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Important Sonoma County Figures

Ever wonder how some of the area’s popular sites and attractions were named? I sure have. Because I’m passionate about the Sonoma County region and all it has to offer, I did some digging, and found out that many were named after local pioneers. Let me share a few of these well-known names with you:

  • Mark West’s name is everywhere. This elusive historical figure’s name graces a road, creek, trail and charter school. William Marcus West was born in Scotland and came to California in 1832. He was awarded the 6,000-acre land grant of San Miguel Rancho between Santa Rosa and Mark West Creek, where he established the Bear Flag House, an inn for weary miners.
  • Luther A. Burbank is another of Sonoma County’s well-known historic figures. By age 20, the horticulturist embraced plant breeding as his life’s work. He moved to Santa Rosa in 1875 and developed over 800 new varieties of plants. Burbank was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1986. Today, Luther Burbank Home & Gardens are open to the public.
  • At the turn of the 20th century, Jack London was the most successful writer in America and remains a highly celebrated figure, especially in Sonoma County where he put down roots. He published his most well-known novel Call of the Wild, and by his death in 1916, he’d worked as a writer, photographer, journalist, activist, sailor and rancher. SSU’s Library holds an extensive Jack London collection, and its campus mascot, the Seawolf, is taken from one of his novels.
  • In 1911, former race car driver Fred Wiseman made aviation history delivering mail by air. Averaging only 100 feet in altitude, he flew from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, occasionally dropping Press Democrat newspapers to subscribers below. His homemade plane made of bicycle wheels, piano wire and such somehow managed 75 horsepower. His plane now rests in the Smithsonian.
  • In 1918, sports cartoonist Robert Ripley of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! fame, was out of ideas and on a deadline. Under pressure, he drew a series of cartoons featuring amazing facts: a man walked across America backwards, another held his breath for 6.5 minutes. The public begged for more, so he began a quest for oddities that led him around the world. Not bad for a kid from Santa Rosa whose first job was polishing tombstones. In 1937, Ripley crossed paths with Charles Schulz, who mailed Ripley a cartoon of a dog able to eat razor blades with impunity. Schulz and Snoopy went on to become Santa Rosa luminaries.
  • An award-winning cartoonist, Charles “Sparky” Schulz created the comic strip Peanuts. In 1958 he made Sonoma County his home and established the Redwood Empire Ice Arena in Santa Rosa, a reflection of his fondness for the winter sports featured in his cartoons. By 1999, Peanuts was running in over 2,600 newspapers worldwide. In 1997, Charles and Jean Schulz provided major funding to Sonoma State University for the university library that now bears their names. In 2000, the county airport was re-named in his honor and, in 2002, the Charles M. Schulz Museum opened in Santa Rosa.