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.