Sacred Sites and Alignments in Sonoma County, California
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"What a wonderful job you have done on Sonoma County. Thanks so much for caring about this grand piece of the world." --Winifred Medin
"Thank you for the truth of these sacred sites ...Thank you for renewing awareness that the sacred is around us, not just in Sonoma County, but everywhere. It is heartening that people know and remember." --Dorothy
Haystack Landing, a piece of property on the banks of the Petaluma River, has occasionally been called "the most haunted site in Sonoma County." However, it appears the site's moniker comes not from historical events but from a group of filmmakers who, in the late 1990s, set out to create a Blair Witch Project-style film called "Incident at Haystack Landing."
Although Native American tribes lived near the site, which is located just off Highway 101 at the Petaluma Boulevard South exit, there is no evidence that they lived on the land now known as Haystack Landing, according to John Benanti, a research volunteer with the Petaluma Historical Society. However, many have found signs that they used the river for transportation -- relics have been found within the river and on its banks.
In 1852, a settler named Freeman Parker -- who had come to California in search of gold -- claimed 160 acres near the Petaluma River, including territory that would later become Haystack Landing. He built a house and ran a dairy. Meanwhile, Charles Minturn launched steam-boat service on the river. Another man, named Rudesill, built a dock at Haystack Landing where passengers could get on and off and where cargo could be loaded onto lighter boats before it was taken further up the river. It was during this time that a second house was built quite close to the river, where Rudesill and Minturn may have lived. That large, two-story white house was sold to David Walls in the 1800s. The Walls family owned the house until the 1940s, after which the property changed hands several times. Renters continued to live in the house until the 1970s, when it fell into greater and greater disrepair and became a haven for squatters.
The filmmakers who made "Incident at Haystack Landing" were able to spin this scant history into something else altogether. They claim that Native Americans considered the land taboo and evil, and that a Spanish missionary committed suicide after attempting to bless the area. They also claim that early settlers went crazy and killed several farmers on the site, and that Rudesill (whom they call Rudisville) vanished under mysterious circumstances after building the dock.
The filmmakers' detailed history, which is included on the film's Web site, claims the site is plagued by bizarre phenomena and negative spiritual activity. According to them, the first train to connect with the Haystack Landing dock exploded, killing 30 people. (This incident is also mentioned in a 2003 news article that claims the accident took place in 1866, after which the cargo cars were pulled by mules.) Other tales include a mysterious fire that killed dozens of dock loaders; children being crushed between a barge and the dock; an ill-fated bull-fighting ring; a ferry accident that killed David Walls and his family; and transients committing mass suicide.
The "incident" detailed in the film involves a parapsychology professor bringing six students to the site to investigate "the long history of unusual ghostly reports of the house before it is scheduled for demolition." According to the film, the professor and five of the students were assaulted by "unknown persons or phenomena," while the sixth was off site.
Although the "Incident at Haystack Landing" makers claim the Petaluma Historical Society does not recognize the site as an historic place, the society has kept good tabs on the property. As far as its historians know, none of the events described on the Web site ever took place, according to Benanti. I was unable to get in touch with the film's producers or obtain a copy of the film. Nobody at the historical society has seen it, Benanti said.
As of 2007, the property is owned by the Dutra Asphalt Company, a subsidiary of the Dutra Group, a family-run operation that mines rock and gravel in Petaluma, San Rafael, and Richmond. While Dutra has proposed re-establishing its asphalt batch plant operation on the land, a developer came forward in the early 2000s with plans to turn a portion of the site into the Haystack Marketplace, a project with 100 residential units and 30,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. That plan was scheduled to begin construction in 2004, but in 2007 Haystack Landing remains a barge dock for shipping Dutra's gravel and asphalt materials.
Dutra was scheduled to move the historic house -- to make way for its asphalt plant -- in 2004 when a fire destroyed the structure. Fire investigators believed the blaze was suspicious and may have been ignited intentionally.
Site design, photographs, and text all copyright (c) 2007 Beth Winegarner. All rights reserved.
Sites included in Sacred Sonoma:
Jack London State Park
Mays Canyon Road
Mount Hood Region
Mount Saint Helena
Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery
U.S. Coast Guard Radio Station
Plus sections on:
Volcanic and seismic regions