Andersons plant firm local roots
Henry Andersonís ties to area go back 165 years; familyís property used for variety of endeavors
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By Mira Brody  July 19, 2013 12:00 am

Among the rolling Sonoma Mountains, just off Petaluma Hill Road, the landscape is interrupted by a low rock hedge that stripes down its center like a scar, the small gray boulders dotted with colored moss and small purple flowers. The wall itself is a piece of the county’s history, as it was built by displaced Chinese workers shortly after the Gold Rush when resident Henry James Anderson’s grandmother allowed them to stay on her land rent-free until they could get back on their feet.

“They’ve been here for a 165 years,” Grace Anderson says of her husband’s family. “All the efforts that they’ve put into the property and the land, nobody really knows when they drive by. They have no clue.”

Family travels long distance

Eyes alight with the volumes of family history his memory must contain, Anderson describes how his great-grandfather, Henry Porter, arrived in Sonoma County in a wagon having traveled 1,500 miles for seven months in order to purchase some of the 16,000 acres of the Cotate-Rancho land the Page family had just bought after General Vallejo and his troops had been evicted. After claiming 425 acres at a dollar each, the Porters settled between Hinebaugh and Crane Creeks cultivating the land to graze their livestock and begin their life in California.

“The thing that I have to offer is that there are very few people in California that have eight great-grandparents and six families to come from across the prairie to Sonoma County,” says Anderson. “We’re doing the same thing today that we were doing then, including the grape industry.”

It is because of the contributions and historical significance his family holds in the county that Henry Anderson was granted by the senate and assembly a unique resolution as commencement. He also received a California state flag which flew in his honor on July 3 at the State Capitol. Senator Ben Hueso came to his farm to personally deliver both.

Society of Pioneers member

Anderson pulls from his pile of history books a small blue book filled to the brim with names; all the documented members of the Society of Pioneers. In order to be considered a member of the exclusive club, he explains you have to prove that your family was here before January 1, 1850, before the Gold Rush. He had with him the Bible that traveled across the prairie with his great-grandparents, and their marriage certificate, dated July 17, 1884.

Aside from being a direct descendant of Sonoma County’s first pioneers, Anderson was hired by MGM and for 14 years was responsible for converting regular passenger planes into international livestock transporters so that cattle and horses could be safely transported.

“I’ve moved livestock into 90 countries,” he says of his time with the Animal Air Association. “When you get into moving livestock, you need someone who knows about livestock and has instinct. We once moved Secretariat to the Triple Crown.”

Moving large satellites

He now works as a ground handler at Moffet Federal Airfield, where he is in charge of moving some of the largest satellites in the world, preparing them before their launch in Russia.

In his mind, Anderson has a full detailed timeline of the agricultural changes that have occurred in Sonoma County over the last 150 years, a business, he says, that continues to thrive to this day.

“We were in the prune business, then that went bad. We were in the apple business, then that went bad,” he said. “Now we’re in the grape business, and the reason the grape business is so great is that Sonoma County is the perfect place to grow them. Today we are looking at Sonoma County as the leader over Napa.”

When asked of any other notable changes he’s observed from his time living here, his wife, Grace, points from her yard out to the shining white wall that is the Green Music Center.

“Well, we used to have bulls over there, grazing,” she says.

Anderson’s father was actually the man who signed over the deeds to Sonoma State University in 1959, a school his daughter, Christy, 23, now attends where she is studying economics and agriculture. Their son, James Porter Anderson, 22, helps out on the farm most days, which is a full-time job.

“The same people that came here are the same people that are making all this happen today,” he says, gesturing to the land around him where many of the original settlers, such as the Hinebaughs and Crane family still reside. “They love the area, they love the people. There’s a very strong feeling among the pioneers that are here now that this is unbelievably a great place to be.”

The families would work together during the summer harvest, cultivating more than 2,300 acres with the hands of 14 family members. Without the joined effort, none of it would have happened. Still, very much involved in the land around them, the Andersons now grow grapes, the rows of lush greenery that are visible from their driveway. They have owned the MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg since 1846 and produce well-known zinfandels and chardonnays under the Sonoma-Cutler label.

“The important thing is that we’re here. We’re going to stay here we hope for a long, long time with the revenue from the vineyards, and we see nothing but a good situation for the grape industry in Sonoma County.”

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