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
The poets say that those who are born in a country like this, with such scenery, climate, water, trees, and flowers must be in harmony with their surroundings. -- Gen. Mariano Vallejo
Located on an enormous tract of land once belonging to General Mariano Vallejo, the Petaluma Adobe remains today as a reminder of Vallejo's stronghold on the politics of Sonoma County, as well as a historical landmark of considerable intrigue. When Vallejo decided it was time to move northward from San Francisco to the Sonoma Valley, he intended it as a means to prevent the Russians from invading San Francisco. After careful consideration, Vallejo chose the site in eastern Petaluma for its size and location. He appreciated its proximity to the San Pablo Bay as well as its plentiful supply of water and natural resources.
Included in the category of "natural resources" were the Pomo Indians living at the nearby Sonoma Mission (Vallejo also kept a home, the Lachryma Montis, less than a mile from the mission site.) The Pomos were utilized by Vallejo from the beginning, as they were the ones to form the adobe bricks from straw and mud that would become the building blocks of Vallejo's rancho. Designed by Mariano's brother Salvador, construction began in 1834 and cost $80,000 by the time it was completed several years later. Some 2,000 Pomos were employed between 1836 and 1838. The finished building was originally twice its current size, a full quadrangle with verandas encircling both the lower and upper levels to protect the adobe bricks from dissolving in winter's heavy rains. Although Vallejo's rancho included some 44,000 acres, Vallejo would claim it was as large as 67,000 acres. Either way, there was no doubt that he was the wealthiest man in Northern California at the time.
After its construction, the adobe housed dozens of people, including members of Vallejo's militia and a number of Pomos who worked both indoors and in the fields. The rancho included an expansive farm and facilities for raising cattle, sheep, mules and horses. After the cattle were slaughtered in a pen called the calaveras, (Spanish for bone yard), tallow and cow hides were processed indoors to make candles, soap, and leather. Meanwhile, many women were employed at the adobe's numerous looms.
Although Salvador was said to be especially brutal to the native workers, some evidence suggests Vallejo himself was reasonably humane.
Just as the native people's calendar was governed by the passing of seasons, Vallejo's rancho revolved around the readiness of his goods. In March and April came the cattle roundup, while June and July were taken with the cattle slaughter - the matanzas. In fall came the harvest of fruits and vegetables, while winter the winter months were used to process the tallow, when its intense heat and odor was more bearable.
By the mid-1850s, Vallejo was ready to move on. His financial situation was slipping and he attempted at first to sell the Petaluma rancho to the University of California, which had hoped to place its first campus on the site. Vallejo's asking price of $50,000 - still a fraction of what he'd put into the place - proved too steep for the UC. A year later, in 1857, a desperate Vallejo sold the land to William Whiteside for a paltry $25,000. Two years later, it passed into the hands of William Bliss, who had also taken ownership of William Hood's property in eastern Santa Rosa. By this time the adobe's southeastern portion had been destroyed in an earthquake, and Bliss took the time to seal the walls to prevent further damage, bringing it to its current size.
The adobe passed through several hands, deteriorating slowly until the mid-1950s, when it was purchased by the California Parks & Recreation system and restored to its post-earthquake condition. Hundreds of people visit the adobe every year, marveling in its mud construction, the rural beauty of the location, and the lingering signs of the people who once lived there. When I stayed in the adobe during a school field trip, I remember feeling uneasy in every room, especially those where the natives worked - the kitchen and weaving rooms. The entire property is surrounded with an air of unrest that remains to this day.
Interestingly, the Sonoma County Independent named the Petaluma Adobe as its pick for "Most Haunted Site" in Sonoma County in 1997, based on research discovered by writer David Templeton. Templeton wrote an earlier story discussing several haunted sites in Sonoma County, in which he consulted with a local medium. Of the adobe he reported:
Inevitably, it seems, we end up pulling into the parking lot of Old Adobe Historic Park, the one-time home of Gen. Mariano Vallejo, the reportedly despotic landowner who enslaved hundreds of local natives. His adobe-brick mansion, now undergoing historic reconstruction, stands before us. "This doesn't feel good," [Medium Victoria Bullis] nods. "There are only one or two ghosts living in the house, but they are very disturbed. The whole place is bad news." After a brief wander up to the imposing edifice, we beat a hasty retreat. "They're out here," she says, gesturing to the surrounding fields and hills as we drive away. She refers to the ghosts that we expected to find within the Old Adobe. "They've come out here instead of staying there." So what about General Vallejo himself? Any sense that he was still around? She checks in. "He's here," she nods. Even he won't stay in the house, though. We drive past a small, disheveled farmhouse. Bullis stares at it curiously. "He hangs out there," she says, almost in surprise. "But he's getting ready to move on. He's done a lot of work." "Has he come to terms with any atrocities he may have done to his fellow humans?" I ask. "I don't know and I'm not going to ask him," she replies. "What are you trying to do, get me in trouble?"
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