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A cranky columnist was once so weary of half a century of progressively futile attempts to save the Carrillo Adobe that she sarcastically proposed pushing it into Santa Rosa Creek — just to be done with it once and for all.

Therefore, it was stunning — beyond gratifying — to see the turnout for the Day at the Adobe two weeks ago.

After decades of dedicated disinterest in the fate of Santa Rosa’s “first house,” great hopes were revived when almost 400 people, from toddlers to octogenarians, accepted the new Historical Society of Santa Rosa’s invitation to come see the ruins up close and hear a succession of speakers on the possibilities of a future for the site — and why that is important.

Saving it has always been important. But the reasons are mounting. Since the first organized attempt in the late 1950s, there have been repeated efforts by a succession of interested people and organizations.

They have always, up until now, aimed to preserve the place where Santa Rosa began.

Now, with the broad sweep of social media and the ever-increasing research done in academia, the focus has changed, diversified. And, as is customary in our capitalist society, it took plans for development of the surrounding orchard to give the project immediacy.

Let’s do a quick review — although, heaven knows, it’s an oft-told tale.

THE ADOBE was built in 1837, give or take a month or so, as a new home for Doña Maria Ignacia Lopez y Carrillo, the mother-in-law of General Mariano Vallejo. He was then ensconced in the pueblo of Sonoma as the military governor of an area the Mexican government called “la Frontera del Norte” (the Northern Frontier).

When the Sonoma Mission was secularized and a pueblo established there in 1835, part of Vallejo’s charge from Mexico City was to colonize the area between San Francisco Bay and the Russian colony at Fort Ross with “people he could trust.”

Who better than your mother-in-law?

Never mind the historians’ jest that Vallejo “sent his mother-in-law to the Russian front.”

The charge resulted in a land grant for Doña Maria, giving her Rancho Cabeza de Santa Rosa (the “cabeza” referring to the headwaters of Santa Rosa Creek).

She was a widow and the mother of five sons and four unmarried daughters who were still living with her when she left her San Diego home and journeyed north at Vallejo’s behest, traveling from mission to mission along El Camino Real in one of those creaky square-wheeled (or so it seemed) oxcarts that were the accepted transportation of the time.

Doña Maria, who heartily disliked the American interlopers that passed through, died in 1849. She is buried, at her request, beneath the holy water font in the mission church in Sonoma. Her heirs included son Julio, who inherited the land that is now downtown Santa Rosa. The adobe went to her daughter, Juana, who married a Scotsman named David Mallagh. They operated a tavern and trading post in the building into the 1850s and sold it to a San Francisco resident named Walkinshaw. He rented it for various enterprises, including the first Santa Rosa post office, and it remained a hub of valley activity even after a short-lived town called Franklin started across the creek. When Walkinshaw raised the rent on trading post operators Ted Hahman and Barney Hoen, they conspired with Julio to start a whole new Santa Rosa downstream, and the old building lost its importance.

Eventually the Hahman family bought the land and planted prunes, and the adobe became the orchard’s drying shed, a use that endured well into the 20th century.

There were people at the Historical Society’s “adobe party” who had worked at that prune dryer as teenagers. History is never far away.

BY 1950, the Hahman orchard had been purchased by the Diocese of San Francisco and construction begun on St. Eugene’s, a second Roman Catholic church and elementary school for the town. The orchard east of the new parish, including the adobe, was designated as the site of a planned parochial boys’ high school (Cardinal Newman outgrew the orchard before it became reality).

It was the St. Eugene’s pastor, Monsignor Erwin Becker, who formed the first “salvation” committee for the adobe in the late 1950s, headed by architect J. Clarence Felciano. Plans were made, some money was raised, but before any real progress, the church’s position changed dramatically with the creation of the Diocese of Santa Rosa, with St. Eugene’s designated as the cathedral.

Santa Rosa’s first bishop showed little, if any, interest in the historical site and all efforts stopped.

They were revived again in 1975, when the city prepared to celebrate the nation’s 200th birthday and proposed another effort to take possession of the adobe as a bicentennial project. The then-bishop was cooperative, up to a point, inviting an official church historian named Harvey Downey to visit with a city committee, walk the orchard and talk abut the religious history of the San Rafael mission outpost, or “assistencia,” that became the site of Doña Maria’s new home.

But church officials wanted a clear path to development in the orchard, without the standard permit process, in exchange for the title to the adobe. That obviously went nowhere.

And bicentennial focus shifted to the Old Post Office, which was saved to become a history museum.

Meanwhile, the adobe — unfenced, exposed to the elements — continued to simply melt away in the far corner of the orchard.

Fortunately, it got some help from its friends. An organization called Friends of the Carrillo Adobe — consisting of interested citizens, teachers of fourth-grade California history and descendants of Doña Maria — raised funds to put a roof over the ruins and a fence around the site. The Friends, along with a very energetic History Club at Santa Rosa High School, performed the cleanup chores and kept the hopes of saving the structure alive.

In the early 2000s, the church sold the property to a San Jose builder named Barry Swenson who struck a deal to donate the adobe and the surrounding 2 acres for a park to the city as he obtained permission to build 140 condominiums and 25 low-cost senior apartments on the land. But then came the downturn of 2008, and the plans were put on hold.

Now, the economy has improved. The need for housing is even greater than it was 10 years ago. And the adobe is back on our radar — in a big way, apparently, judging from the crowd that turned out for the Oct. 10 event.

LISTENING to the succession of speakers at the recent gathering, it became very clear that local history is just one aspect of the value of those crumbling walls and the land beneath the old prune orchard that surrounds it.

We heard about Doña Maria, to be sure, and about the proposed mission that never came to be and the link with the Fort Ross Russians and the Native Americans. But, in today’s expanded social science world that has given us so many more tools for research, there is a new determination to get this job done and done right. Already there is an effort to have the site included on the National Register of Historic Places and, with a much broader focus, to be part of a plan to make the entire California mission chain a World Heritage Site.

It isn’t just “the Carrillo Adobe” or “Santa Rosa’s first house” that we’re talking about now — although it is at the heart of the issue. We’re talking ethnohistory, community archaeology, indigenous plants, GPR (ground-penetrating radar) to see what’s under there.

There are all kinds of things going on around this place, which some of those involved now refer to as “where the mission system died.”

And if that’s not enough history for you, I don’t know what more to say.

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