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Rancho Petaluma Adobe

Rancho Petaluma Adobe, California
Structural system adobe brick and timber
Town east of Petaluma, California
Country United States
Client General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo
Coordinates 38°15′20″N 122°35′04″W / 38.25547°N 122.58451°W / 38.25547; -122.58451Coordinates: 38°15′20″N 122°35′04″W / 38.25547°N 122.58451°W / 38.25547; -122.58451
Started 1834
Completed 1857
Size 200 x 145 feet
Cost $80,000
Petaluma Adobe
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Location: Casa Grande Road, Petaluma, California
Built/Founded: 1836
Architectural style(s): Adobe/Monterey Colonial[1]
Governing body: State
Added to NRHP: April 15, 1970[2]
Designated NHL: April 15, 1970[1]
NRHP Reference#: 70000151

Rancho Petaluma Adobe is the name of a historic ranch house built from adobe bricks that was owned and constructed by General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, commandant of the Sonoma Pueblo[3] from 1834 to 1857. It is the largest example of the Monterey Colonial style of architecture in the United States.[4] It has been preserved by the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park as a California state and National Historic Landmark. The Rancho Petaluma Adobe is located on Adobe Road on the east side of present-day town of Petaluma, California. The park has been threatened with closure.



The Petaluma Adobe ranch house was the largest privately owned adobe building ever built in California. It was two stories high, built in a quadrangle roughly 200 ft × 145 ft (61 m × 44 m), two buildings surrounding an open courtyard patio. The eastern building no longer exists, so it is only half its former size. It took 10 years and thousands of local adobe bricks to make.[5] It was detailed with imported glass windows in the downstairs dining room, interior fireplaces, planked floors, a low sloped shingled roof, and a two story wooden veranda that encased and protected the adobe walls. The combination of wood and adobe is unique to Mexican-American architecture.[6]



Mexican-American era

In 1834, Governor José Figueroa granted General Vallejo the lands of Rancho Petaluma. By 1836, General Vallejo had ordered construction of the ranch house, investing an estimated $80,000 in men, materials and years to complete. His younger brother Salvador Vallejo directed most of the construction. Between 1836 and 1839, at least 2,000 Native Americans were employed at the ranch construction to make bricks, haul lumber, construct, cook, farm, make tools, tan hides and tend a large herd of cattle.

From the ranch and the Presidio of Sonoma, the General lodged soldiers who kept peace in the region, and conducted ranch business. His family often used the Petaluma Adobe as a summer home, while he resided in the neighboring town of Sonoma, California, where his house is preserved as part of the Sonoma State Historic Park.

He left daily management to his mayordomo (foreman), Miguel Alvarado, who resided at the ranch. In its operational days between 1836 and 1857, the Rancho Petaluma employed up to 2,000 of the remaining Sonoma County Native Americans. Quickly, the cattle ranch became one of the largest Mexican-American owned ranches of the north bay and a social-economic center of Northern California.

Desk in the mayordomo's room at Petaluma Adobe

The ranch included a tannery, smithy, and grist mill. It had over 12,000 head of cattle, one quarter slaughtered each year for the main exports of hides and tallow sent via river boats on the Petaluma River down to the San Francisco Bay. The export of hides and tallow was its main income source, a very lucrative business in the Mexican-American era, while much of the meat was wasted. Vallejo made an estimate $18,000 to $24,000 yearly on hides and tallow. The ranch also supported up to 3000 sheep. Necessities and other products such as candles, soap, thousands of wool blankets, boots and shoes for military troops under Vallejo’s command, and saddles were manufactured by native artisans in shops.[7]

In 1843, Mexican Governor Manuel Micheltorena deeded to General Vallejo the 84,000 acres (340 km2) grant Rancho Suscol, adding to the ranch lands considerably, to reward Vallejo's military services. Rancho Suscol extended the lands of Rancho Petaluma south down to the San Francisco Bay, and southwest to present-day city of Vallejo.

Native American tenants

After the Spanish missions in California were secularized in 1834, many Native Americans of the region, the Suisunes, Coast Miwok and Pomo, sought employment on the large ranches of Northern California. The Rancho Petaluma as the largest ranch employed the majority of the Native Americans in the County. Many Native Americans were recruited as ex-neophytes of the disbanded Mission San Francisco Solano (the Sonoma Mission) who needed a new employer and were trained ranch people already, others were employed after being captured by force during military skirmishes. Some natives joined from military and political alliances with Vallejo, and others because it was social-economic center especially as a place of seasonal work. In a patron arrangement that recalls the preceding mission system, many of the natives turned over all of their own cattle to Vallejo, in exchange to become a part of the ranch as the worker force and tenants. Many constructed huts of tule reeds and lived beside the ranch. In payment for working on the ranch as ranchers, cattlemen, artisans and servants, the Natives received some protection, daily food and clothing. However, unlike the Mission Indians, the Natives at the ranch were not expected to be Roman Catholic or follow strict Catholic practices.[8]

Decline of 1846-1910

A bust of General Vallejo at the park

The fate of the ranch turned in 1846-1848 when the United States and Mexico went to war: General Vallejo was imprisoned for his position in the Mexican military, and in his absence, John C. Frémont requisitioned and stripped the ranch of its horses, cattle and grain reserves for his California battalion. Many of the natives, his main labor force, had fled from the incoming gold rush settlers. Thereafter the ranch declined in value and profitability for Vallejo every year. The University of California considered purchasing it for a campus site in 1856. Vallejo sold the building and 1,600 acres (6.5 km2) to William Whiteside for $25,000 circa 1857 who sold it to William Bliss. The southeast half of the adobe deteriorated and the Bliss family could not afford all the repairs.[9]

Conversion to a historic park

In 1910, the Petaluma Adobe was bought by the Native Sons of the Golden West. In 1932 it was registered as California State Historical Landmark #18.[10] In 1951, the ranch was sold to the State of California. In 1970, it was registered as a National Historic Landmark. It is now preserved as the centerpiece of Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park. About 80% of the adobe brick is original, although most of the wood has been replaced. A part of the foundation for the deteriorated half is now visible, and a small museum and other exhibits are on display.[11]

Locals refer to it as "Old Adobe."

Proposed for closure

Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park was one of the 48 California state parks proposed for closure in January 2008 by California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as part of a deficit reduction program.[12]


  1. ^ a b NHL Summary
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15.  
  3. ^ NPS Redbook
  4. ^ NHL Writeup
  5. ^ Department of Parks & Recreation, 1987:8.
  6. ^ Department of Parks & Recreation, 1987:10.
  7. ^ data from Department of Parks & Recreation, 1987:12, 26.
  8. ^ Silliman, 2004:55-58.
  9. ^ Department of Parks & Recreation, 1987:18, 32.
  10. ^ "Petaluma Adobe". Office of Historic Preservation landmark listings. State of California. Retrieved 2009-08-30.  
  11. ^ Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park brochure, Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, 2005  
  12. ^ List Of Calif. Parks To Close In Budget Proposal


  • California, Department of Parks & Recreation (1987). Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park General Plan. Sacramento, CA: State of California Resources Agency. OCLC 38627251.  
  • Silliman, Stephen (2004). Lost Laborers in Colonial California, Native Americans and the Archaeology of Rancho Petaluma. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0816523819.  

External links

See also


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