Thursday, March 14, 2024

Historic Sonoma County, California

Rancho Petaluma Adobe House


While the European history of Sonoma county dates back to the early 1800’s, native populations have been in the area for 12,000 years. The three main tribes in the Sonoma Valley were the Miwok, the Patwin and the Pomo. The Miwok lived in an expansive area, stretching from the coast to the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Patwin were concentrated within a 300-mile radius of what is today Sonoma, mostly along the bodies of water. The Pomo were loosely organized, and were known as traders, who moved thorough the area. All of these people were present when the Mexicans arrived, but none of these nations exist today.

Mission San Francisco de Solano - Sonoma, California

Mission San Francisco de Solano

In 1823 Mission San Francisco de Solano, the last, and northernmost, of the Spanish missions, was founded near the Sonoma Creek. The missions were a tool of colonization. They served as a home base for Mexican farmers and traders who moved into the area, after being given the “right” to create large ranches. Native people were required to convert to Catholicism to be given an equal share of the crops grown. This Spanish presence also served to block expansion of the Russian colony at Bodega Bay, on California’s coast.

Barracks for the Mexican Trops

Casa Grande - Home of Gen. Vallejo

The first mission church was constructed between 1824 and 1825. The mission played a controlling role in the lives of everyone who lived in the area. It served as base for the Mexican Army, whose barracks were adjacent to the church. Natives were converted to Catholicism, and were baptized and married in the church. The mission also controlled the storage and distribution of crops grown on the lands designated by the Mexican government. Natives who refused to convert were given a smaller share of the crops. This led to a rebellion in 1826, and several of the missions buildings were burnt to the ground.

Mission Chapel

Mission Chapel

Gallery of Mission drawings

Original bell from the mission

In 1833, the Mexican Congress passed a law closing all of the missions in Alta California. The land, livestock, and seeds were distributed among the Catholic community in the area. In 1834, the mission officially closed, although its chapel continued to serve as the parish church for close to 50 years.

Mission Courtyard

Soldier's barracks

In 1881, the local parish built a new church on a site nearby. The remaining mission buildings were sold to a local businessman, who used the chapel as a warehouse, and the convent as a winery. In 1903 they were bought by the California Historic Landmark League, and became part of the state’s park system. Shortly afterward, the site was reconstructed, and then remodeled again in the 1940’s.

Today, the San Francisco de Solano Mission is located adjacent to the main plaza in the town of Sonoma. The area is filled with other historic buildings that date back to the early 1900’s.


Petaluma Adobe House


Just east of the town of Petaluma is the Rancho Petaluma State Historic Park. This ranch was built between 1836 and 1839 on land that had been granted to Gen. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, a member of one of California’s most powerful families. The ranch buildings were constructed out of adobe bricks. It “employed” up to 2000 local native people, many against their will, to make the bricks, construct the buildings, haul lumber, and work on the ranch raising crops. 

Bread oven

Family Dining Room

The Vallejo family ran the farm until 1856, when they sold it to local farmers. It remained in private hands until 1910 when The Native Sons of the Golden West, who restored it as a historical site. In 1951 the Petaluma Adobe House, and its surrounding lands, became part of the State Park system. Today, it is open as a memorial to bygone days. The State Park’s displays offers a very good history of role the Rancho played in Mexican expansion in the area, and the treatment of native peoples.

Tack Shop

Pelt for use on the farm

Grist Mill and grain storage


Together, these two sites provide a look back to the end of the era of Mexican and Catholic colonialism in Northern California. This part of Sonoma’s and California’s history is interesting and worth exploring.

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