Sonoma State Historic Park is in the center of the charming old town of Sonoma, surrounded by shops, and nearby wineries. In the center of a large, tree-covered park is the old city hall. The historic buildings of the state park border the city park with its picnic tables and benches which invite visitors to rest and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
See the Area Map.
The Mission Today
The site of Mission San Francisco Solano was selected and ceremoniously consecrated by
Father Jose Altimira on July 4,1823. Young, ambitious, and impatient, Father Altimira was
acting with the approval of Governor Luis Arguello, but without official church sanction.
He intended to close down the mission establishments at San Francisco and San Rafael and
move their people and goods to Sonoma where water, wood, stone, and other building
materials were all easily available and where climate and soil conditions were promising.
Father Altimira's plan was hotly opposed by several mission fathers, but Father Vicente
Sarria, the chief administrator of the California Missions, managed to work out a
compromise solution whereby all of the established mission sites would continue in
operation, and would simply supply Indian laborers (on a volunteer basis) and also
provisions for the founding of the new mission. With this administrative dispute more or
less resolved, Father Altimira proceeded to the new site and directed construction of the
first buildings and other improvements.
The first building was a temporary wooden structure plastered inside and out with whitewashed mud. In 1825 a long, low adobe wing to be used for living quarters and other purposes was completed. Much neglected over the years and then partially reconstructed, this building, which stands just east of the present chapel, is the oldest building at Sonoma.
Indian troubles drove Father Altimira from Sonoma in 1826, but his work was continued by Father Fortuni who remained at Sonoma from 1826 to 1833, and under whose direction the mission reached peak prosperity around 1830 when nearly 1,000 Indians were in residence there. Under his direction the foundation for a large, permanent church was laid just east of the padre's quarters in 1827. Work on the adobe walls was finally begun in 1830, and then continued until 1833 when the building was almost complete. In the spring of that year, however, a sudden rain Storm caused severe damage and appears to have rendered the building unusable. In 1840 and '41 the present chapel was constructed and furnished by General Vallejo in order to provide Sonoma with a parish church.
After 1881 the chapel and its adjoining residence building were sold by the church and used variously as a hay barn, winery, and blacksmith shop. The buildings became a state monument when the Historic Landmarks League purchased them in 1903, and they became state property in 1906. Basic restoration work was begun in 1909 and carried out in various phases over the years. In fact archeological investigations and restoration programs are still undertaken from time to time under state direction. The mission buildings are today listed as State Historic Landmark Number 3.
The long, low adobe building just across from the mission derives its name from the
Blue Wing Inn, gambling room and saloon of the gold rush era. It is thought that portions
of the building were originally constructed to house soldiers assigned to the Sonoma
Mission and that those structures were joined together and a second story added at a later
date. The building was acquired by the state in 1968 and houses several
concession-operated gift shops. It is California Historical Landmark Number 17.
Sonoma's central plaza, the largest of its kind in California, was originally surveyed by General Vallejo in 1834 with the help of Captain William A. Richardson, the same man who later played an important role in the early development of San Francisco. Site of many fiestas, parades, and other historical events, the plaza was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark on September 24, 1961.
The plaza at Sonoma as it looked in the early 1850's. From an old water color, courtesy of Bankcroft Library
The two-story, wide-balconied, adobe barracks facing Sonoma's central plaza was built
to house Mexican army troops under the command of General Vallejo. These troops first
arrived in Sonoma in 1834 when Vallejo, then the Commandant of the Presidio at San
Francisco, was instructed to move his garrison to Sonoma. From then until 1846, Sonoma was
the headquarters of the commandant of the Frontera del Norte - the Mexican provincial
frontier of the north. Actual construction of the adobe barracks building probably took
place in stages, but was more or less completed in 1840 and '41.
In the years after 1835, more than 100 military expeditions set out from Sonoma with the object of subduing the Wappos, Cainameros, or Satisyomis Indians who more than once rose up and attempted to throw off Mexican domination of the country around Sonoma. Many of these expeditions were led by Vallejo himself, but others were led by Vallejo's younger brother, Salvadore, or by Sem-Yeto, the tall, ruggedly handsome Chief of the Suisunes Indians whose Christian name was Francisco Solano, and who came to he one of Vallejo's closest and most valuable allies.
Following the Bear Flag takeover of Sonoma on June 14, 1846, the barracks housed a number of Bear Flag followers until July 9, when the Stars and Stripes were first raised at Sonoma. Thereafter the barracks were used by various U.S. military forces starting with the 50 men who made up Company "B", California Battalion Mounted Riflemen commanded by Lt. Joseph Revere, an officer in the U.S. Navy. In March 1847, these troops were replaced by Company "C" of Colonel Steven son's New York Volunteer Regiment, and in May, 1849, a 37-man company of U.S. dragoons moved into the building and established Camp Sonoma. Throughout the next few years Sonoma continued to be an important army post, and some of the
officers who were stationed there became close friends of General Vallejo and his family.
In 1860 Vallejo remodeled the building to serve as a winery. In later years under other owners it was used as a store, law office, and private residence. Purchased by the State in 1958, and partially restored, the building is today listed as State Historical Landmark Number 316.
The wood-frame building next to the barracks seems to have been constructed during the
1850s when it housed, among other things, a retail store and rental library. Later the
building came to be used as an unpretentious, inexpensive hotel. Around 1890 when many of
its customers were Italian immigrants and other working-class people, the name of the
hotel changed from "Eureka" to "Toscano." Today, the Toscano is
furnished with period furniture and looks much the way it did around the turn of the
century. The kitchen and dining room were in a separate building behind the one facing the
plaza. The gray, two-story, wood-frame building that now houses the park headquarters and
interpretive center dates from the turn of the century when it served as a boarding house.
General Vallejo's first home, La Casa Grande, was one of the most imposing, and
well-furnished private residences in California. It stood in the middle of the block with
its wide second-story balcony overlooking the plaza. Although the house was not finished
until 1840, there is reason to believe that a portion of it was completed late in 1836 in
time for Vallejo's second daughter to be born there on January 3, 1837. In all, eleven
Vallejo children were born in the house. Over the years, along with numerous Vallejo
relatives, and a continual stream of distinguished visitors from many parts of the world,
they helped to make La Casa Grande the center of social and diplomatic life north of San
Francisco Bay. About 1843, General Vallejo added a three-story adobe tower to the
southwestern corner of the house. From this vantage point it was possible to look out over
several miles of the Sonoma Valley. An adobe wall connected the tower and Salvadore
Vallejo's house to the west
It was in La Casa Grande on the morning of June 14, 1846 that the general, his brother Salvadore, and his brother-in-law Jacob Leese, were confronted by leaders of the Bear Flag Party, and following several hours of negotiations, were taken prisoner and sent to Sutter's Fort for detention.
Later the ground floor of La Casa Grande was used as a retail store, city council chamber, and for other purpose until 1854 when the entire house was turned over to the Reverend John L. Ver Mehr for use as a girl's school.
Originally built in an L-shape, the main wing of the house was destroyed by fire on February 12, 1867, leaving only the low two-story servant's wing which is still standing today.
(Located 1/2 mile West of the Sonoma Square on W. Spain Street.)
In 1850 Vallejo purchased some acreage at the foot of the hills half-a-mile west and
north of Sonoma's central plaza. The land surrounded a fine, free-flowing spring that the
Indians had called Chiucuyem (crying mountain). Vallejo retained this name for his new
estate. but translated it into Latin, Lachryma Montis, (mountain tear).
Grapevines were transplanted to the new site along with a wonderful assortment of fruit trees - olives, apples, pears, peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines, figs, and many lemon and orange trees - as well as some strictly decorative trees and shrubs. The quarter-mile-long driveway entrance was lined with cottonwood trees and Castilian roses. A vine-covered arbor shaded a wide pathway around the pool into which the spring flowed, and a number of decorative fountains and delightful little outbuildings also graced the carefully tended grounds.
In 1851-52 the main house was built beside the spring and its pool. The two-story, wood-frame house was done in the very latest carpenter's-gothic, Victorian style highlighted by a large gothic window in the master bedroom, twin porches, dormer windows, and elaborate carved wooden trim along the eaves. Bricks were placed inside the walls of the house in order to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer. Each room had its own white marble fireplace. Crystal chandeliers, lace curtains, and many other furnishings including the handsome, rosewood, concert-grand piano, were imported from Europe.
Along with several pavilions and other outbuildings, Vallejo's estate also included a large barn and several houses for the working staff. Near the main house a special warehouse was erected in order to store wine, fruit, and other produce. The building was made of specially prefabricated timbers imported from Europe. Its walls were made of bricks that some say had been used as ballast on sailing ships. Eventually the building was converted to residential use and came to be known as the "Swiss Chalet". Today it serves as a museum and interpretive center for the Vallejo Home unit of Sonoma State Historic Park.
General Vallejo and his wife lived at Lachryma Montis for more than 35 years, although as time went by they were forced to live more and more quietly and unpretentiously as the General suffered one economic setback after another. Although he eventually lost nearly all of his vast land holdings, and was even forced to sell the vineyard and other "nonessential" acreage at Lachryma Montis, Vallejo remained unembittered. He was always extraordinarily generous and contributed as much or more than he could afford to family, friends, and causes in which he believed.
During his last years he spent much of his time reading (at one time his library included some 12,000 books) and writing personal letters to his many children, friends and relations. During the late 1870s he collected a large number of official Mexican government papers and wrote a five-volume History of California, all of which he donated to Hubert Howe Bancroft who was then assembling a comprehensive research library on California and Western regional history. Vallejo was also an active member and supporter of the California Horticultural Society. His death in 1890 at the age of 82 was widely noticed and lamented.
After his funeral hundreds of mourners formed a long procession that ceremoniously circled the plaza, paused before the site of La Casa Grande, and then proceeded solemnly to the little cemetery on the hill overlooking Sonoma.
In 1933 the Vallejo home and some 20 acres of the original Lachryma Montis lands were acquired by the State in order to protect and preserve this historic site and its collection of historic artifacts and documents.
Today the buildings and grounds are carefully maintained, and the house itself is furnished throughout with many of Vallejo's personal effects - as though the General and his wife had just stepped out for a moment. The museum, grounds, and the home itself (California Historical Landmark Number 4) are open for public viewing.
Park Fees and Hours
Sonoma State Historic Park has a fee of $3 per person, 17 years and up. There is a $2 charge for those from 6 to17. The admission charge allows you to visit the Sonoma Mission, Sonoma Barracks Toscano Hotel, General Vallejo Home, and the Petaluma Adobe on the same day the ticket is purchased.
Park hours are from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours Tuesday through Sunday. The Historic Park sites are closed on Mondays. Closed holidays include Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.
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