Who Lived on Temelec Land?

This account is by Billie Hobart, our unofficial Temelec historian.

19th Century

Both hill and valley Indians — Soyotomes, Suisuns, Miwoks, Cinameros, Wappos, and Napajos and probably Pomos — lived in this area, mostly ignoring and sometimes arguing with each other.

In 1835, General Mariano Vallejo was granted all the land from the tops of the mountains and down to what we know now as Arnold Drive (then a horse path).  He established himself here and built the barracks and marching square (our Sonoma Plaza).

Settlers and miners  were arriving from the east and establishing themselves here and along the coast from Monterey/Carmel and north to Oregon and Washington.

In 1846, there was word of some 200 Mexicans in the Sonoma area planning on doing damage to all Americans. The local Indians warned the Americans of this plot.  This led to what we term the Bear Flag Revolt.  About thirty Americans — local and from both the Napa area and up by Sacramento — gathered to claim the area for the United States.

They designed a flag with a bear and a star on it.  The bear was due to the American men being referred to as “osos” (Spanish for bear) by the Mexicans.  These men wasted no time on cutting their hair or shaving; as well, their clothes were mainly made from bear skin.  When a person came upon one of these hunter/miners, he rather looked like a bear.  As well, they chose to put a star on the flag in acknowledgement of Texas’ affirmation a few years before at the Alamo that they were part of America and not part of Mexico.

There is disagreement about what happened next.  Some of the Bear Flaggers went to Vallejo’s home; there is no disagreement about that.  But their purpose not only in going there but also in taking him up north to the Sacramento area is not agreed on. Some want to see this as negative, but from historic writings and papers we have, it was positive.  Vallejo had been supportive of Americans, and it seems most likely he was taken up north to protect him from harm in case the Bear Flag actions came to violence.

The man who later built our clubhouse, Captain Granville Perry Swift, was one of the Bear Flag men.  He was born in Kentucky and then his family moved to Missouri; they were cattle raisers.  While in Missouri, his family got to know John Sutter who, coming from Switzerland to set up a community in California near what we now call Sacramento, made many stops along the way to learn English and the American ways. the area near the Swift ranch in Missouri being one of these stops.

Vallejo was already vastly respected by local settlers and miners.  As we read history, Captain Swift and a couple of others went to Vallejo to warn him of their plans and then took Vallejo north to Sutter’s Fort for safety in case violence arose.  Violence did not arise in the Bear Flaggers’ claiming the area, and quite soon after that, Vallejo was guided back down to his home.

The settling of California for the United States continued, but since five different countries were wanting California at that time (Mexico, the U.S., France, England, and Russia — the latter four with ships and men at Monterey/Carmel), the United States decided to send military men out by land as well.

General Persifor Fraser Smith was the first, sent as commander of the U.S. Army.  Vallejo sold some of his land to General Fraser Smith.  The 1849 sale agreement of 1000 acres states “that certain tract or parcel of land called Temelec.” This is the earliest written record we know of calling our area Temelec.  Smith then bought and built one of the knock-down (pre-fabricated) houses Sutter had built, taken apart, and then shipped from Switzerland to this area.

This house used to be near our Temelec barn/carriage house. Several different people lived in it over the years, but due to wood rot and termites, it was demolished in 1997.

In 1852, General Smith was reassigned to Utah due to troubles there.  Major Robert Beck not only replaced Smith but also bought Smith’s house and land.  Beck remained two years.

In 1855, Beck sold his house and land to Captain Swift’s younger brother, William Swift.   Captain Swift had sent his brother William and first cousin Franklin Sears down from Colusa County to Sonoma. As some of you may know, Sears Point and the Raceway at Highway 37 were named in honor of Franklin Sears.  The Sears Point Raceway was renamed when a group from Florida bought it and did not respect local history.

William and Franklin bought the house and its 1000 acres from Major Beck and about 600 more acres from Vallejo to enlarge the whole area for the plan of cattle raising.

Captain Swift’s younger brother William Walker Swift lived in the little house just for two years with his wife and child.   When William died of appendicitis in 1857, Captain Swift bought the land and house and gave the money to William’s wife who wanted to go back east.  As well, he sent $3000 back to his oldest sister in Missouri, saying it was part of William’s money to her as inheritance.

In 1858, Captain Swift built Temelec Hall with gold rush money and married Jane Eliza Tate.  She was the acknowledged belle of Sonoma, but was only 16 years old to his 37 years.  They had three sons, one who died at just 14 months old. They lived in the mansion for less than 5 years — to 1863.

Along with Vallejo, Swift lost money on the Nevada water swindle.  He borrowed money from a man named Bihler who lived in Petaluma, using Temelec as collateral, undoubtedly thinking that when he got his stock business going, it would be as profitable as it had been up in Colusa county where he raised and sold thousands of cattle plus some sheep and wild horses.  But various problems arose so that he could not pay back the loan, and he lost Temelec to Bihler in 1863.

Bihler sold Temelec after about a year to a man named Reis of San Francisco.  Historic records suggest Reis bought it in order to sell the house and acreage to Colonel Kissane Rogers in 1865.

Colonel William Kissane Rogers had been a criminal most of his life.  After he escaped from a prison back east, he traveled the world, continuing his killing and pillaging.  But falling in love fully changed him.  One of his last pillaging places was Nicaragua.  There was an uprising there, and he went down to gain from it, even robbing churches there of their gold and other goods as well as having one man killed who recognized him as a wanted criminal.  But while there, he met Elizabeth Hathaway Saunders.  She had come there with her American diplomat husband.  He had been killed in the uprising, and she was probably not sure what to do next for herself and her two children when she met Colonel Kissane Rogers.

But he knew what to do.

He fell in love, fully in love, and it changed him completely as love can.  He raced to California to gain money from gold (in Oregon) and real estate, then bought Temelec from Reis.  He raced on back to Nicaragua, got Elizabeth and her kids, brought her to California, married her in Fairfax in Marin County, and then brought her up to Temelec.  He not only created and ran a successful vineyard and wine-making business at Temelec, but had seven children with Elizabeth.  There are many written memories of the fine parties given at Temelec for the young people of Sonoma.  As well, Colonel Kissane Rogers helped the town prosper, including building the first public school in the area.

But his unresolved past caught up with him.  When he refused to have President Grant, who was traveling the area, stay at Temelec, the Federal agents were alerted to something wrong there.  Who would not welcome the chance to host the President?  His past sins were uncovered, and he was brought to trial in San Francisco.  His luck continued to hold.  His brother, Reuben Lloyd, was a respected lawyer in San Francisco.  Lloyd did not want the public notice of his connection with Kissane Rogers so had another lawyer defend him, as he, Lloyd, ran the case from the background.

No local paper would carry the story of the trial, due to the high respect all held for Kissane Rogers.  Historians find information about the case only in newspapers out of the area, especially from the main Sacramento newspaper of that time. Kissane Rogers was acquitted due to the “statute of limitations,” but court costs left him bankrupt and Temelec defaulted to the I.G. Wickersham Bank of Santa Rosa.  With Lloyd’s help, Kissane Rogers and Elizabeth moved to Berkeley and lived well there to his death in 1913. She then moved to Marin and died there in 1925.

As of 1892, I.G. Wickersham Bank owned Temelec by default. Over the next couple of years, the bank had two caretakers there, but from late 1893 to 1906, the Hall stood empty.

20th Century

After the 1906 earthquake, squatters lived on the Temelec land and in the now damaged mansion.  The Bank sold Temelec to the Grace Brothers in 1912.

An item of interest is that Victor and Antone Leveroni leased the land (now 1640 acres) from 1909 to 1914 — the last two years leased from the Grace Brothers who bought it. They considered settling their family and business at Temelec, but did nothing toward that end for three years and then put it up for sale.

In 1915, Lolita Schweitzer (of Park Avenue, New York) bought Temelec.  Lolita was born and raised in San Francisco, married a tobacco millionaire and moved with him to New York.  He died, and she wanted to come back ‘home’ to California.  She heard of and bought Temelec and 268 acres.

Temelec had become known as the “Haunted House Farm” as it had been empty so long.  She moved into the small knock-down house and started to renovate the Hall.  As she did, she met and married Cobbie Coblentz about 1919.  He was William Randolph Hearst’s right-hand man, and Hearst gave them an antique door from Europe as a wedding present.  It is the door in the east end of the Carriage House/Barn.  They then completed the renovation together.

The house was renovated with historical accuracy except for the white marble fireplace inscribed with her initials in the room with our bar.  This was done before she met and married Cobbie — therefore the “S” as the last initial.

Once Temelec was fully renovated, she and Cobbie had great parties with well-known folks including Eisenhower, Nixon, Bernard Baruch, California governors, and of course William Randolph Hearst.

After Cobbie died in 1959 and her kids were all grown and gone, she was at Temelec Hall with just her Chinese cook and maid.  She chose to move to downtown Sonoma and then sold Temelec to developers.

When she moved out, two or three developers who lived in Marin County heard of this and offered to buy Temelec, planning to build the first or one of the first senior citizen housing developments in the United States.  Mrs. Coblentz agreed to sell if they would put in the contract that they would save the mansion and use it as the development’s clubhouse.  They agreed, paid $300,000 and had plans for 1000 homes!

Lolita lived another decade, dying around 1971.

In 1961, they started building and — guess what — had money problems!  But even with two bankruptcies, they persevered, and the first house was sold in 1964. The second set of houses along Mission were built, and then lastly the Vineyard Circle complex was built in the 1970’s.  They built no more, and the other acreage was eventually sold for what became Creekside and Chantarelle.

Finally, why do we have that lovely wide swath of open land from the pond all the way up to Temelec Hall?  The developers’ first plans included having a nine-hole golf course on that land.  We’re all glad that didn’t happen, not only for the open green space but also for no broken windows from golf balls, ho ho.

And here we are today — continuing to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the countryside and our wonderful Clubhouse, now over 150 years old and acknowledged for its historic value three times over.  As the plaques tell (two at the back gate and one on the front of the Hall), Temelec Hall is a California Historic Landmark as of 1936, on the National Register of Historic Places as of 2006, and recognized by the Native Sons of the Golden West in 2008.