Monday, June 6, 2016

Sonoma Mission

Along the Mission Trail

The Mission San Francisco Solano (commonly known as the Sonoma Mission) is so full of history and interesting facts that it makes it an important destination for anyone following the mission trail.  I am coming close to finishing my own tour, and this last Alta California mission and most northern of the 21, is one of my favorites.

 The mission is only one of several buildings in an Historic State Park which is located in the center of  the picturesque town of Sonoma.  It is a great place to spend the weekend.  Tour the park and then go wine tasting.  Located between Napa and Santa Rosa, there are vineyards lining all roads into this beautiful and charming town.
.  But back to the mission itself:

I love that a young upstart missionary, Fr. Jose Altimira went ahead with construction of this mission despite strict orders from the church to stop.  Politics.  Bah!  Humbug!  He couldn't wait for approval to happen.  Getting permission from a bishop and the King's Viceroy might take months.  He and the California Governor, Luis Arguello, couldn't wait.  A mission and a fort were needed in this neck of the woods.  The Russians were encroaching on their territory and needed to be stopped.

And so very early on the 4th of July, 1823, Fr. Altimira and the soldiers accompanying him put up a rough-hewn redwood cross and the final mission was set in motion.  It is the only mission to be built after Mexico gained independence from Spain.  Its life is short-lived, but rich in history.

As a mission, it was not very successful.  As a military post, however, it soon gained notoriety as the most powerful one in California.  But as strong as this regiment was, it couldn't stop a band of frontiersmen from securing the fort in June of 1846 and drawing up a proclamation describing the New Republic of California.  Captain John C. Fremont took charge and the command of this area changed hands once again.  Four years later, California would become the 31st state of the United States of America

One of the most interesting artifacts in the museum is a replica of the very first California flag, known as "The Bear Flag", which was made in the Sonoma Barracks during that infamous June of 1846.  (The original flag was destroyed in the great San Francisco fire of 1906. )
Despite the religious undertones, this mission seems to be the most secular and the most political of the bunch.  By the time it was built, it was clear that Spain was losing the battle for control of California.  The strategy to convert the local Indians to Catholicism and assimilate them into Spanish society just didn't work.  Sadly, disease wiped out many tribes before they even had a chance.  Unlike the British on the East Coast, who brought their own to this new and foreign land, the Spaniards resisted moving here and populating the area.  The Mexicans fought hard to hold on to this newly acquired land, but simply couldn't stop the U.S. expansion once it began.

So for me, it was the barracks and the other old buildings around the square that I found the most interesting.  Even as colorful as Fr. Altimira was, he himself didn't stay long at his beloved mission.  An Indian uprising destroyed most the the buildings he constructed, and by the time Sonoma reached its peak production in 1832, he was already gone.  The mission only survived for eleven years.

Unlike the other missions that fell into neglect after they were closed by the Mexican Congress, this mission met its demise by being looted.  Ironically, the town of Sonoma was booming, so building materials were needed.  Roof tiles, timbers and adobe bricks were scavenged and carted away.  By 1903, only two  buildings remained.  These buildings were purchased by the California Historic Landmarks League and became part of the California Park System. The current church is an authentic restoration of the one Lieutenant Mariano Vallejo built in 1841.

The Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California, marks the end of the Mission Trail and the end of a very interesting era in our state's history.

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