Penry Park - Deep history

A Messy Early History

The fact of this park was not assured for many years. According to Robert A. Thompson in his 1884 book about Sonoma County, the plaza was donated, in part, to the county by Julio Carrillo. The plaza was on the original plat of Petaluma in 1852. The town was incorporated in 1858, and the plaza was already a difficult subject. In 1855 a Mr. James F. Stuart tried to sell the plaza, stating that the site was a poor location for plaza use. (Mr. Stuart squatted several properties in town and tried to lay claim to them.) Petitions put an end to the attempt, but proposals and attempts to sell or build on the lot continued for another hundred years. Ownership and intended use were questioned in 1859 (Sonoma County Journal). In 1860 there was a proposal that the plaza be sold to pay for creek improvements (Sonoma County Journal). That same year, "An Interested Citizen" wrote a letter to the Journal stating the need of a wall along Main Street (now Petaluma Boulevard).

A procession in honor of Abraham Lincoln's funeral took place in Petaluma in April of 1865, ending with speeches at Hill Plaza. In that same year, funds for fencing were raised through subscription, and some ornamental trees were planted. Perhaps the city was beginning to accept the park as a valuable asset. However, in 1870 a new proposal emerged to cut into the Main Street side of the park and construct a row of businesses along that edge. (Ed Mannion, Argus Courier, January 29, 1960.) It's not known why the plan was abandoned.

A wall was constructed at "the South end of Main street Plaza" by a Mr. Haskins for $400.00 in 1878. Eight years later, Michael McCarthy's bid of $297.50 was accepted for a stone wall along Mary Street.

 In 1882, the subject of developing the property was opened again when a group of San Francisco developers offered to buy the land, and three years later it seems that the location was again under discussion as a school site (as well as a new city hall, but that effort faltered.) A special bond to build a school received a favorable vote in town, and the city went so far as to begin excavation for the new building. This issue was resolved, for the time being, in a court decision in 1886 that determined the site could only be used as a public plaza. The city did succeed in narrowing the park by thirty feet, along Mary Street, to add an area for hitching horses (according to Ed Mannion's article in the Argus Courier, October 7, 1961). 

It is likely that one of the members of the Ladies Improvement club wrote a column in March of 1893 that made the case for the city improving the two plazas in town ("hill plaza" and "the D Street plaza" or what would become Walnut Park). The successful "pleasure spots" in Healdsburg and Sonoma were held up as nearby examples of cities that took responsibility for well kept parks. 

One might think the settlement of this question would mean that the park was a fixed feature of the town, but in 1948 and again in 1960 the park was very nearly turned into a parking lot. In each case, the vigorous efforts of townspeople, stirred by Ed and Chris Mannion, prevented the loss of the park. the historic stone wall along Mary Street was removed and several feet were removed from the park in 1962 to add 15 parking spaces to Mary Street (Argus Courier, January 9, 1962). 

A town's war sacrifices are often marked in parks. As noted, a WWI memorial was installed at (then) Hill Plaza. It featured granite inscribed with the names of the war dead, two buttresses for trench mortars, and a large WWI cannon. The mortars appear in an old photograph. In a burst of patriotism, the cannon and mortars were given to the government for scrap metal during WWII. After WWII, two small guns were installed on the granite base, much to the dismay of Mr. Roy M. Evans who had designed the original monument. He hoped that a large cannon could be located and replaced on the memorial. 

Additional memorials were carved into the granite base. The Grand Army of the Republic (G-A-R) is inscribed on the marble plinth, with the dates 1861-1865. G-A-R was a fraternal organization of Union Army members. A memorial to the Spanish War, with the dates 1899-1902, is also visible.

The park was renamed Penry Park on Memorial Day, 2001. Richard Penry received the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Vietnam War. He was the only Sonoma County citizen so awarded. 

Undated Hill Plaza postcard, likely dating to the early 1900s since the Burdell-donated palm trees are in place. 

Undated Hill Plaza postcard, likely dating to the early 1900s since the Burdell-donated palm trees are in place. 

WWI cannon and monument were installed in 1920. Photo courtesy of the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum.

WWI cannon and monument were installed in 1920. Photo courtesy of the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum.

During WWII the first memorial cannon was sent away to be repurposed as part of the war effort. The later, WWII Memorial incorporated parts of the WWI Memorial. Photo courtesy of the Sonoma County Library. 

During WWII the first memorial cannon was sent away to be repurposed as part of the war effort. The later, WWII Memorial incorporated parts of the WWI Memorial. Photo courtesy of the Sonoma County Library. 

The WWII Memorial is partially obscured by nearby yews. Photo by Janet Gracyk.

The WWII Memorial is partially obscured by nearby yews. Photo by Janet Gracyk.

This placeholder image will be changed to show the plaque honoring Richard Penry, for whom the park was named in 2001.

This placeholder image will be changed to show the plaque honoring Richard Penry, for whom the park was named in 2001.