Sonoma State Historic Park is a state park of California, United States, located in the town of Sonoma. The park preserves buildings and sites that document the history of the Mexican Alta Californian settlement, which existed from 1833 to 1846, after the period known as the “golden age of the West”. It was declared a National Historical Landmark on February 2, 1970.
The park contains four historic districts: Old Town, New Town, Carne Humana and Rancho del Oso. Old Town consists of eight adobe structures built between 1834 and 1840 by the Californios, including two churches, one schoolhouse, and various shops and houses. These buildings are protected as part of the Sonoma State Historic Park; their restoration is ongoing. New Town is an expansion of Old Town, constructed at the same time but separately. It features three additional adobe structures and one brick building dating from the 1850s.
Carne Humana is a group of six adobes built together with a common wall facing the street, and it includes the oldest structure in the complex, a house called La Casa de los Gobernadores or “The Governor’s House”, originally built around 1836-37. This district also has been designated a National Historical Landmark. In addition to these historical buildings, there are several other types present within the park, including gardens, blacksmiths’ workshops, natural springs, and agricultural fields.
The Rancho del Oso district is a collection of five adobe structures, all dating from the mid 19th century, which make up what would become a rancho. Four of the buildings have been restored and are open to visitors. El Cuartel, the largest of the buildings, is used for large gatherings such as fairs and fiestas. Visitors can enter into the 1870s living quarters to learn about daily life during this era. There is a small garden shed next to the main building where crops were grown and animals kept. Two barns hold horses and mules, and chickens run loose inside.
Nearby is a stable with a carriage house, which once belonged to the Gardener family. A blacksmith shop is across the road from the main site, where ironwork was created for the army and ships. The grounds include a cemetery, vegetable plots, and fruit trees like figs, peaches, pears, and bananas.
The original adobe structures remain, though they now serve different purposes. Some are classrooms and others are private residences for museum staff and volunteers. One is even a restaurant. The visitor center offers exhibits covering the human history of the region, from prehistoric times through modern day. Displays include archaeological artifacts, art, clothing, furnishings, and food. There is also a model showing how the coastal area looked in the 1890s, complete with steam locomotives!
Other facilities include picnic areas, campsites, equestrian trails, hiking paths, and bike routes. There is a campground with tent and trailer sites, some close to fresh water and electrical hookups, and others more remote. There is a separate parking lot for busses and trucks, which often accompany groups of sightseers. On rare occasions, there may be mounted units stationed outside the gate when larger groups visit. The visitor center hosts regular events including historical reenactments by costumed docents, as well as guest lecturers and demonstrations by artists using materials and techniques from earlier eras. Every Labor Day weekend, there is usually a Medieval Faire, with jousting and archery contests, along with live music. Outside of scheduled events, the grounds are normally left undisturbed, so that visitors can walk among the ruins of old towns, study animal tracks in the mud, or simply enjoy watching the abundant wildlife.
The property was given to the state in 1949 by local resident Louise Powis Clark, who died just four years later, leaving the estate to be managed by her son Owen R. Cheatham. Although the land had been leased since 1942, it wasn’t until ten years later that construction began on the visitor center. Designed by architect George T. Patrick, the $2 million facility opened in 1967.