Sonoma County Supervisors could not believe the offer: An undertaker submitted a bid to bury the indigent dead for just one cent each. Included in the price was a redwood coffin with lid, cloth lined and bottom padded. With pillow. They would even dig the grave and see that is was "properly filled in" (thank goodness) and paint a wooden marker. Our thrifty supervisors in 1912 did not hesitate to accept the bid.
(RIGHT: Broken grave marker in the Moke section of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, 2015)
The Press Democrat remarked one of the courthouse reporters had heard of a similar bargain burial rate in Denver, but that was apparently wrong - it was in Phoenix. A year before their board of supervisors opened bids to find one undertaker proposing to do the job for 14 cents and another bidding a penny - but even that was underbid by the Arizona Casket Company's offer to bury the indigent dead for $.001 each. "The board generally likes to receive low bids for county work, but these, or the most of them, were too low and the bid of the Arizona Casket Company was, beside, embarrassing," remarked the Arizona Republic. "How to make payment might become confusing. If the bidder should bury less than ten subjects in a quarter there would be no coin denomination of money with which to make payment."
The penny price was a canny bet by the Lafferty & Smith funeral home in Santa Rosa. First, it applied only to those who died at the county hospital; if the dead person was elsewhere in Santa Rosa township they could bill 75¢. Judging by their previous contracts with the county and their competitor's bid, the break-even cost for providing such a service was around $3.00 per body. Aside from the coffin - and redwood was then the cheapest wood available - the only real expense was the grave digging, and in 1912 simple manual labor like that paid only about a dollar a day. Nor were there a lot of dying indigents; that year only thirty went to the county cemetery on Chanate Road and some of those undoubtedly came from outside Santa Rosa, which a competitor handled for a higher price. So Lafferty & Smith didn't risk losing a pile of money on their lowball bid.
And if they could locate a relative, they just might find someone willing to pay full price for a proper funeral and reburial of poor ol' Uncle Joe. "It is well known that if not infrequently happens that an indigent dies with some well to do relatives or friends who are willing to pay the expense of a more costly funeral," the PD observed in the same article.
We can't be sure how often that happened, but there was an example just a few months earlier when members of a "distinguished Southern family" had Lafferty & Smith exhume a murder victim and replant him in the Odd Fellows' cemetery. They even reunited the man's head with his body, the skull having been used as an exhibit at the trial. That was a nice touch.
Lafferty & Smith might not have tried the discount gambit if not for another reason: There was a formidable new competitor in town. The Welti brothers brought along two decades of experience with Halsted & Company, one of San Francisco's top funeral homes. And not insignificantly, as the PD noted, they were "in touch with the latest and most approved methods known to the profession." Those up-to-date methods probably included the recipe for Halsted's embalming fluid (see sidebar).
Frank and Charles Welti were not elbowing their way into Santa Rosa's undertaking trade; they bought a well-established business from H. H. Moke, Longtime readers of this journal have bumped into Mr. Moke many times handling the funerals of some of those profiled here, as well as dealing with his own tragedy. On the morning of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake he lived with his family above the funeral parlor at 418 Fourth st, where his wife, 10 year-old daughter and sister-in-law were killed, presumably when the next door Haven Hardware store exploded, demolishing much of the block between B and A streets. He remarried a year later, his new bride also an undertaker.
The funeral home was rebuilt at the same location, but not before the couple had one of the oddest experiences in Santa Rosa history. On July 4, 1908 Mr. and Mrs. Moke were apparently entertaining friends at their temporary location on Third street when an exhibition parachutist, jumping from a hot air balloon, drifted off course and smashed into the skylight above them, raining broken glass on the frightened undertakers. "I'm not a dead one just yet," quipped the jumper once he realized the nature of his landing spot.
With the sale of his business to the Welti brothers, Henry Herbert Moke apparently retired (the newspapers called him Herbert but he used his first name in the city directories, which is a bit unusual). Although he was only 41, he started learning the undertaking trade when he was thirteen and bought the business twenty years later. Besides money from selling the funeral parlor, Naomi Moke had recently won her lawsuit against an insurance company over the destruction of her late father's drug store in the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake. The Mokes also had real estate; if you live on the north side of Benton street between Glenn and Morgan, it was once his property. Henry stayed busy with his many club memberships and Naomi became president of the Woman's Improvement Club, the most important civic organization in town.
Remaining behind to work with the Welti brothers was John P. Stanley, 76 years old when the business changed hands in 1911. Not much was known about him personally until a little 1913 article about his new house in Sebastopol appeared in the Santa Rosa Republican. It seems Mr. Stanley was an art and antique collector, designing his bungalow to best show off his stuff.
Moke and Stanley are storied names to anyone interested in the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery - which is probably damn near everyone who reads this blog. Stanley bought over five acres (the entire east side) from the Fulkerson family in 1884. Except for a teardrop-shaped section in the northeast which was occupied, he sold the rest in 1907 to his employer, Moke. (A map showing these sections is on the kiosks found at both entrances to the cemetery.) When Moke signed over the cemetery land to the Weltis most of it was still available, Moke having sold only about fifty lots. In 1944 Frank Welti sold those "three acres, more or less" to the county for the new Indigent Cemetery, even though it was unimproved lowlands next to Poppy Creek and prone to flooding.
Rural Cemetery aficionados know its Twentieth Century history is mostly unhappy. The place was increasingly neglected as no one, including the city or county, took any responsibility for maintenance. By midcentury the place was so overgrown it was considered a serious fire hazard and the county did a 1951 controlled burn that turned out to be not-so controlled, destroying irreplaceable wooden markers.
(LEFT: The newly uncovered tombstone of William Fowzer)
Tombstones lost to fire, vandalism and accident are just part of the old cemetery's woes. Moke and his predecessors didn't keep track of who was buried where; historic maps used by the undertakers only marked which lots were available to sell. Since then there have been efforts to assemble a list of all burials with mixed results.
Last summer a group did a pilot survey using a small portion of a map drawn by a volunteer in the 1960s, presumably from his own observations and historical records research. Of the approx. 110 names shown on that section of the map, we could find no markers for 21 of them. That's an unacceptable failure record of 23 percent.
Those 21 grave markers might have disappeared in the last half century but it's more likely many were never there at all - it's not terribly unusual for someone to purchase a cemetery plot and not use it. Or maybe some of the tombstones are still there but long buried themselves. Just last month (Sept. 2015) volunteers removing the ivy and weeds in the back corner found three long-forgotten gravesites from the Moke and Welti eras including the fallen tombstone of William Fowzer, a Civil War Union soldier who was at the battles of the Wilderness, Williamsburg, Antietam and Gettysburg. The old graveyard still has many secrets to yield.
The good news is that the Rural Cemetery is probably now in its best shape ever - thanks to Bill Montgomery and a crew of volunteers (whom you are WELCOME TO JOIN, on the third Saturday of every month at 9AM). And in 2017, a comprehensive directory will be published listing every known burial. Archivists Sandy Frary and Ray Owen currently have compiled over 5,200 names - including 178 who were previously unknown - using primary sources such as obituaries, Coroner's Death Records and discovered tombstones viz. Pvt. Fowzer. About the same number have been removed because they were listed in error or the person found to be actually buried elsewhere. For many the listing will include details on how they lived and died, and the book will even include the 350 long-forgotten souls down in the floodplain. Once finished, it will be the most important reference book on Santa Rosa ever written. I cannot wait.
WILL BURY THE INDIGENT DEAD FOR ONE CENT EACHSurprisingly Low Competitive Bid of Lafferty & Smith Is Accepted by the Board of Supervisors Here Monday
For one cent each Lafferty & Smith, the local undertakers, have contracted to bury the indigent dead who die at the county hospital and farm.
The bids for the burials were opened on Monday by the Board of Supervisors. When Clerk Felt broke the seal of the envelope and read the bid offering to provide the casket, etc., for one cent, there was a look of surprise. But Dan H. Lafferty of the firm offering to do this, was on hand, and there was no mistake.
For the one cent the firm agrees to provide a clear redwood coffin, planed on both sides; with lid; two coats of a dark color stain; interior of casket lined with mhite muslin, bottom padded and with pillow. They will also place a headboard painted and lettered over the grave. The grave in the county cemetery will also be dug, five feet deep, and properly filled in.
The city of Denver and the county of Sonoma are the only places in the United States where they have burials that cost one cent. In Denver the one cent bid came as the result of the liveliest competitive bidding. The undertaking firm, like Lafferty & Smith here, give a bond for the faithful carrying out of their contract.
For several years Lafferty & Smith have had the contract for indigent burials, the last bid being for $2.85 each. Yesterday they also put in a bid for the burial of the indigent dead outside of the county hospital and farm in Santa Rosa township for seventy-five cents each. This bid was also accepted.
The next lowest bidder, Welti Brothers, also of this city, offered to bury the indigent dead at the county hospital and Santa Rosa township for $3 each. Their bid for the burial of indigents in other parts of the county was $15. The firm of Lafferty & Smith did not bid on this business and Welti Brothers' bid of $15 was accepted.
"The contract to bury the dead at one cent will be carried out to the letter, and each will be given a decent burial just as our bid reads. We bid knowing that we were bidding in competition, that is all," said Dan H. Lafferty Monday evening.
It is well known that if not infrequently happens that an indigent dies with some well to do relatives or friends who are willing to pay the expense of a more costly funeral than the county allows. In consequence on such occasion the firm is able to make up for the small remuneration their usually low bid offers. It can readily be seen that the question of profit as represented by the figures of Lafferty & Smith's bid has no mention.
The one cent bid give a surprise in Court House circles onn Monday. Among the most surprise were the newspaper men present, one of whom had heard of the one cent bid accepted in Denver. And with it all comes the assurance that there will be the same care and attention the firm has given the indigent burials of the past.
- Press Democrat, July 9, 1912
BODY OF CHISHOLM'S VICTIM TAKEN FROM POTTER'S FIELD
From an unhonored grave in the Potter's field the remains of Van Lear Kirkman Droulliard, the man of distinguished Southern family who was cruelly murdered by L. C. Chisolm in a lonely tent on the ocean front near Fort Ross, have been exhumed and are now resting in a tomb in Odd Fellows' cemetery. The last resting is also marked with a monument.
Prior to their reinterment, the remains to which was added the skull of the dead man exhibited as mute evidence at the trial of his slayer in the Superior Court of this county, were enclosed in an expensive casket.
The devotion of the heartbroken widow provided the means whereby the body was taken from the county cemetery and given decent burial. Mrs. Droulliard at first contemplated coming to Santa Rosa to look after the disposition of her husband's body. She was prevented from doing so, and intrusted [sic] the mission to Lafferty & Smith, the local undertakers. They carried out all her wishes in the matter. The body was exhumed several days ago, and reinterred as stated in Odd Fellows' cemetery.
- Press Democrat, October 15, 1911
MOKE & WARD HAVE DISSOLVEDBusiness Will be Continued by Mr. Moke in Future
H. H. Moke and W. B. Ward, who have been conducting the well known undertaking establishment on Fourth street under the firm name of Moke & Ward, have dissolved partnership, and in the future Mr. Moke will be the sole proprietor. Mr. Ward has not yet decided just what he wil do, but will still continue to make his home here.
- Santa Rosa Republican, September 20, 1910
HERBERT MOKE SELLS BUSINESSFrank and Charles Welti Succeed to Same
H. Herbert Moke, who has been in business here for many years, disposed of his business on Wednesday to Messrs. Frank Welti and Charles Welti. The gentlemen will take charge of the business on Thursday and will become permanent residents of the City of Roses. For some time past the Messrs. Welti have been desirous of coming to Santa Rosa, believing it to be the best city on the entire coast, and they wished to secure a location where they could have the advantages of good climate and be prepared to enjoy life.
Both of the gentlemen who have succeeded to Mr. Moke's business are experienced undertakers, and they will conduct the business along the modern and approved lines which Mr. Moke has maintained. Mr. Frank Welti will remain here in active charge of the business, and his brother, Charles Welti, will remain for a brief time in Napa. Frank Welti has been with the Halsted Undertaking parlors in San Francisco for a number of years, and has been engaged in the undertaking business for the past twenty years. He is an expert in his line, and his association with the Halsteds, the leading parlors of San Francisco, has kept him in touch with the latest and most approved methods known to the profession. The wife of Frank Welti will be the lady attendant at the parlors. Charles Welti will be here from Napa on Thursday for a brief visit, and he and his wife will become permanent residents of this city just as soon as they can dispose of business and personal interests in Napa city and county.
Both of the gentlemen come highly recommended and are of the genial disposition that makes hosts of friends. J. P. Stanley, who has been with the Moke undertaking establishment for many years past, will continue with the new firm as will also Carroll W. Baker, who has been here for a number of years with Mr. Moke. With these two gentlemen remaining, the new firm has a strong team.
- Santa Rosa Republican, November 1, 1911
WILL OCCUPY NEW BUNGALOWMr. Stanley Moves into Cozy Sebastopol Home
Friday J. P. Stanley moved to his new bungalow at Sebastopol. For some time past it has been under construction, and was completed several months ago, but he did not want to move during the rainy season. Now that it is real summer he will make his home there, going back and forth every day to be at his work with Welti Brothers.
It is a cozy home, planned by himself, and his ideas were carried out in every respect. There is one large living room, arranged specially for his art treasures, and those who know him are aware he has a collection well worth seeing. They have all been collected since the fire. At that time he had many treasures, but lost all. Together with his paintings, he has numerous pieces of antique furniture and bric-a-brac, which will be displayed to advantage.
Mr. Stanley wishes it announced that he has not in any way severed his connection with Welti Bros. but will be found there as usual.
- Santa Rosa Republican, June 27, 1913
That huge white house was the first thing you'd notice when driving into Santa Rosa during the early twenties; it stood right on the northern city limit with a three-story turret like a lighthouse, marking the transition from Redwood Highway to Mendocino avenue and the route downtown. Out-of-towners probably assumed it had been built by a prominent family wanting to make an ostentatious show of wealth. Maybe it was the grand house was out there on the edge of town because they threw riotous parties and did not want to disturb close neighbors. Those assumptions were completely wrong - the home was built by a modest Quaker woman who lived there quietly with her brother until both died in the 1910s. Not that they were uninteresting people; it was said by some in Santa Rosa he kept a fortune buried somewhere on their property, and it was widely believed she was long dead.
(RIGHT: The Judith Todd home at 1101 Mendocino Avenue, as seen in 1915. Photograph courtesy Sonoma County Library)
These were the children of Jeremiah Ridgway. Not much is known about their father; he was profiled in only one of the Sonoma County histories although bits and pieces about him can be found in a few other places. Ridgway was fifty in 1854 when he arrived in California via wagon train with neither a specific trade nor fortune. But he prospered once he came to Santa Rosa three years later and by the boom times in the 1870s, "Jerry" Ridgway was among the wealthiest men in town, owning property on three sides of Courthouse Square. Most significant was the Ridgway Block, which was the eastside of Third street between Courthouse Square and B street. Next to the current location of the Empire Building he built Ridgway Hall, the hotspot for public dancing in late 19th century Santa Rosa.
It seems out of character that he settled here, as Santa Rosa was not known for having a Quaker community and Ridgway's faith was important to him. "[He] used the Quaker form of speech," Press Democrat publisher Ernest Finley wrote later in a character sketch for the newspaper. "He would say 'thee' and 'thine' rather than 'you' and 'yours.'" Except for a stay in Sacramento, every other place he is known to live had a large and well-established Quaker presence, including LaPorte Indiana, where the Ridgways lived before heading west. It was there he would die in 1885 during a visit to his oldest son, Jeremiah Jr.
LaPorte was also the place 20 year-old Judith, the middle child of the Ridgway family, met and married her husband in 1850. Simeon Seymour Todd was a recent graduate of the medical school there and after a few years practicing in Kentucky the young couple joined her parents in heading to California in 1854, apparently on the same wagon train (or at least, the general dates match).
Todd set up an office in the Gold Country and later wrote the doctoring business was lucrative, but he utterly failed in his attempts at gold mining: "I managed to dodge prosperity at every threatened point and keep poor as a rat." After a couple of years of patching up miners the Todds moved to Santa Rosa, about in tandem with her parents. It might well have been Dr. Todd who paved the way for the Ridgways; here he formed a partnership with college classmate, Dr. J. F. Boyce.1
In Santa Rosa Judith gave birth to two sons (a couple of other children had died in infancy). Rush Boyce Todd - note the middle name of his partner - was born in 1857, and Frank Seymour Todd in 1859. It was around the time Frank was conceived that the doctor began beating her.
For this chapter of the story, all credit goes to historian and cemeterian Jeremy Nichols, who has extensively documented Dr. Todd, even photographing his Missouri tombstone. Most importantly, Jeremy dug through old court records which can be a nightmare, poorly indexed (if indexed at all) and available only on often illegible microfilm. This is the root canal of local historical research.
Judith asked for divorce in June, 1861, citing spousal abuse and frequent intoxication. She told the court he choked her in October, 1858 and struck her in her face in September, 1860. She and the boys had moved in with her parents three months before the suit was filed.
Todd denied everything; he wasn't a drunk and never abused or threatened her. She had "abandoned him in a period of stress due to the burning of their home and due to a 'difficulty' with her brother". Further, he complained, his father-in-law Jeremiah Ridgeway "hates Defendant and verbally abuses Defendant in front of the children." The doctor's lawyer, by the way, was the notorious Otho Hinton, recently admitted to the California bar and starting life anew, having avoided federal prosecution for mail theft. Long story.
As discussed in an article about another local divorce case around the same time, divorce then was unusual but not unheard of. California had a divorce for every 355 marriages, close to double the national rate in 1870 (the first year statistics were collected). While divorce wasn't forbidden among the Society of Friends it was exceptionally rare and considered to be a breakdown of the Quaker community - although for what it's worth, Dr. Todd was not a Quaker. The divorce was granted in 1863, almost exactly two years after she filed suit.
While divorce proceedings were underway Todd was in the Union Army, serving as a hospital administrator and surgeon in California. At the end of the Civil War he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he quickly rose to become a respected physician and prominent citizen. There he told everyone he was a widower - and he was making no vague remarks of once having an unnamed wife who died sometime long ago; he precisely stated she was Judith Ann Ridgway, daughter of Jeremiah Ridgway of LaPorte, Indiana and that she passed away in 1861.
It's unknown whether the Ridgways knew that Judith's ex had pronounced her prematurely dead. But the audacious claim appeared in at least four Missouri histories and in his 1899 front page obituaries, so it's hard to imagine that not a single person who knew the Santa Rosa family did not stumble across his lies over three-plus decades. The deception continues still; every online genealogy I find for that branch of the Todd family notes first wife Judith died in 1861. (He married twice again and the second wife, Thirza - likewise a Quaker - really did croak on him.)
Free of the odious Dr. Simeon Seymour Todd in 1863, the Ridgways of Santa Rosa flourished over the next 20+ years. Judith raised the boys, grandpa Jerry's real estate empire grew and Joseph, her younger brother, did...well, it's not quite clear what he ever did. More about him later.
It's certain they all lived together during those years, but we can't be sure where; neither the 1870 or 1880 census report lists a street address for them. It appears the only residential property they owned was the north end of the block between Glenn street and Healdsburg avenue (now Mendocino ave). There's an 1885 bird's-eye view of Santa Rosa - a portion of it can be seen here - and it shows a modest house apparently surrounded by a garden. On the keymap shown to the left, it's the smaller red dot. There are also a few other buildings closer to the avenue which could be homes; it seems likely the Ridgway family lived somewhere in this group.
Across the street was their crown jewel - the 160 acres that Jerry had purchased soon after moving to town, shown here outlined in green. Judging by the 1885 map it was still peppered with mature valley oak trees. It was the largest untouched parcel of land on Santa Rosa's borders.
Come 1885 and Jerry Ridgway passes away, his will slicing the estate equally between his three children. Jeremiah Jr. presumably received much of value in the East, as it appears he inherited nothing in Santa Rosa. There were many other properties divided up but youngest son Joseph got the north end of the 160 acres that ended on Elliott avenue with Judith taking the southernmost half. With her inheritance she built that grand house on the corner, the largest red dot on the keymap.
Seen to the right is a detail from the 1897 bird's-eye view, showing her castle-like home and grounds, nearly the size of a city block. (There was no development there on the 1885 map, proving she built everything after her father's death.)
In the big white house little apparently changed over the next quarter century except for the boys growing up and moving away. Judith did not remarry, but changed her status from divorced (1880 census) to widowed (1900 census). Apparently the only souls shuffling through the hallways of that enormous manse were her and brother Joseph, an Asian servant and Annie Mathias, a woman the same age as Judith about whom nothing is known. The only thing noteworthy about those years is that Judith kept growing younger. She was actually born in 1830, but shaved between 4 to 27 years off her age in every census report between 1860 and 1910. As a result Joseph - born nine years after her - vaulted waaaaay back in time to become her much older sibling.
Then in 1912 Joseph died, nursed by Judith through months of declining health. He was 54; except for the eleven years of her marriage to Dr. Todd, Judith and her bachelor brother had lived together their entire lives.
We really don't know much about Joseph Ridgway; he's listed as a farmer in city directories and every census, but many people who never touched a plow claimed that profession. Even the urbane and fabulously wealthy Nellie Comstock told the census taker she was a "farmer" by way of living in the Hoen avenue rural district at the time. In another of Finley's character sketches found in "Santa Rosans I Have Known," he wrote Joseph made personal loans:
Joe Ridgway was much like his father. He used to loan a good deal of money and I have been told on good authority that very frequently when he made a loan, which was usually in gold coin, the latter showed every appearance of having been buried. Ridgway is believed to have kept much of his money secreted in the ground, as did certain others at the time.
It's hard not to wonder if he claimed to be a farmer as his little joke about planting and harvesting gold coins, which would befit a man who might have been a tad eccentric. The obituary below remarks "he had his own way of doing things" (an odd thing to write in an obit) and Dr. Todd blamed some "'difficulty' with her brother" as being a significant reason for their split. Whatever his personality and relationship with his sister, he died wealthy, leaving an estate worth today about $6 million entirely to Judith (there was no bequest to brother Jeremiah Jr. whom he thought had "ample fortune").
Judith died at home five years later at age 87 - although in accordance with the last age she told a census taker, she was a sprightly 69.
Our final chapter begins on November 15, 1921. Judith's oldest son Rush was then living in the great house with his extended family. From their third floor front windows it's likely they saw the flames shooting from the high school, three blocks away on Humboldt street. As it continued burning through the night with the unnerving thunder of occasional explosions, there were fears burning embers flying over the rooftops might set the neighborhoods on fire, according to first-hand accounts in Lee Torliatt's "Golden Memories of the Redwood Empire."
The school was a total loss. Nothing could be done for the 485 students except to scramble finding them temporary classrooms in churches, office buildings and whathaveyou, but planning for the construction of a new high school had to begin immediately. But where should it be? In a remarkably swift two weeks - with the Thanksgiving holiday in the middle - a deal was struck with the Todds. The banner war-victory sized headline in the December 2, 1921 Press Democrat: "BUY 30-ACRE TRACT FOR HIGH SCHOOL" (transcribed below).
It was no great surprise that officials turned first to the Todds. Rush and Bertha had recently sold another thirty acres directly north of the designated school site to the city and Chamber of Commerce which was intended to become the "Luther Burbank Creation Garden."2 And although the PD article is vague on specifics, it appears the Chamber was also negotiating with Todds for an option to buy the 65 acres to the west as a future home of a junior college or possibly an agricultural branch of the University of California.
Even though the high school plans were cooked up in just a few days, much of the description sounds like what we have today. It envisioned a campus with the main building facing the street (then part of the Redwood Highway) with parking lots and ball fields behind. It would be so modern there would even be space for "the new school bus transportation system" then under development.
The surprise in the deal was the carve-out of seven acres on the corner for the "old Ridgway mansion" as a continuing family home. And indeed they stayed. The 1936 obit for Rush Todd reported he died "at the old home in Mendocino avenue that had been the residence of the pioneer Todd and Ridgway families for more that half a century." His widow, Bertha, can be spotted there still in the 1940 census with a niece and grandson. She lived until 1972 although the house certainly did not survive that long.
At some point Berry lane was renamed Ridgway avenue, a token nod to history lost on students racing in and out of the parking lots. Where once Judith's grand house stood are now windowless squat buildings and satellite dishes, unquestionably the ugliest part of the high school campus. It's hard to believe this bleak corner was once among the prettiest in Santa Rosa, or that it meant so much to a family who left their land mostly untouched for decades until it was given up for higher and better use.
|1 Dr. J. F. Boyce had a storied reputation as a heavy drinker who bolted down up to thirty shots of liquor each day, according to Finley's sketch found in "Santa Rosans I Have Known." Every morning Boyce would walk down to the butcher shop and cut off a piece of raw meat in order to have "something for the whisky to work on." Boyce had a beautiful house built after the Civil War which still can be seen at 537 B street.|
|2 Despite its name, the "Luther Burbank Creation Garden" had very little to do with Burbank, aside from a promise he would contribute some plants. It was really the latest installment in the perennial melodrama over Santa Rosa's efforts to create its first public park, this time with the good juju of Burbank's famous name and intentions that it would someday include a community auditorium, another benefit the town lacked. Nothing much came of it (although they passed the hat at events for years, seeking donations) and the property was sold in 1930 to become the basis of the new Junior College campus.|
BUY 30-ACRE TRACT FOR HIGH SCHOOLRegional Junior College Planned ForTodd Property is Selected As Site of School Center
Location of the new Santa Rosa District High School on a thirty-acre site on the highway just north of the city limits, has been assured with the purchase from Mr. and Mrs. Rush B. Todd of the sixty-five acre property lying between the site highway and Cleveland avenue, Berry lane and the Southern Pacific railroad.
Deeds transferring the property to a committee of trustees jointly representing the Santa Rosa High School Board and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce were signed Thursday and are held in escrow pending the perfection of the abstracts and certificates of title.
Simultaneously with the execution of the escrow and trusteeships, articles of agreement were signed for the protection of the school board's right to take over the property, or such portion of it as may be needed for high school purposes, when the present legal status of the high school district is determined and arrangements perfected for the construction of the new high school.
HANDLED THROUGH CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Negotiations of this transaction followed a joint meeting of the board of directors of the chamber of commerce and the board of education, together with City Superintendent Jerome O. Cross, on November 16th, the afternoon following the burning of the Santa Rosa high school building. Its details have been handled by a joint committee representing the two bodies, comprised of Hilliard Comstock, R. A. Belden, Frank P. Doyle and Glen E. Murdock and Wallace L. Ware, the latter two representing Mr. and Mrs. Todd.
TODD RESIDENCE SITE EXCEPTED
Transfer of the property to the trustees named makes available for high school purposes a 600-foot frontage on the west side of the Redwood highway beginning at a point 390 feet from the corner of Berry lane. The articles of agreement provide for excepting from the sale a seven-acre parcel of land on which the old Ridgeway [sic] mansion stands, and which is located at the corner of Berry lane and the highway. This the Todds wished to retain as it is the site of their home. The seven acres extend westward to a point corresponding with the extension of Glenn street.
WILL WIDEN BERRY LANE
Arrangements provide for widening Berry lane to eighty feet, the entire length of the tract, west from the state highway to Cleveland avenue and for the extension of Morgan street, north through the sixty-five acre property, and thence on across the Southern Pacific railroad and along the western line of the Luther Burbank Creations Garden site, owned jointly by the chamber of commerce and the city of Santa Rosa.
MODERN SCHOOL GROUP PLANNED
It is proposed to use the east half of the property for the high school site, on which will be built the new building group, along lines of the most advanced plans for modern high school institutions in the United States. This contemplates a group of modern, fireproof buildings on a campus, units being added from time to time as the need arises. The rear portion of the thirty acres will be utilized as an athletic field for baseball, football, and other athletic activities, ample parking space for automobiles and the new school bus transportation system that will be developed with the perfection of the new high school district administration.
The new school will be erected according to present plans on that part of the tract now used by the baseball diamond and will face the state highway.
AGRICULTURAL STUDY GARDENS
Agricultural studies will be facilitated by using a portion of the thirty acre high school site or the necessary experimental and practical demonstration plots...farming and agriculture work in the Santa Rosa district will be greatly benefited as a result of thus combining the two phases of instruction in the new Santa Rosa District High School.
REGIONAL COLLEGE ON WEST HALF
The western half of this splendid sixty-five acres tract will be held in trust by the chamber of commerce committee pending arrangements, already under way or location of a regional junior college at Santa Rosa. This has been quietly worked on by a joint committee and the board of education for more than six months, and is practically assured.
Already negotiations have been entered into by City Superintendent Jerome O. Cross with the authorities off the University of California or the development of an agricultural plan of sufficient strength to warrant the hope that some day a branch of the agricultural department of the university will be established in Santa Rosa.
This hope is justified by the proximity of the new site to the Luther Burbank Gardens, which will be the most important in California, if not in the United States.
Location of regional colleges is provided for in recent legislation, and Santa Rosa's claims for consideration as the place or such an institution have been presented in a most effective manner by the joint committee representing our aggressive civic-commercial organization and the board of education. It will provide here in Santa Rosa two years of college education, and is designed to relieve the main institution at Berkeley of the crowded conditions that are beginning to make educational work there so difficult.
[editorializing on the hopes it will become a regional educational center]
BEAUTIFY TODD RESIDENCE
Beautification and improvement of their seven-acre homesite is being planned by Mr. and Mrs. Rush B. Todd, as an additional attractive feature of the transaction. This will include the removal of all old fences and buildings now on the property, and the landscaping of the portion adjoining the house on the highway.
[Santa Rosa baseball association agrees to not challenge lease on ball diamond]
TODDS ARE PRAISED
Those who have been working on the matter highly praise Mr. an Mrs. Todd for the public-spiritedness and co-operation. They went more than half way in assisting the trustees, and it is felt that through their help the district will have the best possible site for its new high school.
- Press Democrat, December 2, 1921
DEATH OF JOS. W. RIDGWAYWell Known Pioneer Resident of Santa Rosa Dies at His Healdsburg Avenue HomeAt five o'clock Monday night amid the familiar scenes of fifty-four years Joseph W. Ridgway's eyes closed in death.
The well known pioneer died at the beautiful suburban home out on Healdsburg avenue, where he and his sister, Mrs. Judith Todd, had resided together for many years.
For several days before the end Mr. Ridgway had been in a very critical state and in a comatose condition. Prior to his final illness Mr. Ridgway had not been a well man for months, and had failed perceptibly.
During all of his illness he was devotedly ministered to by his sister, Mrs. Todd. The bond between brother and sister was very strong, and now that the ties are broken the sister is almost prostrated with grief.
Mr. Ridgway was a son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Ridgway, early pioneers of this state. He came to this state in 1856 and two years later came to Santa Rosa. Both his parents are buried in the local cemetery.
The deceased was a just man, and his integrity in dealing with his fellow man was never questioned. He had his own way of doing things, and he was never known to swerve from what he considered right. Those who knew him best said this of him Monday night.
The deceased owned considerable property here and in the east. He was a very wealthy man. In addition to his sister, Mr. Ridgway is also survived by a brother Jeremiah Ridgway of Indiana. He once lived there, and is now on his way from the east to Santa Rosa, having been apprised of his brother's death. Upon his arrival the funeral arrangements will be made.
The deceased was a native of Pennsylvania, and was seventy-three, nine months and twenty days old. He came of an old Quaker family in Pennsylvania.
- Press Democrat, November 12, 1912
A KINDLY WOMAN GOES TO REWARDDeath Thursday Morning of Mrs. Judith R. Todd After a Long and Trying Illness.
The soul of a quiet, kindly woman, Mrs. Judith R. Todd, was called from its earthly tenement just before daybreak on Thursday morning.
In the passing of Mrs. Todd, Santa Rosa has lost one of her oldest and much esteemed residents, for those who knew Mrs. Todd best were aware of many kindnesses to friends and many a kind deed, not of record in the outside world, but of that sweetest of virtues, the charity done without ostentation.
Mrs. Todd died at the fine family residence out on Healdsburg avenue. Mrs. Todd had been ill for many weary weeks and had suffered much pain, so that the silent messenger came as a harbinger of peace.
Mrs. Todd was a woman of fine character and her heart was full of goodness. Her life span had extended seven years more than four score. A long life it was and about sixty-two years of that life were spent in Santa Rosa.
Mrs. Todd was born in the state of New Jersey and when she was a young woman she came with her father the late Jeremiah Ridgway, and other members of the family, to this state in 1854. They first settled in the Sacramento region, remaining there until 1856, when they came to Santa Rosa. For many years Mrs. Todd and her brother, the late Joseph Ridgway, lived together in the family home on Healdsburg avenue, standing as it does at the edge of the 160 acre estate adjoining. She continued to live there after her brother's death.
Mrs. Todd was a very wealthy woman and owned, in addition to te residence and 160 acres of land on Healdsburg avenue, the big lot on Hinton avenue, adjoining the City Hall, and the lot on Exchange avenue the site of the former Ridgway hall. In addition she owned the block of store buildings on Third street, as well as the big lot on the opposite side of the street and other property.
Mrs. Todd came from an old Quaker family. She was a member of the Friends' church. Mrs. Todd is survived by her two sons, Rush D. Todd of Santa Rosa, and Frank R. Todd of Oakland, two grandsons, Addison and Roland Todd, and a brother, Jeremiah Ridgway of La Porte, Ind.
- Press Democrat, June 1, 1917
C-SPAN has produced a short video about the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake that's certain to become a top reference for information about the disaster, given the cable channel's reputation as a trustworthy source of impartial information. Unfortunately, that segment is riddled with myths and falsehoods about the quake, I'm deeply sorry to say.
As part of its 2015 "Cities Tour," C-SPAN presented several short videos about Santa Rosa and its history including a segment on the 1906 quake with Gaye LeBaron, apparently speaking extemporaneously, for a little under seven minutes (you can view it in full here). There are a few slips of the tongue - certainly she meant to say civic leader Frank Doyle had a "paternal" concern for Santa Rosa and not that he was a "paternalistic figure" - but the factual mistakes are more serious and must be addressed. Some items below are slightly edited and presented out of chronological order for clarity of discussion.
|...a hundred people died here, at least a hundred people that we know of died in this earthquake and that's staggering.|
FALSE. Exactly 82 are believed to have died in Santa Rosa, and it can be said with high confidence that the total was at least 85 (see discussion). While it seems very likely that a hundred or more people really were killed or died later because of injuries, there is zero evidence. Using any number higher than 82 is speculation.
|In terms of property damage and life lost, per capita, no town in America has even been as affected by an earthquake as Santa Rosa was in 1906...the damage here was absolutely staggering. If as many people had died in San Francisco, per capita as died in Santa Rosa, it would have been 75,000 dead.|
FALSE. Here Ms. LeBaron is claiming more than 18 percent of the people in Santa Rosa were killed - which would have meant nearly 2,000 dead.
(Do the math yourself: The pre-quake population of San Francisco was about 410,000 and 18 percent of that is 73,000. At the end of 1906 the Press Democrat estimated the population at about 11,000. )
Misleading "per capita" claims have been repeated for decades and are based on overstating the number killed as 100+ and underestimating the size of the Santa Rosa community. There's a lengthy discussion of this issue in my 1906 earthquake FAQ - which, by the way, has been available on the Internet since 2013.
|Help came in from outside. One particular man who was visiting here from Kansas got his son to drive him to a bank in Petaluma where he cashed a check for $5,000, and brought it back and gave it to people to clean up... the money that was left he divided it among the churches to help people.|
HALF TRUE. Bertrand Rockwell and his daughter's husband, James Edwards, drove to Petaluma where Edwards' brother-in-law cashed the check. The amount was not mentioned at the time, but ballooned in the retelling over the years. It was likely not $5,000; it would have been difficult for a typical auto of that day to carry so much weight in gold and silver coins (Edwards probably owned the 22.5 horsepower runabout seen here).
Rockwell's donation to the emergency relief effort came out to $692.00, which paid for two days work. There was no mention in any newspapers at the time of him giving money to churches. For more, see: "The Legends of Captain Rockwell" published here earlier.
|There were three downtown buildings... that survived...the one behind me which we now call the Empire Building, which was actually a bank building in those years. It had been built in 1904 and it was badly damaged but it came back. And just down the street is the Barnett-Mailer building. [Both] survived the earthquake.|
FALSE. The Empire Building was constructed in 1908 (see article). The Barnett-Mailer building at 631 Fourth street was built in 1907 and was on the only block downtown which was completely reduced to rubble.
The third structure mentioned in the video was the old Western Hotel in Railroad Square - now home to Flying Goat Coffee - which indeed survived the 1906 earthquake, as did many other buildings in the downtown area. Only the Fourth street retail district was almost totally demolished. The map produced by the State Earthquake Investigation Commission shows the scope of damage.
|The 1906 earthquake gave the town a chance to redesign itself for the automobile which was new. There was a man named Frank Doyle who... went to every merchant in town and talked them into giving several feet of their frontage to widen Fourth street...so they would be adaptable to the automobile which shows a great deal of foresight.|
FALSE. Five days after the disaster - even before all the bodies were recovered - the interim Democrat-Republican newspaper commented, "All the business streets should and must be widened, and now is the time to do it." The only specific reason given for street widening was to make them suitable for streetcars. In more than a dozen articles that appeared in the papers in the following months, automobiles were never mentioned. Not once.
Frank Doyle, who decades later would become a loud cheerleader for building the Golden Gate Bridge, was then a cashier at Exchange Bank and one of three men heading the citizen's committee on street widening. From the newspaper accounts, it appears he acted as treasurer handling the money. In the end the civic improvement project was a bust; they managed to widen only two blocks of Fourth street, from the east end of Courthouse Square to E street (for more background, read "Boulevard Dreams").
There are smaller bones that could be picked in that video, but the last - and perhaps, most important - dispute I have with her narrative is the portrayal of 1906 Santa Rosa as a simple farmtown ("a forward looking town with a lot of prospects") that emerged transformed, phoenix-like, from the quake ashes and rubble. Once again, that's simply false.
Santa Rosa certainly looked more cosmopolitan after it was rebuilt; the fires swept away the jumble of 19th century buildings that gave the downtown its "Wild West" appearance. But the earthquake didn't interrupt Santa Rosa's thriving underground economy based on gambling and prostitution, with a tenderloin district nearly as large as the one found in Reno. Santa Rosa actually legalized Nevada-style prostitution the year after the earthquake. See the "Wide-Open Town" series of four articles for more on the rough temperament of the place.
Worse, the earthquake thwarted meaningful progress and entrenched Santa Rosa in its old ways. While the progressive movement swept out corruption in San Francisco and other American cities, no reformers had the chance to gain public office here. There were no post-quake muckrakers calling for Grand Jury hearings, which in Santa Rosa might risk indictments of the downtown property owners and businessmen who profited from the town being the Sin City of the North Bay.
So yes, the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake really was a transformative event - only not the one always portrayed. Instead of being the spark that propelled the town into the better days of the Twentieth Century, the disaster looms over our past as the day time stopped. The question to debate is whether it casts its long dark shadow over Santa Rosa still.
Labels: earthquake 1906
Santa Rosa is going to pave your street soon but unfortunately you, dear homeowner, will be paying for it.
Those were the rules during the early 1910s in Santa Rosa, and doubtless elsewhere. The town owned the streets as well as the water/sewer lines beneath and maintained them, insofar as a water wagon roamed around during warm weather sprinkling down the dust. But if you wanted pavement - or to be clear, if a majority of neighbors on the street wanted it - please make your check payable to the city, cash also accepted (I'm sure).
Today it may seem bizarre to expect residents would pay for street paving, but it wasn't so odd in the context of the times. Homeowners were also required to provide sidewalks, which meant losing several feet of your front yard to public access - and maybe the side yard as well, if the house was on a corner - and hiring a cement contractor, lest the town have someone do the work at your expense. (Gripes about the sidewalk issue were heard regularly by the city council, as described in an earlier article). Likewise paved streets were not desired by everyone; they were great if you had a car and didn't want it to sink up to its axles in winter mud, but auto owners were still a minority in 1913. Pavement even could be a hazard for horses, as that spring Earl LeDue was on his colt riding home from the high school on Humboldt street when the horse slipped on the slick street and fell on him, badly breaking the boy's leg.
Earl's accident happened on Mendocino avenue near downtown, which we know because the pavement ended at the College ave. intersection. Beyond that, "at present the street north of College avenue is anything but inviting for driving, owing to its roughness in dry weather and muddy condition in wet seasons," according to a Press Democrat article from the previous year.
Photos courtesy Sonoma County Library
Mendocino avenue was slated to be part of the state's first highway system which was then in the planning stage - but conditions were "almost impassible," according to the city attorney, who told the city council that something had to be done immediately. That lawyer happened to be James Wyatt Oates, past president of the Sonoma County Automobile Association, avid automobilist and owner of a home on that street (which would become known as Comstock House).
At Oates' urging the council held a special meeting a few days later and agreed Santa Rosa couldn't wait for the state to take over responsibility for the street a year or more in the future, even though paving this stretch of Mendocino Ave. would be far more expensive than the average residential street; at the time it varied between 63-65 feet wide. "Should there be an effective protest it will only delay the work six months," the PD reported, "as under the charter the council the authority to force the work after six months elapses in case of protest." In other words: Pay or move.
We don't know how much property owners were charged for the paving, but in 1911 when Mendocino avenue was paved from Fifth street to College avenue, the presbyterian church decided to sell the building housing their charitable operation because of the "very heavy expense to be incurred for street paving," according to the local church history.1
Their building was in the triangle formed by the Mendocino / College / Healdsburg avenues intersection, which today is noted for a piece of art. (A Google search for the artist along with the sculpture's name - spelled both "WholeSome" and "Whole Some" by the city and its maker - returns about 41 unique hits, demonstrating the popular appeal of this "distinctive visual landmark for the entrance into the city center," which will continue to inspire us all for many, many, many years as we wait for the light to change.)
There the church had a building known as the "Chinese Mission", which served to educate - and presumably, Christianize - young Asian immigrants. According to the church history their missionary work started around 1876 "when the Chinese population was relatively large" and the church bought the building in 1883, apparently expecting to serve an ever-growing immigrant community. They couldn't have been more wrong; the Chinese Exclusion Act passed by Congress the previous year effectively ended Chinese immigration to the U.S. In the years following, racist anti-Chinese fever raged hot it Santa Rosa, with a banner hung over the Mendocino/ Fourth Street intersection just a few blocks from the Mission reading "THE CHINESE MUST GO. WE MEAN STRICTLY BUSINESS." (MORE). From a peak of forty students there were "about 12 Japanese and one Corean" [sic] twenty years later. At its 1912 closing the Press Democrat noted there were only about "three or four who use the Mission at all."2
The new owner of the Mission property was Raford Peterson, perhaps the county's largest hops grower. Just a few weeks before the Great Earthquake, Peterson bought several lots on the northwest corner of the intersection. Just a door down from the corner at #451 College he built a modest home which, believe-it-or-not, is still there, hiding. The front was modernized as an office building sometime in the late 60s or early 70s, but you can see the original bones of the place from the rear. It is currently the offices of Gehrke Realty.
So what did Raford (also spelled Rayford) Peterson (also spelled Petersen) and wife Cornelia ("Nellie") want with an odd-shaped lot on another corner of the intersection? He already owned the house next door at 611 Mendocino ave, where his son, Wilson, lived with his family. Did he plan to merge the lots? Apparently not - it appears he just wanted the old Mission building.
As no photographs or descriptions of the building survive, all we know is gleaned from the fire maps - that it was a single story and rectangular. It was certainly old, since the church began using in 1883, but we don't know how old. It must have been pretty nice, however, because Peterson had it moved next door to his own house, right on the corner, where he had recently torn down another house. He left the triangular original location undeveloped to serve as a little park, which made the park-crazy Press Democrat very happy.
When Raford died in 1914 widow Nellie moved into the former Mission, which now had the address of #701 Mendocino ave (the same address as the present Chevron gas station). She was there at least through 1930, when she can be spotted in the census living with her grandsons.
All said, the old Mission had a unique place in Santa Rosa's history; not only was it something of a sanctuary for immigrants at a time when they were widely hated outside its doors, it was likely the only building that occupied two corners of the same intersection. Such a pity that no picture exists.
Next in the 1912 neighborhood series: The Children of Jeremiah Ridgway.
|1 Sweet, Julia Goodyear; Seventy-five years of presbyterianism: compiled for the Diamond Jubilee Celebration of Presbyterian Work in Santa Rosa, California; Press Democrat, 1930.|
|2 A Press Democrat article below states the property was "bequeathed to the Presbyterian Church in the '70's from the Rev. F. M. Dimmick, pastor at that time of the church," but is incorrect. The church history details that most of the $1,000 to purchase it came from East Coast donations.|
WILL BUILD A NICE RESIDENCE
Raford Peterson, the well known hop man, has purchased the splendid lot at the northwest corner of Healdsburg avenue and College avenue. The former residence that adorned the lot is being moved around to make room for a handsome residence the hop man will erect there for himself and family. He is one of Sonoma County's most enterprising men, and many friends will be glad to know that shortly he will be a resident of Santa Rosa as well as being a business man here,
Mr. Peterson stated today that he did not know just when he would begin building, but he may undertake the matter in the near future. When he does build, the public may expect to see one of the handsomest residences in the City of Roses on the site he has purchased.
- Santa Rosa Republican, March 30, 1906
OLD LANDMARK TO DISAPPEARChinese Mission Property on Mendocino Avenue Has Been Sold to Raford Peterson
The old Chinese Mission property at the intersection of Mendocino and Healdsburg avenues and Lincoln street owned by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, has been sold and will be improved.
The purchaser is Raford W. Peterson, who owns the adjoining property occupied by Wilson Peterson. He will remove the building, which as been used as a Mission, enlarge his present lot and improve the remainder and allow it to be used as a public square.
The property was bequeathed to the Presbyterian Church in the '70's from the Rev. F. M. Dimmick, pastor at that time of the church. Mrs. E. P. Wilson has been superintendent of the Chinese mission work in Santa Rosa since 1876, and at times there have been very large numbers of Orientals under instruction, but of late years the number dwindled down until at present there are but three or four who use the Mission at all.
- Press Democrat, January 14, 1912
AN OLD CHINESE MISSION HOUSE TORN DOWN
The old Chinese Presbyterian Mission, which has occupied the lot at Mendocino avenue and Joe Davis street at the intersection of Lincoln for 25 years or more, is being dismantled and is to be moved to the vacant lot on College avenue adjoining R. W. Petersen's residence. The lot, it is understood, is to be fixed up as a pretty little park site. This will add materially to the appearance of the corner and make it one of the most attractive in the city.
MARBLE STEPS FOR RESIDENCE
Campbell & Coffey, the marble men of this city have completed the work of placing marble steps at the entrance to the handsome cottage of Dr. S. M. Rohr, at College and Mendocino avenues. The steps are ten feet and six inches wide and five steps high. It makes a near and attractive finish to the front of the structure.
- Santa Rosa Republican, March 19, 1912
PARK IMPROVEMENT ON MENDOCINO
Raford W. Peterson, who purchased the old Chinese Mission at the corner of Mendocino and Healdsburg avenues at Lincoln street, has removed the old structure to the lot adjoining his home on College avenue and the lot has been cleared and leveled ready to be beautified. The change is a marked improvement in the locality which will be increased when the site is prettily parked.
- Press Democrat, April 9, 1912
City Attorney J. W. Oates called attention to the almost impasible condition of Mendocino avenue on behalf of property owners on that thoroughfare and asked that some steps be taken to put the street in better condition until it is known how the State highway is to be constructed and then the property owners desire to continue the same character of pavement from the city limits to College Avenue.
- Press Democrat item on City Council summary, February 19, 1913
WILL EXTEND PAVEMENT ON MENDOCINO AVENUE
The immediate permanent improvement of Mendocino avenue from College avenue to the city limits was informally agreed upon by the city council at the special meeting held on Thursday evening. The plan is to grade the street, lay concrete curbs and gutters and a substantial pavement upon a heavy concret foundation.
The movement has the approval of a large number of property owners on the thoroughfare and will be very heartily welcomed by all who have occasion to use the street for a long time. Many of those who previously opposed improving the street are now warm advocates of the work.
Attorney J. W. Oates, who at a recent meeting of the council asked that temporary repairs be made and permanent work be held up until the State highway is completed, has now taken a stand for immediate improvement and will lend his encouragement in getting others who were standing out to join in the crusade for a good street.
A petition will be circulated at once for signatures by the property owners, and it will be presented to the council at the earliest possible date. Should there be an effective protest it will only delay the work six months, as under the charter the council the authority to force the work after six months elapses in case of protest, and it was agreed that such action should be taken in the case of Mendocino avenue if objection is urged. It is confidently believed that there will be no opposition at this time.
- Press Democrat, February 28, 1913