Retired firefighter Will Chubb was leaving a holiday party near the Fountaingrove Round Barn a few years ago when he glanced toward the historic structure and was moved by the beauty of the moment.
It was sunset and the December sky was striking against the red of the iconic barn, a treasured Santa Rosa landmark built in 1899.
A longtime commercial photographer, Chubb, 73, grabbed his camera and walked out to a grassy knoll where he framed his shot, clicked the shutter and went on with his evening.
“It was getting dark and the moon was coming up,” he said. “I saw that scene. It was the right time and the right place.”
He had no idea the image would later bring comfort to hundreds of people — those who loved the barn and were saddened that it was among the prominent structures destroyed by last month’s deadly firestorm.
Chubb thought that perhaps by sharing his image, he could bring a bit of relief to those in the county who had fond memories of the Round Barn. He posted an invitation on his Facebook page, offering to order and pay for prints for personal use.
Chubb had taken some creative liberties when he shot his photo in 2011, intensifying color and using a composite of images to enhance the scene. Some Facebook viewers mistook it for a painting; nearly 1,500 responded with “likes” and more than 300 shared memories and commented on the barn’s beauty and place in Sonoma County history. Some suggested the barn should be rebuilt.
Although Chubb suspected there were plenty of people like him who loved the Round Barn, he was surprised at just how many responded to his invitation.
“I was inspired to put it on Facebook after finding out the Round Barn burned down,” he said. “It saddened me so much. I just had to do it.”
After his mid-October posting, “there were hundreds” of emails asking Chubb for free prints. “They kept coming and coming and coming. I didn’t realize there were that many people who loved (the Round Barn).”
Overwhelmed by the response, he developed a “self-service solution” to the backlog of orders. He’d only ordered a few dozen photos before realizing he was “going crazy” and couldn’t keep up with the demand.
Chubb instead invited the public to download his photograph for free from his website so he could share the image with everyone who was interested.
Sonoma County residents weren’t the only people wanting a tangible memory of the vintage structure. Requests came from Southern California, Arizona, Oregon, Montana, Florida, New York and Canada — former Sonoma County residents and one-time visitors moved by the historic barn. Chubb said sharing his photograph was a simple way to give back during a time of such sorrow and devastation.
He spent 30 years as a firefighter with the San Rafael Fire Department, retiring as an engineer/driver. He’s continuously worked as a commercial photographer, with a camera always at the ready, and also volunteers as a photographer with the nonprofit Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions.
He credits his firefighting career with developing his desire to help others.