From Missions to Merlots: History in Sonoma
Californian history is iconic in the mind of Americans. Visions of pre-Columbian times evoke imagery of indigenous groups with ancient traditions living in harmony with their environment. The coming of the Spanish missions populates the mind with adobe church structures and determined preachers looking to spread their faith into lands they had never beheld before. Mexican independence from Spain brought a different aesthetic with less emphasis on Catholic teachings. Early American expansion sprouts images of Wild West towns, gold prospectors and homesteaders. And in the modern era, everything from viniculture to microprocessors dominates the image of the state. In this way, Sonoma is perhaps the quintessential representation of the Golden State, a place where all that history and more lives in the current moment, shaping what it is today.
Those looking to explore Sonoma’s remarkable history in its tangible form will be very pleased to come into contact with plenty of remnants. Buildings that have weathered the passing of time stand in testament to the forces that molded the area over the centuries. Original houses of worship still hold up a roof for the faithful to congregate. Battle sites of decisive conflicts long past continue to mark hallowed grounds where struggles were overcome, and victories declared. And of course, the great tradition of pioneering winegrowers is embodied by way of dignified estates, many of which are still cultivating the vines to this day. Ready to take a walk through the living history of Sonoma? Here are a few great places to begin your own journey:
Mission: Almost Impossible
One of the very first of California’s official Historical Landmarks almost never came into being at all. The Mission San Francisco Solan was established under a set of complex political circumstances that were so much at odds with one another that it’s a miracle it was built at all. Geopolitics had recently shifted as Mexico had successfully secured independence from Spain, taking on a more secular government structure. But at the same time, a nearby Russian fort became a potential problem for the new nation. Flailing between affording the church too much power and leaving a vulnerable bit of northern territories unreinforced, the mission was finally given the green light to be erected right in Sonoma. In the early 20th century, it was reconstructed and remodeled to reflect its original design, preserved to this day to the delight of visitors.
Raise High the Flag
Military sites are common reminders of national histories the world over. The beaches of Normandy, France are dotted with memorials dedicated to those who made the decisive D-Day push during WWII. The Alamo in Texas comes to mind, made legendary in films depicting the Mexican-American War. But California has an important site from those struggles as well. Sonoma’s own Bear Flag Monument commemorates the Bear Flag Revolt, when, in 1846, the state’s “Bear Flag” was raised in a declaration of victory by American forces. This pivotal event led to the United States winning the California territory from Mexico. The site has a bronze statue engraved with a remembrance of the event on the very spot where it all happened.
Where Soldiers Dwelled
One of the pivotal sites of the Bear Flag Revolt was what is known as the Sonoma Barracks. It was built to house Mexican soldiers by none other than Lieutenant Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, the officer who first established Sonoma’s civilian government in 1844. Commanding his presence from this structure where his army slept, the American insurgency took over the barracks for several weeks before Vallejo regained it. Regardless of the brief occupation, these events helped lead to the greater conflict over California between the United States and Mexico, making the site pivotal to the fate of the state. This structure still stands in Sonoma as a historical site, after being used for other military purposes.
Before leaving a historical overview of Sonoma, it would be remiss not to mention something of the great winemaking tradition that has made the area so famous. Perhaps the best example of the local viniculture tradition comes by way of the Buena Vista Winery. Its importance lies in being the single oldest commercial winery in the state of California. This historical building has been standing since 1857, and while it remains privately owned, it is on the state’s list of official landmarks. Here you can see everything from the original hand-dug caves used for aging to the most modern viniculture techniques employed today.