Brief History of San Francisco Solano

Discouraged by declining opportunity at Dolores, a zealous young padre named José Altimira founded Mission San Francisco de Solano, at Sonoma, on July 4, 1823, without the knowledge of his superiors. He was encouraged by the governor, who wanted a buffer between the prosperous Bay Area settlements and the Russians, who had advanced down the California coast as far as Fort Ross. Actually, the Russian fur traders turned out to be quite friendly, donating many useful things to the new mission including the bells. Several hundred Indian neophytes from Dolores followed the Franciscans to Sonoma, but the mission prospered only briefly.

Mission San Francisco de Solano by Oriana Day - ca. 1877

The ambitious padre intended to dismantle Mission Dolores and move everything to the new San Francisco of the North. After acrimonious debate, a compromise was reached which allowed both the new mission and Dolores to continue in their separate courses. But the copious gifts from sister missions which usually arrived to start a new mission on its way failed to reach Sonoma. Help came from an unexpected source. The Russian fur traders proved to be friendly, sharing their supplies and donating Russian-designed bells.

General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo plundered Sonoma after secularization, along with San Rafael. He stated publicly that he was acting for the benefit of the Indians, but he never allowed the official appraiser to enter the property. After serving many years as a parish church the old mission finally was abandoned. Today the mission and a part of the town square at Sonoma have been restored as a California State Historic Park.