While we are in this part of Petaluma’s historic downtown district, let’s discover another “familiar” object that might be “Strange” for you. There is an irregular parking area, with a small island separator (now called Central Park), just across the street from the former U.S. Post Office building (Strangeness #2). When Petaluma was designed, this area marked the southern limits and was set aside as a hitching area. While conducting their business up the street, farmers would park their wagons here. Have you seen it? Do you know how it got there, thirty-six years ago? A bell was placed at one end of the island to commemorate an historic event of 190 years ago.
According to an Argus-Courier article( 12/2/1977) by Rod Brewster, “a party of padres left the San Francisco presidio June 25, 1823 and sailed to San Rafael where a mission had already been established.” Fr. Jose Altimira’s diary describes the rest the trip that brought them to the plain of the Petalumas called Lema, and eventually eastward to Sonoma where the last of of missions that reached from San Diego along the California coast was established.
In 1906, Mrs. Armitage Forbes, working for the preservation of historical locations, “designed and cast bells to be hung from poles along the route the padres trod from the Mexican border north. The Forbes placed the first one in Los Angeles in 1906. Since then about 400 bells were placed along El Camino Real.”
Fast forwarding to the Petaluma Bicentennial Commission (1958), local historian Ed Mannion recommended that they work to get a Mission Tail bell located in Petaluma. After historical evidence was documented, the Redwood Empire Association agreed to give Petaluma two bells; one for Central Park and one for the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce for safekeeping since many of the bells had been vandalized.
BTW, the second bell is now located on the stairway to the second floor of the Petaluma Historical Museum and Library. Many thanks to Museum volunteer, John Benanti, for his help in locating the “Bell Marks Visit By Mission Priests” article that is available for the public to read. Thanks, also, to Fred Schramm, who was manager of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce when the two bells were donated in 1977.
After you visit Petaluma El Camino Bell #1, located in Central Park, walk one more block to the Museum to see Bell #2 and to read the complete 1977 Argus-Courier article. This “familiar” site in the middle of town for 36 years has a “strange” but interesting story underlying its existence.
Stay tuned for future “Strangeness of the Familiar” photos and stories.