In the past several weeks, I have received many questions about the Sonoma County Archives, which narrowly escaped being destroyed by fire this past September. Given the interest, I’m sharing what I know about the history of the Archives based on my experience working at the Sonoma County History & Genealogy Library from March 2002 to February 2020.
The Sonoma County Archives was established in 1965 by a joint resolution of the County of Sonoma and the City of Santa Rosa. For many years, archival materials such as Sonoma County assessment records were stored in the basement of the Central Santa Rosa Library at 211 E Street.
In 1995 the Archives moved to a 3,800 square foot county-owned warehouse at Los Guilicos, just a stone’s throw from the historic Hood Mansion. The Archives contain over 5,000 cubic feet of records made up of photographs, oversized maps and drawings, bound volumes, boxes, and other materials encompassing both governmental records of the County of Sonoma, the City of Santa Rosa, and the City of Petaluma dating back to the mid 19th Century as well as local collections donated to the library by private individuals and organizations.
Sonoma County History & Genealogy Library staff oversee, but do not currently manage, the Archives, considered one of four Sonoma County Library special collections. The other three are the Wine Library at the Healdsburg Regional Library, the Petaluma History Room at the Petaluma Regional Library, and the Sonoma County History & Genealogy Library located adjacent to the Santa Rosa Central Library.
In October 2017, the Nuns fire came within 440 feet of the Archives. The following month, the Sonoma County Library staff hosted and participated in a workshop sponsored by the California Preservation Program called “Protecting Cultural Collections: Disaster Prevention, Preparedness, Response & Recovery.”
In August of 2018, a report prepared by Barclay Ogden of the California Preservation Program found that the Los Guilicos building lacked environmental controls for long-term archival storage; without onsite staff, had minimal security; was located in a mudslide zone; and at risk from wildfires, with an automatic fire suppression system that would not protect the Archives from destruction. Mr. Ogden concluded by noting that the building suffers from an “out of sight, out of my mind” problem.
Following the report, an Archives Space Plan was prepared by History Associates, Inc. at the request of the Sonoma County Library Commission, which they reviewed at their March 4, 2019, meeting. Nine months later, at their December 2, 2019, meeting, the commission approved the use of surplus Measure Y funds to pay for a “Sonoma County Archives Inventory and Rehousing” project. Responses to a request for proposals were received in February of 2020. Before the commission could review and approve, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and funding for the inventory and rehousing project was redirected elsewhere.
This past September, the Glass fire came even closer to the Archives than the Nuns fire had two years before. On October 9, 2020, Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt visited the Archives and nearby fire damage at Los Guilicos. Joining Supervisor Rabbitt was Isaac Gentry, county assistant building superintendent, and Caroline Judy, director of county general services.
To learn more about this visit, see Kevin Fixler’s October 13, 2020, article: “Los Guilicos Campus Suffers Bulk of County’s Glass Fire Damages” in the Press Democrat.
The Sonoma County Archives contains a treasure trove of historical materials, some of which date back to the 1840s. They document the County’s history and provide perspectives and answers to current-day issues in ways other resources can’t.
For instance, a year ago Steve Lovejoy, president of the Sonoma County Genealogical Society, member of the Sonoma County Historical Records Commission and Sonoma County Library volunteer, came across an exciting find while organizing an uncatalogued box labeled “Bonds of Public Oaths.” Amongst the oaths was documentation relating to 27 Sonoma County churches and other religious organizations, including a Certificate of Appointment of Trustees for the African American Methodist Episcopal Union Church of Petaluma dated May 18, 1869. Primary documents, such as this, make it possible for us to understand and tell the County’s complete history, which would otherwise be lost to time forever.
Records at the Sonoma County Archives are used by those involved in land-use planning. For instance, a 1946 Bodega Bay tidelands survey found at the Archives answered questions about whether the Meredith pier, proposed for demolition, was sitting on fill or not. This proved to be an important bit of information for Sonoma County General Services staff in charge of the demolition project.
Anyone researching Sonoma County’s law enforcement history will find the Archives chockablock with fascinating material such as books of arrests, monthly reports from the county jail, and police court docket minutes.
Some of the materials housed at the Archives exist in other formats elsewhere. However, it is not uncommon to discover that a document, map, etc. thought to have been microfilmed wasn’t. Such is the case with Road Book No. 1 – Proceedings of the Board of Supervisors, January 1873 to January 1880.
The Sonoma County Administrator’s office has microfilm copies of nearly all the minutes for board proceedings, but not this book. Land surveyors rely on records such as these to resolve rights of way issues that impact private and public property owners alike.
Even when microfilming captures the data correctly, it is a poor substitute when the original is a color survey like the one created for the proposed town of Agua Caliente in 1888.
These are just a few examples of the amazing items housed at the Archives at Los Guilicos. A small fraction of what exists can be found by visiting the Sonoma County Library online catalog.
If the future of the Sonoma County Archives concerns you, and, if like me, you feel strongly that they need to be moved to a more secure location where improved management and access can be assured, then let me know by sending an email to Advocates for the Sonoma County Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org