Shown here is the home of James W. Armstrong, a pioneer of Petaluma and Sonoma County as it appeared in April 1960. The photograph was taken for the Petaluma Argus Courier and is courtesy of the Sonoma County Library. Standing in front of the house are two granddaughters of Armstrong – Hazel Knight, left, and Rae Berteaux. At the right is a grandniece, Sadie Neal.
Armstrong was born in 1828 in Maryland. He served in the U.S. Army during the Mexican American War. Following his discharge, he headed for the gold mines of Placer County and ended up in Petaluma in 1854. Major Armstrong, as he was commonly known, then purchased a lot and built a house at what would now be addressed as 127 Petaluma Boulevard South. In 1922 the Armstrong’s heirs (he died in 1912) hired N. B. Ingerson to move the house to 206 D Street to make way for a Union Oil gas station.
A Petaluma Argus reporter described how the house was in a remarkable state of preservation and had old hand-hewn timbers that appeared as “good as the day in which they were installed.” The house was converted to apartments. It was demolished in 1965 after being purchased by Bob Acorne who by this point owned the Union Oil gas station. Mr. Acorne wished to expand his business to include a car wash and needed more room. This would be Petaluma’s first automatic car wash – possibly the first in the state of California.
Owners of this new venture were Dick Lieb, Delos Smith and Bob Acorne according to a Petaluma Argus Courier article dated March 31, 1965. That gas station and car wash are gone and now Theatre Square occupies the site.
Why am I researching this house you ask? Well besides possessing a passion for historic buildings – extant and not – it turns out James W. Armstrong signed a petition asking the California State Legislature to give women the right to vote in 1870. My research relates to an exhibit that will open at the Petaluma Museum on Aug 26th highlighting Petaluma’s role in the women’s suffrage movement. One of the ways I am contributing to the exhibit is by documenting places where Petaluma suffragists lived, held their meetings, and were buried.