Library collection details how U.S. 101 transformed Sonoma County more than 50 years ago

March 16, 2022
Collage of four 1940s photos of Sonoma County homes with text: U.S. 101 transforms Sonoma County

By Nate Galvan and Lynn Prime

Sonoma State University’s Library has been recognized for a collection of materials from the early 1940s to the late 1960s detailing how the construction of Highway 101 radically changed Sonoma County. 

The Sonoma County Highways Collection consists of physical appraisals and photographs from the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) of properties moved or removed in Santa Rosa to make way for the highway that would open to the public in 1949. The photographs provide valuable historical detail of architectural styles and scenes of areas of Sonoma County before development. At the same time, correspondence and appraisal notes describe economic conditions, development plans, and the diverse inhabitants of some of the properties that were demolished to make way for the highway.

“We are so pleased that this marvelous collection is receiving the attention it deserves,” said Lynn Prime, head of the Library’s Special Collections. “Materials in the Sonoma County Highways Collection will be a resource for students, scholars, government officials, and the local community for decades to come.”

SSU Professor Emerita of Anthropology Margaret Purser nominated the Library for the Sonoma County Historical Records Commission Collection and Archives Recognition Award. In Fall 2017, Professor Purser used the collection for a “Material Cultures Studies” class to do story mapping of various Santa Rosa neighborhoods. She also spearheaded an exhibit mapping some of the history represented in the collection at the Chroma Gallery’s Santa Rosa Arts Center the following year.

Some of the documents show the pathway through the neighborhood that used to unite South Davis and South A streets in Santa Rosa, a richly diverse immigrant community that included small shops, a park, a school, and a church, along with a wide array of homes, before the highway stretched vertically through California. Students and researchers in history, anthropology, and environmental studies have used the files to further their research and mapping projects, as have neighborhood preservationists and property owners researching their home’s history. 

“These stories are such a powerful example of why archives are so important and what can be lost if people don't take action,” said Purser.

The research material in the collection is available to view by appointment.

Media Contact

Julia Gonzalez