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Bill Lynch: 100 years ago Valley faced prohibition

One hundred years ago last month, the first 1920 issue of the Sonoma Index-Tribune reflected a busy local population moving forward following the end of World War I, even as those earning a living in our largest local industry, wine making, were preparing for prohibition to be imposed in November of that year.

Surprisingly, the biggest page one headline was not about the plight of wine or local wine makers, but about the road to Santa Rosa.

It read: “Surveyors arrive and start activity on new highway between here and the county seat.”

The article outlined the beginning of the road to Santa Rosa from Sonoma, State Highway 12, known locally as the Sonoma Highway. The route established by that survey hasn’t changed since then.

In the very next issue, the Index-Tribune reported that the contract for 41,050 barrels of cement for the Sonoma-Petaluma Highway was awarded to A.F. Tomasini Hardware Company. The bid was $155,169.

Another front-page story predicted the sale of the pioneer Sonoma Valley resort, Agua Caliente Springs, by owner Mrs. Theo Richards, to major league baseball star George Edward “Duffy” Lewis, who played left field for the Boston Red Sox from 1910 to 1917.

He spent two years in the Navy during WWI, then returned to baseball with the New York Yankees from 1919-20, finally retiring after playing one more year for the Washington Senators.

Duffy was a Boyes Hot Springs resident during the offseason. Before going to the major leagues, Lewis, a native San Franciscan, had played for the Oakland Oaks, who held spring training here for many years. He was part of Boston’s “Million-Dollar Outfield,” which also included Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper.

In the same issue it was reported that George and Emma Fetters, for whom Fetters Hot Springs is named, were ordered to pay $1,200 in damage to R.J. Rowe who had sued them for $25,000 for uttering slanderous remarks against him.

Finally, just below that story it was reported that Samuele Sebastiani had started more improvements on his property, planting 1,200 fruit trees, mostly prunes, instead of grapes.

Many winemakers were scrambling to sell their wine as fast as they could and getting good prices for it. Winemakers like Kunde and Sebastiani took trips to New York for that purpose.

Some, including Sebastiani, were making large shipments to Europe and the Orient, and reports were that more than one winemaker was accepting large payments for what was called “sacramental wine” to eager buyers.

The second issue of 1920 reported that, in anticipation of prohibition, the Sonoma Ice and Brewing Company established in 1905 to make beer and other drinks, announced a decision to convert the brewery into a soft drink factory. Their main ingredients will be grape juice and mineral water. It decided that much of the brewery equipment and bottling machinery could be utilized for the soda water plant.

The stories from a century ago testify the energy and optimism characteristic of our Valley as we entered what would become the Roaring Twenties.

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