Happy 80th Birthday To Marshall West

Marshall West plays Isaac Wickersham Petalumans YesteryearYou may not know Marshall but you may have seen him downtown dress in garb of the day or driving a historic egg truck in our Butter & Egg Days parade.

Yesterday he celebrated his 80th birthday – Congrats! Marshall is involved in preserving the history of our city in many ways. He has been a huge volunteer and supporter of the Petaluma Historic Library and Museum. He plays the part of one of Petaluma’s leading citizen and banker, Isaac Wickersham, in Petalumans of Yesteryear. Don’t miss today’s History Trails Walk with The Petalumans of Yesteryear –at 1-2:30pm: Reservations required. 778-4398. See website for details: www.petalumamuseum.com.This years Butter & Egg Day slogan is All Aboard! Next Stop Petaluma and our Grand Marshall this year is Charlie Siebenthal, President of Northwestern Pacific Railroad Historical Society. Many people are not aware that Isaac Wickersham was President of, and organized, the Sonoma-Marin Railroad in 1872.  He attempted to extend the line south of town to San Rafael.

Charlie Grand Marshal Petaluma Butter & Egg Days ParadeWe have a lot to learn from our Petaluma senior fellows.  So as we celebrate Petaluma history week be sure to thank the many who work hard to preserve it.

Thanks Marshall!

Here is the historic egg truck in last year’s parade in case  you didn’t see it.

“A Sleepy River Town Grows Up”

Petaluma Trestle and River FrontHow many of you read the special history section in the September 24th edition of the Argus-Courier entitled “Once a sleepy river town, Petaluma has grown up in 160 years? Since then, several letters to the editor have commented on how well written the various articles in that special section were and how much more they learned about our River Town’s early history.


Many topics were covered, including the history of the first newspapers that would later become the Argus Courier, the Petaluma’s Woman Club, the Petaluma and Haystack Railroad, the local schools, Petalumans-of-Yesteryear-300x155businesses, and the early medical facilities. Also included were a series of shorter articles with photographs of some of Petaluman’s esteemed citizens. Four of these featured residents are now portrayed by the “Petalumans of Yesteryear” – Lyman Byce (Inventor of the Chicken Incubator), Brainerd Jones (Architect), William Howard Pepper (Founder of Petaluma’s first kindergarten), and Capt. Thomas Baylis (Boat Captain).


cemetery-cypress-200x300If you missed reading this history section, check out a copy in the Petaluma Historical Museum and Library. If you wish to learn more about all nine of today’s “Petalumans of Yesteryear,” plan to attend the Museum’s annual Cemetery Walk on Saturday, October 17th., 10:30 a.m. at the Cypress Hill Cemetery. (Fee = $10.00) For more information, phone (707) 778-4398.

Petaluma: A History of Winegrowing, and a Look to the Future

When most people hear Petaluma, they think of butter and eggs. Over the last few years, the fortunes of the wine coming from this area have risen. But while this recent surge in grapes and wine has added to the area’s notoriety, this is by no means recent. The Petaluma region has been involved in quality grape and wine production for decades.

In the beginning…

Bihler Ranch House 1828
Bihler Ranch House 1828, Photo From Sonoma County Library Archives

Today’s grape growers and winemakers in the Petaluma area can trace a long lineage in this vinous endeavor. The area around Petaluma had many thriving vineyards in the mid-1800s. John Staedler had vineyards near the town in the 1860s. William Bihler planted vines on the banks of Petaluma Creek, on the hillsides, then out in the Lakeville area by the late 1870s. Many others, including James Fair, as well as immigrants from Germany, Italy, France and Switzerland, planted vineyards of various sizes during this time.

In 1884, G.V. Fischer established the first winery in Petaluma; James Fair started on in the Lakeville area shortly after. Fair’s winery soon had a 600,000 gallons capacity – one of the largest 8575024694_1d225d51c6_min the state at the time. Along with the problems in the French winegrowing industry at around this time (due to phylloxera), many areas in California, including Petaluma, established more vineyards, to meet the demand for wine for a global market. Around the turn of the 29th Century, the area had a bit more than 1,000 acres under vine. Of course, there were changes in the wind: Phylloxera and Prohibition. Because of the devastation of the vineyards by the former, and the lack of need for grapes caused by the latter, many vineyards simply changed to other agriculture.

A New Hope

bihler ranch house 2
Bihler Ranch House, Photo By Positively Petaluma

But, luckily, by the early 1990s, growers were looking for places that could grow top-quality grapes, and many started looking at the Petaluma area as a source.ove the last quarter century, vineyard acreage has grown to around 4,000 acres. The predominant grape during this resurgence has been Pinot Noir. Approximately 75% of the acreage in the area is this wonderful, if sometimes fickle, variety. The next two varieties are Chardonnay and Syrah (nearly equal), with less than 1% comprised of some exciting varieties, such as Tempranillo, Viognier and Pinot Gris.

Bihler Ranch House Today
Bihler Ranch House Today, Photo By Positively Petaluma

While the soils and contours of the land are special in shaping the vineyards, what gives the grapes in the Petaluma Gap (as it is called) their distinctness is the weather – mainly the fog and wind. The fog brings cooling, in the early morning and late afternoon to the area, and helps the vines and grapes “relax” after a day of growing. The wind not only brings additional cooling, but helps the skins of the grapes toughen up, to withstand the barrage of the gusts. This toughening, especially in the red grapes, 9325607743_bedc86355d_zhelps them achieve more color and flavors, which yield wines of deeper color, aromas and tastes. The Gap stretches from Bodega Bay and Dillon Beach on the coast, eastward through southern Sonoma and northern Marin Counties, through the Petaluma area, and finally sweeping south east, down the Petaluma River and out to San Pablo Bay. The winds are pulled through this area at much higher speed than the surrounding areas, giving the grapes there toughness, flavor and distinct characters that have become the hallmark of wines from the Petaluma Gap. All of this has lead for the application for American Viticultural Area status with the federal government. While still in its early stages, all signs are pointing toward establishing the Petaluma Gap as a new AVA.

With a long history of quality grape growing and winemaking, the Petaluma area is poised to keep advancing forward – in quality, in recognition, and of enjoyment of its wines.

Lest We Forget – Helen Putnam’s Petaluma’s 4th of July Tradition

Fourth of July Bell Ringing in PetalumaAlthough former mayor and county supervisor Helen Putnam died thirty-one years ago on July 2, 1984, there are many new comers that have moved to Petaluma that may not know about her public service and many contributions to her local community.  One of my earlier blogs summarized her many accomplishments and was posted on this site, November 4, 201 4, and titled, “Lest We Forget – Helen Putnam.”

One of Petaluma’s historic traditions, the ringing of a bell on the steps of the Petaluma Historical Museum & Library, can be traced back 53 years to 1962. If you want to hear the story behind the bell and the history of this local traditional celebration, please join us at the Museum on Independence Day, July 4th, at 10:30 a.m. The sounding of the bell will take place at 11:00 a.m., and followed with the serving of cookies and lemonade in the Courtyard behind the Museum.

Fourth of July Bell Ringing in Petaluma  2In 1962, the Putnams had the Korbel Bell mounted on an “A” frame, with a rope attached, set up on the front yard of their home. On a nearby oak tree, the American flag and California Bear Flag were hosted, and one of the boys tooted his bugle. The Korbel-Putnam bell was rung 13 times, followed by everybody gathering in the rear garden for lemonade and cookies. Thus started Petaluma’s July 4th. celebration tradition.

The American Legion’s Historic Flagpole

Alan CooperA local history buff, Alan Cooper of Monkey Ranch, sent me an interesting story about the history of the American Flag that flew on the American Legion Hall, when it was located on 4th Street, east of “B” Street. The following blog includes many parts of his original message.

tumblr_nicndt0GtE1qll289o1_1280Alan and his wife, Sue, purchased the old Fred Zimmerman dairy ranch, which was located about four miles out on the “D” Street Extension, four years ago. “The Ranch was divided into smaller parcels, but we own the largest one (about 50 acres) with most of the buildings. We live in the old farmhouse, originally built in 1879. We love it here and call our slice of heaven Monkey Ranch.”

Petaluma American Legion Post 28 1953, Sonoma County Library Archives
Petaluma American Legion Post 28 1953, Sonoma County Library Archives

“My neighbor, Don Gilardi, knows that I’m a history buff and an amateur woodworker, so he gave me an old wooden flagpole. It had been sitting out in a field in his son, Donny’s, ranch, which is adjacent to ours, for a dozen or so years. Evidently, a friend of Don’s had been involved in the demolition of the old American Legion Hall on 4th Street (where the Bank of Marin’s parking lot is now). He snatched the treasure from destruction and gave it to Don for safe keeping. Don gave it to me, and I’m in the process of restoring it for Monkey Ranch. I’m contacting you to find out more about the flagpole’s life story.”

Flagpole Photo SAved Pole“The old pole is rough but beautiful. It’s made from a single, old growth Douglas Fir tree and is 30′ tall. It is square at the base and tapering round at the top, with an octagonal transition area. It has the original bronze hardware (rotating truck with halyard block and halyard cleat) manufactured in San Francisco, although the topmost bronze ball was lost.” Alan spent some time in the Hoppy Hopkins Research Library, located on the second floor of the Petaluma Historical Museum & Library, located on 4th and B Streets. He was able to find one photograph that claims to be of the original, 1907, Legion Hall. The flagpole in the photo isn’t as tall as the one that Alan currently has in his posession; however, he is in the process of restoring the old pole, fabricating new mounting hardware, and building a plinth in my front yard.

Also seen in Argus Courier Blog, The American Legion’s Historic Flagpole Wednesday, at 1:00 by

Alan is interested in finding any additional information, history, pictures, or memories, about the Legion Hall and its flagpole. He plans to affix an explanatory plaque to the pole so its purview will be known to all. Readers may contact Alan by telephone (650) 454-6903 or e-mail: [email protected]

Did You Know That #Petaluma Had A College?

As I continue to wade through the historic “golden nuggets” (documents, photographs, files) stored in the Research Library on the second floor of the Petaluma Historical Museum & Library, our local “Treasure Chest,” I discovered that there was a college located in Petaluma for four years. (No photograph available.)

On August 15th, 1866, Preparatory Department of the Petaluma College opened. Professor Mark Bailey was placed in charge. The school was open to all regardless of religious preferences, although it was under the supervision of the Baptist denomination. The program of instruction included Science, Literature, and the Arts; the same as best colleges of the United States. Students who wanted to become lawyers, doctors, or ministers, found introductory courses to those professions available at Petaluma College.

philip-sweed-school-1927-owl-dscf1981rawcroppedawebPupils were allowed to enter at any time, and each term ended with examinations. Tuition fees ranged from $3-$4/month for academic courses, and $6/month for classical and scientific classes.  Vocal music was free. A $30/month fee was charged for tuition, board, and washing, and was payable in advance; except for those students who were boarding in the Institution. They were quarterly. Women seeking a  residence were allowed to board in the College building, while men could find accommodations with private families at reasonable prices. Books and stationary was purchased in Petaluma at San Francisco prices.

The following information about Petaluma, copied from the First Annual Catalog of the Petaluma College, 1867 (p.16), states: “Petaluma is located in one of the most beautiful, picturesque, and healthful regions of the state, fifty miles by water from San Francisco. The fare by steamboat is only one dollar from San Francisco. It is accessible by steamboat and stage from all parts of the state. The city is thrifty, and rapidly growing; churches of all denominations are prosperous; and few places afford equal attractions to parents who desire to settle where they have good social, religious, and educational advantages for their children; and there are none where their children will be under better influences while pursuing their studies away from home.”

P.S. CUAS, or the California University for Advanced Studies, was established in 1984 and authorized to offer grant management degrees up to the doctorate level. It was originally located in Novato, but moved to Petaluma in 1987, where is was housed in the old Philip Sweed Elementary School on Keller Street. (Photo above.) It was reported to have an enrollment of 600 students and a faculty of 70 members. Tuition fees for the various degrees ranged from 2,400 to $3,000.

Unfortunately, after two and one-half years as a correspondence school, it was forced to shut down operation, leaving unpaid bills and tuition reimbursements. According to CUAS business manager, George S. Ryan, “the state forced the school’s closure on May 1, when officials at the Private Post-Secondary Education Division (PPSED) pulled his license to operate. The Department of Education bankrupted the school.”

This blog was originally posted on Petaluma360 on June 3, 2015.

Check out the new ‘Petalumans of Yesteryear’ website

2015-06-04_7-47-03Yesteryear is a word that has been used in a variety of ways. The Walking Tour Guides of our Historic Downtown District, who have adopted the personas of some of Petaluma’s prominent citizens from the late 19th or early 20th Century, have created a unique team of historical enthusiasts who are known as the Petalumans of Yesteryear. Through special presentations, Adult School history classes, and cemetery tours, they help preserve knowledge about our town’s past.

Several years ago, a website was created that included, in addition to a historical time line of Petaluma; a write-up about the contributions each of the Petalumans of Yesteryear made as our river town grew and developed over the years was created. Since then, some of the original Petalumans of Yesteryear have died or moved away. New volunteers have stepped up to the plate to replace them and to add new historic  personalities. Over the past few weeks, a new website has been designed and is now available for the public:Petalumans of Yesteryear Website



Stay tuned as we continue to preserve and to share many of the interesting stories about the people and events that made Petaluma what it is today.  Look for future “Lest We Forget” posts about prominent citizens, past and present, on this site and my blog “Our River Town” on Argus-Courier’s Petaluma360.

Clover Stornetta – A Petaluma Staple

Clover Logo (PRNewsFoto/Clover Stornetta Farms)
Clover Logo (PRNewsFoto/Clover Stornetta Farms)

Located in Sonoma County, California is the historic Downtown Petaluma with its citizen’s actively contributing to Petaluma’s rich culture and unique community. One of the pioneers in the agricultural industry is positively Clover as a leading and sustainable dairy farm. At the head of Clover Stornetta Farms is the original founder, Gene Benedetti, who is after decades was actively involved in the dairy industry until passing in 2006. Now his two sons and two grandsons are involved at the Clover Stornetta plant in Petaluma.

After Mr. Benedetti started, his career in the dairy industry in 1946, the Clover Stornetta farms was founded in 1977 with Benedetti enthusiastically at the head. The rich natural resources of Sonoma County are the ideal for dairy farming is something he discovered early in his dairy career. With magnificent pastureland for cows to graze and terrific climate, the Clover Stornetta Farms received the county’s first dairy award, the Free Farmed Label for their humane production of animal products.

Clo Cow At Marathon WebBorn in 1919, few realize that Gene M. Benedetti was born in Sonoma County, after his parents left Italy in 1913. At age eight, his parents bought a house in Cotati and he still lives there with his wife. A native from Petaluma, the boy completed his education at Petaluma High School, went to St. Joseph’s Church in Cotati and continue to have his first communion there, got married in the same church. A man with strong roots and christian values, his first job at a Creamery was as a field man, going out to dairy farms to get new business. He continued on to the plant where he learned to make butter, cottage cheese, pasteurization, and bottled milk.

The injection of the advertising legend of Clover Stornetta was to create CLO Cow in 1969, which became the official mascot. The idea of putting together a comical cow came from an advertising company in Santa Rosa when Benedetti wanted to put up a billboard. Although the initial reaction was to change the first cow, it remained with the company which today is the company’s brand.


Petaluma Historic Downtown Tours

Pictured above, left to right, are: Linda & Steve Buffo (Mr. & Mrs. E.S. Lippett, Susan Coolidge (Clara McNear), Homer Johnstone (Capt. Thomas Baylis),  Sherri Ortegren (Addie Adwater), Marshall West (Isaac Wickersham), Bill Hammerman (William Howard Pepper).


Just in case you missed the announcement about the Historic Downtown Walking Tour schedule for 2015, and the fact that several of the volunteer guides are members of “The Petalumans of Yesteryear,” I wanted to share the following information.

The Petalumans of Yesteryear evolved from the original group of volunteers who spent three months studying the history of Petaluma and its downtown area, using the Research Library of the Petaluma Historical Museum at 4th & B Streets. Gradually, several members of the group adopted the persona of an early Petaluma, who contributed to the development of our favorite river town in the late 1880s, with whom they identified. In my case, since I had been a professional educators for 40 years, I identified with William Howard Pepper, a local nursery and orchard owner who eventually founded the first Kindergarten in 1894.  Although some of the original Petalumans of Yesteryear have died or moved away, they have been replaced and currently lead the free downtown walking tours on Saturday mornings, from the Museum’s front steps at 10:30 a.m., May to October.

Historical Photo Found In Renovation of Petaluma Hotel

This photo was found by the new owners in the renovation of the Petaluma Hotel and shared by them yesterday.  This photo of an indian (or man dressed in indian garb) and a woman holding a basket of eggs was taking in the atrium of the hotel. We thought you would enjoy it.

Positively Petaluma CategoriesWith the addition of Bill Hammerman to our contributor staff we added a column call “Our Favorite River Town” you will be seeing more posts about Petaluma history.  We wanted to share a little known secret – On our Categories Drop Down tab locate on our sidebar you can see the many categories to choose from.  One tab is History and things like this photo will show up in that category.  Try it yourself.   We have over 200 posts on Positively Petaluma and they are all categorized to help you find information you want to read about on posts future and past.


Check out our History category if you are interested in our posts sharing Petaluma History.