December 2, 2020
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Slice of Sebastopol history

  • Sebastopol about 1890-1900 Photo inherited from my grandfather, Marion S. Barnes

  • Sebastopol about 1890-1900 Photo inherited from my grandfather, Marion S. Barnes

By: Suzanne Guerra
October 23, 2020

In August, 1850 Aaron Henry Barnes, age 35, and his wife, Lydia, age 27, left Medicine Township, Mercer County, Missouri with their children, Henry, 9, John, 7, William, 4 and Nancy Jane, 1.  They used an ox-drawn wagon for transportation and headed for California to seek gold.

In October of 1850 they arrived in Nevada City, California and stayed there for three months.  They are shown on the 1850 United States Federal Census, taken October 28, 1850 as living in Grass Valley, Yuba County, California.  That became their home for six years.

The following year they continued to the Feather River near Oroville where Aaron searched for gold using placer mining (panning for gold) during the summer and sold supplies from a store that he had near Bidwell Bar (now under the Oroville Dam) during the winter. 

Meanwhile, daughter Mary Elizabeth was born in Oroville, Butte County in 1853 and Aaron Henry Jr. was also born in Butte County along the Feather River (probably in Oroville) in 1855.

Aaron saved the money he received for the gold he found, 

plus any profits from his store and he must have saved quite a bit because in 1856 the family moved to Green Valley, near Sebastopol, and Aaron bought 970.9 acres of land in the Rancho Canada de Jonive, Pleasant Hill area.  Later, he bought 300 acres more.

He built a house and raised cattle, but also grew wheat and potatoes.   The family had a good life and two more children were born in Green Valley or Sebastopol---Benjamin Franklin, born in 1861and Samuel Leroy, born in 1864.

Analy was growing, but it did not have a town cemetery.  On March 26, 1868 Aaron sold “one acre three quarters and twenty-three poles” (about 1.89 acres) to trustees for the new cemetery, but he kept ownership of the land.  In 1970 Aaron’s great-granddaughter, Gladys Barnes Pollock bought the cemetery and changed the name from “Pleasant Hill Grave Yard” to “Pleasant Hill Cemetery,” to be run by the Pleasant Hill Corporation.

At the time there was one small building on the property and the cemetery had a crematorium.  There was an area strictly for Barnes relatives, now called the “Pioneer Section.”  Originally, all Barnes relatives could be buried there for free, but that doesn’t apply any longer.

Today it is called the Pleasant Hills Cemetery, but the Pioneer Section is still there for Barnes relatives, along with a Veteran’s section and the buildings have grown in size.

While the Civil War was going on, Sonoma County, so I have been told by a former history teacher, was predominately pro-South.

Lydia Barnes was a devout churchgoer and attended the Baptist Church in Sebastopol.  However, she was from Pennsylvania and her heritage of Quaker ancestors and relatives made her pro-North.  She was threatened many times by her fellow churchgoers because of her differing view and finally her son, William Perry, told those churchgoers that if they continued to prevent his mother from attending church in peace, he would do something to them.  (I have no idea if it continued or not but William never hurt anyone.)

When gold was discovered many Chinese immigrants came to find their fortunes which led to the Chinese Exclusion Act.  It was not uncommon for Chinese people in Sebastopol to be terrorized or even killed.

By 1870 the number of Chinese had increased and many lived on Main Street on land owned by Aaron Barnes.

In 1885 he gave land specifically to the Chinese to use for their homes, stores, etc. It was located where the present-day Barnes Ave. is in Sebastopol.

Lydia died on June 10, 1885 in Sebastopol and is buried in the Pioneer Section of the Pleasant Hills Cemetery.

That same year Aaron moved to Bodega Avenue, where he built a house because he felt too old to run his ranch any longer.  (The house is no longer there.)

He still had one more project to complete---the building of three brick buildings for businesses in Sebastopol.  Some knew it as “the Barnes block.”  They stood for about ten years but the 1906 earthquake destroyed all of them, according to The Analy Standard newspaper on April 21, 1906.  Furthermore, every brick building in town was destroyed and no monuments were left in either of Sebastopol’s cemeteries.

According to several relatives who knew Aaron, he had dementia in his final years and his actions certainly showed it.  For instance, about a month after Lydia died, he hired a “musical gentleman” name Professor Parks to find a suitable wife for him in exchange for $500.

According to the Daily Alta California, the Professor found a twenty-seven-year-old woman who was “attractive and cultured and agreed to share the old man’s wealth.”  Aaron gave her two cottages and $30,000 before they were married but she only kept the cottages and $10,000.  She signed a contract stating that she would stay with him.

Her name was Jessie Warren Burke and she married Aaron on July 19, 1885 in Santa Rosa.  They went to Lake County for their honeymoon and she remained his wife until August 1892.

Jessie left Aaron and he in turn sued her for breach of contract.  He wanted his property and $20,000 in damages but was denied.  

Aaron Henry Barnes died on March 28, 1897 in Sebastopol and was buried with Lydia in the Pleasant Hill Cemetery.