Everyone in Petaluma knows where the former Golden Eagle Shopping Center (renamed River Plaza) is located (Now); but how many readers know what was there years ago (Then)? According to Adair Heig, “In 1885, S.C. and W.C. Percival teamed up with the Hill and the Fairbanks families to build the Golden Eagle Mill on what had been described on maps as vacant marshy ground.” Eventually, the mill ground out over forty different kinds of feed.
Once again, most of the research documents used for this blog were found in the files on the second floor of the Petaluma Historical Museum & Library. It should also be noted that not all the information gathered from the various resources were in agreement. Research conducted by Skip Sommer and John Fitzgerald reveal the following names and dates that are connected to the earlier days of the Golden Eagle Mill. Quote: “Hiram T. Fairbanks struck it really big in the 1849 gold rush, went back to Ohio and brought his family and money to Petaluma in 1859. In 1870, he partnered with A.P. Whitney and they founded the Petaluma Savings Bank. H.T.F. was President of the Petaluma Board of Trustees (Mayor) in 1879, and in 1888 he bought the property that became the Golden Eagle Milling Company. GEMCO bought out the G.P. McNear Milling Co. in 1958 and the companies were renamed Hills Mills and operated on (now) the Great Petaluma Mill site.”
In1914, In 1914 part of what was the Golden Eagle Shopping Center (Now, River Plaza) became the Cavanagh Lumber Co. The Golden Eagle Milling Co. building was demolished in 1965 and became a shopping center in 1974. Skip Sommer, a local real estate agent, purchased the McNear Mill building in 1975 from Dolph Hills of Hills Mills.
In a 1965 Argus-Courier article by Ed and Chris Mannion, it was reported that “the famous Golden Eagle Name did not come into existence in 1888 when H.T. Fairbanks assumed control, as reported in all “modern” accounts. Golden Eagle flour was being made in a mill on the northeast corner of Washington and Hopper streets four years earlier and when this almost unknown plant burned, the label was transferred to the familiar four-story building erected two blocks west in 1885.
Then & Now photos taken from the turning basin.
Readers who are interested in learning more about this Then & Now site are encouraged to visit the research room at the Petaluma Historical Museum & Library.