Old Redwood Highway: Remnants of Sonoma County’s historic roads
By ARTHUR DAWSON / Towns Columnist
Wherever you go in Sonoma County, others have gone before. Even the First Peoples followed animal paths already worn into the earth. Highway 12 may trace the footsteps of mammoth herds migrating to the coast.
On two feet or four, we’re all looking for the same things — a good meal, something to drink, a comfortable bed and the easiest way to get there. When the Sonoma Mission was established in 1823, native guides led Father Altimira through a gap in the hills to Sonoma Valley. Today,we call that trail Highway 116.
Nineteenth-century roads had axle-deep mud in winter, ankle-deep dust in summer. A few were surfaced with gravel, though still full of potholes (some things never change). In 1912, the drive from Marin to Eureka took nearly two months, yet most people know that today it’s a drive of a few hours. A year later, men with horses and shovels laid a concrete roadway from Santa Rosa to Healdsburg. It was our first paved highway.
The automobile’s rapid rise called for better roads, and by the Roaring Twenties, the Redwood Highway had been paved all the way to Oregon. The freeway arrived in the ‘40s, making it possible to travel from Sausalito to Eureka in 4½ hours. Santa Rosa merchants resisted bypassing downtown; others had concerns about “sawing the city in half.” As a compromise, Santa Rosa’s original 101 Freeway had seven stoplights — and many accidents until it was elevated in the 1960s.
Sonoma County’s many scenic highways and corridors remind us to enjoy the journey. Stuck in traffic? Just be glad you’re not behind a herd of mammoths.
Read about key stops along those early day Sonoma County roads in the special May 12 issue of Towns: