Dear friends of Salt Point and Fort Ross,
As I write this the clouds above are showing signs of change as a big storm moves towards Northern California. The weather pundits are claiming we could get a month’s worth of rain in a single day! Don’t let that dissuade you from visiting as it’s the rain that deserves credit for making this a particularly gorgeous spring. Our coast is wearing its best forest-green attire, accessorized heavily by a kaleidoscope of wild flowers. Think Kaffe Fassett, it’s that colorful. (And that’s the closest I’ll ever come to fashion writing, probably best for all involved….)
This Saturday is Alaska Native Day, and based on our social media stats you all are downright enthusiastic about this event. Thanks for all the shares, and looking forward to seeing you at Fort Ross this Saturday!
A few of us from Team FRC spent two days in Sacramento working Park Advocacy Day, an annual event organized by California State Parks Foundation. This year we walked the halls advocating for equality in access to our parks, asking our legislators to support bills that ensure everyone across the state gets access to quality time on our public lands. I always enjoy meeting with fellow park supporters and seeing how the wheels of Sacramento turn.
Back at home, we support access by fundraising for our Fort Ross Education Fund. Our team puts in considerable time reaching out to communities that otherwise don’t have the opportunity to experience the world’s best outdoor classroom. If you follow us on social media you’ve seen inspiring photos of students getting their hands dirty while learning about marine ecology, monitoring endangered butterflies and the importance of coastal prairie habitat restoration, and just generally mucking around outside. As an administrator I spend most of my time tied to my desk, but seeing these photos makes that desk time worthwhile. To those of you who have made a donation to FRC, please know your support makes a difference! And if equality in education is something you can get behind, please do consider making a contribution to this fund to help us open up the best outdoor classroom to more kids.
In addition to upcoming events, today’s newsletter contains interesting articles about two distinct eras at Fort Ross - the indigenous Sakha people at Fort Ross during the Russian era, and a sweet tale of old-style communication during the Ranch era. I hope you read on, and do shoot us an email telling us what you think.
May spring rains bring us perpetual beauty and the time needed to enjoy the colors along the way,
Saina at Alaska Native Day, May 18th, 1:30pm, Fort Ross
Sunday, June 23: Park Champions at Salt Point
Join us on June 23rd for a Park Champions work day in the Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve! Volunteers will help park staff with trail brushing and trimming. Free camping at Woodside Campground included for Saturday and Sunday nights. Check out the Park Champions website for more information and scroll down to the calendar to sign up by clicking on Salt Point on June 23rd.
June 8th - Snapshot Cal Coast
July 27th - FORT ROSS FESTIVAL
The Sakha Siberians On Our Sonoma Coast
How You Gonna Call? Telecommunications in the Ranch Era
Have you ever heard someone asking, “What did we do before cell phones?” Well, clearly there can be as many answers to this question as there are spring wildflowers at Fort Ross and Salt Point State Parks, but I'd like to take you back in time to the Fort Ross’ Ranch Era to provide one answer -- straight from the pages of our local history. And that answer is: the party line!
Famous Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for the invention of the telephone in 1876, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that private home phones became commonplace. By the 1870s, when the Call family purchased the land we now call Fort Ross State Historic Park, there was a long distance public phone that connected Eureka to San Francisco--great, but not very useful for Fort Ross locals wanting to communicate with their neighbors. Fortunately these locals, including the Calls, were able to set up their own telephone system known as a party line.
Fort Ross friends, neighbors, homes and businesses could connect telephonically by a shared, local circuit that the party line system provided. To create the circuit, wires were run across trees in backyards and farmlands. Because this technology pre-dated the time when homes were electrified, the phones had a magneto battery to power them up. Each phone had a box with a hand crank and receiver. To place a call, one first manually charged up the battery by cranking the hand crank. Then the caller would use the party line directory to dial the person he or she wanted to speak with. Instead of the seven-digit phone number we use today, each phone “number” was a unique series of longs (dashes) and shorts (dots), like morse code.
The party line allowed the Ranch Era families to communicate with one another remotely and instantaneously. There was a catch, however. They didn’t call it a party line for nothing. When one user rang a neighbor, the ringer would go off on all telephones on the circuit. Anyone could pick up the phone and listen in on someone else’s “private” conversation. (How else were they going to pick up on the local gossip?! ) When multiple users were listening in, the battery charge would drain quickly and the original caller would tell everyone to stop listening and hang up! Then the two people who wanted to talk would hang up, crank up the battery once more, and try their call again.
Party lines certainly provided a different social reality than our private home phones and cell phone of today, but it was a neat solution for community members to reach one another with a mere crank of the wrist. For the Call family with their thriving ranching and shipping businesses--not to mention their three boys and SIX GIRLS--you’ve got to wonder how often their telephone was used! Perhaps the Call kids were too busy with daily ranch chores such as sewing cloth wrappers for bricks of butter, or collecting and chopping firewood for the fireplace and wood-burning stove, to have much time for placing phone calls…
Now you know that during Fort Ross’ Ranch Era, barn dances were not the only sort of party that went on. If you would like to join the party yourself, please check out the entertaining and informative Call House video on Fort Ross Conservancy’s website. Better still, come visit us at Fort Ross State Historic Park and see the Call family’s original party line telephone in person -- like the happy visitors pictured here. The Call House museum is open the first weekend of every month by docent-led tour, from 1-4 P.M. Don’t miss our next open days on June 1st and 2nd!
Ranch Era Book Recommendations: The Old Salt Point Township and The Old Salt Point Township II: Ranch Era Settlers by local author, historian and Call House Volunteer Lynn Hay Rudy. Pick up your copy at the Fort Ross Visitor Center Bookshop!
--Charon Vilnai, Programs Instructor, Sea Lion Survey Project Lead, and Call House Guide