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Happy 150th, Healdsburg

Bruce Fleming

The northern Sonoma town celebrates its evolution from a tranquil farming community to a top travel destination An annual water carnival on the Russian River, the crowning of a flower festival queen, and a jousting tournament are all part of Healdsburg’s rich history. But even though those events are now part of the past, the spirit of celebration in this closely knit farming community endures today. In 2007, Healdsburg celebrated its 150th anniversary, and as part of its birthday festivities, old-timers and new residents revived key events in the city’s evolution from a tranquil agrarian center to a top travel destination with hip boutiques, internationally renowned cuisine, and world-class wineries. Long before frontier settlers came to the region, the Healdsburg area was home to a Pomo Indian enclave—at the confluence of the Dry Creek and Russian river—followed by a Russian settlement, which flourished until the 1840s. The town was officially “founded” when former Ohio entrepreneur Harmon Heald, who came to California seeking gold, drew up a map of Healdsburg and sold 50 lots surrounding a one-acre Spanish-style plaza for $15 each. The countryside surrounding Healdsburg proved conducive to farming, and early growers raised cherries, hops, grapes, peaches, and prunes. In the late 1970s, wine-grape growing became popular, and quickly escalated to its current stature as the primary agricultural crop. Despite its urbane reputation, Healdsburg has managed to keep its small-town charm intact. Residents all know each other, greet each other on the streets, and help each other out. Says Tina Castelli, a native who helped organize anniversary festivities: “We’re not a freeway-driven city. People come downtown, and we like to keep the small-town atmosphere.”

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