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What's Up in Windsor - February 2016 - Tina Castelli


What's Up in Windsor - February 2016  - Tina Castelli

by Tina Castelli

Celebrate Windsor History

According to the Windsor Historical Society website Windsor became an official town in 1855 and was home to four hotels, seven saloons, seven wineries, several grocery stores, three livery stables, a railroad depot, lodge halls and numerous grammar schools. The town was surrounded by sprawling ranches and farms and local ranchers brought their cattle to market by driving them through town to the train station. 

Local folklore says that Windsor was even more of a thriving town than Santa Rosa until the 1906 earthquake when much of Windsor was damaged and business owners chose to rebuild in Santa Rosa. Farming remained vital in Windsor as the area raised livestock and grew grain, grapes, hops, and prunes in the rich bottom land along the Russian River. 

One of the most famous events that happened in Windsor was the building of the first airplane in California and the first air flight in 1910 by Fred J. Wiseman. Although it was described in the Press Democrat as happening in Santa Rosa, Wiseman rented a pasture in Windsor from the Laughlin Ranch at the current site of Standard Structures. It was there he assembled the plane in a tent structure and made the historic flight which was a public spectacle of the time. In February of the following year Fred modified the plane and made his most historic flight. He flew the first official airmail flight in California from Petaluma to Santa Rosa carrying letters from the Petaluma postmaster to the Santa Rosa postmaster. You can read the whole story on the Windsor Historical Society website in a 2011 newsletter. The plane was eventually purchased by the Smithsonian Institution and restored to its original glory in the mid 1980’s and is now on display at the National Postal Museum in Washington D.C.

I bet you didn’t know that Windsor was also home to two unusual government facilities: a Farm Securities Administration migrant labor camp from 1937 to 1938 and a Prisoner of War Camp during WWII. The migrant labor camp was one of the last camps built during the Roosevelt administration at the end of the Great Depression. The camp was a state of the art facility for the time and included tent cabins for families, hot showers, classes and recreation for those who lived there. The camp included a baseball diamond, horseshoe pits, swing sets and featured a building that included a stage for music or theatrical productions of the campers. The camp closed in late 1938 but remained in government ownership and later reopened as a POW camp during WWII. The POW camp or Camp Windsor as it was called operated from 1944 to 1946 and continued to supply local ranchers and farmers with a workforce. The prisoners were trained to prune and pick apples, prunes, grapes and hops in local orchards and vineyards. Current Windsor Historical Society president Steve Lehmann and his wife Jan know a lot about these camps first hand as they now live on the property that once housed the camps on Windsor River Rd. They actually moved their old Starr Rd. home to the site in 1988 and their current barn is built on the foundation of the Camp Community Building. Nearby on a separate piece of property still stands the Camp Managers home. 

The Windsor Historical Society was founded in 1989 and the Lehmann’s started working to collect local history in 1992. The Windsor Museum was founded in 2009 and is located in the historic “Hembree House” at 9225 Foxwood Dr. Clara and Dr. Atlas Hembree built the home in 1931 on Clara’s family ranch. The majestic row of Cypress trees across the street were planted by her father, James McClelland on her birth in 1872. Next door is the original homestead of Clara’s grandfather, Robert Cunningham who settled there in the 1850’s. The Cunningham Home is under preservation as is Clara’s Garden a beautiful fern grove that was the site for many family parties and gatherings on the Cunningham Ranch. The property was in the family for over 100 years and eventually was purchased by the Windsor Water District and then the Town of Windsor. The Museum is filled with local history and a special gallery for local rancher, inventor, horseshoe champion and artist, George Greeott who lived on a ranch near Windsor since 1928. In addition to his art there are several historic farming pieces that George had collected from his family’s past. 

Visit this wonderful homestead that is a preserved piece of Windsor’s history. The Annual Hop Harvest and Vintage Sale in September is not to be missed, when the public comes to harvest their crop of Sonoma County Cascade hops, propagated from 70+ year of vines. This month celebrate the Society’s 27th Anniversary at the Annual Polenta Feed at the Windsor Community Center on February 27th, featuring local wines and homemade biscotti. For tickets call 707-838-4563 or email