The History of Petaluma California

General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo
Petaluma was founded in 1852 and incorporated in 1858. Its first inhabitants probably arrived between 6 and 10,000 years ago and they were likely hunters and gathers. It is believed the word 'Petaluma' is from the language of the Coast Miwok Indians and translates into 'hill backside". Likely, this was referred to the Sonoma Mountain which is within close proximity to Petaluma.

The Petaluma River has a early and long history. Those who prospered from the river include the Petaluma Native Americans, Spanish Explorers and Mexican vaqueros. The River played an integral part in the success of the city and at one time, it was the third busiest commercial wateway in all of California.

Produce, people, products and perhaps most notably, eggs, were transported between the northern counties and San Francisco. In the 19th Century, Petaluma became not only the largest -but- the wealthiest town in Sonoma, Marin and Mendocino counties.

Petaluma’s poultry industry dates back to 1858, however, it wasn't until 1875 that business soared. Canadian born, Petaluman Lyman C. Byce invented the first practical chicken incubator and Petaluma became rich. From the late 1800s and through the 1940s, hundreds of chicken farms were established in the Petaluma Valley and profits from the egg business poured into the town.

The combination of Byce’s incubator and the city’s ideal shipping location on the Petaluma River enabled the city to flourish and an incredible building boom ensued - most of which is still standing today. At one time, Petaluma was known as the "Chicken Capital of the World" or the "World's Egg Basket". It was also known as the home of the world's first and only chicken pharmacy and featured in National Geographic and in Ripley's Believe or Not.

A National Egg Day was launched on August 13, 1918 and was celebrated each year until 1926. Festivities included a parade led by the Egg Queen with her court of attendant chicks, a Chicken Rodeo and an egg Queen Ball.

By mid-century, Petaluma's predominant industry became dairy farming and remains so today. However, tourism and high-tech industries also share this title.

Petaluma Adobe
The Petaluma Adobe

The Petaluma Adobe is a National Historic Landmark and it is the largest domestic adobe building remaining in the United States. Adobe, an ancient product, is a sun-dried brick made of clay and straw and generally used in hot, dry climates. Between the years 1836 and 1846, the Petaluma Adobe was onstructed by General Mariano G. Vallejo (1807-1890), commandant of the Sonoma pueblo. General Vallejo was the founder of the town of Petaluma and Santa Rosa.

Vallejo had a vast agricultural enterprise where more than 2000 Indians labored and the Adobe served as his headquarters. Vallejo owned 10,000 head of cattle, 24,000 sheep, and several large herds of horses making him the wealthiest, and one of the most politically powerful men in California by 1845.

Several of Vallejo's land titles were challenged and tied up in litigation for several years following the occupation of California by the Americans and Vallejo was forced to sell the Adobe by 1857. Throughout many years, ownerhip had chanaged several times and the Adobe eventually fell into disrepair. In 1951, the State of California acquired it along with five acres of surrounding land. The Petaluma Adobe was restored to the year 1840 and today is a California State Historic Park.

The Great Petaluma Mill which was built in 1854 is one of the oldest buildings in town. In the latter half of the 19th Century, it served as a food locker for most of the game used by San Francisco restaurants. Today it has been renovated and this riverfront landmark features specialty shops and restaurants. Throughout the building, one can find relics and antique photographs which tell the history of the Great Petaluma Mill.

Historic Downtown Petaluma

Petaluma survived the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake miraculously unscathed and its Spanish Colonial, Queen Anne, Victorian, Neo-classical, Gothic-revival, and Italianate architecture are beautifully preserved. Petaluma has been fortunate and Petalumans have have worked hard to protect their city's history. They won their right from the Federal Ninth Circuit Cout of Appeals to implement an aggressive program of preserving older homes, commercial buildings and the Historic Riverfront. Petaluma was the first city which was able to protect its individuality. Their efforts paid off and in 1995, the Victorian Historic Downtown earned the recognition as one of the best preserved Historic Downtown areas and was added to the National Register Of Historic Places.

Petaluma has an "Americana" visual appeal which has attracted Hollywood filmmakers for more than 50 years. In 1911, the first movie was filmed in Petaluma. Additional movies followed such as American Graffiti, Peggy Sue Got Married, Inventing the Abbotts, Pleasantville, and Mumford. All have used Petaluma's historic downtown streets, shops, residential homes and unique collection of architecture and landscapes as movie locations.

Petaluma was the site of the world's first airmail run, to Santa Rosa, on February 17, 1911

Petaluma is home of the World's Wrist Wrestling Championships.

Petaluma's Historical Museum and Library features the only free-standing stained glass dome in the state.

Today the quaint riverfront city with Victorian charm is home to more than 600 businesses and 65 historical properties. Annual events include the Butter & Egg Days Parade, Victorian Holiday events, Semi-Annual Antique Faires, the Great Petaluma Quilt Show and the Arts & Garden Festival.

The Petaluma River
Petaluma is located just 32 miles north of San Francisco in the gorgeous Sonoma Valley Wine Country. Its ideal location can easily serve as a base for those exploring numerous romantic wineries, lush California Redwoods, and the breathtaking Point Reyes National Seashore.

Visitors have the opportunity to combine shopping with history in Petaluma. One can leisurely stroll through the downtown district of graceful Iron Front buildings of the 1800s while dropping in on many of the antique stores, clothing boutiques, gift shops and art galleries which are housed in historic buildings.

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