Turning Stones ~ Sonoma Valley Sun

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Who doesn’t love a map?

Posted on April 15, 2010 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Who doesn’t love a map? While my wife sits in front of the tube with an ice cold brewsky, watching baseball and teaching our boys the subtleties of the game, I am right there with her. Only, upon my lap is a map of anywhere. I, too, am focused on subtleties. There is so much history that can be gleaned from maps that it is, a wonder families don’t gather around the dinner table, maps sprawled out like table cloths, to discover fun facts about any locale of their choosing. With trepidation, I exclaim to the family, “Tonight is map night.” Just then Juan Uribe hit a leadoff double for the Giants.

For the novice and seasoned researcher, Sanborn Insurance Maps will provide hours of pleasure. They were prepared to assess fire insurance liability in urban areas and were generated at various intervals between 1867 and 1970. By following the maps through time, one can get an incredible sense of the growth and changes that occurred within one’s hometown. I have a collection for Sonoma which includes maps from 1888 through 1923. My 1888 map is out on the table, and just as I am about to have the family come over and take a look, Edgar Renteria slams one down the third base line bringing in a run.

In 1888, just east of the mission and Blue Wing Inn, I see a creek running under Vallejo Street. The map states it runs year round. In that block between First and Second Streets East and Vallejo (Spain) and United States (Napa) Streets, there are six artesian wells, one dug to a depth of 150 feet. There is a note on the map indicating that the City’s water supply comes from a reservoir near Vallejo’s home, filled by natural springs, and conveyed along Vallejo Street in a 3.5-inch wooden pipe. They are careful to note that the supply is “very inadequate and limited” and that the pressure is insufficient for fire purposes.

In 1888, the mission was the Old Sonoma Winery. Running along the east portion of the barracks on First Street East was a bowling alley. Now this is important stuff. I yell over at my oldest son. “James, you have to see this.” His eyes are glued to the tube. “Matt, Andrew, Reed.” Little League play in Sonoma has of course begun, and I acknowledge that spring is in the air. I continue scanning along First Street East. There, in 1888 I see two bakeries, a saloon, a cobbler, a jeweler, a general merchandise store, and several wine storage areas. With bated breath, I grab the 1911 map for the same block, excited to see what changes might lay before me.

The creek is still there running north to south behind the businesses on First Street East. In the same location today, the creek receives no air or light. I still see a cobbler and bakery, but the saloon has been replaced by the Bismarck Hotel. Both 1888 and 1911 are coincidently significant dates in terms of the insurance maps. The Sonoma Valley Fire Department was founded in 1888 and in September of 1911 First Street East burned down.

The Sanborn Insurance Maps, as we have seen, pay attention to sources of water that may be used to save buildings. The map clearly depicts the location of wineries and wine storage areas, such as Pinelli’s winery and storage at the Blue Wing Inn. These areas should have been recognized on the maps as “wine – a good dousing material.” The infamous story begins with the cobbler shop catching fire in the middle of First Street East. Within minutes the Bismarck Hotel and Cantoni’s Bakery were engulfed as well as many other nearby buildings in jeopardy of total destruction. As the story goes, the Blue Wing was saved using Pinelli’s wine to douse the fire.

I pulled out six tickets to an up-and-coming Giants game. I didn’t say a word, but they could smell them in my hand. With a low and calm voice I told them point blank, I need five minutes of your time.




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