By Ann Dubell

Bennett Valley Guild Seeks Restoration Funds (Note - the Bennett Valley Guild adopted it's new name in December 2016)

Bennett Valley Guild has a long history in Santa Rosa. It was part of the nationwide Grange movement begun in 1867, following the Civil War. Ulysses S. Grant was President when Bennett Valley’s Guild opened in December, 1873. The Guild did not have electricity for fifty years. Its members shared the sorrows of the Great Depression and foreign wars. The Guild building withstood the 1906 Earthquake and subsequent shakers to date. In other words, the Guild has grit.

Certainly many residents have enjoyed a spirit of camaraderie in Bennett Valley Guild’s picnics, barbecues, spaghetti feeds, and holiday parties. Kids are likely to recall cherry spitting contests and the fun of petting 4-H animals. Dancers have twirled to a lot of live music there. In fact, a day before the Guild first opened, Santa Rosa was hit by a rare snowstorm that fell all night and day, but on opening night, an undeterred crowd danced until dawn.

California’s state Guild website describes a Guild as, “a meeting place where new friends are made and old friends are cherished.” Over its long history, Bennett Valley’s Guild has provided its members ties that bond and heal. Weddings and memorial celebrations come to mind. For example, three generations of Bennett Valley’s early settlers, the Jamison family, were married in the Guild. Members have gathered to share a meal and remember deceased dairyman and volunteer firefighter, Al Lafranconi, whose dairy property is now the site of Matanzas Creek Winery.

It may surprise readers to know that all are welcomed to join the Guild. Bennett Valley residency is not a requirement. Neither is a farming background.

Today Bennett Valley Guild hosts a variety of community organization meetings, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 4-H, the Bennett Valley Community Association, the Kenwood Yacht Club, the Bennett Valley Emergency Preparedness Group, local water districts, the Bennett Valley Grape Growers Association, Sonoma County Radio Amateurs, the Bennett Valley Cemetery Association, and the Santa Rosa Active 20/30 Club.

As part of Bennett Valley’s Neighborhood Association Emergency Preparedness program, Bennett Valley Guild is a designated emergency shelter. However, the weary, 140-year old building needs repairs and a vision for its restoration is emerging.

The ambitious project would restore the building’s historic architecture as well as make improvements to suit current activities. The building’s original lumber came from Smith’s Mill, west of Occidental. An ox-driven wagon carried the lumber over a two-day journey. Its driver was paid $12, six months after the delivery. Lumber used for the doors and window trims came from the Korbel Brothers who cleared and milled the timber on their Russian River property.

The Guild has already raised or received pledges for about $30,000. A six-phase renovation calls for rebuilding the exterior decking and stairways, replacing interior and exterior doors, purchasing an emergency propane generator and a larger propane tank. Additionally, exterior rot work and siding repairs are needed. Subsequent phases aim to remodel the interior, rebuild the septic system, and re-roof the building. Finally, niceties like an improved barbecue setup, a kitchen suited to catering needs, a playground and gazebo are in the restoration plan.

Donations by check payable to the Bennett Valley Guild may be sent to Bill Finkelstein, BV Guild Treasurer, 6584 Birch Dr, Santa Rosa, CA 95404. Phone: (707) 536-1026.