Skip to Main Content
Menu
Contact Us Search
Parks Title

Sonoma SHP

Sonoma State Historic Park
A Short History of Historical Archaeology at Sonona SHP


Sonoma State Historic Park, consisting of 36.17 acres is located in the City of Sonoma, County of Sonoma, California. Ten units in the park are of Spanish and Mexican Heritage. The Blue Wing Inn, Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma Complex - Adobe Parish Church and Convent - Sonoma Barracks, Adobe Indian House, Vallejo Home "Lachrima Montis" - the Swiss Chalet, Napoleon's Cottage, the Cook House and Vallejo Garden Pavilion "El Delirio". Some of the buildings became a state monument when the Historic Landmarks League purchased them in 1903, and they became state property in 1906. Basic restoration work was begun in 1909, and since then several archaeological investigations and restorations program had been carried on. In addition, the mission contains the Jorgensen Collection of mission paintings and, in some of the units, special events bring to life the Mission and Ranch Periods.

Sonoma Mission
The first systematic historical archaeological investigations at Sonoma were begun in September 1953, and focused on understanding the architectural evolution of the existing adobe chapel and the convento, or priests' quarters. Maintenance and landscaping work in previous years by Division of Beaches and Parks (now Department of Parks and Recreation) staff had exposed a number of building foundations and pavements, leading them to seek professional assistance. The work was directed by James A. Bennyhoff and Albert Elsasser, with a crew of students from University of California, Berkeley. Historical archeology was in its infancy in 1953; the work at Sonoma was one of the first half-dozen such investigations done in California. In the preface to the report, R.F. Heizer and T.D. McGowan summarized the much of the previous historical archaeology done in North America in 2-2 1/2 pages!

A second season of fieldwork took place in 1954, under the direction of Adan E. Treganza, also from UC Berkeley. The objectives of the 1954 work were to continue the investigations begun the previous year, and to systematically search the grounds for archeological evidence of other mission buildings.

Sonoma Mission, as it appears today, largely represents the 1913 restoration. This restoration repaired damage from the 1906 earthquake and attempted to return the complex to its earlier appearance after decades of renovation and neglect during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The archaeological and historical research by Bennyhoff, Elsasser and Treganza, however, showed that what was restored in 1913 is but a small part of the original complex. The convento, the single row of rooms which today houses exhibits, was originally twice as deep, with a second row of rooms behind the first, as was indicated by the adobe foundations and walls exposed in 1953 (Building A). The adobe chapel at the west end of the complex was not the mission's first church, but its third. The first church was a building of poles plastered with mud (jacal, or wattle and daub construction), in approximately the same location as the existing chapel. The second church was a huge adobe building at the opposite (east) end of the convento, constructed between 1827 and 1832. It was reported to be over 150 feet long, 30 + feet wide and 30 feet high. The 1953-4 archaeology exposed foundations of rooms that connected the convento to the church, but not the church itself--it appears that the church was located on private property, under the historic frame house to the east of the park boundary. The large adobe church collapsed within a few years, and the chapel we see today was constructed in 1840.

In addition to shedding light on the evolution of the buildings that have survived, the archaeological work exposed foundations of buildings, courtyard walls and other features that had completely disappeared by the 1950s. These include Building B, a small structure attached to the east side of the chapel, perhaps for use as a sacristy. The foundations of this building are over 2 feet thick, wide enough to have supported adobe walls. The authors point out, however, that none of the historic drawings show a building here until after 1874. Building C, discovered in 1954, was another large building far to the rear (north) of the chapel and convento. It was 27 feet wide and at least 93 feet long, and appears to have formed the northwest corner of the quadrangle that was the religious and administrative heart of the mission. The archaeological work also exposed tiled corridors around the buildings, and evidence of posts that supported the roofs over these corridors. A well was found in 1953 near the center of the quadrangle, although the investigators concluded that it was a post-mission feature.

The 1953-4 work exposed large areas and contributed much to the understanding of the architectural history of Sonoma Mission. Less emphasis was placed on recovery of small artifacts than would probably be the case today, although a collection of ceramics and other material recovered in 1953 was stored at Berkeley and later transferred to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Dorothy Bell, a student from California State University, Sacramento worked with this collection in 1978, and identified and assemblage of British earthenware that may date as early as the 1820s that was recovered from the Building B area.

No major archaeological or architectural investigations have taken place at Sonoma Mission since the 1953-4 work, although many intriguing questions remain that might be addressed by further historical and archaeological research.

The Blue Wing Inn
The long, low adobe building just across from the mission derives its name from the Blue Wing Inn, gambling room and saloon of the gold rush era owned by James C. Cooper & Thomas Spriggs. The significance of this structure is that it was allegedly the first hotel or public house of north of San Francisco. Originally, part of the adobe building was built after the secularization of the mission San Francisco Solano to lodge the mayordomo of the mission, Antonio Ortega. The first official record of the property is a deed executed by General G.M. Vallejo in 1837. In this deed one of the lots was assigned to Antonio Ortega and the other to Antonio Peña. Ortega was " uneducated, coarse and licentious" and it seems that he turned his house into Sonoma's first pulperia, or a low sort of saloon. Meanwhile, Antonio Peña in his property was running the "casa del billar" or billiard parlor. Later, this billiard parlor was acquired by Jesse L. Beasley and James C. Cooper and, in 1847 or at latest by February, 1848, they were operating the first hostelry in Sonoma. The place was known by the locals as the Sonoma House.

In the year of 1849, the partnership between Beasley and James Cooper was dissolved. Cooper immediately found a new partner, Thomas Spriggs. On August 15, 1849, Antonio Ortega sold his property to Cooper & Spriggs, and they expanded the hotel and built the second floor. The name of "Blue Wing", as far as the legal record is concerned, does not appear until July 16, 1853. It was a favorite stopping place for travelers using the Sonoma Trail to the Trinity Mountains and the northern mining districts.

The old hotel register contains the names John C. Fremont, William Tecumseh Sherman, U.S. Grant, Kit Carson, Joe Hooker and Pio Pico. In the spring of 1856 Spriggs died, and Cooper was killed in September of the same year. The building was then used as a saloon, grocery store, store wine, among others.

The Blue Wing Inn was built in three separate sections. The first, between 1836-1840; the second part added from 1846-1849, and a third addition was made in the early 1850s. The building was repaired and partly restored by Elmer M. and Alma de Bretteville Spreckles Awl around 1941. They sold the property to William Henry and Eleanora Bosworth Black in May 15, 1948, who continued the restoration of the building. The building was acquired by the state in 1968, and today it is divided into apartments. It is California Historical Land mark Number 17.

Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma Complex
The site of Mission San Francisco Solano was selected and ceremoniously consecrated by Father Jos‚ Altimira on July 4, 1823. This mission became the last and most northerly of the 21 California missions. The first building was a temporary wooden structure plastered inside and out with whitewashed mud. In 1825 the Convent, a long , low adobe wing to be used for living quarters and other purposes, was completed. Much neglected over the years and then partially reconstructed, this building, which stands just east of the present chapel, is the oldest building at Sonoma.

Under the direction of Father Fortuni who remained at Sonoma from 1826 to 1833, the foundation for a large permanent church, Adobe Parish Church, was laid just east of the padre's quarters in 1827. Work on the adobe walls finally began in 1830, and then continued until 1833 when the building was almost complete. In the spring of that year, however, a sudden rainstorm caused severe damage and appears to have rendered the building unusable. In 1840 and 1841 the present chapel was constructed and furnished by General Vallejo in order to provide Sonoma with a parish church.

Following 1881, the chapel and its adjoining residence building were sold by the church and used variously as hay barn, winery, and blacksmith shop. The building became a state monument when the Historic Landmarks League purchased them in 1903, and then became state property in 1906. The mission buildings are today listed as State Historic Landmark Number 3.

Sonoma Barracks
The two-story, wide-balconied, adobe barracks facing Sonoma's central plaza was built to house Mexican army troops under the command of General Vallejo. These troops first arrived in Sonoma in 1834 when Vallejo, then the Commandant of the Presidio at San Francisco, was instructed to move his garrison to Sonoma. From then until 1846, Sonoma was the headquarters of the commandant of the Frontera del Norte, the Mexican provincial frontier of the north. Actual construction of the adobe barracks building probably took place in stages, but was more or less completed in 1841.

In the years after 1835, more than 100 military expeditions set out from Sonoma with the object of subduing the Wappo, Cainamero, or Satiyomi Indians who more than once rose up and attempted to throw off Mexican domination of the country around Sonoma. Many of these expeditions were led by Vallejo himself, but others were led by Vallejo's younger brother, Salvador, or by Sem-Yeto, the tall, ruggedly handsome Chief of the Suisunes Indians whose Christian name was Francisco Solano, and who came to be one of Vallejo's closest and most valuable allies.

Following the Bear takeover of Sonoma on June 14, 1846, the barracks housed a number of Bear Flag followers until July 9, when the Stars and Stripes were first raised at Sonoma. Thereafter, the barracks were used by various U.S. military forces starting with the 50 men who made up Company "B", California Battalion Mounted Riflemen commanded by Lt. Joseph Revere, an officer in the U.S. Navy. In March 1847, these troops were replaced by Company "C" of Colonel Stevenson's New York Volunteer Regiment, and in May, 1849, a 37-man company of U.S. dragoons moved into the building and established Camp Sonoma. Throughout the next few years Sonoma continued to be an important army post, and some of the officers who were stationed there became close friends of General Vallejo and his family.

In 1860 Vallejo remodeled the building to serve as a winery. In later years under other owners it was used as a store, law office, and private residence. Purchased by the State in 1958, and partially restored, the building is today listed as State Historical Landmark Number 316.

La Casa Grande
The building known as the Adobe Indian House was the servants' quarters of the first house of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo "La Casa Grande". This house was one of the most imposing, and well-furnished private residences in California. It stood in the middle of the block with its wide second-story balcony overlooking the plaza. Although the house was not finished until 1840, there is reason to believe that a portion of it was completed late in 1823 in time for Vallejo's second daughter to be born there on January 3, 1837. In all, eleven Vallejo children were born in the house. La Casa Grande was the center of social and diplomatic life north of San Francisco Bay. About 1843, General Vallejo added a three-story adobe tower to the southwestern corner of the house. From this vantage point it was possible to look out over several miles of the Sonoma Valley. An adobe wall connected the tower and Salvador Vallejo's house to the west.

It was in La Casa Grande on the morning of June 14, 1846 that the general, his brother Salvador, and his brother-in-law Jacob Leese, were confronted by leaders of the Bear Flag Party, and following several hours of negotiations, were taken prisoner and sent to Sutter's Fort for detention.

Later the ground floor of La Casa Grande was used as a retail store, city council chamber, and for other purposes until 1854 when the entire house was turned over to the Reverend John L. Ver Mehr for use as a girl's school. Originally built in a L-shape, the main wing of the house was destroyed by fire on February 12, 1867, leaving only the low two-story servants' wing which is still standing today.

Vallejo Home
In 1850 Vallejo purchased some acreage at the foot of the hills half a mile northwest of the plaza and began to build a new home for himself and his still growing family. The central feature of this land was a beautiful spring that the Indians had called Chiucuyem (crying mountain). Vallejo retained this name for his estate, but translated it into Latin, Lachryma Montis, (mountain tear).

Grapevines were transplanted to the new site along with an assortment of fruit trees- olive, apple, pear, peach, orange, fig shattock and lemon trees, and ornamental shrubs. The quarter- mile long driveway entrance was lined with cottonwood trees and Castilian roses.

In 1851-52, the main houses were built beside the spring and its pool. The two story, wood frame house was prefabricated, designed and built on the east coast of United States; it was shipped around Cape Horn on a sailing ship and then assembled at its present site. It is a carpenter's Gothic, Victorian style, highlighted by a large Gothic window in the master bedroom, twin porches, dormer windows, and elaborate carved wooden trim along the eaves. Bricks were placed inside the walls of the house in order to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer. Each room had its own white marble fireplace. Crystal chandeliers, lace curtains, and many other furnishing including the handsome, rosewood, concert grand piano, were imported from Europe.

Along with several pavilions and other outbuildings, Vallejo's home also included a large barn and several houses for the working staff. Some of these buildings, are the called Swiss Chalet, Napoleon's Cottage, and in the garden, El Delirio. The Swiss Chalet, near of the main house, was erected in 1852 and used as a warehouse to store wine, fruit, and other products. The original timbers were cut and numbered in Europe and shipped to California during the Gold Rush. The bricks came around the Horn as ballast in sailing ships. Eventually the building was converted to residential use and today it serves as a museum and interpretive center for the Vallejo Home. In 1935, some restoration work was done. Napoleon's Cottage, is a small wooden cabin behind the main house. In 1865, Vallejo built this cabin for his youngest son, Napoleon, who moved into his new quarters at the age of 15 and surrounded himself with the objects of his great love: the outdoors. The Cook House is a three room rectangular wooden building behind the main house. The Chinese cook lived in one room while the other two rooms were used for food preparation and cooking. El Delirio is a small wooden structure in the garden next to the main house, and it served as a retreat for the Vallejo family and guests.

Jorgensen Collection

The collection was donated by Ms. Virgil W. Jorgensen, the daughter-in law of Christian Jorgensen, to the State Parks of California in the year of 1951. The Jorgenson collection is on exhibit at Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California. The collection has 61 water color paintings and one oil painting. All of which underwent conservation in 1994.

Christian Jorgensen was born in Christiania (now Oslo), Norway in 1859. At the age of ten, when he came to San Francisco with his mother, young Christian was already interested in drawing. In 1874 the California School of Fine Arts was opened, and this brilliant young artist was the first pupil to receive a scholarship. Subsequently becoming an instructor, he met Angela Ghirardelli, who later became his wife and the mother of his two children, Virgil and Aime. Two years of study in Italy developed Christian Jorgensen's great talent. His ability was soon recognized, and by 1883 his fame as a landscape painter was established. One of the first men to realize the simple beauty of the California Missions, he spent five of the happiest years of his life studying their history and architecture. The Collection of water colors and one oil painting of the California Missions, were painted from 1903-1904. His work has been shown at the Bohemian Club and at many well-known galleries throughout America. In 1906 an exhibition of his pictures in Washington D.C., of the Yosemite valley and the Missions, received notable acclaim.

His son, W. Jorgensen, regarded the mission of San Francisco Solano as the ideal place to display his father's collection of California missions.

The Christian Jorgensen Collection (Museum Website)

 3 of Mission San Diego de Alcala
 3 of Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Carmelo
 4 of Mission San Antonio de Padua
 1 of Mission San Antonio de Padua Relic
 3 of Mission San Gabriel Arcangel
 1 of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
 7 of Mission San Juan Capistrano
 1 of Mission San Juan Capistrano Confessional.
 1 of Mision San Buena ventura
 7 of Mission Santa Barbara
 2 of Mission La Purisima Concepcion
 2 of Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad
 1 of Mission San Juan Bautista
 2 of Mission San Miguel Arcangel
 6 of Mission San Fernando Rey de Espa¤a
 4 of Mission San Luis de Francia
 6 of Mission Santa In‚s
 3 of Pala - Branch of Mission San Luis Rey de Francis.
 2 of "Mission" Asistancia Santa Isabel
 1 of Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma
 1 of Oven - MIssion San Miguel Arcangel
 1 of Mission San Francisco de Assis Mission Dolores (the only oil painting)

References
California Department of Park and Recreation,
n/d Sonoma State Historic Park.
Department of Parks and Recreation, Sacramento, California.

California Department of Park and Recreation,
1986 Sonoma State Historic Park. General Plan.
Department of Parks and Recreation, Sacramento, California.

Morton, Don,
1939 Blue Wing Inn- Sonoma County Registered Land mark # 17.
California Historical Survey Series.
Historic Landmarks, Monuments and Sate Parks.
Edited by S of C, Department of Natural Presources, Division of Parks.