Rohnert Park's pioneering Anderson family still working the land

  • Jim Anderson, right, and his wife Grace, and children Christy, 23, and James Porter, 22, still live on the Anderson Ranch, in Rohnert Park, where his great grandfather Henry Himebauch settled in 1848. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

The free, live music that often enough wafts in with the evening breeze is one of several remarkable aspects of the place Henry James "Jim" Anderson lives.

"We're the closest house to the Green Music Center," says Anderson, a vigorous fellow of 79, at his ranch house on Petaluma Hill Road. On those occasions that the rear wall of Sonoma State University's nearly year-old concert hall opens up for patrons seated outdoors, the Andersons enjoy a world-class serenade from their patio.

Also notable about their property is that it has been in the family 165 years, since just before the tidal migration triggered by California's Gold Rush. And the 200-plus acres — settled by kin of Anderson who were contemporaries of the Donner Party — remain in agricultural production.

Anderson Family Of Rohnert Park


Anderson grazes cattle and grows chardonnay grapes that he sells to Sonoma Cutrer. The fourth Sonoma County generation of the related Porter, Himebauch and Anderson pioneer families, he's heartened that his daughter Christy, 23, and son Porter, 22, are resolved to keep the property as farmland even as civilization creeps slowly though steadily nearer.

As a kid, Jim Anderson walked up seldom-traveled Petaluma Hill Road (now an alternate highway) to the former Steuben School. He'd visit for hours on end with country neighbor Waldo Rohnert, owner of the vast seed farm that the ranch kid watched grow into a suburban city.

Anderson was graduated from Santa Rosa High in 1952 and he went off to Oklahoma State University to continue his study of animal science. So he wasn't at home — but he heard about it — when aviation hero Charles Lindbergh and Gen. Carl Spaatz, the first U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, came calling.

"They put a lot of pressure on my family," Anderson said. Lindbergh and the general were members of the commission appointed by Secretary of the Air Force to research and recommend a location for the Air Force Academy. Anderson's parents told him the pair sought to have it built there, on their land and adjoining properties along Petaluma Hill Road.

Anderson credits members of his extended family, including some of the neighboring Cranes, with passionately — and successfully — beseeching the powerful pair to recommend locating the Air Force Academy elsewhere. Construction began in 1955 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

A few years later, Anderson's late father, Henry Himebauch Anderson, acted as co-executor of the Forrest Benson estate, which sold to the state the property along East Cotati Avenue that became Sonoma State College, now Sonoma State University.

These days, Anderson watches to see what happens to a proposal by Brookfield Homes to restart the long-idle home construction industry in Rohnert Park by building more than 1,600 residences across Petaluma Hill Road and just north of SSU's Green Music Center.

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