About 15 minutes from downtown Santa Rosa is a mansion that's not a mansion, and a treasure that's hasn't been particularly treasured at times. It's the William Hood House (AKA Hood Mansion).

Now tucked behind the county's Juvenile Justice Center, the old house has lost the commanding view of northern Sonoma Valley that it possessed when it was built in 1858. The talking points (PDF) prepared for an open house a few years ago provide the best overview of the history of the building: Hood, a house builder and grape grower, bought a half interest in the nearly 19,000 acre Rancho Los Guilicos in 1850, obtaining complete ownership a few years later. In 1858 he married and began construction.

(ABOVE: The William Hood House c. 1898, courtesy the Sonoma County Library/Sherman Boivin Collection

BELOW: Hood Mansion today, from approximately the same viewpoint)

Most of Hood's original house is architecturally unremarkable; it's a nice Victorian-era farmhouse, as seen in the historic photo. Most notable is that it's made of brick, even including the downstairs interior walls, which are finished with plaster. The talking points explain why this was unusual:

At the time, brick was a very expensive building material. Very few manufacturing kilns had been established in the area, and their weight made them costly to transport. Therefore, most brick buildings from this period were made from clay deposits found nearby and fired on site. The somewhat uneven appearance of the bricks on Hood Mansion are a testament to the handiwork of the local craftsmen. In all likelihood, the bricks were manufactured on site by Native American workers.

The Hood family lost the property through foreclosure, as also happened to the wine-making family that followed. In 1905 the lender sold it to Thomas Kearns, a Utah silver tycoon and former U.S. Senator. Kearns had an opulent home in Salt Lake City and hobnobbed with the rich and powerful, including President Teddy Roosevelt. For him, a simple farmhouse would not do, so he hired someone to enlarge and modernize the building. Thanks to a small item in the Press Democrat, we now know that someone was architect William H. Willcox.(Another article with greater depth about Kearns and his years of ownership is available here.)

Willcox has been mentioned several times in this journal (read an introduction here) and had been an nationally-esteemed architect since the 1880s. In Santa Rosa, he was planning to build a auditorium large enough to host state and national conventions, as well as providing a civic center; he also proposed creating a water park between Main and E street, which would have transformed the town's focus. Alas, the 1906 earthquake struck when he was apparently just weeks away from having enough funding to begin the big pavilion, and in the disaster's aftermath, the money men were interested in rebuilding what they had personally lost, not investing in their mutual future.

Willcox was really the only logical man for Kearns to hire. The scope of the project went beyond what could be entrusted to a carpenter-builder, and Willcox was about the only experienced architect who could keep an eye on the construction. Other qualified architects working around Santa Rosa at that time lived farther away. Brainerd Jones was busy in Petaluma, John Galen Howard (who designed the Empire Building) was in Berkeley, and J. W. Doliver (the new county courthouse) and Victor Dunkerly (a Frank Lloyd Wright collaborator who built the Overton Hotel) were in San Francisco. While Willcox mainly lived and worked in San Francisco, he kept an office in Santa Rosa that he shared with a civil engineer (another bonus, considering that the project involved a unreinforced brick building in the Santa Rosa Plain, where the occasional aftershock still made people twitchy).

Sadly, the Hood House modifications are the only works of Willcox (currently known) to survive in Sonoma County. (UPDATE) Some of the additions were quite modern; other work blended so well with the pre-Civil War building that there are questions about what details were part of the original construction. Thanks to the county Facilities Department, myself and a handful of architects and historians were given a chance to examine the building. Here's my guess on what Willcox completed in 1908:

Viewing the front (Hood House faces west) it's immediately apparent that the building was widened by about 30 feet, as seen by comparing the historic and current photos above. (CLICK or TAP on any photo to enlarge.) The seams between old and new brickwork are easily noticed in person. To expand the house on the north side, Willcox had to only add a second floor to the original one-story extension of the main house, which might have been Hood's dining room.

LEFT: North view, with the original roof line visible above the ground floor windows. The single story section with the three doors was likely a utility room (a boiler for the heating system, a boiler for hot faucets, and probably a backup electric generator) added by Willcox

MIDDLE: East view, with the Kearns-era kitchen at the south (green door), directly behind the new dining room. The northern section of the utility building with the door closest to the camera was added, and its proximity to the boiler room suggests it was a laundry room

RIGHT: South view, with the new formal entrance into the dining room

Willcox gets credit for the entire south side of the house, which he turned into the new formal entrance. The roof of the portico is supported by the same cornice brackets as found on the front of the house. Thankfully the county left its original brown shingle when a new roof was put on the rest of the house; these shingles were a favorite material of the Bay Area Arts & Craft movement, and serve to introduce visitors to the spectacular dining room behind the door.

Nearly everything in the dining room is oak: The enormous table, floor, beamed ceiling, paneled walls, and the huge sideboard that nearly fills the inside wall. Above the table, an array of lights illuminate the room as well as the ceiling beams, all fixtures in the Craftsman style. In 1908, this room would have been considered ultra-modern design.

LEFT: Upper shades of the elaborate center fixture point towards the simple ceiling rose

MIDDLE: Along the sides of the room are pendant lanterns, suspended from an ornamental post and chain

RIGHT: The underside of a lantern reveals that each could hold four candles on the exterior, plus one inside. Only very narrow candles could be used in these holders, suggesting they were used only for decoration

The dining room commands half of Willcox's addition on the southern ground floor; the southwest side is an equally large reception room. The modern touch here is the cove ceiling; the rest of the room is unadorned, except for a nice fireplace with a Roman-themed break front portraying a woman's head and grape leaves. Willcox also placed fireplaces in each pair of upstairs bedrooms on the north and south walls as well as in the dining room, giving the house a total of eight fireplaces (I think).

LEFT: Fireplace in the reception room

MIDDLE: Fireplace in the northeast bedroom

RIGHT: One of the fireplaces in the original part of the house

Where else did Willcox leave his fingerprints on the William Hood House? An architect on our tour proposed that fancy moldings in some of the old rooms were too opulent for a mid-19th century farmhouse, and suggested that Willcox made a pass through the entire home to update details and unify the design. I disagree; the trim work upstairs is modest, particularly in the rooms Willcox created. But I agree that these downstairs moldings probably were not part of the original construction and were added sometime during the late Victorian era. Perhaps the investor who owned the property between the 1893 Hood foreclosure and the 1905 purchase by Kearns brought in a contractor to put some lipstick on his white elephant.

LEFT: Several of the rooms in the original house have extremely elaborate crown molding-picture rail

MIDDLE: Many downstairs door jambs, unusually thick because of the interior brick walls, have moldings on all sides

RIGHT: Multipart crown moldings are even found on storage cabinets

The history of the house after the Willcox changes is detailed in the talking points linked above. Briefly: Kearns sold it after WWI, and the property was subdivided. The home became part of a compound owned by a men's organization, then the state, then finally Sonoma County. The house is lucky to have enjoyed good stewardship: Had the Fates been unkind, the bricks of Hood Mansion could just as easily be melting back into the local mud from which they came (see: Carrillo Adobe). The county deserves full props for its earthquake retrofit and stabilization of the building in recent years.

(RIGHT: Something awful lurks in the dark rooms of Hood House)

The county does, however, deserve shame for the darkest moment of Hood House: Turning the place over to a clique of interior decorators for a Bicentennial Decorators' Showcase ("a display of more than 20 historic rooms decorated by leading designers!") that left many interiors in the esteemed old building defaced - and possibly, damaged - with mid-1970s crap-ola. Woodwork was painted in trendy colors; avocado green linoleum was glued to antique counter tops and cabinets; room after room has wallpaper competing for the most frenetic design and clashing colors, some of which can be glimpsed in the photos above. One interior room has a wall covered in wood shingles, with other walls (and ceiling!) papered in a cartoon-y floral orgy that looks a plea for help from someone who's watched way too many episodes of the Partridge Family.

Most of the damage done by the showcase can be undone, but that The Ugly is still around more than three decades later attests that the work won't be easy or cheap - it's another big project in a house that has a list of big projects crying for attention. There's a measure of irony that Willcox was available to accept the Hood House project because post-quake Santa Rosa was too distracted to see the best interests for its future. Then exactly 70 years later, his work there was defaced because the county likewise failed to weigh the long-term impacts of a poor decision.

Architect William H. Willcox is at the Overton from San Francisco. Mr. Wilcox says the new residence on Senator Kearns' place at Los Guilocos [sic] is about completed.

- "Around the Corridors", Press Democrat, June 5, 1908

Wanna make a sawbuck in 1908 Sonoma County? Capture a kid trying to escape the workcamp at the Barlow ranch near Sebastopol.

Every summer, the "The Boys' and Girls' Aid Society" - a San Francisco institution for boys "not sufficiently wayward to require assignment to the reform school, and too hard to manage to be placed in family homes or orphanage" - forced dozens of boys, some as young as seven, to work in West County fields and canneries. Earlier essays have described the child labor situation here, but the 1908 newspaper coverage provided much additional detail.

The program was expanding every year; in 1908, "the Aid" brought here 170 youths, up from 130 the year before. In 1907, they had worked for the Barlows and two neighbors, picking 125 tons of berries. The following year they were hired out to 22 growers between Sebastopol and Forestville and picked 157 tons, plus "many tons" of peaches and plums. So popular were the child workers that still more farmers were planning to take advantage of the boys and not hire adults. One of the Santa Rosa papers reported, "arrangements are now being made for next year's picking by several who have heretofore depended on Japanese help, or any who came along."

Both local papers consistently portrayed the experience as a pleasant treat for the kids ("a delightful outing for many of them who otherwise could have had no vacation"), but the number of attempted escapes suggests differently. At least a dozen boys tried to flee the workcamp in 1908, including Raymond Onion and George Springer, who were named here earlier as possible suspects in the arson that destroyed the barns of Harrison Finley and another farmer that summer. If caught, the escapee was taken back to the camp in handcuffs, and the captor was paid a ten dollar reward. In one potentially dangerous situation, a couple of young men held a group of boys captive with a shotgun, only to find that they were ordinary and worthless runaways from their parents, not the workcamp.

The papers always trumpeted that the boys were allowed to keep some of their earnings, but here it was mentioned for the first time that the boys apparently had to pay their own railway fare between the camp and the area where they were required to work, and that their puny paycheck was docked "a small charge for camp expenses." (There was no mention of who paid the $10 bounty hunter reward, but we can safely guess it wasn't "the Aid.") And although it was expected that "nearly all will subscribe for magazines" with some of their earnings, the money mainly was spent on clothing and dentistry. Clothes I can perhaps understand, but the kids had to pay for their own dentistry?

Included below are also a couple of bonus juvenile escape tales: A boy who fled St. Vincent's Orphanage in Marin County and stole a horse and buggy was to be sent to Preston School of Industry at Ione (AKA San Quentin for Kids) and a pair of boys at the "Home for the Feeble Minded" in Glen Ellen used a rope made of blankets to get away from that institution. A few years later, Jack London wrote about a similar escape by two boys with epilepsy in a short story, "Told In the Drooling Ward."

Five Escapes from Aid Society at Sebastopol

On Thursday three of the boys of the Boys' and Girls' Aid Society camped at the Barlow ranch made their escape from the camp and up to this morning the officers had been unable to locate them. On Friday morning sometime between one and three two more of the lads left the camp, and in doing so, stole clothing from some of the other boys. It was thought that the first three lads had gone toward Occidental and taken the narrow gauge road from there to the city, but no trace of them could be found, and the officers are keeping a sharp lookout for them.

It will be remembered that a few days ago two little boys left the camp during the night in their night clothes. These later returned of their own accord regretting much that they had attempted to regain their liberty. There are 130 boys in the camp this year and many of them become very restless after they have been in camp awhile, and want to get off for themselves.

- Santa Rosa Republican, July 24, 1908

Boy Who Crossed Continent is in Hands of Law

The boys who escaped from the camp of the Boys' and Girls' Aid Society on the Barlow ranch on Thursday and Friday of last week are all back in the camp. Two of them, Raymond Onion and George Springer, were brought in by ranchers in the vicinity and the other three came back voluntarily and reported in.

Raymond Onion is the boy who it will be remembered escaped on the 5th of the month and was picked up in Santa Rosa by the crew of the local train who very generously forebore collecting the usual reward of $10 offered by the Society for the return of wanderers from Camp.

This boy is an Eastern lad who stole a large sum of money from his father and traveled across the continent to San Francisco, where he was relieved of the remainder of the money by his traveling companion. Left penniless in San Francisco he was taken to the Juvenile court and sent to the camp temporarily until his parents could be communicated with. His father refused money to pay his fare back and it was intended to secure him passage on a sailing vessel. He and the Springer boy, who is a friendless orphan who was discharged from an orphan asylum, because of his bad temper, have been the instigators of most of the trouble which the management of the camp has had during the past three weeks. They each made two attempts to escape and were brought back each time and all the others returned voluntarily. They were returned on Saturday to the custody of the juvenile court for such disposition as Judge Murasky may think best. It is the desire of the Superintendent, Mr. Turner, to have the boys stay at the camp voluntarily and much is done to make it pleasant for the boys in his care.

The major part of the earnings at the berry picking is paid to the boys on their return to San Francisco each year and spent by them on clothing, magazines, dentistry, and pocket money or put in the bank. This summer the Society has cared for a large number of city boys during the summer vacation of the public schools, affording a delightful outing for many of them who otherwise could have had no vacation.

Over 40,000 trays of berries have been picked thus far and the boys are being engaged for prune and peach picking which will soon commence. One or two squads will be needed in the Sebastopol cannery when peaches begin to come in.

- Santa Rosa Republican, July 28, 1908

Youths Held Up by Boys While Officers are Called

It was reported Wednesday that four boys have escaped from the Aid Society Camp near Sebastopol and the officers were kept busy looking for the lads during the forenoon. It was stated that they were seen near the depot about nine o'clock and Officers Boyce and Yeager started after them post haste but when they reached the freight house they boys were gone and on going down the railroad they found two lads at the freight cars on the siding below the trestle. These boys were arrested but were found to be other than the ones wanted and were allowed to go again. The officers started on down the track but learned that the boys had preceded them to Bellevue.

Two boys near the Ice Factory learned of the runaways and hitched a horse to a cart and drove to Bellevue where they headed off the lads and one of them remained while the other came back and notified the police. He stated that his companion was holding the other boys at the point of a shotgun and wanted to know what to do with them.

- Santa Rosa Republican, July 29, 1908


The article in Wednesday's paper to the effect that four boys who were supposed to have escaped from the Aid Society Camp near Sebastopol were arrested by two Santa Rosa lads near Bellevue, left the impression that the boys were escapes, whereas they were only suspects, and it is learned from the officials of the Society that there have been no escapes for over a week, or since the dissatisfied ones had been sent back to the city. The four boys mentioned were strangers here, and were evidently well started on the "vag" route.

- Santa Rosa Republican, July 31, 1908


The boys of the Boys' and Girls' Aid Society passed through Santa Rosa Friday afternoon in two special cars en route to the home in San Francisco. There were 125 boys in the party, some having gone ahead.

The season has been very enjoyable and quite successful financially. Over 39,000 trays of ninety-seven tons of blackberries have been picked; 24,000 trays, or sixty tons, of loganberries, raspberries and mamoths, and many tons of peaches and plums gathered by the boys. They have been of great assistance in saving the enormous crop of peaches, having worked for twenty-two different growers between Sebastopol and Forestville, and have to their credit the sum of $4000.

The amount is credited to the 170 individual boys, who have enjoyed the benefits of the summer outing, and will be paid to them, less a small charge for camp expenses. The money is used for the boys for clothing, dentistry and in useful channels. Many put part in the bank and nearly all will subscribe for magazines on their return to the city.

Not all of this money is taken out of the county, however, as might be thought, as the expenses of maintaining the camp each year are heavy. About $2500 has been expended for supplies in the local markets at Sebastopol, Petaluma and Santa Rosa, it being the policy of Mr. Turner, the superintendent, to favor local dealers whenever he can do so without detriment to the society; $1500 has been paid out in salaries through a Sebastopol bank, a portion of which is spent right here and over $200 has been spent in local travel on the electric line.

More and more are the boys being recognized as a real help in handling the berry and fruit crop, and their reputation for thorough work is well established. When a berry patch is picked by the boys, the grower can depend on having it picked from start to finish at a uniform rate. With the growth of the work and the increased number of boys cared for each year, a larger amount of work is possible.

Originally only the berries on the Barlow ranch were picked, but now the society is in a position to handle the crops on 100 acres of blackberries, and arrangements are now being made for next year's picking by several who have heretofore depended on Japanese help, or any who came along.

- Santa Rosa Republican, September 11, 1908

On Witness Stand in Justice Court Frank Silva Freely Tells of His Escapade

Frank Silva, the youth who escaped from St. Vincent's Orphanage on more than one occasion, will be sent to the Preston School of Industry at Ione, and will there be given another chance to make a man of himself. He recently stole a horse and buggy from a Petaluma man, was captured and brought here. He was given an examination before Justice Atchinson yesterday, and was held over to the higher court. He told his story frankly and admitted everything. This lad has been give a number of chances, and it is hoped that when he goes to school he will make good.

- Press Democrat, August 22, 1908


Two of the boy inmates of the Home for the Feeble Minded at Eldridge escaped from the institution on Monday. The lads were named Holley and Boem, and made a rope of their blankets by knotting the corners together and letting themselves from the dormitory window. As soon as the escape was discovered the attendants at the Home started a search and the sheriff's office was notified. It is believe that the boys are in hiding on the farm of the home, and will be found in the woods there. This is the third effort of young Boem to gain his liberty from the place.

- Santa Rosa Republican, October 13, 1908

Anyone who believes kids were better behaved in the "good ol' days" answer this: How often do today's ten-year-olds attempt to derail passenger trains?

This is the third and final item on Santa Rosa's juvenile delinquents, class of 1908. Earlier installments covered lesser crimes, such as vandalism and burglary. Misbehavior, to be sure, but nothing like 1907's summer of the incorrigibles, when kids were hustling stolen eggs, hijacking buggies, and starting fires. But the miscreants of 1908 were generally younger and their crimes more serious; aside from the aforementioned attempted train derailment, some of our great-grandfathers when young were robbing, stealing horses and bicycles, and riffling through the pockets of drunks.

The train incident involved a pair of boys, age ten and eleven. This was no spontaneous prank; they had planned it for a week, and wore blackface to disguise themselves. They placed the four-foot length of steel (apparently a scrap of old track) on a blind curve near Penngrove. "Fortunately the engineer of the Camp Vacation special noticed the obstruction and applied his brakes," the Press Democrat reported. "He could not stop in time to prevent hitting the piece of old steel rail, but fortunately the wheel of the 'poney trucks' [sic] threw it to one side" (the "pony truck" is the two-wheeled leading axle of a steam locomotive, unconnected to the engine).

Thwarted in their "fun train wrecking," the boys hung around the tracks until another train passed by, when they threw stones to break windows. Shattered glass cut passengers, and a San Francisco woman was hit directly in the face by one of the rocks. Chased down by two men, the boys were captured and sent to the county jail in Santa Rosa, where they were allowed to play outside their cells (although the jailer gave the 11-year-old and another boy a spanking "just to make them mind"). The 10-year-old was permitted to go home after a stern lecture; the other boy was sent to reform school.

Another 10-year-old was caught trying to sell a rented horse. The court turned him over to the custody of his father in Healdsburg, but soon he was in trouble again, this time for stealing a purse with $17 from a woman who gave him a lift in her buggy. The PD lamented that the young hooligan was probably going to reform school this time, even though "this youngster is a mere slip of humanity, who, when he goes to set himself in a chair has to step on the rung."

Then there was the gang of five boys who had a stolen bicycle ring. Plan A was to rent bikes from local cycleries and pedal as fast as they could out of town. Somehow the storekeepers got wind of this, and the boys were chased back to Santa Rosa, getting no farther than Kenwood. No charges were pressed, but a few days later the group was in court for stealing "a number of bicycles and numerous other articles" around town. Apparently in their future likewise loomed the Preston School of Industry, the reform school that was a sister institution to San Quentin.

Healdsburg Ten-Year-Old in Trouble Again--Dilemma as to Know What to Do With Him

A ten-year-old boy is in trouble again. Some time since he hired a saddle horse from a Healdsburg liveryman and rode to Petaluma, where he tried to dispose of the animal. He was turned over to the custody of his father, who promised to take care of him in San Francisco, and find a place for him. It seems that he may have been remiss in the fulfillment of this promise to care for the lad.

At any rate the boy came back to Healdsburg and the other day, in response to a request, a lady gave him a ride. On the buggy seat was her purse containing seventeen dollars. The boy is charged with purloining the cash and the purse. Among other things he bought a bicycle for a dollar and a half, and shortly afterwards left for San Francisco.

District Attorney Lea will have the boy brought to Santa Rosa on Friday and will then ascertain what is best to do with him. Mr. Lea dislikes to send children of such tender years to any state institution for fear that their contact with boys whose characters are worse than theirs may contaminate them. This youngster is a mere slip of humanity, who, when he goes to set himself in a chair has to step on the rung.

- Press Democrat, August 21, 1908

Two Naughty Boys Are Landed in the County Jail
Place Obstruction on Track Near Penngrove, Hurl Rocks Through Windows of Passing Train, Severely Hurting Woman

Two children, would-be train wreckers and hurlers of rocks through the windows of passing trains, occupy an upper room at the county jail on Third street, where they were landed shortly after noon on Monday. One is ten-year-old Austin Davis Studerbaker, and the other is eleven-year-old Henry Fehler. They do not realize the enormity of their offenses, and to the charge of attempted train wrecking they plead "only fun."

The boys, who claim that when they put a four-foot length of heavy steel across the rail on a dangerous curve between Ely's and Corona, near Penngrove, they did it just for fun to see what a big engine would do if it struck it, never thought, they say, that they were imperiling many human lives by their act. Fortunately the engineer of the Camp Vacation special noticed the obstruction and applied his brakes. He could not stop in time to prevent hitting the piece of old steel rail, but fortunately the wheel of the "poney trucks" threw it to one side.

After putting the obstruction on the track the lads went further down the road and hurled rocks through the windows of the passing train. Then they ran back into the fields and escaped detection for some time. One rock thrown through a car window struck Mrs. T. J. Boone, a San Francisco woman, in the face and painful lacerations resulted. Splinters of glass also struck and cut other passengers. The crashing glass and splinters occasioned considerable excitement aboard. When Penngrove was reached A. J. Ronshelmer was notified, and in company with another man, he started in pursuit and captured the boys. Later Deputy Sheriff and Jailer Joe Barry went down from Santa Rosa and brought the boys to jail.

In their frolic and to give their deeds a touch of the dime novel flourish the lads disguised their faces with the application of black crayon.

When District Attorney Lea saw the boys and took their statements they admitted having put the obstruction on the track, stating that they desired to see what the "cow catcher" on the locomotive would do when it hit the same, and that they did it all for fun. It was only in a childish frolic--a decidedly dangerous one--so they say, that they threw the rocks through the windows of the passing car.

The elder lad will probably be sent to a reform school as his conduct has been bad. What will be done with the other lad remains to be seen.

- Press Democrat, August 18, 1908

Youngsters Have No Idea How Near They Came to Wrecking the Camp Vacation Train

Detective Helmore, of the Northwestern Pacific railroad, was in this city on Wednesday, and called at the jail to see the boys who placed an obstruction on the tracks near Penngrove, and came near wrecking the Camp Vacation train. He heard their stories and will report the same to General Manager Palmer.

When a Press Democrat representative called at the jail the boys were having a fine frolic in the room they are occupying there. The lad's merriment was catching, and as Sheriff Smith remarked, they are "Just kids." The youngsters have no idea of the enormity of their offense, even though it has developed that they talked over the matter for a week before they blackened their faces and sallied forth on their "fun train wrecking" escapade.

- Press Democrat, August 20, 1908

Decision of District Attorney Regarding Older of Boys--Spanking Follows "Game of Jail Break"

District Attorney Lea has decided the best thing to do with the elder of the two lads who attempted wreck a train near Penngrove several days ago, and who threw rocks through the windows of another passing train, is to send him to the Preston School of Industry at Ione. He will be given an examination before Justice Atchinson today and Judge Seawell will be asked to commit the boy to the school. Mr. Lea has not decided what is best to do with the younger boy. He will see what his home conditions are. The little fellow is the best behaved of the two, and as Jailer Joe Barry says: "He tells the truth." Barry was overheard telling the boy yesterday afternoon: "Tell the truth, my boy, whatever you do. I do like a boy who tells the truth, and I never punish one when he does." Pretty good advice.

On Thursday night, during the temporary absence of Jailer Barry, the two boys and another also confined in an upstairs room, thought they would have some more fun by playing at jail breaking. The trio, on account of their youth and good behavior, had been allowed the freedom of the corridor upstairs. They managed to tear loose the upper portion of a wire screen above the bars at the top of the stairs, and were having a game of hid and seek when Jailer Barry arrived. To their stock in trade the boys had added some old keys. They quickly scampered back to bed and the two older ones were given a spanking by Barry just to make them mind. Whatever intentions the boys had in their game of attempted jailbreaking, they came off second best, for yesterday they were denied the privilege of the corridor and had to remain in their rooms in solitude.

- Press Democrat, August 22, 1908

Youngster Who Played Train Wrecker is Turned Over to His Relatives on Monday

"Now remember, I want you to be a good boy. Do every thing that your father tells you to do. Don't let foolish things come into your mind that will lead you to be a bad boy. You are going to be allowed to leave jail with him and make up your mind never to come back here or anywhere else on account of bad behavior. Let this be a lesson to you."

Under Sheriff W. C. Lindsay gave this good advice to ten-year-old Austin Davis, before turning him over on Monday to the care of his foster father, Mr. Studebaker, who resides near Penngrove. The lad promised obedience and good behavior in the future. He left his room in the jail with the broadest smile of satisfaction on his face, poor little chap. He was one of the duo who placed a bar of iron on the track in front of the Camp Vacation train, "just for fun and to see how the train would look going over the embankment." The older lad will go to the reform school.

- Press Democrat, August 25, 1908

Three Youngsters Do Not Proceed Far With Plan to See World Before They Are Balked

Three small lads named Allen, Ray and Davis, bethought themselves that they would leave their homes in Santa Rosa and strike out for themselves on Monday afternoon. They had arranged things pretty well to carry out their intentions, but they reckoned without the fast automobile that was to take after them and bring them back.

The lads chose the bicycle as the means of putting miles between their Santa Rosa homes and some other part of the country. Accordingly each lad went to a different cyclery in Santa Rosa and secured a wheel for a short time. Each boys had once in a while rented a bike and so the cyclery proprietors let him have one again readily enough.

The lads had a good hour and a half's start before word came to Proprietor Henry Jenkins of the Acme Cyclery that the boys did not intend to return with the bicycles unless they were brought back. Word was also passed to the Cash Cyclery and to Burmeister's Cyclery. The boys had been seen heading down the Sonoma road and Mr. Jenkins got out his automobile, and accompanied by Burmeister, gave chase. The automobile went the speed limit and one mile this side of Kenwood the boys were overtaken. Jenkins told them to "right about face" and head for Santa Rosa again as fast as they could ride. The automobile kept right up behind and the lads were not allowed to lag, but were encouraged by the men in the automobile to "keep going." And they did so.

Finally, when still a number of miles from town Davis jumped from his wheel and bounding over the fence was last seen heading towards the hills. His wheel was placed in the auto and Ray and Allen went it alone the rest of the way to town. While riding down Fourth street the Allen boy came into collision and fell from his bike and got in under the front wheel of the automobile. Beyond getting his suit muddy it was ascertained that he was not hurt.

All the cyclery men wanted was their bicycles and will not prosecute the lads. Jenkins and Burmeister both agree that the race the boys put up in making time after their capture was in itself worth the price of the trouble they were put to in getting their bicycles back.

- Press Democrat, December 15, 1908

Five Lads Arrested Here Thursday Afternoon and Will be Detained for Examination

The theft of a number of bicycles and numerous other articles within a few days past in this city was traced by the police to a gang of young boys Thursday and late in the afternoon five were in jail pending an examination for their offenses.

John and Willie Allen, Henry Davis, Ernest and Russel Rhea are those accused of causing all the trouble. Three bicycles were recovered in various parts of town where they had been left by the boys, as well as a complete camp outfit, where they had made their rendezvous.

Several of the lads are old offenders, having been in trouble numerous times. They are well known to the police and it is probable that they will be sent to the reform school. The boys will be taken into court probably this morning to answer to the charges against them.

- Press Democrat, December 18, 1908

Oh, look, junior's using the phone. How precious is that? Wait - is he talking to the chief of police?

Today, every family album has an adorable picture of a toddler sitting at a computer, and a century ago, it was too-cute when the little ones spoke on the telephone. It was even newsworthy; in 1908, both Santa Rosa papers had stories about kids using phones. Before Christmas that year, several children asked the operator to connect them with Santa Claus. After a bit of head-scratching at the telephone office, it was decided that their calls were to be transferred to the Chief Operator, who ho-ho-ho'd and took down their present requests. And then there was the five-year-old who called the police chief to report his missing tricycle; unable to understand what the child was saying, an officer rushed to the house to find out exactly why the boy had summoned help.

Telephones were still regarded as cutting-edge technology, and some adults remained uncomfortable or uncertain about how to operate the things; one of the Santa Rosa newspapers had printed articles on telephone use and etiquette the year before ("the undignified 'Hello' seems to have come to stay"). The UI was also in flux; although you still initiated a call by speaking to an operator, the procedure of indicating who you wanted to contact was becoming complex and confusing.

Until 1905, it was possible for someone in Santa Rosa to ask for a connection by name: "Get me John Smith." The proliferation of home and business telephones now required numbers be assigned to each line, which meant that telephone books also had to be printed and distributed. Exchanges were also added at the same time: In Santa Rosa there primarily was "Red," Black" and "Main," so someone trying to reach John Smith would be required to provide an exchange and number, such as "Red 333."

I also found four digit numbers sometimes mentioned in the newspapers around that time; if that many numbers were available there really was no need for an exchange system at all, as Santa Rosa's population would not surpass 10,000 for a couple of decades. And stranger still, I sometimes saw letters included after the numbers, such as "333Y." Huh? It was an odd little history puzzle and I probably never would have figured it out, had I not stumbled across the article below.

The core of problem was that there were still many party lines in use, and the operator had to know how many "rings" to send to alert a particular customer. Thus if John Smith expected two rings, his number might be "Red 3332" - the last of the four digits indicated the number of rings needed (it might be better understood as "Red 333-2," for ex).

Even with the "ring" suffix, it was the direct ancestor of the seven-digit system we use today. Similarly, Oakland and San Francisco were at the time using an exchange+4, such as "Kearny 4444." As the city grew, this provided the flexibility to create another exchange and be good for another 9,999 connections. But in 1908, some genius at the telephone company imposed a telephone ID system in Santa Rosa that made no sense whatsoever.

Gone were the exchanges; now you gave the operator a three-digit number, followed by the letter R, Y, J, or L. The first two letters corresponded with the old Red exchange, the latter two with the old Black exchange. The particular letter indicated one or two rings. So John Smith - originally "Red 333," then "Red 3332," was now "333Y." The reasoning behind the new system was not explained, although the choice of these particular four letters could have had sadistic racist inspiration; the Asian community might have had trouble expressing Americanized R and L hard consonants through the lo-fi transmitter, as Hispanics might have struggled with Y and J.

Judging by ads in the newspapers, this third mod to the telephone system in as many years was not widely accepted. Some advertisers used the suffix, others held on to the old Red and Black exchanges. Many downtown businesses continued to ignore all of it, providing only their old two or three digit number. Rather than making it easier for the operators, it suggests the customer attitude hardened: t'Hell with it all, I'll just let the "Hello Girl" figure it out for me.

After November 7 There Will Be No More "Red," "Black" or "Main," But it Will Be Easier For Patrons

On November 7, at midnight, the Telephone company will change over to its new system and move into its handsome new quarters on Third street. As a result, a number of innovations will be put into effect. As far as the general public is concerned, however, these changes will apply principally to the numbering of the phones.

The old prefixes of "Red," "Black" and "Main" will be done away with, and everything except suburb and rural lines will be known as "Santa Rosa." In the new directory this prefix will precede every number. Local subscribers calling main line subscribers will not find it necessary to use the prefix, but may secure the number wanted by simply asking for "268," or whatever the number may be. Out of town subscribers will merely have to ask for "Santa Rosa 268."

Another change that will apply to all two-party lines is that the letters "R" and "Y" will hereafter be used to designate the number of bells in the red, and "J" and "L" in the black, instead of the suffixes 1 and 2 as at present.

Everybody may not know that the last figure in the numbers now in vogue simply indicate the number of bells which should be rung, but such is the case. Take the number "Red 2861," for instance. The "1" means that in calling a subscriber the operator is to ring one bell. If the last figure were 2, the operator would ring two bells.

Under the new arrangement, as stated, these latter figures will be discarded on all two-party lines, and the letter "R" will stand for 1 bell in the red, while "Y" will mean two bells red. "J" will represent 1 in the black, and "L" will stand for 2 bells in the black. "Red 2742" will thus become "Santa Rosa 274Y," and "Black 2741" will become "274J" to local subscribers, and "Santa Rosa 247J" to subscribers calling up from other towns. By remembering this subscribers getting hold of an old directory will be able to secure the number desired by merely substituting the proper letter for the missing suffix, although the new directory will be out and distributed several days before the changed conditions go into effect. This directory will be effective on and after November 7, at midnight.

- Press Democrat, October 31, 1908

Youthful Citizen Invokes the Help of the Officers

Alex Trachman, the five-year-old son of Dr. and Mrs. H. J. Trachman, sustained a very material loss on Tuesday, when some miscreant stole his tricycle. For several hours during the morning the little chap endeavored to have his father call up the chief of police and report the loss, but to no avail, and so finally taking the matter in his own hands, he climbed on a chair and reaching the telephone, got the ear of "central" and told her that he wanted the chief of police. The connection was made with the office of Chief Rushmore, and Master Alex told his tale of woe in the ear of a sympathizing chief. The boy does not talk very distinctly as yet, and hearing the youthful voice over the phone the chief surmised that something must be wrong at the home, and after learning from the child that he lived on Humboldt street, Police Officer Nick Yeager was detailed to hurry over there and ascertain what the trouble was.

In the meantime Alex hung up the receiver and went into his father's office and told him he had reported to the chief the loss of his "wheel." In a few minutes the door bell rang and Mr. Yeager inquired what the trouble was and why he had been called. Mr. Yeager was panting and all out of breath when he reached the door, having made a "hurry-up" trip around the block, fearing that something was wrong at the home, and that the child had been used to summon help.

- Santa Rosa Republican, November 11, 1908

Much Diversion Caused at "Central" by Numerous Messages to the Time Honored Gift Bestower

"Number, please."

"I want Santy Claus."


"Santy Claus."

"All right, just a minute."

This what has been going on over the telephone line at "Central" during the past few days. The first message came over the wire from a child who could barely lisp her desire.

At first the "Hello girl" at the receiving end was puzzled. Manager Morrill was called into conference and Santa Claus began coming in, and Manager Morrill is one of the most kind-hearted of men. And, like the rest of us, he was a child once himself. He is not very old now, either.

Other messages of inquiry for Santa Claus began coming in, and Manager Morrill not wishing to cause the little ones sending their messages disappointment, suggested that for a few days when such reports came for Santa Claus the Chief Operator might impersonate the gift bestower the children all look for on Christmas morn. Consequently the Chief Operator has been taking down names and list of presents desired by the children.

"Just as well to let the children have a good time anyway. Expectancy is half the fun, too," said Manager Morrill yesterday after he had taken a call for old Santy himself.

The children phoned for every kind of gift calculated to delight the child heart. In some instances parents took this opportunity of ascertaining what the youngsters wanted most for Christmas. In other instances, doubtless, hearts were heavy while the childish prattle went over the wire to the imaginary Santa Claus at the other end, for perchance the wherewithal to procure the presents was not available.

- Press Democrat, December 24, 1908

It was probably the first high-tech stock swindle to hit Santa Rosa: the man who had mesmerized the town In 1908 about the futuristic wonders of the "wireless" was actually a con man. Not since a vaudeville magician who called himself "The Great McEwen" convinced many in 1904 that he was a bonafide mind reader had Santa Rosans been suckered wholesale.

Over four nights, audiences packed the downtown Pavilion to see H. C. Robinson, who claimed to be a representative of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, perform "practical demonstrations of sending and receiving messages without wires, including several feats of ringing fire bells, lighting electric lights and operating danger signals through the mysterious agency of Hertzian waves," as the Press Democrat reported at the time. What the PD neglected to mention was that Mr. Robinson's real objective was to sell Marconi stock for $20 per share, and several local businessmen jumped on the opportunity.

About a month later, one of these Santa Rosa investors swore a warrant for Robinson's arrest. His Marconi stock certificates had not been delivered. Worse, he discovered the stock was only worth half that price, the company had never paid a dividend, and wasn't planning to build a transmission tower that could send messages as far as Honolulu, as Robinson had promised. Arrested at the tony St. Francis hotel in San Francisco, Robinson was brought back here, where he returned the $400 he had received from the investor. Case dismissed.

If the story ended there, it could be explained away as mix-up. Perhaps the investor misunderstood, perhaps Robinson exaggerated and lied, in a salesman-ish way, to close the deal. Perhaps a little of both; it certainly wasn't clear that there was criminal intent. But thanks to the breadth of newspaper archives now available on the Internet, we discover that Mr. Robinson was a swindler sought by police all over the world.

First, his name wasn't "H. C." as reported here; it was Horace Greeley Robinson - "Harry G," as the chummy NY Evening World nicknamed him - and just days before he appeared in the Santa Rosa court, authorities in New York shut down his offices at 80 Wall Street, charging that the firm of Robinson & Robinson existed only to sell bogus Marconi stock. Scotland Yard was chasing him, as was an investigator from the Marconi company. By the time the coppers finally caught up with Harry in May, 1909, it was estimated that he had cheated investors worldwide out of $1,500,000 - worth up to half a billion dollars today, it was a sum that would make even our modern Wall St. bandits sit up and mew.

Given the international scope of his crimes, it may seem surprising that he spent almost a week in Santa Rosa, but he apparently did a crook's tour of the entire Bay Area; another suit against him was for $800 cheated out of someone in San Jose (UPDATE HERE). Likely the smaller places appealed because news of his scam might not travel very far or draw the attention of sophisticated investors. Police in New York even had a complaint from a victim in Box Hill, New South Wales, a village outpost of Sydney that currently has a population of under a thousand.

He was finally caught by a stroke of luck - a New York City police detective was tipped off that Harry had recently appeared in night court for a drunken brawl with a hotel detective. According to the newspapers, he told officers that he was a banker who had just returned from a trip abroad on government business.

For a man who sold fake stock in cutting-edge communication technology, there was irony in that he evaded arrest for years thanks to poor communication by police nationally and internationally. He never varied his shtick, which should have made him easy to find. As the New York Times reported in a front page story on May 1, 1909:

Robinson's method was to travel from place to place, lecturing on wireless telegraphy and asserting that it was desired to prove more valuable stock than Bell Telephone or Standard Oil.

"After each lecture, says the detective, Robinson received subscriptions for stock in the Marconi Company, giving in return receipts for the money and the assurance that the proper certicicates of stock would be sent forthwith..."

J. S. Rhodes of This City has H. C. Robinson Arrested on a Charge of Obtaining Money Falsely

As a result of a warrant sworn out in Justice Atchinson's court here by J. S. Rhodes, a well-known local merchant, H. C. Robinson, who spent some time here in June exploiting wireless telegraph stock, was arrested in San Francisco Wednesday, charged with feloniously obtaining money under false pretense, and will be brought back today to face trial.

According to the complaint of Rhodes, Robinson represented to him that the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Co., Limited (of England) which he represented, had fixed the market value of its stock at $20 per share and that in 1907 the company paid 12 per cent dividends on its stock. It was further represented that the company was engaged in erecting a station in San Francisco, and would be ready by November of this year to transmit messages between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Rhodes asserts that he purchased 20 shares, or $400 worth of stock on these representations, but no learns and alleges that the company only holds its stock at $10 per share, has never paid a dividend, and is not engaged in erecting a station in San Francisco, and has no expectation of doing so at present. As a result of these facts Rhodes believes he gave up his coin on false pretenses, and seeks to have Robinson tell the wherefore in court.

Constable Sam Gillam goes to San Francisco this morning to bring the man back to Santa Rosa. The arrest was made in the St. Francis hotel by an officer who had been informed of the issuance of the warrant after Rhodes had pointed his man out.

It is stated that Rhodes is not the only one who bought stock here, and in many different places in the state on the same representations as those made to Rhodes.

- Press Democrat, July 30, 1908

H. C. Robinson Returns $400 to Santa Rosa Man and Case is Dismissed Here on Thursday Afternoon

H. C. Robinson, the broker and seller of Marconi Wireless Telegraph stock, who was arrested in San Francisco at the St. Francis Hotel last week on a complaint sworn out by J. S. Rhodes of the city, charging him with obtaining $400 under false pretenses on account of his failure to deliver stock and in non-fulfillment of alleged representations regarding the same, paid Rhodes back his money in Justice Atchinson's court Thursday afternoon and Justice Latimer of Windsor, sitting for Justice Atchinson made an order dismissing the case.

Rhodes had a number of witnesses subpoenaed from this city and San Francisco, but when Attorney W. M. Sims announced the intention of Robinson to pay back the money, as he had originally promised to do if Rhodes became dissatisfied, they were not wanted. In fact the proceedings were a very informal nature in the Justice Court. Rhodes having stated that all he wanted was a return of his money and if he got it further proceedings would not be taken, there's nothing left for it but for a dismissal of the case.

When Justice Latimer called the case, Wm. M. Sims, attorney for defendant, addressing the court, said:

"I will state, may it please your honor, that this transaction between the defendant and complaining witness was made in good faith and that the defendant had no intent whatsoever to make a statement that was not correct..."


Robinson was naturally much pleased with the outcome of the case and in company with his attorney left for San Francisco on the afternoon train. Before he left he stated that he had done exactly what he promised he would do and declared that he had acted in good faith all the time.

- Press Democrat, August 7, 1908

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