Healdsburg History


Hundreds of years ago, this beautiful, lush area we call Healdsburg was home to the Pomo Indians. These early residents built their villages in the open, fertile valleys along the Russian River. They hunted the elk, bears and mountain lions that roamed the dense oak and madrone forests along the meandering river.

Occasional visits of European sailing vessels on the California Coast from the 1500s to early 1800s had little impact on our area.

The Gold Rush Years

The mid-1800s, however, brought new settlers. The Russians built Fort Ross on the coast, and the Mexican government established the vast 48,800-acre Rancho Sotoyome here. This enormous land grant was awarded to sea captain Henry Delano Fitch in 1841. Fitch promptly hired trapper Cyrus Alexander to manage his bountiful ranch; the magnificent Alexander Valley is named for this early tenant.

The California Gold Rush of 1849 brought itinerants, squatters and failed miners to the more generous farming land here. Over the years, these squatters settled on the verdant land owned by the Fitch family. In 1857, a fight named the “Westside Road Wars” commenced among the squatters. One of the winners of this colorful “conflict” was Harmon Heald, an Ohio entrepreneur.

Harmon’s Vision

Harmon constructed a store and post office in what is now downtown Healdsburg. He then carefully laid out a town grid and sold lots for the heady price of $15 each. Harmon saw a grand plan for the village that would be his namesake, and plotted a town complete with a central Spanish-style plaza. Our thriving, hospitable plaza remains one of the few examples of early California town planning in existence today.

City Comes To Life

Officially incorporated in 1867, young Healdsburg prospered. Residents quickly constructed all the necessities of city life: a city hall, landscaped plaza, water mains, bridges, offices – even a public library. The long-awaited arrival of the Northwestern Pacific Railway in 1871 brought increased commerce and success.

Looking Back

Today, our plaza plays host to summer concerts, lively events and picnics. The Healdsburg Museum features fine examples of Pomo basketry, and the public library is home to the county’s Wine Library. In the river, called “Ashokawna” by the Pomos, the current residents and visitors fish, canoe, swim and play.

We think you’ll find Healdsburg as desirable and pleasing a place to live as our early residents did.

– Courtesy of Healdsburg Museum
and Historical Society