Western Trips

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sonoma Mission / Mission San Francisco Solano

sonoma mission
A California wine country vacation or weekend trip isn't complete without a visit to the Sonoma Mission. The Sonoma Mission and the town of Sonoma is a perfect addition to your trip planner. The Sonoma Mission is one of the most historic sites to see in California's beautiful Sonoma County. 

The Mission Sonoma is located in the heart of Sonoma California, between the cities of napa and Santa Rosa off State Hwy 12. The town of Sonoma is also in the heart of the beautiful Sonoma Valley wine country which this area north of San Francisco Bay is so noted for. It's also adjacent to the popular Napa Valley wine country. The old Spanish mission and the entire town of Sonoma is part of the Sonoma State Historic Park. Parts of Sonoma State Historic Park include the Mission San Francisco Solano, the Blue Wing Inn, Sonoma Barracks, the Toscano Hotel, the Servants Quarters Vallejo's Home. Visitors typically walk through the streets surrounding Sonoma's historic central plaza. Adding the Sonoma State Historic park to your tour of the local wineries make for a perfect Sonoma wine country vacation or weekend getaway.

The two most significant facts about the mission is that it was completed after the Mexican Revolution which drove the Spaniards from Alto California. The second is that it was the very last of the twenty-one California missions built. The first was founded in San Diego by Father Junipero Serra and the last was the Mission Sonoma. The Spaniards constructed missions in California for a few reasons. One was to help colonize the region and convert the Natives to Christianity. The missions also helped Spain lay claim to the area which had both British and Russian settlements to the north in present day Oregon and Washington states. The Russians actually had settlements as far south as Fort Ross on the Pacific coast just north of the San Francisco Bay area. Many historians note that the Russian and British presence to the north is probably the reason that the mission building didn't go any further north than Sonoma. The mission building effort just about stopped after the Mexican Revolution and Spain's exit from North America however the Sonoma Mission which officially was named Mission San Francisco Solano was actually built by the Mexicans. There is also information that the Mexicans did attempt to build a twenty-second mission in Santa Rosa just to the northwest of Sonoma but the plans were scrapped.

sonoma mission bell
Mission San Francisco Solano Bell
During the years the Mission was active, General Mariano Vallejo lived in Sonoma. His purpose there was essentially to monitor Russian activity in the Fort Ross area. In fact, General Vallejo helped build the town of Sonoma and was stationed there during Mexico's rule of Alta California. Mexico's rule of the area was fairly short lived since they ceded Alta California at the end of the Mexican American War in 1848. 

The mission was basically in ruins by the year 1839. Through the years the mission was used for many purposes including as a blacksmith's shop and a barn. By 1846 the town was even taken over by white settlers as part of the historic Bear Flag Revolt. Many white settlers had migrated to the region over the years and what happened in California with the Bear Flag Revolt is not too unlike what occurred in Texas with the revolution against the Mexicans. Most historians point out that it probably was the success of the Texans over the Mexicans that sowed the seeds of what would eventually happen in California.

blue wing hotel in sonomaThe Blue Wing Inn and sometimes referred to as the Blue Wing Hotel pictured left is located directly across the street from the mission and just around the corner from the plaza. The adobe structure was built by General Vallejo in 1849 to help accommodate the many visitors to the area. It's believed that the Blue Wing was the very first hotel built north of San Francisco and that it's considered today to be the oldest adobe structure visible to the public north of San Francisco Bay.

Another historic structure a few doors west of Mission Sonoma and facing the Sonoma plaza is the wide balconied two story adobe structure that housed Mexican troops. This site is referred to as the Sonoma Barracks which are pictured below right. The troops were under the command of General Vallejo and arrived in Sonoma in 1834. General Vallejo at the time was commandant at the Presidio of San Francisco and was given orders to move his troops up to Sonoma. From that year until 1846, Sonoma was the home of the Frontera del Norte. General Vallejo made his headquarters there. Research indicates that General Vallejo himself commanded many of the more than 100 Mexican Army expeditions originating from Sonoma to subdue the local Indians who had offered up resistance to Mexican rule.
sonoma barracks
sonoma barracks in sonoma california
Sonoma Barracks

Another must see historic site also directly facing Sonoma plaza is the Toscano Hotel. The structure was built in 1851 which was one year after California achieved statehood. The building represents the oldest commercial wood frame structure in Sonoma. In its early years, the building similar to others served many different purposes including warehouse, general store, and lending library. An Italian immigrant by the name of Settimo Ciucci and his partner began renting the building in 1886. They converted the structure to a working mans hotel and named it the Toscano. There were a great number of Italian immigrants who had moved to the area to work the basalt quarry behind the hotel. Interestingly, the basalt blocks from the Sonoma quarry were used to pave the streets of San Francisco.  For the Sonoma tourist the hotel is open for exploration and you can view the inside that's filled with period furniture. 
plaque at Toscano hotel in sonoma

Touring the Sonoma wine country is one of California's most popular vacation pastimes. It's a combination of enjoying the scenery, visiting the wineries and viewing some of the oldest historic landmarks in the entire state. 

Another very popular stop is the Jack London State Historic Park which is just northwest of the town of Sonoma. The Jack London State Park comprises 40 acres of what was once the large estate of the writer Jack London.This is one of the most popular parks in northern California. (Photos are from author's private collection.)