The California Missions: #21

san-francisco-solanoTwenty-first—and last—of the California missions, San Francisco Solano was founded  on July 4, 1823, by Father Jose Altamira. He christened it in honor of  St. Francis Solano, a 17th century Franciscan missionary in Peru. It was the only mission founded after Mexico’s independence from Spain, and the only mission established without the prior approval of the Church.  At the time, the important reason to build it was to establish a presence in the Sonoma Valley—and thereby, hopefully, slow Russian encroachment southward from Fort Ross. Moreover, the location offered clement weather, good sources of water, thousands of acres of grazing land, and readily available building materials. The mission’s first building was a temporary wooden structure, plastered inside and out with whitewashed mud.  By October 1823 the grape vines were flourishing, and adobe buildings were beginning to take shape. Unfortunately, Father Altimira had trouble relating to the natives, and his constant flogging and imprisonment of them led to an angry revolt in 1826. He was replaced by Father Buenaventura Fortuni, who quickly restored order and morale. Within six years, Father Fortuni’s leadership turned the mission into a thriving, self-supporting settlement with orchards, workshops, large herds of sheep and cattle, and its own gristmill. Then—with the great adobe church and other buildings only recently completed—the Mexican government ordered secularization of the 21 missions, and San Francisco Solano came under the control of Mariano Vallejo, who added its properties to his already vast holdings in the area. Although Vallejo maintained the mission church for a while, a long, slow decline began as parts of the original church collapsed, and other parts of the mission’s properties were dismantled for their building materials.  In 1881 Mission San Francisco Solano was sold to Solomon Schoken, a local businessman.  Later, the chapel and its adjoining residence building were used at various times as a barn, a winery, a blacksmith’s shop, and a chicken coop. Mr. Schoken eventually sold the mission to the California Landmarks League, and in 1906 it was given to the state for complete restoration. After the 1940s, the former chapel and priests’ house were remodeled along authentic lines in accordance with mission history. Today Mission San Francisco Solano is part of the Sonoma State Historic Park system.

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