Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Genealogy, In a Roundabout Way

Sometimes, you just have to take a break from it all.

Admittedly, that is what I just did, ten days ago. Let's say I stored up my vacations to set aside for one month of desperation. I just had to get out of town. Again. Another business meeting came to my rescue.

I did intend to do some genealogy work while we were out of town. Honest. There is a nice genealogical reference section at the library in the town where I spent the day, yesterday. But by the time the morning caught up with me, I was content just to keep on pursuing that matrilineal line that has me so focused, lately. And, as I've observed before, in matters such as the making of politics and sausage—and we can add in family trees, here—it's best not to watch while the work is in progress.

So, while I've been churning through the tedium of snagging every detail on every female descendant of every female ancestor I could find, allow me to provide you the divertissement of what we found when we arrived in our hotel room and drew back the curtains to have a look outside our second story window.

We were in Santa Rosa, California, a town I know well, thanks to it being the hometown of a particular someone whose family history I've already recounted here. The city is nestled among hills in a picturesque part of northern California dubbed Wine Country, so I wasn't surprised to realize that I had actually missed the fact that such an imposing structure stood not far from me when we checked into our hotel.

Though the structure dominating the view from our window seems to belong to another time and another place, it is actually nestled among several modern buildings—buildings also not very visible from the main road. For instance, the steel and glass of an office building can be seen behind the left side of the barn. While out of view from this vantage point, the parking lot below belongs to the hotel in which we were staying. Perched on the crest of the hill, also just beyond this view, is the imposing spread of a Hilton hotel. A busy, four lane thoroughfare snakes its way around the foot of the hill, leading to a main, north-south freeway artery that can take a traveler all the way from Los Angeles in southern California to Port Angeles in Washington state, just below the Canadian border.

As many times as I've visited Santa Rosa, I've somehow missed the fact that this gem of a building still sits here in this spot. I had to find out more about it, first by getting outside and walking the length of the parking lot with my husband, who obligingly took several photos from umpteen angles (and hillsides) with his phone.

Then, back at home, I wandered through the Internet to see what could be found about our latest discovery. Since the barn itself sported a sign proclaiming "Fountaingrove Round Barn," that was our first clue, and thus no surprise to learn that Santa Rosa is actually home to not one, but two well-preserved round barns--make that three, if you stretch the parameters to include the entire Sonoma County, of which Santa Rosa is the county seat.

You just have to know Santa Rosa and the culture and ambience there to appreciate that this barn was originally part of the complex for a utopian community founded in 1875 in what once was a rural area well outside the city limits of Santa Rosa. The barn itself was built in 1899, as part of the winery established by the Fountaingrove community. It was built by a contractor from nearby Napa, John Clark Lindsay, under the direction of the community's second leader, known by his alias as Nagasawa Kanaye—one of America's first Japanese immigrants, who ironically came here from New York, as a protege of the poet who established the Fountaingrove community.

Though classified as a round barn, the structure left behind by the utopian community is actually a sixteen-sided building, now owned by the same corporation operating the hotel in which we stayed. Though the sign on the side of the building was apparently placed there in the 1990s, it is hard to tell whether any further work has been done on the project to convert it to more modern uses. Right now, it just looks like a relic preserved for all to view—if they can spot it amidst the trees on the hillside—as they rush by on the many roads nearby, built to accommodate the rapidly-expanding borders of the city which now claims it as part of their own heritage.

Above: photographs of the Fountaingrove Round Barn, now part of the city of Santa Rosa in northern California; both photographs courtesy of Chris Stevens. 


  1. What a beautiful barn, so glad they preserved it:)

  2. I ditto Far Side... A beautiful barn and I'm glad it's been preserved -

    1. Thankfully, it seems the city of Santa Rosa is quite proactive about preserving its heritage.


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