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Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, CA: Short Life and History

California is a state full of natural wonders, including many state and national parks. See interesting sites in San Francisco and beyond.

My photo of an illustration of the original site of Mission San Francisco Solano

My photo of an illustration of the original site of Mission San Francisco Solano

Mission San Francisco Solano

Now an integral part of the Sonoma State Historic Park, the Mission San Francisco Solano has a short but fascinating history. The mission was founded in 1823 and only had an eleven-year life.

My husband and I wandered the grounds of the mission many years ago on a vacation trip to the California wine country. Since we were spending some of our time in the Sonoma Valley visiting wineries, we also thought it would be of interest to see the town of Sonoma.

It is near the central plaza, in the heart of the town, where one finds what there is today of the mission. At the top of this article is a photograph I took of an illustration. It shows what the original site was like in appearance.

Brief History of This Area

For centuries, long before the discovery by Europeans, Native Americans lived in this verdant area. After the discovery of the New World, Spanish colonization of North and South America took place. By the 1800s, their reach had extended up the coastline of California to slightly north of San Francisco to what is now Sonoma. The New Spain province was known as Alta, California.

Many Spanish missions dotted the landscape. Catholic priests of the Franciscan order were an integral part of settling the land for Spain. They needed human power to build and sustain these missions, and the native Americans became tenants under their rule. Conversion of these native Americans to Christianity, teaching them life skills, and educating them were all a part of the plan. They would become Spanish citizens.

The goal of each mission was to become self-sustaining. Tending of animals and the growing of crops took place. Buildings made of local resources, such as the adobe and stone buildings that still exist, are now some of California's oldest structures. While settlement and expansion took place, the native Americans suffered much loss of life. Primarily it was due to the introduction of diseases such as measles, influenza, and tuberculosis, among others, of which they had no immunity.

World events started changing rapidly in this location. In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain. The Mission San Francisco Solano is the most northern mission, and it came into being under the rule of Mexico instead of Spain. The Mexican Congress decided in 1833 to close all of the missions and desecularize them. General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was the military man in charge of this project and settling this area for Mexico.

Russian interests were also active in this area, with an outpost at Bodega Bay and Fort Ross on the coastline not far from Sonoma. Settlers from the United States were pouring into California, lured by tales of riches to discover. While ultimately the Russians left, the United States settlers were there to stay. They revolted from Mexican rule on June 14, 1846, and raised the new Bear Flag of the Republic of California. It was not even a month later that the U.S. flag replaced the Bear Flag. On September 9, 1850, California became the 31st state of the United States.

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From Yesterday to Today

Buildings of this mission surrounded a large open square enclosure. Included inside and outside of the courtyard were some of the following: the chapel, living quarters, storehouses, workhouses, an infirmary, a jail, beehive ovens, and a gristmill. Also, there were fields of grain, orchards, gardens, vineyards, and a cemetery.

A brochure that I have states the following:

"Northernmost and last of 21 missions, site selected by Fr. Jose Altimira in 1823; Mission named for Peruvian saint. The building you see before you is not the original Mission. Original wooden structure dated back to 1824; more permanent church structure begun in 1827 by Fr. Buenaventura Fortuny. All that survives from Mission days is portion of Padres' House. Present church, built by Gen. Vallejo in 1840 and rebuilt in 1858, was substantially weakened by 1906 earthquake.

Restored adobe has been stuccoed; features wood lintels, hand-hewn timbers tied together with leather thongs and tile roof supported on small boughs. Earthen floor is bricked and tiled. Original Mission bell hangs under heavy beam. Large clump of ancient cactus fills most of north side. Cupola added to peak of front gable roof about 1850. Although extensively altered through restoration, the Mission represents the establishment of contemporary history in Sonoma."

According to notes that I made, the fourteen Stations of the Cross are authentic mission period relics.

Visitors to this site can get a sense of what mission life was like back in the early years of the 1800s when spending some time in this area. We can credit early preservationists for saving this site.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Peggy Woods

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