Have you ever wondered when the sound of a car was first heard at Metini - Fort Ross? We know for a fact that Carlos Call purchased an Overland vehicle in 1915 from Santa Rosa and William Morgan, the assistant postmaster of Fort Ross, owned a car as early as 1914. But we don’t know when the first engine roared over the hills of the historical wooden fortress.
For roughly 100 years after the establishment of the Russian American Company’s trading outpost on the ancient lands of Kashia at Metini, the main lifeline between Fort Ross and the outside world was the ocean. Fort Ross’ coastal waters deserve a special mention in local history as a witness to important developments of colonial California.
The Kashia encountered the “undersea people” at what later became known as the Fort Ross Cove - a little sanctuary that offered sustenance to Native Americans for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans to Sonoma in 1812. When members of the Russian American Company landed upon the Kashia lands, Fort Ross Cove became the center of the first shipbuilding activity in the state, and a place where the Orthodox Christian faith arrived to the shores of what is now the continental United States. That is why it is not surprising at all, that it was the sea and the mysterious Fort Ross Cove that arguably revealed the first automobile to the ancient surroundings.
In the mid-19th century, newcomers to California came West by foot, horse, or ox-drawn wagons, or arrived by sea from across the world to take part in the Gold Rush. Horses, carriages, and trains became pivotal to the early Californian economy after 1850 before the automobile took over as the main driving force of growth. Early automobile owners were scarce but those who could afford the luxury became local celebrities overnight because of their newly- purchased and coveted status. In 1900 the Automobile Club of California was founded at San Francisco's Cliff House by a group of eleven "automobilists" to champion improving driving conditions through stricter traffic safety laws and improved roadways. Thousands invested in purchasing a vehicle to have the freedom to explore new horizons.
At the turn of the 20th century, traveling by stagecoach to and from Fort Ross was possible but the trip was burdensome as distances were long and roads were rough. It was also dangerous, with landslides and even encounters with outlaws such as Black Bart looming around the corner. For the Call family who lived at Fort Ross at the turn of the century, most of the communication with the outside world was by steamer ships that picked up the lumber, mail, and agricultural products produced in the immediate vicinity of the Call estate, to be delivered to San Francisco.
“Some days we sat on the steps of the front porch of the house and watched the heavy wagons pass, drawn by four or six horses, loaded with cordwood, tanbark, or posts and grape stakes. Some of the lead horses wore bells. We could hear them before the wagons rounded the corner,” Laura Call Carr, wrote in her book My Life At Fort Ross, the Years 1877-1907. But Laura Call Car mentions no cars visiting Metini - Fort Ross prior to 1907.