Remembering Who We Are
My interest in what has taken place here in the
past has taken me deeper into the meaning of this place.
These articles come from my study of our history.
Our history is not simply a story about what has happened
in the past. Whether we realize it or not— and we
should— we are making history as we go along. Our history is in fact the perpetually unfolding narrative of who we
are— the heritage that steadies our continued progress through uncertain times, and our legacy as an evolving people.
For this reason it is the manual of operations that we must learn to read, and whose directions we must learn to follow. Its stories tell us of the mistakes and discoveries of the unknown and the famous, of their failures and their triumphs, and of the damage and the vision that remains with us today.
It was George Santayana who once famously said: “who does not know history is condemned to repeat it.” But knowing history should neither be the indulgence of simple nostalgia for the “good old days” nor the biased revision of history that would support one agenda or another.
As Howard Zinn had reminded us, the history that we know is written largely by the victorious; the truth known by others can become all too easily lost in the shuffle. Who we truly are becomes then dismissed and dismembered— not remembered. Our work while we are here is to learn and understand the significance and consequence of what indeed has taken place— and our own part in it— in order to know more clearly what it is that must happen next.
A Brief & Amateur History of Jack London Village
In 2008 a collection of various articles about the history of the oldest settlement in the Valley of the Moon were gathered and published in a small book, which is available for purchase in PDF format. This is a selection from that book.
When he first rode into the Valley of the Moon in 1856, Joshua Chauvet took one look at the played out sawmill Vallejo had built some seventeen years before, and immediately recognized the great opportunity he had been searching for.
The enormous forest of redwood and Douglas fir that had once covered the mountainside was gone now, harvested and milled into lumber for building homes. Vallejo had little use for the mill now, and was happy to arrange something of a lease with option to purchase for the young Frenchman and his venerable father, François.
Joshua had arrived in San Francisco some six years before this, with thirteen copper sous in his pocket and dreams of gold on his mind. It had been a difficult sea-voyage of seven months around the Horn from Le Havre, and he was eager to get on to the motherlode to try his hand at mining. A tough, demanding childhood had accustomed him to hard work, but that first season was, as it was for most, a miserable disappointment.
The bread Joshua baked for the other miners, on the other hand, proved a far better return for his efforts. His first bakery was in Mokelumne Hill, and quickly became very successful before he moved on to opening other bakeries in Jackson and Sandy Bar. But flour was quickly increasing in cost to as much as $120 a barrel, while his bread sold for only $1 a pound; so Joshua sent for his father, a millwright and miller still living in France, asking him to bring the necessary equipment, including the two grindstones that stand guard at the entrance to the mill today.
The two men had wandered around the towns and cities of the region for another year or so, looking for a good place to set up their grist mill; they finally found it here at the confluence of Asbury and Sonoma Creeks. It took eighteen months to get fully into operation, but happily their hard work met with eventual success.
Records show that Chauvet fils et père were shrewd businessmen as well as hard workers. As other pioneers arrived to settle the valley they began to function as agents, bankers, and developers, establishing the infrastructure needed by the developing community, including a water system and a brickyard. By 1861 the final purchase of the mill from Vallejo was recorded, including some 500 acres of vineyard, and their place in the valley was firmly established.
The township of Glen Ellen was originally established in the 19th Century to distinguish the evolving character of the upper valley region— popularly known as the Valley of the Moon— as separate from the growing city of Sonoma. Two railroads serving the region brought hundreds of tourists every weekend, rapidly changing the character of what had been a quiet countryside to the world-famous destination it is known as today.
In 1994 several residents began discussing the need for a historic society "to encourage the participation of the people in the community to research, disseminate, preserve and celebrate the history of Glen Ellen.” In 1996 bylaws were drawn up and the Glen Ellen Historical Society formally became a 501©(3) non-profit organization.
In 2010 I became executive director, organizing the archives, publications and presentations and establishing the website at www.glenellenhistoricalsociety.org. The quarterly newsletter Tales of Glen Ellen appears just before each public presentation. The presentations have usually been panel discussions on such topics as the Californios of Alta California, the five years of rapid change from the Bear Flag to California Statehood, and our famous local writer, Jack London.
Membership in the Glen Ellen Historical Society is encouraged, in order that the legacy of this wonderful place can be explored and shared.
The Serres/Roberts Collection
As director of the Glen Ellen Historical Society, I was asked during the summer of 2010 to organize a comprehensive catalog of the John Pierre and Myrtle Serres/Shirley Roberts Collection.
This major group of artifacts and primary documents had accumulated on a ranch in the Valley of the Moon since the middle of the Nineteenth Century, when it was still part of the original Agua Caliente Land Grant.
Here is a talk about the collection that I presented on March 25th, 2012, at the annual luncheon of the Sonoma County Historical Society.
In addition to the still evolving catalog, four reports have been produced regarding particularly significant documents that have been found in the collection. Copies of these reports are available for research purposes.
The first report reproduces and translates the Micheltorena and Guerrero documents, proclamations from the Mexican government of Alta California as it struggled with foreign influences during the early 1840's.
The second report reproduces five of the more than one hundred letters written by members of the Watriss family during their stay in San Francisco, from George Watriss’ first arrival in 1851 until the purchase of their ranch in Sonoma in 1858.
The third report reproduces the first 47 pages of a journal kept by George Watriss during his first few years in Sonoma. A broad scope of daily life is documented, providing a fascinating view of farm life in the early years of the Valley of the Moon.
The fourth report describes the discovery of five royal Spanish documents dating between 1659 and 1725, bearing five signatures of Spanish monarchs complete with their rúbrica— flourishes that prove their authenticity.
Questions about my continuing work cataloging the collection may be sent to me care of The Glen Ellen Historical Society at PO Box 35, Glen Ellen CA 95442, or by email at jshere@sonicnet.
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