Brief History of San Francisco Solano

Discouraged by the declining opportunity at Dolores Mission, a zealous young Padre named José Altimira founded Mission San Francisco Solano at Sonoma on July 4, 1823, without the knowledge of his Father’s Superiors. He was encouraged by Governor Arguello, 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. The Russian fur traders turned out to be quite friendly. They donated many things useful to the new mission, including the bells. Several hundred Indians from Mission Dolores followed the Mission Father to Sonoma. Nonetheless, the prosperous times at the San Francisco Solano Mission only lasted a short period.

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

The ambitious Padre José Altimira intended to dismantle Mission Dolores completely and move everything to the new San Francisco of the North. After acrimonious debate, the Franciscan Fathers and Mexican Governor Arguello reached a compromise that allowed the new mission and Dolores to continue in their separate courses. But the copious gifts from sister missions that usually arrived to start a new mission on its way failed to reach Mission San Francisco Solano at Sonoma. Help came from an unanticipated source. The Russian fur traders proved to be friendly, sharing their supplies and donating Russian-designed bells.

General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo plundered the San Francisco de Solano Mission after the laws of Secularization came, along with the San Rafael Mission. Publicly, Vallejo stated that he was acting for the benefit of the Native Indians, but he never allowed the official appraiser to enter the mission property. After serving many years as a parish church, eventually, the last residents abandoned the old mission. Today, Mission San Francisco Solano and part of the town square at Sonoma have been restored and are a California State Historic Park.