Barracks memories

My grand-aunt Celeste and uncle Walter Murphy owned and lived in the historic Sonoma barracks, on the Plaza. They sold it to the state in the 1950s but lived there until their deaths, just months apart, in 1962.

Aunt Celie was the daughter of Harry Granice (my great grandfather), editor and publisher of The Sonoma Index-Tribune from 1884 until his death in 1915. Then Aunt Celie and Uncle Walter took over the family newspaper.

A Sonoma Valley High School and UC Berkeley graduate and avid historian (she wrote a local history book titled “The People of the Pueblo”), aunt Celie also wrote pageants based on local history that were performed at vintage festivals and other town celebrations.

I have several original copies of the scripts that I found in one the old boxes in my parents’ attic.

My father, Robert Lynch, who succeeded his aunt and uncle as editor and publisher in 1949, spent much of his childhood, teen and college years living with them in the barracks.

He described it as a magical place filled to the brim with antiques and memorabilia that the Murphys collected over the decades, even before they bought and restored the barracks in 1936.

Fortunately for me, I also have childhood memories of my aunt and uncle and their home in the barracks. We spent most Christmas and Thanksgiving evenings, and special family gatherings, dining with them well into the late 1950s. My aunt loved to cook, and was especially fond of fresh, local trout, which I caught in local creeks and brought to her. Every time, she made me feel like I’d given her something more valuable than gold. She also always invited me to join her and uncle Walter for dinner, which I often did.

I’ve tried to describe their home, from these childhood memories, to my wife and friends, but could never fully convey what it was like.

Then last year, at the very bottom of an old leather suitcase that had been stored in my parents’ garage attic since 1962, I found a packet of 8x10 black and white photos of the barracks interior, along with a 1952 article in the San Francisco Examiner, written by my aunt about her home.

In it she wrote:

“Our home is the adobe barracks built by the Indians in 1836. It housed the troops of Gen. M.G. Vallejo until the pueblo was seized by the Bear Flag Party in 1846 …

“The barracks later became successively a print shop, wine shop and a merchant’s store and home.

“We bought the old landmark in 1936 when it was a century old, and restored it along original lines … the upper floor and its old-fashioned furnishings, the full-length verandas on the south and north, and the thick walls – cool in summer and resistant to winter – make ideal living.

“The lower floor houses a collection of pioneer relics, branding irons, powder horns, firearms, primitive utensils and pictures. The upper floor is spacious enough to have become the living room with settees, chairs, marble-top tables, bookcases and Californiana …

“The large parlor is conspicuous for the hand-carved circular settee which centers the room and, atop this upholstered piece, a deli of a famous San Francisco hotel is a graceful bronze maiden holding aloft three bronze-headed lights.”

My aunt’s description is quite detailed and would occupy space in the paper for two more columns. The photos show rooms crammed full of antiques, many of which were more than a half-century old before she got them.

It was her home, but to me, even then, it seemed like a wonderfully mysterious museum. I will find a way to make all these photos and the complete article available, possibly online, and to one of our local museums. I have included a couple of the photos for use in the I-T and on the I-T website.