal, which began after the U.S. entered WWI; at the time coal was the fuel that ran almost everything in the country and while the crisis had little impact on the West Coast, the situation in the Eastern states was dire. William Jennings Bryan came to Santa Rosa and told us six million tons of coal a year were wasted on brewing beer; that was almost double the true figure, but it didn't matter that he got it wrong because he sounded so convincing, as he always did.

Bryan was mainly a professional prohibitionist during the war years. When he came here that June he also claimed $50 million worth of food products were being used annually by brewers. At this point of his speech he usually harrumphed indignantly, "how can we justify the making of any part of our breadstuffs into intoxicating liquor when men are crying out for bread?" The brewing industry pushed back that under one percent of the nation's grain was used in making beer, but that was another true factoid not heard in Bryan's Chautauqua tent. 

Accurate facts weren't important to his audiences who didn't seem to mind that he was hammering simplistic either-or fallacies into their poor, soft skulls; they went away thinking it was a choice between closed schools or open saloons, bread for starving war orphans or a nickel beer. They were given the impression that making alcohol - or drinking it - was both unpatriotic and shameful.

But Grace Brothers' wasn't forced to stop brewing because of an actual shortage of coal or pressing demand for flour or the eloquent lips of William Jennings Bryan. It happened because by the end of 1918 most Americans were nuts.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott



On January 17, 1920, Prohibition came to Sonoma county, as it did the rest of the land. While San Francisco marked the event by carousing and debauchery excessive even by Barbary Coast standards, the milestone passed with little notice up here. At midnight some bozo on Western avenue in Petaluma began shooting in the air and managed to knock out a PG&E powerline, likely pitching that side of town into darkness. With church bells clanging in celebration, residents suddenly without lights probably wondered if the end of the world had come - and many in wine-making, wine-loving Sonoma county were nervous that it had.

This article is part of a series on the 1920s culture wars, an era with numerous parallels to America today - particularly now that the nation is as divided as it was during the ignoble experiment which was Prohibition.

Much has been written about Prohibition; there's a substantial number of books and internet resources on the topic although all seem to share the same flaw - events before it started are given short shrift and then it's quickly on to Chicago gangsters, bathtub gin and the jazz age. You know: The fun stuff.

But take a step further back and a bigger picture emerges: Fear and loathing of alcohol was the moralistic glue holding together the various threads in America's culture wars. Many preachers howled liquor must be scourged from the earth via a rigorous crackdown by law enforcement, which was a militant stance shared with the revived Ku Klux Klan - and while you were at their lecture, the boyz in the hoods also had a few other things to tell you about hatred and white nationalism. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union didn't just demonize demon rum; the group had a “purity lecturer” who addressed their 1913 convention in Santa Rosa, where she spoke about “social immorality” and “race betterment” (eugenics, in other words).

Here I've written dozens of articles about doings regarding alcohol both trivial and notable, such as the anti-suffrage propaganda that women would vote as a bloc to ban alcohol and that the first speakeasy in the county was the Electric Hotel in Forestville. Below the main stories are arranged to show how the Prohibition movement gained steam in Sonoma county; the article following this one takes us to the start of Prohibition and shows the early impact it had here. Spoiler alert: Prohibition generally turned out to be a good thing for Sonoma county.




The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott

The past is just a story we keep telling ourselves.

 That's a throwaway line from a recent film, "Her" (good movie) and not entirely original; "[something is] a story we tell ourselves" first appeared around 1960 and has become exponentially more popular since then, as shown by Google's Ngram Viewer. What makes this version memorable, however, is that it's uniquely wrong.

 History (for the most part) is a story we DON'T keep telling ourselves. We only talk about an event when it's big and momentous or directly related to our lives in the here and now. A more accurate version of the quote would be, "The past is just a story we keep forgetting to tell ourselves" and as a result, we don't learn from the past and find ourselves repeating it. History is not a guide to understand our march toward the future; history is a treadmill.

This article is part of a series on the 1920s culture wars, an era with numerous parallels to America today - and no issue has found itself resonating again as much as the anti-vaccination movement. I've written twice before about the "antis" of a century ago (here's part one and part two) but to recap and expand:

The only vaccine that existed in the early 20th century was against smallpox (MMR, HepB, DTaP, RV or any of the other modern vaccines were decades away). Since 1889 California had required all children to present a smallpox vaccination certificate when they registered for school. Opponents lobbied Sacramento to pass a couple of bills repealing the law but governors vetoed the legislation both times. The state Supreme Court upheld the requirement in 1904 and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the same way the following year. Yet the anti-vaccinationists never gave up; they kept forming grassroots anti chapters, signing repeal petitions and writing letters. At the start of every school year some parents would keep their kids at home or protest to the school board - some apparently not over vaccine anxiety but because they couldn't afford to consult a doctor.




The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott

Imagine an America which seems to become increasingly divided with every passing day. One side is mainly rural and feels their values are under attack. They are warned by religious and political figures that evildoers could be plotting to sneak into their neighborhood to commit terrible crimes and these fears are also fueled by popular media repeating stories which are lies and exaggerations. This group disdains city folk as being morally weak and believe urbanites must be forced - by new laws, if necessary - to behave properly. They think sex outside of marriage is dangerous and children should be taught to be afraid of it. Meanwhile, the Republican party is being torn apart by the loud upstarts who now dominate the party, much to the dismay of the old guard.

 Welcome to 1914 - exactly 105 years ago.

 This is the story about the swirling conflicts in the years leading up to Prohibition - a kind of cultural civil war that started in 1914, so it's probably fair to say that was the year when the 1920s really began.

 The divide was not red-state versus blue-state, Bugtussle Miss. vs. Boston Mass. The nation was still mostly rural/semi-rural and small towns like Santa Rosa were almost evenly split between those who were certain the country was headed on the wrong track or not.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott

Here's the ultimate Trivial Pursuit question, Sonoma county edition: How many times has it been proposed for Petaluma to seize the county seat from Santa Rosa and/or split off to become the seat of a new county?

Recently I conducted a scientific survey of expert historians (I asked guests at a Christmas party, a few friends, some followers on Facebook and that cashier at Trader Joe's who seems to know everything) and the consensus was that it's happened two or three times. The correct answer?

Nine...probably; I hedge because there could be yet another skirmish or three that could crawl out of the late 19th century woodwork.

A couple were like war campaigns and lasted more than a year; others apparently went little further than a committee being formed or the passing around of petitions. Some efforts are difficult to evaluate because few newspapers from that particular time still exist.

While all of the schemes end up with Petaluma becoming a county seat, they are remarkably different otherwise. Sometimes a new county is formed, borrowing a bit of northern Marin (or not). Sometimes Sonoma county is broken up into three counties - four, in one proposal - and sometimes Petaluma is annexed to be part of Marin. A common thread is that Petaluma has more in common with Marin and points south than everything north of them in Sonoma county, which is hard to dispute; until the train arrived in 1871, it was easier for the Petalumi to get to San Francisco than Santa Rosa, particularly in winter.

The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott

In the summer of 1883 most West Coast newspapers were complaining about the unusually hot weather; but here in Sonoma county, we were too busy complaining about each other. For months the air was heavy with angst and acrimony and there was no telling how long it would be before the winds changed.

The Board of Supervisors were determined to build a county courthouse in the middle of Santa Rosa's plaza. Petaluma wanted the new courthouse in their town - which would make them the county seat. Factions from Petaluma were circulating a petition demanding a vote on the issue while also threatening to split off and form a new county. Meanwhile, the rest of the county was upset at both Santa Rosa and Petaluma for dragging them into their fuss. All of that melodrama was covered in part one, "HOW COURTHOUSE SQUARE TORE SONOMA COUNTY APART."

Our story resumes in the third week of July 1883, when there was something of a lull in the fighting. There had been no mention of the Petaluma petition since early June, when it was said they were about ready to present it to the Board. Having already contracted with architects, the Supervisors now requested construction bids; it would be another ten weeks before they chose a contractor, and hopefully by then the petition matter would be settled.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. The Blogger platform has become increasingly unstable and as of this writing I am unable to upload images; there is no help available to interpret the cryptic error messages, which may (or may not) go away. I will continue to create stubs here for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott

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