Digging Our Roots: Hidden treasures at the SDC
Contributed by members of the Glen Ellen Historical Society
Lost in the hullabaloo about the wildlands, architecture, and wildlife that are on the verge of being lost at the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) is a discussion about the things that may vanish as well.
A handful of employees from the old SDC have collected and guarded hundreds of fascinating artifacts — antiques, if you will — from as far back as the founding of the home in the 1880s. Hidden on the campus in a dusty warehouse are stacks of boxes, early machines, pharmaceutical paraphernalia, filing cabinets full of documents, and Edwardian furniture —all telling the story of the world of the people with disabilities who lived here for decades.
There are intricately carved wooden wheelchairs from the 1880s, mortars and pestles used to pulverize drugs, delicate scales from the pharmacy, high-sided cribs in which an infant with disabilities might live a lifetime, enameled bedpans and pitchers, and a Model 6 electroencephalogram with lights and buttons to measure brain waves.
There are beautifully bound volumes with names in graceful script, cardboard boxes of research papers, a magnificent carved walnut sideboard with a white marble top, early adding machines, early microscopes, and some kind of early recording device using magnetic tape and reel-to-reel technology, complete with its dusty service manual.
There are carved oak pews and religious relics from a forgotten chapel. There is a 1969 architectural rendering for a park to be called “Sonomaland.” And there are the colorful laughing horses from the carousel, safely stored away.
So, what will happen to these priceless treasures? The Glen Ellen Historical Society has a plan.
The historical society has been working for years to create a museum on the SDC campus. Housed in Sonoma House or elsewhere, it could include displays of early medical equipment, photographs, and a complete library of old medical books. There could be rooms set up so one could peek into “a-day-in-thelife at SDC” — a hospital room, a treatment room, the innovative “adaptive engineering workshop,” research areas, game rooms, a 1910 administrator’s office. These rooms and displays would help tell the story of residents and staff who lived and worked at the home.
To carelessly lose this assortment of remarkable relics, documents, furniture, medical equipment, photos, and books would be, quite literally, a crime.
The Glen Ellen Historical Society relies on the generosity of the community to support its mission. Go to www.glenellenhistoricalsociety. org to donate.