Bill Lynch: Marcy House, a living history

Almost filled floor to ceiling, the storage spaces at Marcy House are where the archivists of the Sonoma Valley Historical Society, led by Annie McCausland, second from right, spend long days. From left, Kate Todd, Kirsten Desperrier, McCausland and Autymn Condit.


In “Game of Thrones,” the popular TV series currently running on HBO, there is a scene in which Samwell Tarly is working in the Citadel Library among a pile of dusty, ancient books, scrolls and manuscripts in a room filled to the ceiling with more books, scrolls and artifacts. Behind him, other workers pass to and fro carrying large stacks of documents.

Author George R.R. Martin, describes the Citadel library as the largest repository of knowledge of his fictional world.

If we shrink that to the size of Sonoma Valley and make it real, then the Marcy House on First Street West across from Arnold Field, operated by the Sonoma Valley Historical Society, is the Valley of the Moon equivalent.

There, amid floor-to-ceiling shelves, boxes and stacks of photos, maps, scrapbooks, film, letters and other documents and artifacts from the closets, basements, attics and home libraries of hundreds of Valley residents, Archivist Annie McCausland, oversees a small staff, including college and graduate students and local volunteers, all dedicated to collecting, identifying, preserving and sharing these local treasures from generations past for generations future.

Her long-term goal of making the local historical society’s collection accessible for reference, research and for exhibits at Depot Museum, is as overwhelming as it is important.

It would be easy to lose all track of time going through even one small box of old documents, photos and artifacts. Every item has a story to tell, and most of those stores are centered right here in our own hometown.

But Annie and her team cannot allow themselves to get beguiled into lingering over any one cache of local history too long. Their task, even working full time, will take years to complete. And, because local residents continue to donate their family memorabilia to the historical society, the job will never really end.

For now, they are still playing catch-up, and they’ve made real progress.

Collections and subjects currently available for the public to access include: The Southern Pomo, Coast Miwok, Patin and Wappo tribes, Sonoma Pueblo, Mission San Francisco Solano, Mexican military, the Vallejo family, Californios, the Bear Flag Revolt, pioneer families, local entrepreneurs, winemakers, farmers, artists, writers, politicians and academics, and local communities including Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Eldridge, Fetters Hot Springs, Agua Caliente, Boyes Hot Springs, El Verano, Sonoma, Vineburg, Schellville, San Luis and Wingo.

The research/archive team includes Sonoma State grad students Kate Todd, Kirsten Desperrier and James Peterson, as well as Delaney Swanson, a Sonoma native and undergrad student at Kenyon College. Volunteers Shelly Hoffman and Rose Clark, both avid historians help fill out the team on which Annie relies for the enormous task.

Additionally, Autymn Condit, a graduated of Dominican University, who was one of Annie’s original researchers, is in the middle of a new project to introduce the museum’s collection to local third grade students. Her “History, Community and Me” pilot series will begin this fall at Sassarini School.

If you are looking for information on a long lost relative, or on something that happened decades (or a century) ago in Sonoma Valley, the chances are pretty good the Annie and her team have it or can find it.

Part of their job is to respond to requests for information. “We’re a public historical service. People doing research call us regularly, and we do are best to find the documents and information they are looking for,” Annie stated.

Doing searches for callers takes time, but the detailed, tedious work of recording, cataloging and compiling information about each photo or document requires even more. It takes more than 30 minutes on average to deal with each photo, and they have thousands. Documents and maps take even longer.

The goal is to not only preserve these valuable records, but also to digitize everything so it is easy to find and copy.

Even as that work proceeds, more old things are brought in every week. So much, in fact, that one of Annie’s first tasks was to develop a policy by which submitted items can be determined to be relevant to the overall collection.

Annie McCausland is an archivist and public historian with a B.A in history from Chapman University, and an M.A in public history from California State University, Sacramento. She has served as the Sonoma Valley Historical Society Archivist since October 2016.

For help with research or to inquire about donating old documents and photos, you can contact her at, or by calling 343-1335.

The Sonoma Valley Historical Society also welcomes new members. You can find the membership application at