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LeBARON: Santa Rosa forms historical group to plan city's 150th birthday

  • The presence of a photographer could draw a downtown crowd. This 1870s photo was made by Joseph Henry Downing, a Healdsburg photographer whose street scene provides a look at Santa Rosa history.

It is an understatement to say that Sonoma County has a rich history. The diversity of its landscape and the people who live on it makes it unique. None of the other 57 counties in California can tell more interesting stories than Sonoma County's accounts of the last 200 years.

These stories of the past are well represented by many organizations founded for exactly that purpose — preserving and maintaining that precious history. Heading the list is the Sonoma County Historical Society, a group founded in the 1950s that began preserving artifacts of the past in a tiny museum on Summerfield Road shared with glass-cased dioramas of Hugh Codding's big game trophies.

Because each town and community in the county is different from the other, there are, in addition to the county society, which was the founding body for the Sonoma County Museum and the impetus to move the Old Post Office, many smaller societies working to keep the past alive in Sonoma, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Windsor, Glen Ellen, Monte Rio, West County, Cotati, Bodega Bay and West Marin's Tomales (which includes Valley Ford). I'm sure to have missed some.

And near the geographic center of this interesting county is Santa Rosa, with a population nearing 170,000, which, as the official seat of government, considers itself the capital city of this domain.

Such an air of importance makes it hard to understand why it is the only city in the county that does not have a historical group of its own. At least, not up until now.


THERE IS every reason to believe that, after 158 years of existence, 144 of them as an official chartered city, Santa Rosa has finally been “discovered” by the history community.

This issue was raised last spring when Santa Rosa's relatively new city manager started asking around about a group that might take on the planning of the city's sesquicentennial, which will come up in 2018.

In the city Kathy Millison last managed, the centennial planning had been done by the historical society. But Santa Rosa, she discovered, had no such thing.

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