Bennett Valley History
To build a sense of community in Bennett Valley by serving as an open forum for community participation; to provide information on local environmental and land use issues and encourage communication between residents and government agencies with the goal of promoting and preserving the rural character and natural environment of Bennett Valley; to educate and provide resources that enable disaster and emergency preparedness.
James Bennett purchased his property from General Vallejo in 1852
An ancient inland sea once covered Sonoma and Napa Counties. Colliding continental plates created the mountains and hills. Bennett Valley is squeezed between three of these mountain peaks: Taylor Mountain, Sonoma Mountain and Bennett Mountain. This ancient sea, along with volcanic ash, has made Bennett Valley lush and fertile.
Plentiful food supplies in this area supported many Indians of the Pomo, Wappo and Miwok tribe. However, by 1837 most of these native people had been wiped out by a smallpox epidemic introduced by the Spanish soldiers, who came around 1834 with General Vallejo.
The 1849 Gold Rush brought many settlers to this area, including Missourian James N. Bennett, who settled in the vicinity of the high peak called “Yulupa”, on property he later purchased from General Vallejo. In 1853 he was elected to the California State Assembly. Eventually, that same high peak and the entire valley were named “Bennett” after him.
Agriculture began to spread throughout the valley as settlers trickled in. “Men and women who came in search of gold in the mines found agricultural gold in the sunshine drenched valley.” By 1884 Bennett Valley was highly productive. Robert Thompson, an historian of that time, stated that Bennett Valley had about 15,000 acres of land and a population of 300. The farming activities that he described included vineyards, orchards, grain, livestock and dairies. Other historians of that time noted: “It was possible to grow virtually anything in Bennett Valley”... “Bennett Valley is almost one continuous vineyard.”
Another early settler, John Shakleford Taylor, settled in Bennett Valley in 1853 and owned 2,000 acres, on the mountain named after him, Taylor Mountain. He maintained a dairy and stock ranch for over one-half of a century, dying in 1927, at the age of 99. Taylor’s property “comprises some of the richest and most productive hill and valley land in Santa Rosa Valley. There were also several coal mines on Taylor Mountain...” The White Sulphur Springs on his property became a large resort for a time, but after the 1906 earthquake, these springs became inactive. “Mr. Taylor was instrumental in getting the first race track started for the county fair on property adjacent to his at the north side.”
Other Bennett Valley farmers who have been active in this area include James Jamison (who was also a County Supervisor),William and Ruth Jacobs, the Guenza Brothers, E.F. Bethards and D.W. Batesole.
One of the historical landmarks is the Bennett Valley Grange Hall, which was built in 1873, and is the oldest continuously used Grange Hall in the United States. The local Bennett Valley school district was formed around 1851 and was called the “Santa Rosa School District”. About four years later, Santa Rosa formed its own school district and it was called the “Courthouse District”. Another landmark in Bennett Valley is the old barn which housed the blacksmith shop, operated by Mr. Dana Bremner, a Wisconsin blacksmith. Along with his family, he also ran a post office and a family resort in the same location from 1880 until about 1904. This same old barn is still visible along Bennett Valley Road today.
The goal of the Bennett Valley Area Plan is to preserve the beauty and the rural character of this area. The Area Plan, including the Bennett Valley Development Guidelines, was created to protect the rich heritage and unique character of this small valley. Architectural styles are encouraged that blend in with the natural environment and reflect the simple agrarian values of the past. To preserve the scenic qualities of the valley, proposed construction must be evaluated by the Sonoma County Permit and Resources Management Department to insure compliance with the Bennett Valley Plan. Such evaluation will include an application and field review by their staff. By informing your designer or architect about the Bennett Valley Area Plan early in the design process and following the Plan’s Development Guidelines, the permit approval process can be streamlined.
Key Elements of the Bennett Valley Area Plan and Its Development Guidelines:
Land use is limited to agriculture and residential.
Open vistas, scenic landscape units, critical habitats and historic resources will be protected.
New structures shall not be sited within visual/scenic corridors,* riparian corridors or unique biotic resource areas, except in specifically designated circumstances.
Skyline development is prohibited.
Approval of plans for new structures shall consider the relationship of the structure to the site. New structures shall be sited so that they blend harmoniously with the existing natural surroundings including but not limited to topography and vegetation. Roofing is to be dark-toned, if visible. Roof lines shall follow established lines of land and/or tree forms. The structures are to be earth tone colors, using textures and materials that also blend harmoniously with the surrounding environment.
Native vegetation and landforms are to be utilized to screen structures.
The proposed plans for new structures will have no significant adverse effect on adjacent property.
Utilities are to be placed underground from source points, unless masked by existing vegetation.
Private roads and driveways are to be designed and located to maximize traffic safety and minimize visual impact.
Existing structures are encouraged to harmonize and blend into the existing natural surroundings as they undergo remodeling and maintenance, similar to the standards for new structures.