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California: Sonoma County / Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma

Having written earlier about the second mission founded in California by Father Serra and his group (https://traveldreamscapes.wordpress.com/category/california/carmel-by-the-sea/san-carlos-borromeo-de-carmelo-mission/), I thought I would follow up that post with one featuring the last mission founded in California, long after Father Serra’s death.

The twenty-first and last mission is the Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma located at 114 East Spain Street in Sonoma, CA.  Founded on July 4, 1823 by Father Jose Altimira, the Mission today is part of the Sonoma State Historic Park.

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A wooden frame outside the mission entrance holds one of the original bells, which was cast in 1829

A wooden frame outside the mission entrance holds one of the original bells, which was cast in 1829

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The establishment of the mission coincided with the Mexican government’s desire to stop Russia’s attempts to extend control of Alta California.  The Mexican government put General Mariano Vallejo in charge of the military in that effort. Not only did the General perform his military duties as an officer of Mexico, he shaped the transition of California from a Mexican district to an American state. Vallejo helped to build the town of Sonoma and even paid for the rebuilding of the small Mission chapel. You can visit his home which is also a part of the Sonoma State Historic Park. (https://traveldreamscapes.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/california-wine-country/)

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The Franciscan Fathers who lived at the Mission grew grapes and produced sacramental wine from the first vineyard in the Sonoma Valley, which was first planted in 1825. An interesting side note to Sonoma’s reputation as a world class wine growing region today!

Unfortunately, by 1839, the Mission was in ruins and unoccupied. The original adobe church on the east side collapsed in the late 1830’s. It was replaced by a smaller adobe chapel in 1841. Other parts of the mission were taken apart for their adobe bricks, roof tiles and timbers.

Through the years the Mission saw many different uses, among these a blacksmith’s shop, a barn, and even a storeroom. In 1846, white American settlers took over the town in what has come to be known as the “Bear Flag Revolt.” It was during this time that the Mission was sold to a man who used the chapel entrance as a saloon and stored liquor and hay in the chapel. The Mission eventually became a parish church serving the Pueblo and Sonoma Valley until it was sold to Solomon Schoken for $3,000 in 1882. In 1903, the California Historic Landmarks League purchased what remained of Mission San Francisco Solano and began restoration work which was completed by the state in 1913.

Memorial dedicated to the origin of the Bear Flag

Memorial dedicated to the origin of the Bear Flag

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The chapel you see today was built by General Mariano Vallejo between 1840 and 1841, as previously mentioned. It replaced the original church which was at the east side of the Mission.

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What was the dining room in this section of the mission now displays mission paintings done by Chris Jorgensen between 1903-1905

The Mission houses a museum in what is called the “Bell Room.” Originally, this was part of the Padre’s quarters. Construction of this part of the Mission was started in 1824-25. While there are three rooms today, originally there were some 21 rooms in this section of the Mission. Here visitors can view a number of different well-preserved exhibits.

Upon exiting the museum, you will enter the courtyard. The center of the courtyard is a quiet sitting area with many shade trees and a fountain. The fountain is not original to the Mission as it’s sitting in the middle of what would have been a busy work area back when the Mission was active.

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There is a display area within the courtyard featuring a large tallow pot and a beehive oven. Tallow had many uses at a mission; particularly for candles to provide light at night. The beehive oven was used for making bread and any other baking needs.

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Just across from the Mission you will find the restored Mexican-era soldiers barracks which now house a small museum and a gift shop.

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Operated by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the Mission is open daily (except Mondays) from 10am-5pm. It is closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas days.

We found the Mission San Francisco Solano to be fascinating as it is the last of the missions built in California and the only one in the United States built under the Mexican government. It is not a fancy mission like the Santa Barbara Mission or the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission that typify Californian elegance.  This mission is rustic and it speaks of the frontier with its quiet adobe walls.

It is a nice detour when visiting the Sonoma County wineries.

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