General Vallejo’s Home & Bio
In 1850 Mariano Vallejo purchased some acreage at the foot of the Sonoma hills to build his retirement home. The land surrounded a free-flowing spring that the Native Americans had called Chiucuyem (“crying mountain”). Vallejo retained this name for his new estate, but translated it into Latin, Lachryma Montis, (“mountain tear”).
Grapevines were transplanted to the new site along with a wonderful assortment of fruit trees, as well as decorative trees and shrubs. The quarter-mile-long driveway entrance was lined with cottonwood trees and Castilian roses. A vine-covered arbor shaded a wide pathway around the pool into which the spring flowed, and a number of decorative fountains and delightful little outbuildings graced the carefully tended grounds.
In 1852 the two-story main house was completed beside the spring and its pool. The wood-frame house was done in the very latest Victorian Carpenter Gothic style, highlighted by a large gothic window in the master bedroom, twin porches, dormer windows, and elaborate carved wooden trim along the eaves. Bricks were placed inside the walls of the house in order to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer. Each room had its own white marble fireplace. Crystal chandeliers, lace curtains, and many other furnishings including the handsome rosewood, concert-grand piano, were imported from Europe.
Along with several pavilions and outbuildings, Vallejo’s estate also included a large barn and houses for the working staff. The Cook House was a three-room wooden building behind the main house. The cook lived in one room while the other two rooms were used for food preparation and cooking. Near the main house, a special warehouse was erected to store wine, fruit, and other produce. The building was made of specially prefabricated timbers imported from Europe. Its walls were made of bricks that some say had been used as ballast on sailing ships. Eventually the building was converted to residential use and came to be known as the “Swiss Chalet”. Today it serves as a museum and interpretive center for the Vallejo Home.
As time went by, the General suffered one economic setback after another. He eventually lost nearly all of his vast land holdings, and was even forced to sell the vineyard and other “nonessential” acreage at Lachryma Montis. In 1933 the Vallejo home and some 20 acres of the original Lachryma Montis lands were acquired by the State in order to protect and preserve this historic site and its collection of important artifacts and documents. Today the buildings and grounds are carefully maintained, and the house itself is furnished throughout with many of Vallejo’s personal effects, as though the General and his wife had just stepped out for a moment. The museum, grounds, and the home itself (California Historical Landmark Number 4) are open to the public. A secluded, shaded picnic area is available for public use.
Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo
Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was born in Monterey, California on July 4, 1807. At the age of 16 he was accepted as a military cadet in the Presidial Company of Monterey. He rose rapidly through the ranks, and in 1829 became a military hero when an expedition under his command defeated a clever and highly determined band of runaway mission lndians who had set up a stronghold in the San Joaquin Valley. In 1831 Vallejo was named Commander of the Presidio at San Francisco.
In 1833 Governor Jose Figueroa sent Vallejo north to visit the Russian outposts at Bodega Bay and Fort Ross, and establish Mexican settlements In the fertile valleys north of San Francisco Bay. Vallejo got on well with the Russians and managed to learn a great deal about their operations, but his attempt to place settlers at either Petaluma or Santa Rosa was blocked by Father Gutierrez of Mission San Francisco Solano at Sonoma.
In 1834, Governor Figueroa gave Vallejo vastly increased powers and sent him north once again, with the title Military Commander and Director of of the Northern Frontier. The Mexican Congress had decided to close down all of the missions in Mexico, a process we now call ‘secularization’. He was to oversee the closing of Mission San Francisco Solano and its transition to a parish church. Furthermore, he was authorized to found the pueblo of Sonoma. To reward and encourage the bright young army officer, Governor Figueroa gave Vallejo ten leagues of land (44,000 acres) in the Petaluma Valley to develop as a private rancho.
In 1836, a new governor, Juan Bautista Alvarado, named Vallejo Commandante General of all Mexican military forces in California, and though this title was later changed, Vallejo remained the undisputed ruler north of San Francisco Bay as long as California remained a Mexican Province. His far-reaching civil and military powers soon made him one of the wealthiest and most influential men in California. His adobe home on the plaza at Sonoma, La Casa Grande, attracted visitors from throughout the world, and was one of the largest and best furnished private homes in California. The Petaluma rancho prospered greatly, and was increased in size in 1844. Vallejo also acquired the 80,000-acre Rancho Soscol and other lands that brought his total land holdings in 1846 to more than 175,000 acres.
During the 1830s and 40s an increasing number of U.S. citizens were arriving in the weakly held, poorly administered province of California and many people, including Vallejo, began to feel that in the long run U.S. takeover was inevitable. On June 14, 1846, a group of 30 to 40 American frontiersmen took matters into their own hands. They “captured” the unresisting Pueblo of Sonoma, “arrested” Vallejo, and had him imprisoned at Sutter’s Fort. They announced the establishment of a free and independent Republic of California and raised a new, homemade flag – the Bear Flag – over Sonoma. Less than a month later the U.S. flag was raised over California, and in August U.S. officials freed Vallejo and allowed him to return home. To his dismay he found that his rancho had been stripped of its horses, cattle, and other commodities by the Bear Flaggers, and by the free-wheeling American, Captain John C. Fremont. Although Vallejo attempted to restructure his affairs to fit the new era, this political and economic setback was only the first of many that haunted his life after the decisive year of 1846.
In 1848 Vallejo was a delegate to California’s constitutional convention, and he was elected to the State Senate in 1850. In that same year he offered to donate a 150-acre site and $370,000 worth of buildings to establish a permanent state capitol in a new city he proposed to call “Eureka,” but which soon came to be known as “Vallejo.” His grandiose plans for the capitol and the new city around it ran into gold rush era labor troubles and fell through entirely in 1854 when the legislature grew tired of waiting and decided to establish permanent quarters in Sacramento. This was a serious blow to Vallejo’s personal prestige, and to his long-range economic dreams and ambitions. Afterward he limited his political activities to the local level. He was elected Mayor of Sonoma in 1852 and again in 1860. In later years, as his fortune continued to decline, he lived quietly at his home, Lachryma Montis, writing a five-volume history of Californla’s Mexican period, and corresponding with his large family and many friends. He died in 1890 at the age of 82 and was buried in the little cemetery on the hill above Sonoma.