Once upon a time Sebastopol had a popular and beautiful lake until the town turned it into an open cesspool. As the saying goes, this is why we can't have nice things.
A small remnant of the lake can still be seen during the rainy season at the intersection of High School and Occidental Roads but more than a century ago it was year-round. Here's how the Sebastopol Times described it in 1903: "A beautiful body of water a mile long, 150 feet wide, and from 20 to 30 feet deep, boarded with oaks, willows, etc., is situated within a mile of town and is a favorite place for bathing, boating, and fishing." Five years earlier a tourist praised in the Sebastopol Times its "crystal laughing waters" which seems a bit embroidered, but it's safe to presume it was a very pleasant place.
(RIGHT: Colored postcard of Lake Jonive in 1908. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library)
It was known as Lake Jonive ("strangers will take notice that it is pronounced 'Ho-nee-va,'" the Press Democrat noted in a promotional supplement, adding a syllable lost today). The papers also called it the Lagoon or simply the Laguna, although that shorthand was also used in other stories about plans to drain the entire Laguna de Santa Rosa plain - more about that in a moment.
The Sonoma County Library has about twenty photographs of Lake Jonive, mostly from around 1900 and mostly showing people boating. The photo marked "Pleasure Resort" shows the swimmer's diving tower and wooden landing where all those women with elaborate, flowery hats rented boats from Joe Moran's family, on the western shore. Other snapshots show couples lounging on the lake banks, which was also where crews of hop pickers pitched tents during the harvest season. No anglers are pictured but it was a very popular fishing hole where anyone could catch salmon and steelhead, carp (which appeared after a 1878 flood washed them out of a private pond), bass and catfish (which were introduced in following years in efforts to kill the carp). "From the clear waters of this body have been caught salmon-trout that filled the sportsman’s heart with joy," boasted a promotional article in the 1902 Sebastopol Times.
The last known photo dates from 1912, which may be because the following year Lake Jonive was thick with dead and dying fish.
"I have never seen anything like it in my life," Deputy Health Officer John L. Gist told the Press Democrat. "I have seen fish but the number and the size--some of them immense--and such queer actions. I have never noticed before in all my experience. There were a great many dead fish on top of the water from some cause. There were hundreds and hundreds of fish, all wiggling and with their mouths open as if they wanted to get out of the water to reach air."
Water samples and dead fish were sent to San Francisco for analysis. Unfortunately, we don't know the results; the Santa Rosa papers didn't mention the topic again, and there is no Sebastopol Times microfilm for 1913. But the fish were clearly gasping for air because they were asphyxiating - the lake was so polluted the water was nearly dead from lack of oxygen. Part of the blame likely goes to the canneries; apple pomace sucks up lots of O2 as it decays, not to mention the peels having residual lead arsenate from the insecticides used in that era. What was mainly killing the lake, however, was the 100,000 gallons of untreated septic tank effluent Sebastopol was pumping into the southern end of the lake every day.
In the years around the turn of the century, Sebastopol was perpetually on the verge of a major public health crisis. Following a diphtheria outbreak in 1898 there were calls to do something about the sewage problem. Homes had an outhouse or cesspool and since most of the town is built on a slope, any overflow or leaks flowed down the street or on to a downhill neighbor's property - and maybe into their private well. A few years later a Sebastopol Times editorial commented the smell was "the most detestable foulness imaginable." Once the town incorporated in 1902 efforts were quickly undertaken to buy equipment to pump the failing cesspools and three years later, bonds were sold to build an actual sewer system, which terminated in a big wooden septic tank slightly north of today's Teen Center on Morris street. From late 1906 everything collected there was flushed directly into Lake Jonive without any treatment. This system remained in place until 1929.
(By the way: Except for the events of 1912 and 1913, most of the research here comes from John Cummings, who wrote several excellent papers on Sebastopol history which are available for download from SSU. If you're interested in this topic or Sebastopol history in general I encourage you to explore them.)
Sebastopol's toilets may have been the main culprit in the killing of Lake Jonive, but there were other threats. Over the course of three generations - from 1877 to 1946 - there were numerous plans to drain the Laguna and reclaim the fertile soil for cultivation. The proposal in early 1913 was to blast a four-mile canal between the lake and the Russian River. The Santa Rosa papers commented that property owners were enthusiastic because the land "has no particular value" as it was.
(RIGHT: Swimmers in Lake Jonive in 1909. Kids, don't swallow the water. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)
Like most of these half-baked schemes, the 1913 plan didn't get out of the preliminary stages. One that did find some traction came in 1929, when Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley and L. C. Cnopius of Sebastopol blasted a half-mile ditch between their properties which resulted in Lake Jonive - or what remained of it, by then - dropping eighteen inches. Finley also led efforts during the Great Depression to get the state involved in a works project to drain the entire Laguna de Santa Rosa. More about that can likewise be found in the Cummings papers.
While sewage poisoned the lake and reclamation projects repeatedly threatened to destroy it altogether, neither explain what reduced Lake Jonive to its relatively puddle-like size. In a 1955 story on local history, the Sebastopol Times quoted a member of the Moran family as saying, "when [Sebastopol] put in the sewer plant it encouraged weeds to grow and silt filled it in." Another significant factor was garbage - next to the sewer farm was the town dump, which covered roughly the area around today's Community Center, park and ball field.
There were apparently no restrictions on what could be thrown there and whenever there were heavy rains the tin cans, bottles and other lighter trash washed into the lake. In 1926 the city council declared it an "unsightly mess" and imposed fees (75¢ for an abandoned car, please). Sebastopol didn't close the dump until 1966, and then only after strong pressure from the county health department citing both Russian river water contamination and air pollution from the dump's incinerator.
Lake Jonive was Sebastopol's jewel, an irreplaceable treasure which the town and canneries killed in just six years. There's irony in noting it was 1910 - smack in the middle of the tragedy - when the town held its very first Gravenstein Apple Show, promoting the apple industry's special relationship with the community. Such a pity that was the only thing that Sebastopol thought was worth celebrating.
PLAN TO CUT CHANNEL FOR WATERS OF LAGUNAProject Would Reclaim Two Thousand Acres of Land
Parties interested in the drainage of the lands lying along the water course in western Sonoma county, known as the laguna, have planned to hold a mass meeting at the office of the Leppo Realty Company, on Fourth street, at 10 o'clock on the morning of January 4th. To this meeting all persons owning land along the laguna and adjacent thereto are urged to be present and take part in the discussions.
It is planned to cut a channel in the laguna to guide the waters straight to the river, and not permit them to overflow hundreds of acres each winter, as they have done for hundreds of years past. This annual inundation of these lands have deposited a rich sediment there, but it has made it impossible to farm them. When a channel has been cut to carry off this water and confine it to a narrow bed, these hundreds of acres will be reclaimed, and they will be among the most valuable and productive in the entire country.
Contractors will be in attendance at this meeting and submit plans and estimates for doing the work, and if arrangements are made they will be in position to speedily undertake and carry out the contract. This will give for farming purposes from 1500 to 2000 acres of lance, which is now considered waste, because of the annual overflow, which makes it impossible to get crops therefrom.
The channel which it is proposed to cut will be 25 feet wide and not less than 6 feet deep at any portion of the stream. This will give an abundant passageway for confining the waters of the laguna, and prevent them from spreading over these hundreds of acres, destroying their usefulness from a productive standpoint. This will give a direct channel from Sebastopol to Russian river, and make a water course of about six miles, on which the people of the Sebastopol section could maintain launches and other small craft. This straight channel will give an opportunity for fish to come from the river, and so stock the streams tributary to the laguna, and will provide the local fishermen with an exceptional abundance of sport along that favorite line.
Contractors who are willing to undertake the work of cutting the channel will present their proposition to the property owners at the meeting on January 4th, and it is certain that the reclaiming of this quantity of land will add materially to the wealth of Sonoma county and to its taxable property, besides becoming valuable for the owners, where not it has no particular value. The project is one of far reaching importance, and it is hoped that every one residing along the stream will attend the meeting.
- Santa Rosa Republican, December 27, 1912
CONSIDER PLAN DRAIN LAGUNASeek to Reclaim About 2,000 Acres of Fertile Farm Land in the Gold Ridge Section
To recover about two thousand acres of land by draing the Laguna de Santa Rosa was the proposition discussed at a meeting of the property owners adjoining the Laguna, held on Saturday morning. It is proposed to cut a channel from the Laguna to the Russian river, a distance of about four miles. This will enable the water to be carried off and the rich land placed under cultivation.
The meeting was called to order and J. D. Baliff was chosen chairman...F. C. Stauvel was appointed to take up the matter with the remaining property owners to see if they would join in defraying the cost.
Two methods were discussed to put the proposed ditch through. One was by dredger and the other by dynamite. The latter was favored as being more economical. It is thought that there will be about four miles that will have to be dredged. The project is a large one and the property owners are very enthusiastic about it.
- Press Democrat, January 5, 1913
MANY FISH DEAD AND DYING IN LAKE JONIVE ON MONDAY
County Health Officer S. S. Bogle received a telephone message Monday morning from the Lake Jonive section near Sebastopol, stating that for some unknown cause all the fish were dying in Lake Jonive, and asking that the matter be given immediate attention. Dr. Bogle sent Deputy Health Officer John L. Gist to the scene and the officer found that the report was correct. The top of the water of the lake was thick with all kinds of fish, Mr. Gist says. There were immense black bass, carp and catfish, and some smaller ones too, but hundreds of them, wiggling about in the water with their mouths open as if gasping for air, and all presumably endeavoring to get to a fresh water stream at another end of the lake.
"I have never seen anything like it in my life. I have seen fish but the number and the size--some of them immense--and such queer actions. I have never noticed before in all my experience. There were a great many dead fish on top of the water from some cause. There were hundreds and hundreds of fish, all wiggling and with their mouths open as if they wanted to get out of the water to reach air. It beat anything you can imagine.
"Unlike the shyness fish usually exhibit when an angler is after them, these shoals of fish came right towards us. They all seemed to be wanting to get to the fresh water. I telephone and get Deputy Fish and Game Commissioner Henry Lencioni to come over from Santa Rosa and when he arrived he was just as surprised as I was. He could not fathom the cause of the trouble any more than I could. We discovered that some distance further up the Laguna the water from the septic tanks of the Sebastopol sewer system empties into the Laguna which passes through Lake Jonive. Draining from the wineries and some pomace has been passing through the sewer into the water. I think possibly some matter may have gotten into the lake from this source. The fish looked as if they were intoxicated. We got several samples of water from the place where the septic tank water empties into the Laguna, then we got some further down and also a sample from the fish pond. We also caught some of the fish and the water and fish we are going to take to the analyst in San Francisco for examination tomorrow. Then we shall know what has caused this unusual stir among the fish in Lake Jonive. I had been told that a person could not catch fish in the Lake. There were certainly enough of them, dead and living, yesterday."
- Press Democrat, November 11, 1913
Spoiler alert: This may be the craziest thing you'll ever read and stranger still, its author was one of the most notable men ever to live in Santa Rosa.
(Detail of Aviation magazine cover, April 1910, slightly modified)
"Santa Rosa in the Year Three Thousand--Looking Back Ten Centuries" appeared in the Press Democrat a few weeks before Christmas, 1913 and is transcribed below. Here's a summary of what he predicted:
Around the year 1925 Sonoma county built a canal connecting the Russian river to the Petaluma river, through the Laguna, Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks. It was big enough to handle the largest ocean steamships which was a good thing because about 2700 the entire Pacific ocean seabed rose up in the "great upheaval" and capped the Golden Gate. All of this new land became part of the United States (of course) and all commerce and travel with Asia went through the Sonoma canal to the mighty river that formed and stretched all the way to China. By then, Santa Rosa was not only a major seaport but when the Queen of the East visited here as a guest of the Santa Rosa Improvement Club she declared it a great and beautiful city. An election was held in 2905 and Santa Rosa was chosen as the nation's new capitol, to be built on Taylor mountain after it was graded down to an elevated plateau.
The great legacy of the early 1900s lived on. On the capitol grounds was a statue of Luther Burbank, the renowned scientist who revolutionized the vegetable and plant life. A mathematician at Sweet's business college, one of the leading institutions of the country, invented a new form of math or physics or something.
A great Santa Rosa scientist discovered it was light, not gravitational forces that binds the universe together. Engineers were able to harness the mysterious, invisible force emanating from the sun and soon everyone was flying around in a light powered "palada," which could travel nearly the speed of light. A Santa Rosa adventurer tried to go to the moon in a palada, but failing he made the journey around the world. He was gone about three days.
It's difficult to know what to make of this. Edward Bellamy's 1888 novel "Looking Backward" was a great success and created a new genre of fiction mixed with philosophy for predicting the future, as found in the dozens of books and articles which appeared in following years asserting human culture would become extremely utopian or dystopian if some current trend(s) continued. In those cases, the authors were always were trying to drive home a specific idea; here, there's no point at all except "yay, Santa Rosa," maybe. These future histories are also great opportunities for biting wit, commenting on the "backward" present day conditions; you can comb through all 1,800 words in this essay and not fear being bitten, unless one counts the passing observation it took until the year 2950 for Santa Rosa to create a public park.
Keeping a scorecard of the prediction accuracy in these early examples of science fiction is always fun. Obviously there was never a canal built between the Russian and Petaluma rivers, but there was talk the previous year of cutting a channel through the Laguna (see following article). Here the author did get solar power right (sort of) and may have been inspired by a presentation in Santa Rosa a few years earlier that demonstrated gee-whiz gadgetry including a little motor powered by a photovoltaic cell. That lecture was also in the form of a look back from the future, titled "In the Year 2000."
No, instead of those serious works, this essay more resembles the Sunday newspaper cartoons of the day such as The Kin-Der-Kids or Little Nemo, where silly and fantastical things happen for no particular reason. Nemo's Slumberland even likewise had a queen and the story of the guy who was sidetracked on his way to the moon sounds exactly like a plot from those funny pages - although sans cartoons, there's nothing particularly amusing about someone changing course.
So who wrote this not-funny comic scenario and pointless future history?
The author was John Tyler Campbell, who was a big deal in Santa Rosa almost from the moment he arrived about 140 years ago. He was elected city attorney a year later, in 1875, and also became the county's assistant D.A. He ran for the state assembly as a member of the "New Constitution party" - a small and short-lived political group that vowed full support of the controversial new state constitution which was narrowly approved in 1879. He served two terms in the assembly, being speaker of the house for part of that time.
Next came a diplomatic career; he was off to New Zealand to become the American consul, followed by appointment as consul to the Chinese cities of Fuzhou and Tientsin. In an unusual arrangement with the U. S. government, he also served as consul for Germany while in China. Back in America in the 1890s he lectured about China and the Chinese people; it would be interesting to learn what he thought, as the state constitution he once ardently supported was in large part meant to deny the Chinese who were here their basic rights.
Although he was usually referred to as "Judge Campbell" no history shows he actually presided over any court in California (his son was a Sonoma County Superior Court judge, however). He served on the committees that framed two city charters for Santa Rosa: 1876 and 1904, joined in the later one by his friend James Wyatt Oates - Campbell attended the Oates' housewarming party (at what would become known as Comstock House) in 1905, then a decade later was an honorary pallbearer at Oates' funeral. They were both respected attorneys but out of step with Santa Rosa's lingering pro-Confederacy, "Old South" political leanings. Campbell, who grew up in the slave-holding part of Missouri, rushed to join the Union at the outbreak of the Civil War and rose to the rank of captain.
Campbell often contributed stories to magazines and newspapers according to profiles in the county histories, although this is the only one currently found. In 1906 he completed writing a book about dueling (!) but the manuscript, along with his other papers, were destroyed in his downtown office during the great earthquake and fire.
One wonders why the Press Democrat agreed to publish this odd essay when it could only serve to damage Campbell's esteemed name. It appears unedited; the nutty ending about the Queen of the East and paragraphs about Atlantis and the Tower of Babel were apropos of nothing and should have been red-penciled out. The typeset article was clearly not proofread as it is rife with typos, which was unusual for the PD. Perhaps editor Ernest Finley, who could nurse a grudge for decades, disliked Campbell as much as he hated his friend Oates and was glad for the chance to embarrass the old man. Campbell was 73 when this essay was published and lived until 1935, dying at 94.
MIDDLE: Detail of 1912 portrait of John Tyler Campbell, courtesy Sonoma County Library
BOTTOM: Detail of 1902 drawing by Albert Robida predicting the year 2000
Santa Rosa in the Year Three Thousand--Looking Back Ten Centuries
The year two thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine is gliding away and will take its place with the past. It soon will be numbered with the things that were "a schoolboy's tale, the wander of the hour."
The year three thousand is near the door and Father Time will introduce her to the coming ages. She will be received with happy smiles and glorious expectations. At the threshold of the coming year let us recount some of the most striking events of the past ages.
The Tower of Babel
The confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel, as recorded in the Book of Books, gave to the world the varied languages used by the human race. At the time it came suddenly and without warning, and it is difficult to full realize the great confusion and entanglement that came to the workers on the great tower.
Away back in the dim past the continent of Atlantis was suddenly engulfed, completely swallowed up and became lost to the world. Then in its place appeared the Atlantic ocean. Milton wrote "Paradise Lost" but he afterwards wrote "Paradise Regained," a similitude for the lost continent Atlantis was followed by a continent regained in the Pacific ocean. Less than three hundred years ago a great upheaval occurred in the Pacific ocean and a new continent was thrown up along the west coast of North America, and it extended out westerly in the Pacific ocean more than two thousand miles, but it became contiguous territory attached to the west side of the continent of North America, and after these years it cannot be determined where the old land ends and the new continent begins. The upheaval that gave to the United States and so it remains to this day.
Following the upheaval the progress of the country surpassed all dreams and all expectations. River of the old continent forced themselves over the new territory and out to the Pacific ocean. Fruits and vegetation and in fact all products of the soil, grew in the greatest profusion and the greatest abundance. The horn of plenty poured its wealth out in the new territory. Immigration flocked in from all over the world and soon great cities, towns, and villages sprung up everywhere. Mills and factories were constantly in motion and the hand of industry brought in a constant stream of gold. In the hundred years following the acquisition of the new land America had more wealth than all Europe put together. The population far exceeded all Europe. About this time the name "United States of America" was changed to "Columbia." This was done in honor of the great discoverer, and it is the name it should have had all the time.
Santa Rosa, the Capital City
The capital of the country had always been in Washington City, but it became in time far from the center of population. So about the year two thousand nine hundred and five Congress submitted the question of the removal of the capital to a vote of the people. A number of well located and populous cities entered the race, but when the election was over and the votes were counted it was found that Santa Rosa, California, had won the capital. People who had given the matter consideration were not surprised. At the time of the voting Santa Rosa had become one of the largest and most attractive cities in the world. Its population was nearly a million.
Away back to about the year nineteen hundred and twenty-five, the County of Sonoma constructed a canal from the mouth of [the] Russian river, through Russian river, the Laguna, Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks, thence on to Petaluma creek, thus connecting the waters of the ocean through to San Francisco bay, and the largest ocean steamers passed through the canal. The canal was a simple matter for nature had almost made it, and it required but little extra work to send the waters of the ocean through Sonoma county.
When the great upheaval came and closed up the [Golden Gate] the Sacramento river passed its way through Petaluma creek and through the Sonoma county canal out to where was once the Pacific ocean, and thence it continued to cut its way through the new-made ground of the new continent to the Pacific ocean, now well over to China. The commerce of the world entered the Sacramento river at its mouth near the continent of Asia, and in time came to be one of the greatest and most important rivers in the world.
Santa Rosa has been the capital of the republic for nearly a hundred years. In all of these years it has been the county seat of Sonoma county, and its importance as one of the great cities of the world is a sufficient justification for giving some of the leading events of its history.
Occurrences in the Past
Back in the twentieth century Santa Rosa was the home of the renowned scientist, Luther Burbank, conspicuous in history as the man who revolutionized the vegetable and plant life. He not only changed existing products of the soil and doubled their size, but he greatly increased the variety and quantity of the necessaries and luxuries of life. His productions were superior to any ever known before, and hence they were eagerly sought for by the people over the world. It is impossible to overestimate the great benefit realized by humanity from the Burbank productions. His statue has a conspicuous place in the great hall of fame in the capital grounds in this city.
The Power of Light
The theory that motion counteracts the laws of gravity and keeps the heavily bodies in their orbits in the revolutions had always been accepted as true. The law of gravitation is the tendency of all bodies toward the center of the earth. If motion were to cease the bodies obeying the law of gravity would all fall together in a crash. About fifty years ago Prof. Herr von de Reido of Santa Rosa, after long investigation, made the assertion that light and not motion kept the heavily bodies in their orbits--that light counteracted the law of gravity. It was twenty-five years before his discovery was accepted as true.
The sun is the center of the universe and there is a mysterious, invisible force emanating from the sun, and by the means of machinery and appliances this force is now conserved and used in propelling airships and other contrivances used for transportation. The palada is the vehicle for transportation of people or freight now in general use, and the motor power that propels it is light. Travel is now almost entirely in the air, and the palada is made for one person or for any number of persons. It is easily set in motion and its speed can be increased almost to the velocity of light. It is also used for freighting and for running all kinds of machinery.
In the days of Jules Verne, Phineas Fogg went around the world in eighty days. Hans Patrick Le Conor of Santa Rosa, filled with adventure, tried to go to the moon in a palada, but failing he made the journey around the world. He was gone about three days.
When Santa Rosa won the capitol, Taylor mountain was selected as its site. The capital grounds contain one thousand acres and were graded down to an elevated plateau by machinery propelled by the power of light, and the work was done in the short space of thirty days. Under the old system it would have required ten years.
The grounds are ornamented with the Burbank productions and are the most beautiful in the world. They surpass in grandeur and loveliness the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The capitol is the most picturesque building in the world.
Another New Discovery
The universe is too vast for the humanmind to grasp, or to comprehend. There are stars so far away from the earth that it would take a million years for them to reach the earth even if they traveled with the velocity of light, which is one hundred and ninety-two thousand miles per second. An eminent astronomer had published that the rays of light from the star Nova Geronimo started to the earth the same year that the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in sixteen hundred and ten, and although they had been over three hundred years speeding toward the earth they have not reached their destination, and the problem as to the length of time required was considered in the well known commercial college established by Prof. J. S. Sweet of Santa Rosa, then as it is now, one of the leading institution of the country. One of the students in the college, Alamon del Marsoni, a born mathematician, undertook to figure out the problem, but after many months of constant work he gave up, but he made a new discovery in figures, and with the new principle which he had worked out he was enabled in a few minutes to give the true answer to the problem. Under the new theory any problem of mathematical question can be unerringly worked out with one-tenth the figures and in one-tenth of the time required under the old system. The new theory is now universally accepted.
The Famous City
The fame of Santa Rosa as a great and beautiful city spread over the world, and people of taste and culture came from everywhere to see it.
The Queen of the East, the lineal successor of the Queen of Sheba of King Solomon's time, was one of the number who came to the great and beautiful city of Santa Rosa, and she viewed the city and gave forth the following words: "It was indeed a true report which I heard in mine own land. Howbeit, I believed not the words until I came and mine eyes had seen it and behold, the half was not told me."
The queen while in Santa Rosa was the guest of the Santa Rosa Improvement Club, the oldest club in the State, having had a continuous existence for more than a thousand years, and during a great part of that time had faithfully and diligently worked for a public park in Santa Rosa, and fifty years ago victory crowned their long, faithful service. They actually acquired the park and dedicated it to the city forever.
The Queen of the East said goodbye to the thousands of people who gathered about her, and in a moment of time she and her train of paladas disappeared over the Sierras and were lost to view.
The world is nearer perfection tan ever before. It has been one hundred and fifty years since the last war, and when it closed the gates of Mars were shut and they have remained closed ever since. The reign of the Prince of Peace is universal and eternal.
- Press Democrat, December 7, 1913
Ads in the Santa Rosa newspapers a century ago could be quaint, silly or downright fraudulent, but some required a double-take - did I really see that in the paper? Here is a sample of ads from 1911-1913 that require some explanation:
Actually, this ad, which appeared in the Press Democrat for a week, probably doesn't require any explanation at all. Great grandma certainly looks happy with her Arnold Massage Vibrator.
Great scott, did a 1911 vaudeville act really include a live grizzly bear? All sorts of trained animal acts appeared on stage in Santa Rosa: Dogs, monkeys, even goats. But even when raised from a cub by humans, grizzlies are famously temperamental - goddesses know what might happen if one was frightened or angered by rowdy drunks in the audience.
As it turns out, the grizzly was a guy in a bear suit with La Angelita and "Petus" doing the "Grizzly Bear" and "Texas Tommy," so-called rag dances that Petaluma and other cities banned for being indecent. That it was a novelty dance act was remarkably difficult to learn - newspapers presumably didn't mention that angle so as to not spoil the surprise. Once the ragging craze faded La Angelita began appearing with two other women as costumed Spanish dancers. The ersatz grizzly still showed up for the finale, which confused a reviewer for Variety: "The only drawback to the act is the bear dance, wherein a man parades in a bear skin."
Another reason it first seemed the act involved a real grizzly was because at least once they appeared on a bill with actual trained bears, "Albers' Ten Polar Bears." Apparently that act mostly consisted of the animals rolling a large ball up and down a slide, although the 1911 Oakland Tribune noted, "Herr Albers promises to give them a big feed during the matinee Saturday, so one can imagine the fun while these ten tons of Teddies are at their porridge." Hopefully they went on last so the stage could be hosed down afterward.
Oh, the good ol' days, when someone could shop downtown for large containers of lethal poisons. Painting your house? In 1912 you could stop by the Asbest-o-Lite Paint Company on Fifth street and pick up a few gallons direct from the factory. And doesn't everybody love the smell of fresh paint? Take a good whiff while they mix your color! And if it's spring, don't forget to spray your fruit trees with lead arsenic, that safe and economical insecticide.
They did't know at the time that inhaling lots of asbestos can cause a particularly nasty form of cancer, so it was widely used at the time - in roofing, flooring, wall insulation, wrapped around hot water pipes, lining the interior of forced-air furnaces, and much, much more. Asbestos paint was probably the least dangerous form of exposure as the stuff wasn't blowing around, but you wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere near the factory while it was being made. The Asbest-o-Lite Paint Company apparently lasted only a year.
Lead arsenate was heavily used as an insecticide in the first half of the Twentieth Century (good history here) although it was discovered after World War I that it didn't easily wash off produce completely and contaminated topsoil. Yet until the introduction of DDT in the late 1940s everyone bought the stuff by the tub.
It was particularly risky for people who handled the stuff in the fields, but only California and a handful of other states recognized long-term exposure could be an occupational disease. Making matters worse, it was common to use it as part of a "bordeaux," mixing it with other arsenics such as Paris green - a fungicide and also the main ingredient in rat poison - so all spraying could be done at the same time. That cocktail nearly made quick work of Henry Limebaugh, a farmer near Hessel in May of 1912 when after spraying his fruit trees he forgetfully took a sip from the same hose, leading to an emergency visit from a doctor.
Was that a movie about the Klan playing at the Nickelodeon?
D. W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation," is credited with inspiring (and to some degree, inventing) the modern Ku Klux Klan. But that film was not made until 1915; playing here in 1911 was "Night Riders of Tennessee and Kentucky." A synopsis printed in the Santa Rosa Republican showed it villainized them and since this movie is not mentioned in any cinema history, it would be a pretty big deal to find there was an earlier film with an antithetical view to Griffith's glorification of the sheet-wearing vigilantes.
It turns out the film was first shown elsewhere in 1910 and the "Night Riders" weren't the Klan at all - it was about the recent Dark Patch Tobacco War. Once it had a monopoly, the American Tobacco Company sharply dropped what it paid farmers to less than it cost to grow the tobacco. They organized a boycott and formed an association to warehouse the crops until prices returned to normal. The company offered top dollar to any scab growers who would sell their tobacco; in turn, the association organized hooded Night Riders to enforce the boycott by intimidating those sellers, usually burning their fields. The conflict ended in 1908 when the Kentucky National Guard was called up to suppress the Night Riders.
How much of the film was "founded on fact" is impossible to say as no copies survive, but it was most likely propaganda created by the American Tobacco Company to demonize the growers and place the company in a good light. When copies of the movie were circulating in 1910-1911 the company was fighting government charges that it was an illegal Trust and should be broken up (in 1911 the Supreme Court ruled it was indeed a monopoly). Further evidence that it was underwritten by the company is that Mr. Hood and Browning - whomever they were - toured with the movie and narrated it. While live stage appearances with films were presented in that era, it was only in major theaters in big cities and at a premium admission price, not showing weekday nights down at the Santa Rosa Nickelodeon for a dime.
It was like a celebrity sighting; a new generation of Russians were establishing a "colony" on the Sonoma county coast and newspapers from Sonoma and Mendocino counties rushed to report on our exotic new neighbors. Even before they arrived at the end of August, 1912, both Santa Rosa papers announced they were coming and a correspondent from the Mendocino Beacon was apparently on hand when twenty families disembarked from the little steamer that plied the coastline.
Part of the interest was the historical angle; 70 years had passed since the Russian American Company pulled up stakes at Fort Ross. The newcomers had no connection with the old site - they were coming to Sonoma because there happened to be a large ranch for sale twenty miles further north, at the current location of The Sea Ranch. Also interesting was that they were here to establish a religious commune, stirring memories of all the utopian communities that once were familiar around central Sonoma county, such as Fountaingrove, Preston, Altruria and the rest.
The Press Democrat scored an interview with the colony's leader but unfortunately they tapped the paper's coastal stringer "Old Jackson," a fellow in Annapolis who contributed irregular columns and mistakenly considered himself interesting. As a result, PD readers mainly learned the Russians cheered when O.J. told them he had 14 children and were "joyful" for his advice about farming.
Sadly, that appears to be the only time Emilian Fedorovich Noshkin was interviewed by the press, and there was much misinformation about the group he could have clarified. Their settlement was called the "First Russian Baptist Colony" and the Mendocino Beacon reported "California will be the future home of practically the entire membership of the Russian Baptist Church...the denomination [was] driven out of Siberia by the attitude of the Russian government." Modern articles about them repeat those same claims, but there's no proof they came to America to escape religious persecution - indeed, the Russian Baptist Church was thriving at the time.*
Nor were they Siberian refugees or "Russian peasants" (as the Santa Rosa Republican called them). Noshkin was a wealthy merchant (usually described as a "flour manufacturer") from the Pacific coast city of Vladivostok and the family of thirteen made the costly voyage to America as first class passengers. Several of the articles from the Santa Rosa papers mention the colony was receiving funding from Russia, the Republican specifically stating they had a million dollar line of credit - perhaps the church regarded them as missionaries to the substantial Russian population in San Francisco.
(Article and photo of the Noshkin family from the April 25, 1912 San Francisco Examiner. On another ship en route to Yokohama, Mrs. Noshkin gave birth to her 11th child on the island of Miyajima, one of the most sacred Shinto shrines in Japan and where no birth or death is allowed.)
There were nearly a hundred colonists there in the late summer and fall of 1912 (presumably that's counting children as well, but the newspapers are not clear) and they worked with fierce ambition. Before two months had passed there was a home for each family and shortly after that a church was dedicated. They had a dairy herd of 200 cows and two steam engine tractors to plow great fields on their 5,000 acres.
Tragedy first struck while the tractors were being driven down from Point Arena. The old bridge across Schooner Gulch collapsed while one of the 8-ton engines was crossing, killing the colony member walking alongside. They buried him on a bluff and surrounded his grave with a ring of white stones now gone, but The Sea Ranch has placed a marker near the location.
Otherwise, the little colony flourished. Nine hundred acres were already under the plow by the start of February, 1913 and more families were expected to soon arrive. One of Noshkin's daughters had married a man named John Pack in San Francisco and gave the settlement their first born. An old tavern on the property was made into a schoolhouse; Russian-speaking Elizabeth Briggs and her husband came out from Santa Rosa to teach 21 kids by day and give English lessons to the adults in the evenings. The school was named "Sacel" and they called their colony, "First Farm."
(Some details here, including quotes from the Mendocino Beacon, are drawn from a well-researched essay, "First Farm" by Harry Lindstrom/The Sea Ranch Archives Committee. Normally I would have provided a direct link but this essay is not among the public offerings on The Sea Ranch web page. It can be easily found via a Google search, however.)
But as much as they all loved their dream farm and planned to draw in hundreds of their Russian Baptist countrymen and build a seaport town and spawn other colonies, they didn't actually own the land. That was remedied when the Noshkins signed papers to buy the 5,000 acres for $250,755 (equivalent to about $6.3 million today). It would soon be their undoing.
The property had a complicated history which the Lindstrom essay details in full. Before statehood it was the German Rancho and had a grist mill. Later it was a cattle ranch and a lumber mill. When the Noshkins set foot in America in April 1912 it was called the Del Mar Rancho and owned by real estate speculator Walter P. Frick who had bought the land just eight days earlier. How much he paid is unknown but the assessed value was $42,400.
What happened next is complicated, but critical to understand (again, see Lindstrom for more). Together with an investor named Burgess, Frick created the Del Mar Development Company and transferred ownership of the land to that company. Both were also directors of Western Mortgage and Guaranty, which immediately gave the company a mortgage. All that happened a few days before the newspapers announced the Russians would be moving onto the property, so presumably they showed the Russian's lease at a grossly inflated rent (and maybe intent to purchase) as collateral in lieu of an appraisal. The Noshkins would later make payments to the Del Mar Development Company but apparently did not actually assume that mortgage from the lender, again sidestepping a proper appraisal.
Eight months after the Noshkins signed the loan documents, both Santa Rosa papers revealed on August 11, 1913 the colony was in deep trouble. A farm equipment manufacturer was suing them for defaulting on payments.
And that wasn't all: It was revealed the fine print of the agreement required all crops were to be turned over to the Del Mar Development Company as part of the mortgage payments. The Noshkins had signed the colony up to be sharecroppers.
And that wasn't all: Del Mar Development Company was foreclosing.
And that wasn't all: Frick and Burgess were personally suing Noshkin because they held the quarter-million dollar note which Noshkin had signed with the Del Mar Development Company. And since the men also owned the business, they were suing the Noshkins both as a company as well as individuals.
(NOTE: I've rewritten the above section a couple of times after close readings of the articles transcribed below, which may even not be completely accurate. If you have further information, please leave a comment.)
What went so wrong so fast? Their huge potato crop failed, which was apparently their main cash crop. More critically, the Santa Rosa papers reported their support lifeline had been severed. "All was rosy while the money was available," the Press Democrat remarked, "but when it stopped coming from Russia, and when there was no means of raising more here to meet payments on mortgages and claims for machinery, then the Glooms appeared."
The biggest problem, however, was that the unethical dealings of Frick and Burgess were despicable - the only question is whether the pair crossed the line of actually committing fraud under 1913 laws, when there were few federal protections against their kind of deceit.
It seems the Del Mar Development Company was just a shell company created to pump up the price once Frick and Burgess knew they had an interested party, and that they foreclosed immediately upon the first sign of financial problems suggests that was their intent all along, once the Russians had improved the property. Yet incredibly, they claimed in their suit to be victims because they would never again encounter suckers as gullible as the Russians: "It cannot be sold for an amount a hundred thousand dollars less than the purchase price."
Emil Noshkin knew little or no English when he and his wife signed the contract (he spoke none during the "Old Jackson" interview) and she could not even write her name. It is extremely doubtful either understood what they were signing or were aware someone could have visited the Sonoma county assessor's office to discover they were agreeing to buy the land for about six times more than its value.
It was clear, however, that the Russians did not understand what was happening. When the court receiver arrived at the colony he had to explain the process of law to a Noshkin son who spoke English. Local workers hired by the receiver showed up to bale the hundreds of tons of hay still in the fields, stirring one of the colonists to lash out and threaten to kill the Noshkin son. But everyone understood well enough they were being kicked out; when the Sheriff appeared a month later to serve the foreclosure papers it was a ghost village, with nary a soul to be found.
The Noshkins started anew near Elmira (due east of Vacaville) which had a Russian farming community, including relatives of Mary Noshkin. Again they were screwed over; they had an option to buy 1,660 acres but the seller refused to honor the contract after the down payment was made. This time Emil sued, in May 1914. The outcome is unknown, but they stayed in Solano county at least through 1920.
Despite the improvements made by the Russians the colony village and farmland remained unsold, so Frick ended up owning all nine miles of coastland for 25 years. He rarely visited and grazed cattle and sheep. He seemed to care as little about his children as he did for his property; during summers he and his wife dumped their three kids there, along with a governess and a Chinese cook, to play among the abandoned homes while Frick and his Missus raced back to the Bay Area. After he died it was sold in 1941 for $140,000 - only about twice what he paid for it in 1912, adjusted for inflation. Ironically, it was a courthouse sale because Frick had stopped paying his debts and owed back taxes on the property.
* In 1905 Tsar Nicholas II declared freedom of religion - previously, Russians had to be a member of the Orthodox church or they were denied even basic rights, such as inheriting and owning property. The Russian Baptists flourished probably more than any other faith; by the time Noshkin and the others left the country the church had over 100,000 members and was enjoying explosive growth, building churches, opening theological schools and sponsoring missionaries.
RUSSIAN COLONISTSHundreds of Russian Peasants Settle in County
The west coast of Sonoma county is to again become the property of Russians, and while the readers of this paper are reading about it, a colony of Russians are landing at Stewart's Point preparatory to taking possession of the land mentioned. The large Stengel ranch, otherwise known as the Bender Mill and Lumber Company tract, has been purchased for the First Russian Baptist Colony and consists of 5000 acres of land.
One hundred Russians peasants who arrived in San Francisco several months ago are the forerunners of those to whom the broad and fertile acres have been parceled off. These one hundred peasants sailed from San Francisco Wednesday for their new homes, taking with them $25,000 worth of portable houses. Each of the parcels of land will be extensively tilled by a family and will make fine farms. Two hundred other families are to follow soon from their country of persecution and settle in their new Russia in Sonoma county.
The colony has raised $1,000,000 to finance their plans. Of this amount $150,000 was paid for the property in this county. Some of the money has been used for the purpose of purchasing farming machinery and there is still much left in the common treasury. The land was bought for them by E. Noshkin, the president of the colony. He holds a full power of attorney for each member of the colony. The profits of the farming of the land will go into a common treasury.
Thus it will be seen the pioneer lands of Russia in America, the historic spots surrounding the old Russian fort of Fort Ross, is again to be populated by the people of that country.
- Santa Rosa Republican, August 29, 1912
RUSSIAN COLONIST'S LIFE CRUSHED OUT BY ENGINE"Old Jackson" Interviews Head of the New ColonyAnnapolis, Sept. 15-- The Russian Colony passed through their first day of gloom and sorrow on Saturday, September 7. They were bringing from Point Arena their big traction engines with which they expect to do their plowing, the weight of one engine being about eight tons. Arriving at Schooner Gulch, three miles out from Point Arena, the lead engine with the water truck crashed down the bridge and turned over in the stream. The engineer, with the fireman, jumped, but Nicholas Pogsikoff, who was walking between the engine and the water truck, was instantly killed. The poor fellow seemed very anxious to be near at hand if anything went wrong, although he had been cautioned to keep back. Pogsikoff was a good man and had been in America six years...
...Yesterday the writer had a long interview with E. Noskin, the man presiding over the Colony. He is a very pleasant gentleman, but he cannot speak but one word of English. Mrs. Noskin is a bright, little woman and is the mother of six sons and five daughters. Mr. and Mrs. Noskin evidently thought they had the largest family in America, as they turned to the fine little man of a boy, my interpreter, and anxiously asked how many children the writer had, and when informed that we had not stopped at fourteen, they raised their hands high to Heaven in great joy and said "Hallelujah!" From this on it was a love feast, and when we told them that we believed all that they did in a religious way, even baptism by Immersion, their hearts were glad.
We gave their president an honest, sincere statement in answer to questions what would grow on their land and they were joyful. These people have started their store. Now they are going to build a church, and be ready to welcome those to follow, for inside of three years there will be one thousand families on the ground. We have long since declared that this piece of land is capable of sustaining ten thousand people, and these Russians will soon show you how...
- Press Democrat, September 18, 1912
THE RUSSIAN BAPTISTS ARE PROSPEROUS
Nine hundred of the five thousand acres owned by the Russian Baptist colony at Del Mar are already under cultivation, and the colony is in a flourishing condition, according to Mr. and Mrs. L. Briggs, teachers in the colony. There are nineteen children in attendance at the school, the quarters for which were provided by remodeling an old saloon.
Mr. Briggs stated that at present there were about twenty-two families in the colony. Several more families arrived in San Francisco recently on the steamer Mongolia from Honolulu, and will make their home at the colony. More families are coming from San Francisco, and this will mean more acres to be put under cultivation.
- Press Democrat, February 6, 1913
FIRST RUSSIAN BABY IN COLONYLena Pack Claims Much Attention on Account of her Birth Near Fort Ross
Much interest has been occasioned in the Russian Colony, which located last year on a big place near Del Mar in northern Sonoma county, by the arrival of the first Russian baby to be born in the new home established by the Russians. The first baby is a little girl, daughter of John and Mary Pack, and she has been named Lena. Her birthday anniversaries will be occasions of much significance hereafter, in view of her advent at such an auspicious time.
She was born near where the Russians landed over a century ago at old Fort Ross. A century later they have come again to pursue the peaceful vocation of tillers of the soil. There are several hundred of them in the colony that has been established.
- Press Democrat, July 25, 1913
THE RUSSIAN COLONY IS INFinancial Difficulties; Suit Started MondayFinancial difficulties have overtaken the famous Russian Colony at Del Mar. Suit against the colony, called the First Russian Baptist Colony, was filed Monday in the Superior Court by Attorney W. F. Cowan on behalf of the J. I. Case Threshing Machine Company. E. Noshkin, head of the colony is named as principal defendant.
The suit is for $3,645 and interest at six per cent for two years. It is sought to foreclose mortgages for that amount which the company holds on machinery sold the colony by the company and which has not been paid for.
It is understood that the colony will be sued also for the land which it purchased on the installment plan. The colony was organized on a commistic [sic] basis, and for a time flourished finely. The leaders have depended on money from Russia which it is said has failed to materialize.
- Press Democrat, August 11, 1913
COLONY NOW IN HANDS OFReceiver Appointed by Judge Seawell Tuesday
By order of Superior Judge Emmet Seawell Tuesday morning, the First Russian Baptist Colony was thrown into the hands of a receiver. The court appointed Charles G. Goold as receiver under bonds of $5000, which were furnished by the Aetna Company.
The appointment of the receiver came as the result of a petition filed by the Del Mar Improvement Company a real estate company which sold the colony the land which it has been farming. The petition sets out that under the terms of the agreement between the company and the colony all crops were to be turned over to the company to be sold and the price received applied as payment on the mortgage on the land.
This the petition says the colony has refused to do. There are about 800 tons of hay, of which but about 75 tons have been baled, according to the complaint. The value of the hay is given at $10,000 and the petition says it is imperative that it be baled at once and gotten under shelter.
The petition also alleges that the potato crop of the colony is a failure and not worth harvesting. Also that the balers refuse to work for the colony and are hard to get in that section of the county.
- Santa Rosa Republican, August 11, 1913
TROUBLE AT COLONY LEADS TO ARREST OF RUSSIAN
Foreboding of impending trouble at the First Russian Baptist Colony located at Del Mar in northern Sonoma county, following the appointment of a receiver asked for in suits commenced in the Superior Court several days ago, was not misplaced, it seems. When it comes to dispossessing the colonists, a happening which also inevitable at the present time, there may be stirring times. These "shoe string" arrangements are not what they are cracked up to be, and are trouble breeders.
But to return to the difficulties that have arisen at the present time. Sheriff Jack Smith and Deputy Sheriff Charles Meyers hurried over to Cazadero on Saturday morning in the Sheriff's automobile to take from the custody of a north county deputy a Russian who had made threats to kill a son of E. C. Noshkin, the head of the colony. The Russian was brought to jail here in the afternoon, and will await trial. Young Noshkin speaks English fluently and when Deputy Sheriff Donald McIntosh went there a few days ago to install, as per court order, Charles Goold as a receiver, the officer explained to Noshkin what the process of law meant. The other colonists, however, who do not understand the English tongue, were apprehensive of what was happening, and when strange hay balers came onto the big farm to finish the work where the Russians had left off, their apprehensions, it is said, increased. The Russian placed under arrest, was presumably a leader.
When the colonists first arrived at their new haven there were about seventy-five families of them. Deputy Sheriff McIntosh learned upon his recent visit that many of the families had grown disgusted and moved off the place. It is too bad that such a "shoe string" investment should have been undertaken. All was rosy while the money was available, but when it stopped coming from Russia, and when there was no means of raising more here to meet payments on mortgages and claims for machinery, then the Glooms appeared. A mortgage of $250,000 is a big thing to handle, particularly when it is handled by people unskilled without methods.
The Russian brought here Saturday was given a short term in jail on a charge of disturbing the peace.
- Press Democrat, August 17, 1913
RUSSIAN COLONY AFFAIRS STILL FURTHER TANGLED
The affairs of E. Noshkin and his wife, who are the heads of the First Russian Baptist Colony of Del Mar were muddled more than ever with the filing of a new suit against them in connection with the failure of the colony. Some time ago the colony was thrown into the hands of a receiver on petition by the Del Mar Land and Development Company. Later another suit was filed by an implement concern to attach the land and the farming tools on it.
Now comes the third suit, which is filed by Attorney T. J. Geary on behalf of W. P. Frick and R. N. Bargess in which the Del Mar Land Company is also made a defendant. The plaintiffs set up that they were given a deed of trust by the company after the Noshkins had signed a promissory note for $250,765, payments upon which have been defaulted. They allege that the property has been badly mismanaged and that it cannot be sold for an amount a hundred thousand dollars less than the purchase price.
They ask that C. G. Goold, who is now acting as receiver under another suit be discharged and reappointed under the present suit.
- Santa Rosa Republican, September 10, 1913
RUSSIANS GONE ALREADY--COULD NOT SERVE PAPERS
Without waiting for process of law to remove them, disgusted with their lot and their failure to establish a colony on the shores of historic Sonoma, where their predecessors landed a century ago, the Russians have folded their tents and stolen away.
When Sheriff Jack Smith, who took a seventy-mile automobile ride into the Stewart Point section to serve the papers in the foreclosure suits, commenced in court here, arrived on the scene, he ascertained that E. Noshkin, the president of the First Russian Baptist Colony, had departed and there was not a Russian in sight. They had all gone away. Consequently the Sheriff had to return with the papers and make affidavit that he had been unable to find Noshkin.
The suits were brought to foreclose a mortgage for $250,000 and take back the ranch. The owners of the ranch are having a hard time in disposing of it and never will be able to do so, it is said, at the enormous figure it was taken over by the Russians.
- Press Democrat, September 18, 1913
WED IN RUSSIA DIVORCE IN S.R.Gottabena Schneider Gets Her Legal Freedom From Her Husband, Gottfried Schneider
Married in Odessa, Russia, and divorced in the Superior Court of Sonoma county. Distances and conditions somewhat remote. Such were the facts brought to light in the trial of Mrs. Gottabena Schneider against her husband Gottfried Schneider, in Judge Denny's department Saturday.
The plaintiff and defendant intermarried in Odessa over twenty-nine years ago. He deserted her over sixteen years ago, and on this ground the divorce was granted. Five children were born of the union, three of whom are grown.
- Press Democrat, November 9, 1913
RUSSIAN KIDDIES GIFT TO MISS BARNES
In the office of County Superintendent of Schools Miss Florence M. Barnes there is a little souvenir which is much prized by the popular superintendent. It is an odd shaped little candlestick and it was sent as a gift to her by some of the little Russian children of the Russian colony established at Del Mar some time since which has disappeared. Miss Barnes was instrumental in establishing a school for the Russian children, and so the "kiddies" felt thankful and planned to hand her the candlestick in person when she first visited the school. But before Miss Barnes could include the school in an itinerary of the coast district the colony had been broken up. Mrs. Briggs, who was the teacher of the school, was instructed to present the candlestick to Miss Barnes, which she did on Saturday.
- Press Democrat, November 9, 1913