From Haystack to Chianti, long-forgotten Sonoma County stops still on modern maps
“You have reached your destination,” the voice from the phone said — but it didn’t look like much of a destination.
The precise spot on Apple Maps was an industrial area along Petaluma Boulevard, outside the fence of a Recology transfer station and maintenance facility. Across the road, over another chain-link fence and up a steep embankment, vehicles whizzed along Highway 101.
Welcome to Haystack, about a half-mile south of McNear.
Haven’t heard of those towns? Well, a lot of modern maps have, whether those geographic constructions are in a cellphone app like Google Maps or an official-looking printed atlas. All over Sonoma County, according to the mapmakers, are “communities” that turn out to be mere intersections or forlorn strips of parking lot.
The names might be foreign even to longtime county residents — Liberty, Barlow, Waldruhe Heights, Wilfred and Kellogg. Cozzens Corner and Sousa’s Corner and Riccas Corner. Cadwell, Cunningham and Crown. You’ve likely admired Goat Rock, the prominent coastal outcropping. But have you been to Goat Rock, the blip in the hills north of Cazadero?
For an understanding of how our maps came to look like this, The Press Democrat turned to John Isom, a faculty lecturer who teaches courses on the subject in the UC Berkeley Geography Department.
After kindly researching some of the Sonoma County names at Berkeley’s Earth Sciences & Map Library, Isom offered some thoughts in an email. Seeing one string of place names — Chianti, Omus, Nervo and Chiquita — stretching north to south along the Highway 101 corridor between Cloverdale and Healdsburg, confirmed a hunch, he said.
“All of these are on the old train line, somewhere between 1-3 miles apart from each other, and all of them probably stops on the so-called milk-run train,” Isom wrote. “If you think of how frequently garbage trucks stop, pick up, drive, and stop again to pick up, and on and on, and then extend this to a milk-run train line, you get the idea.”
The names survive in a world of Fitbit and TikTok , but their roots reach to a time when farmers and ranchers moved their products to market by horse and cart.
“Before the combustion engine, they were using wagons, so assume 1-1.5 mph for hauling,” Isom explained. “Coming into ‘town’ to bring their goods to the train meant a morning’s drive, one way. One tried to make going to town a one-day trip: Deliver products, do one’s provisions shopping, return home before dark. … To serve all of these farmers and ranchers and their one-day round trip meant having a spatial frequency of (railroad) stops close to each other.”
It’s an explanation that comes to life when you visit these vestigial locales. Some of them are sited right next to rail lines, though the tracks are often defunct, disappearing into overgrown thickets. Many locales sit at busy intersections and share a name with an adjacent road, evidence that they, too, may have grown out of transportation routes.
The places began to show up on common road maps, Isom hypothesized, because post offices sprang up there.
The origin stories make sense. But they raise the question: Why do these place names still turn up on maps in 2022, years after the last pail of milk was heaved onto a Sonoma County train?
It would be nice to know, but the map companies seem to treat the information as a trade secret. Neither Google nor Garmin, the company that owns the popular DeLorme brand of road atlases, responded to requests for information on how they draw their maps.
Presumably, new editions copied previous ones, which borrowed from even older versions. And so places like Manzana and Roblar get dots in the 2008 DeLorme California Atlas & Gazetteer (used for this story because it’s what happened to be in the reporter’s house). Yes, their names are written in the atlas’ smallest typeface. But that’s also true of Bellevue, Shiloh and Summerhome, which thrive as real neighborhoods.
Part of the mystery of the “ghost towns” is that mapping platforms seem to exist in parallel universes. Manzana, Tyrone and Hessel are on Google Maps, but not on Apple Maps. Nervo, Las Lomas and Crown are on Apple but not Google.
Even more confusing, sites that don’t appear on those online maps will magically appear if you type their names into a search.
And how to explain Kellogg, in the heart of Knights Valley, or Fairville, on Highway 121 near Sears Point? Both are legitimized on DeLorme, Google and Apple maps. But the habitations must be invisible. There’s not even a trading post or a volunteer firehouse to offer a clue.
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