Fort Romie:
The Salvation Army's First Colony

by Patricia Binsacca Terry

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the Christian church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to mankind's needs in His name without discrimination.

Long before Fort Romie Salvation Army Colony was a reality, it was the result of efforts of William and Catherine (Catalina) Booth (shown in the photographs to the right), who were the founders of the Salvation Army in London, England in 1878.

William Booth embarked upon his ministerial career in 1852. His crusade was to win the lost multitudes of London to Christ. He went into the streets of London to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the homeless, the hungry and the destitute. Booth abandoned the conventional concept of a church and a pulpit and took his message to the people. His fervor led to disagreement with the leaders of the church of London. They preferred traditional measures. As a result, he withdrew from the church and traveled throughout England conducting evangelistic meetings. His wife, Catherine, was a major force in the Salvation Army movement.

Thieves, prostitutes, gamblers, and drunkards were among Booth's first followers of Christianity. His congregations were desperately poor. He preached hope and salvation. His aim was to lead them to Christ and to link them to a church with spiritual guidance. Even though they were converted, churches did not allow these followers because of what they had been. Booth gave their lives direction and meaning, and he put them to work to save others who were like themselves. Booth's volunteers and evangelists continued to grown. They served under the name "The Christian Mission." Booth assumed the title of a General Superintendent, and his followers simply called him "General." Known as the "Hallelujah Army," the converts spread out of the city of London into neighboring areas and then to other cities.

General Booth was reading a printer's proof of the 1878 Annual Report when a particular statement referring to his volunteer army caught his eye. He crossed out the words "volunteer army" and inserted "Salvation Army." From those words came the basis of the foundation of The Salvation Army which was adopted in August of that same year.

Meanwhile, the Army was gaining a foothold in the United States. Lieutenant Shirley had left England to join her parents who had migrated to American in search of work. She held the first meeting of the Salvation Army in Philadelphia in 1879. The Salvationists were received enthusiastically. Shirley contacted General Booth begging for reinforcements. None was available at first. Ongoing reports of the work in Philadelphia convinced Booth to send an official party to oversee the work in America in 1880. In March 1880, George Scott Railton and seven women officers knelt on the dockside at Battery Park in New York City to give thanks for their safe journey. This was to be their first official street meeting held in the United States. These pioneers were to be met with similar unfriendly actions, as was the case in England. They were ridiculed, arrested and attacked. Several officers and soldiers even gave their lives. Three years later, Railton and the seven "Hallelujah Lassies" had expanded their operation into California, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Michigan.

In 1891, Booth's controversial book, In Darkest England and the Way Out was published. In it he presented his plans for a program which helped the poor and needy. His ideas were summarized in what he termed "The Cab-Horse Charter" which read, "when a horse is down, he is helped up, and while he lives, he has food, shelter, and work." Booth realized that this meager standard was absolutely unattainable by millions of people in England, yet the fact remained that cab horses were treated to a better standard of living than many people. He appealed to the public for funds to start his program. Despite a lack of immediate funds, Booth decided to put his plan into action. The first thing to be set up was a labor bureau to help people find work. He purchased a farm where men could be trained in certain types of work and at the same time, gain some self-respect, because often when men had been unemployed for some years, their confidence needed to be restored.

From this farm colony, men could be further helped through emigration to an overseas colony, where laborers were few. Whole families could be helped to a much better standard of living. Other projects included a missing persons bureau to help find missing relatives and reunite families, more hostels for the homeless and a poor man's bank which could make small loans to workers who could buy tools or set up in a trade.

Booth's book sold 200,000 copies within the first year. Nine years after publication, the Salvation Army had served 27 million meals, lodged 11 million homeless people, traced 18,000 missing people and found jobs for 9,000 unemployed people.

Booth's book was used as a blueprint for the present-day welfare state when it was set up by the American government in 1948. Many of Booth's ideas were incorporated into the welfare state system.

The colonization projects of the Salvation Army in the United States were formulated by Commander Booth-Tucker, son-in-law of William Booth. This was an attempt to relieve the congested state of the labor market in the larger cities and to assist the honest poor in attaining a position of being self-supporting and finding happiness.

"Back to the Land" was the stirring cry of the Commander. However, only three colonies were established in the United States. One was Fort Amity in Colorado, another in Ohio named Fort Herrick and Fort Romie Colony, on the Rancho ex Mission Soledad land.

Fort Romie marked the site of the first colonization attempts by the Salvation Army anywhere in the world. It brought new hope to many new workers in the Salinas Valley, and a whole new community to the region between the Salinas River and the Coast Range just west of Soledad.

On September 24, 1897, former Monterey County Supervisor Charles T. Romie, prominent landowner and brother-in-law of David Jacks, returned from San Francisco where he had been in consultation with Commander Booth-Tucker, Major Winchell and other leaders. This was in regard to his Ranchita Rancho, for which the group was negotiating.

Romie's Ranchita was on property situated near the Soledad Mission that had once belonged to Francisco Soberanes. Soberanes' son Benito had lost the 520-acre tract in a legal battle. The land was acquired by Romie in 1898 from a bank which took over the lands of Benito Soberanes. Benito had mortgaged his property to pay his legal fees when he filed suit in court against his mother, Isabel Boronda Soberanes, claiming she was incompetent. Benito felt his exclusion of inheritance was an injustice because his mother's share of land should not go to one child, Abel Soberanes, her favorite son. In court, Benito declared his mother to be incompetent. There was a jury trial, and they ruled in favor of Isabel.

Charles Theodore Romie was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1837 and migrated to the United States with his father in 1840. He had acquired a large tract of land in the Soledad area and, at one time, had been the owner of Paraiso Springs. Quoting the Gonzales Tribune of 1894, "Mr. Romie is a man of sound judgment and has been very successful in his business. The best evidence of his popularity and high esteem in which he is held is the fact that he is a member of the County Board of Supervisors from a Democratic district, having been elected on the Republican ticket by a large majority."

The Salvation Army's negotiations with Romie were successful, and for $26,000, they purchased the 520 acres of the Romie estate--shaped like a "V" from the river to the foothills.

The colonization movement received nationwide attention. Money was raised from as far away as New York City. In November of 1897, public demonstrations were held in San Francisco, and an office opened in the Mills Building to collect "$1,500 or more." By the following month, the colonization plan had gained such headway that a tremendous celebration was held in San Francisco's Mechanics' Pavilion. A facsimile of cottages was on hand, and the name was due to be revealed to the public. Cattle were slaughtered on the Romie place and taken to the Bay City--enough to serve 5,000 at a gigantic barbecue.

Chicago did even better. In one evening, Commander and Mrs. Booth-Tucker raised $10,000 in the Central Music Hall.

Things were going "great guns," but hundreds of families were discovering the heartbreak of being turned down. They applied, but colonists openings were far fewer than the numbers of those who wished to move to the Salinas Valley. They were told, "This is an experiment; if successful, we will take more in the spring."

Agreements for colonists were strict. Each had to sign a paper stating that he would make his payments, render obedience to those administering the colony, and bring no "opium, morphine, wine, spirits or objectionable drugs" into the colony. They agreed to leave peacefully if it was discovered some individual or family did not fit in with the "peaceful plan."

Many of the Colonists who came early stayed at the Los Coches Stage Coach Inn while their homes were under construction on the Colony. The Inn was a short distance to the colony. Charles W. Haskell of San Francisco had been hired to survey the land into tracts. The first venture called for 10 wooden houses of four rooms (kitchen, dining room and two bedrooms), and 20 of two rooms. All were single-story and cost from $110 to $120 each, depending on size. The low cost arose from the fact that an Oakland contractor using the name Brown donated his services to supervise erection of the buildings, with the help of the colonists.

First Fort Romie Colonists

Besides the residences, there was a clubhouse, library, and social hall to make everything agreeable to the colonists and to encourage a social feeling among them. In addition, there was a creamery and, in the center, a large 2-story cooperative store. Previously, the land had been dry-farmed and had three ranches on it. First farm implements to arrive came on October 11, 1897, just five days after leaving San Francisco in three huge wagons. Theirs was a rough trip into the mountains and then into the Salinas Valley. Some broke down on the old San Juan Grade, piled high as they were with "plows, farm implements, 25 windmills, and blacksmith tools."

Claus Spreckels, founder of Spreckels Sugar Co., had already given $1,000. He knew these colonists would word diligently in raising sugar beets for his factory when it was completed near Salinas.

A second wagon train full of furniture and single plows followed. They were sent that way to save freight and to enable the persons accompanying them to solicit contributions of livestock, poultry and other items along the route.

The main body of colonists was due two months later, when it was expected that plowing would be completed and buildings ready for occupancy.

Since they had named the colony "Fort Romie" after the purchase of the land from Charles T. Romie, Romie felt a special affinity for the colonists. There were 28 workers on hand to break up the farmland, so he placed horse teams at their disposal. Thirty of the animals were broken to the plow and saved many a back of the colonists in those early days.

A pumping system and irrigation canal had to be completed before crops were planted, which meant more labor and more men on the site.

On January 6, 1898, a train with three extra coaches chugged out of San Francisco. Its passengers were bound for the institution of Fort Romie Colony. On board were colonists, reporters, donors, and others interested in the unusual venture, along with Commander Booth-Tucker; Lt. Col. Evans who was in charge of the Pacific Division of the Salvation Army; Col. Holland, head of social work in the United States; and Major Milsap, editor of the "War Cry," and members of his staff. They duly christened Fort Romie, and the colony was under way, and with the necessary material on the spot, the work began in preparation of the receipt of the colonists at their new homes.

Selected from the "Bay Area Worthy Poor:" Eighteen families (about 80 people) of the "city people" arrived and were asked nothing but to work on the land for themselves until they had paid it off and could assume ownership. Everything was furnished to the settlers without charge--seed, sheds, tools, and equipment were provided by the Salvation Army for all to use. In return, they contracted to make yearly payments of $100 for 10 years, after which they would own the land.

On February 16, 1898, the Salinas Daily Index, desirous of noting actual life and work at the colony, dispatched a reporter to Fort Romie with instructions to write up matters and things exactly as he found them. He wrote that leaving Soledad and crossing the Salinas River, the buildings of the colonists came in full view, and proceeding to the edge of the bank just above where the bridge crosses the Arroyo Seco River, the first signs of improvement could be seen.

Bridge over the Salinas River at Soledad

"Here were numerous men employed digging a reservoir 50 feet square and 30 feet deep, which will be connected with the river at that depth by a tunnel.

Here will be erected the great pumping plant designed to irrigate the colony land. The pump engine is of 85 horse-power and will raise the water to a height of 36 feet, or some 9 feet over the highest point in the neighborhood.

The pump itself is an 18-inch centrifugal of 8000 to 9000 gallons per minute and can furnish sufficient water to irrigate 1500 to 2000 acres of land. The present outfit cost nearly $3,000. The work is under the personal supervision of C.W. Haskell, Civil Engineer. There will also be a flume 850 feet long, built to the San Jurjo Ranch, as they have expressed a desire to purchase any water that can be spared."

The reporter wrote that arriving at the Colony after a short drive, men were seen with six-horse teams, plowing, others at work on the store, others digging wells for the 32 cottages already completed, and busy in other diverse ways. Children were romping up and down in front of the dwellings, while the women were busy with their housework.

Fort Romie

In conversation with Major Winchell, it was learned that the first intention of the Citizens Committee had been that the Colonists should give their preliminary work free, but after a short time, the conclusion was reached that each man should receive from the manager of the committee between $1.00 and $1.50 per day for his services.

One of the Fort Romie stores

Watching the week day routine, it was observed that a bell rang at 5:30 a.m., calling up all for their daily labor, giving ample time for preparation and meals. At 7:00 a.m., the men went to their daily tasks in the field, on horses, at the reservoir or where they were most needed. Several who had no work outlined were permitted to seek, and found, work in Soledad. At the noon hour came rest, and then work was resumed until 5:30 p.m. No more work was needed.

The children who were old enough attended classes at the Mission District School. (Note: A one-room school was located a short distance from the present-day school.)

Mission School, 1913

The able-bodied women went to a half-acre patch near the old ranch house and tended to the patches of ground, which had been prepared and planted with vegetables by them, under the guidance of Miss Elizabeth McLain of Alameda, through the kindness of Professor Hillgard. Between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., the cows had been milked, poultry fed, stock attended to, and each colonist had received from one gallon of milk, as they desired. This milk was charged against them at 10 cents per gallon and was given as it was milked from the cow, pure and unadulterated, simply strained.

Sunday was a day of rest in every sense of the word. No work, no labor--peace and quiet among the many families at Fort Romie. True, it is that the Army held three meetings each Sunday, but as everyone of the colonists said, "We are allowed to practice our religion and serve God according to the dictates of our own consciences." Some go to the meetings, several attended services in Soledad; others go to Paraiso Springs, while others meander across to the broad mesas and enjoy a country picnic.

All have been city dwellers and are anxious to enjoy their new life. Are they contented? Are they satisfied? A personal interview with the head, yes, the male and female heads of every family, brought forth only similar stories, similar tales and prophecies with only one single exception--those tales of the past are known by the writer to be actual facts gleaned from the daily life of several of the colonists with whose home life he was acquainted. One and all said: "We worked in the city from daylight until dark, earning a mere pittance, and when the year was at an end, we had nothing. Now we have a future and will improve."

One Colonist Travers, stated that he was contented. All were treated alike. It was no harder work than in San Francisco. It was better at Fort Romie. There was no rent to pay, no debt, his children were happy, and he could thank the Lord he had a home to give them in the future. Mr. Webster and Mr. Webb said the same. Mr. Pascoe further stated that he had found his "Klondike" and his wife was proud of their home.

Messrs. McCurdy, Hamrins, and Lindstrand, who had been street railroading for many years in San Francisco, however, were more emphatic. They would not go back to San Francisco even if guaranteed $5.00 per day for the rest of their lives. They and their wives were pleased and content. They worked daily, received pay, bought the best that could be got, had no debts and no doctor's bills. While the prospects might be dreary at present, the future was bright. They had a home, and with energy, could earn enough to pay for it. Best of all, they could get ahead and have a home in the future for themselves and their family.

G.A. Springer, who had been to sea many years, thought he had at last reached the haven of his paradise and saw a home for his wife and little ones.

Each man had his 10 acres; the family with two children had a two-room house; those with three or more children, a four-room house. These cottages cost from $110 to $250 to erect by the colonists.

"The ground is plowed and, after the land is irrigated, seed will be furnished him. The pumping plant will be ready to irrigate the land in about three weeks.

People living in the shadow of the old Mission Soledad, under the very walls of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, with naught to disturb them or molest them, that there should be grumblers or discontented. One was found, but to the credit of the Salvation Army, be it said, that, until every method of pacification, friendliness and kindness had been tried, the disturber was not interfered with. He was, at last, being found incorrigible, told that he must give way to another.

The colony is bound to succeed if perseverance, pluck, and indomitable will can make it, and they will. Major W.W. Winchell, the manager, aided by his estimable wife and assisted by Captain Simpson, Sergeant Major Brown, and the colonists are earnest in their work. They have secured from Charles T. Romie the donation of 2000 eucalyptus, cypress, and other trees which will be planted when irrigation commences. There are plenty of horses, cattle, and poultry besides agricultural implements to help 14 more families, who will be brought down in addition to those now there. Every dollar advanced to this enterprise will repay to the County--one hundred fold. Monterey County need not be ashamed of the establishment of the Fort Romie Colony, as its members are earnest and industrious workers."

The above is an article from the Salinas Daily Index of February 1898. This article gives us an insight of what life was like for the first 18 families at Fort Romie. It is so sad they never realized their dreams. Although the colonists and their families were realizing their dreams, the enthusiasm was short-lived. Difficulties awaited. The land was rich and loamy but required irrigation even in the best of times--which the next three years were not. Unfortunately, most of the people who came knew nothing about farming. To add to their misery, it proved to be a year of terrible drought, which brought "utter failure" to the Colony. The sun blazed, the wind howled, and the crops would not grow.

The colonists returned to the city, leaving the Salvation Army in debt in the amount of about $27,000. Of the 18 families, only one remained--the Frank Oscar Lindstrand family. Mr. Lindstrand, a native of Finland, was a car conductor in San Francisco before coming to the Colony. He and his family lived through the bad times--the drought--because he "held on." He was very industrious and could do many things to improve his 20 acres. That 20 acres is the only part of the Colony still owned by descendants of an original Fort Romie settler. Later, Mr. Lindstrand wore many hats including Head of the Election Board for the area and census taker, whose beautiful penmanship was admired by all.

Prosperous as it was in the beginning, the Colony gradually dwindled away. The initial failure would seem to crush the life out of any hopes that may have been entertained as to the possibility of keeping such folk upon the land. At that time, Fort Romie was quite insufficiently and irregularly irrigated, depending upon rainfall to support the crops. With the three years following the introduction of the settlers happening to be a time of drought, little could be grown.

Their failure notwithstanding, the authorities of the Salvation Army were determined to build again. In 1903, the Salvation Army arranged for irrigation of the land with water brought from the Arroyo Seco River. They also pumped water near the Salinas River by steam pump and used the Spreckels canals to irrigate the land. The land was surveyed a second time by Monterey County Surveyor Lou G. Hare, whose name can be found on literally thousands of early-day records. The property was laid out as a townsite, including road and waterways. Then the Salvation Army sought people who had some knowledge of farming. Some were practically destitute men but persons accustomed to the land. To these men, the land was sold under contract at $100 per acre, plus the cost of any improvements such as buildings that might exist upon each 20-acre parcel. Payments were to be made in equal annual installments, spread over a period of 20 years at 5 percent interest. Further, chattels, such as horses, stock, and implements were sold to the colonists upon a five-year system at 6 percent interest. They were able to irrigate the land and yield very good crops such as sugar beets, alfalfa, potatoes, beans, and onions. They also raised hogs and chickens. Cheese and butter making was a major industry, as was honey production.

In addition to the houses, there was a two-story building, with the Rochdale Store on the first floor and Army meeting hall upstairs. (Frank Rader was in charge of the store's meat market and delivered meat to farmers by horse and buggy.) The Rochdale Store was a consumer cooperative--a movement started in Rochdale, England, when 29 poor weavers opened a tiny grocery store on Toad Lane. The store at Fort Romie was established by colonists as shareholders. There was also a library, J.R. Gilken Tobacco, candy and notions store. On the corner of Colony and Lucerne Roads was the Smith Shoe Repair Shop, R.H. Gilkey's Blacksmith and Wagon Maker Shop, and the D.W. Wiley Cheese Factory. All of these, except the cheese factory, were located on Lucerne Road. Other main roads were Fort Romie Road, Colony Road, Foothill Road, and Mile End Road. (In earlier days, Colony Road was called Washington Road, and Foothill Road was Mesa Road. Fort Romie Road was Mission Road.) In the early days of Fort Romie, a large arch was erected at the foot of Mile End Road leading east onto Fort Romie Road. There was an inscription on the arch which read, "Fort Romie Salvation Army Colony." A small park surrounding it was also established. There were many pine trees, shrubs, flowers, and bulbs planted here. It was a very pretty spot. It is no longer there--the area is farmed.

During the period from 1901 to 1907, many things were established. Rural Free Delivery (R.F.D.) of mail was started in the United States in 1896, which brought magazines, newspapers, and catalogues into lonely farm homes. In 1904, the Colony was part of the R.F.D. route. It was the first in Monterey County, with William G. Boswell, a colonist, carrying the mail. Mr. Boswell left Soledad by horse and buggy, went west on Arroyo Seco Road to Paraiso Springs Road and Foothill Road. The people from Paraiso area met him at that intersection for their mail. He then proceeded on Foothill to Colony Road and one of the major stops was at the Salvation Army store location where the neighborhood gathered to receive mail--a very sociable time.

W.G. Boswell and his mail wagon

W.G. Boswell

There was a post office at Fort Romie for a short time; it opened in April 1989, but served for only two years. The Salvation Army Major William Wallace Winchell, the General Coordinator of the Colony, applied for creation of a post office and sought it under the name of "Fort Romie Post Office," but the United States Post Office Department approved it only as "Romie," striking the word "Fort" on the grounds that it was not a military establishment.

A man might have been poor and unable to pay for his land, buildings, and equipment, yet the Salvation Army was willing to accept him and give him a chance--provided he was industrious and of good moral character. The best evidence that this chance is all that many men needed was found on the Salvation Army colony. After a rough start, it was found to be a happy and prosperous community, composed of men of many nationalities who were succeeding in establishing good homes for themselves and their families and accumulating considerable property in spite of having practically nothing when they started.

"Only those with nothing left but the clothes they wore were allowed a place in the workhouse. It was a dubious honor--the conditions there brought many to despair."

The Salvation Army was an evangelistic and Christian order for social reform. However, no religion pressure was put upon the colonists. The Army promoted brotherly kindness and fostered an atmosphere of mutual support and help. Various religious denominations were represented in the community, which included Protestants of sundry sects and also members of the Roman Catholic faith.

In 1903, the Fort Romie families included thirteen of American background, two Scandinavian, and one each of Finnish, German, Swiss, Dutch, and Italian. Quoting Commander Booth-Tucker's article which was published in 1904 in "All the World" of London, "There was the American dash and enterprise, the Dutch plod, the Italian quickness and the attention to detail, the Swiss cheeriness and frugality, and the Scandinavian undauntedness, all uniting to solve this great problem of the Nation." (Author's note: The description of the Salinas Valley and Fort Romie area are as good as or better than John Steinbeck's.)

In correspondence with the Salvation Army in New York and London, England, their archives and Research Center shared with me information about the colonists in 1905. An English writer, H. Rider Haggard, arrived to inspect and report about Fort Romie. His interviews were published in his book, The Poor and the Land. In Anne Fisher's book, The Salinas, Upside-Down River, reference was made by her that Rudyard Kipling had visited the Colony, but it was Haggard not Kipling.

By November 1906, other residents of Fort Romie were families of I. Doly, R.A. Hildalgo, S.J. Galloway, J.E. Galloway, Jerry Pura, and Captain John Maling.

All 20 interviewed were pleased they had this opportunity to have something of their own. Most came to Fort Romie without any capital. The Salvation Army provided much to get them started.

With the store, meeting hall, confection store, shoe repair shop, and a blacksmith shop already established, the Salvation Army had plans to build a school on Lucerne Road. Because the school would serve not only Fort Romie students but the rest of the Mission district, there were heated debates about the location. Finally, John Ober donated a portion of his property for a school (where the old Mission School now stands).

The Fort Romie Cemetery on Foothill Road (just south of the old Mission School) had been originally created by the first settlers at Fort Romie. In 1952, the Salvation Army wanted to give up control of the cemetery, and paid to have remains disinterred. Seven were reburied in Soledad Cemetery and two in King City Cemetery. Three remains were shipped to New York for burial. The cemetery property was sold by the Salvation Army to A.L. Roddick for $200.

There was also the Fort Romie Telephone Company, which operated a farm line extending from Soledad. Alan L. Roddick remembers in 1908 paying $40 for his first phone and had to install it himself. He also had to install his own wires and poles. The Fort Romie Water Company, which is still active today, providing water for three farms and three small pastures. It is located at the corner of Private #2 and Fort Romie Roads. The well is very deep and the water is pure, according to tests. Mrs. Electa Pura kept the books for the Water Company. Margaret Pura Olson's job as a little girl was to deliver the bills to the various customers.

The families at Fort Romie prospered and by 1910, all had paid off all the mortgages and loans, and the Salvation Army officers considered the Fort Romie project complete, and the Salvation Army withdrew their control. Captain Jacob Romig was transferred to San Bernardino. There was a "garage sale" of equipment, supplies, and furniture at the home of Captain Romig. Longtime resident, Assunta Binsacca, purchased three pieces of living room furniture and a clock. These pieces remained in the Binsacca family until the death of Minnie Binsacca in 1996. Minnie had designated that the furniture be given to San Lorenzo Park, and it can be seen at the park's museum today.

From the beginning of Fort Romie and for many years, a family could make it on 10 or 20 acres with their own farm animals, gardens, eggs to sell, milk for sale or for cheese. Maybe the men had part-time jobs, but as times changed, many owners leased their acreage to growers with a larger operation.

With the Salvation Army leadership leaving Fort Romie, there was a void to fill the social, educational and community improvements. With this need apparent, the Fort Romie Grange #358 was formed in 1911. The Grange, a national organization established in 1867, promoted community betterment programs through a family-oriented environment. People other than Fort Romie residents belonged from areas known as Mission District.

1914 Grange

The Grange has a long history in America. It was founded in December 1867. In 1878, the Grange became the first organization to endorse teaching of agriculture in rural public schools. In 1887, the Grange advocated the parcel post system, and in 1916, it fathered the vocational agriculture program. In 1930, the Soil Conservation Service was established through diligent support of the Grange.

The Grange met in the Salvation Army's two-story building, and the Fort Romie Grange Band was organized and provided entertainment for the community at parties and dances.

Fort Romie Grange Band

Mission Methodist Episcopal Church

About 1916, the corner lot at Colony and Lucerne Roads, where the Salvation Army office stood, became the site of the Mission Methodist Episcopal Church. The building committee was composed of Mr. A.L. Roddick, Mrs. Amy Porter, Mrs. Vinnie Wiley, and Mr. H. Paulson. Main financial support of the church was from the activities of the Ladies Aid. This included sewing, bazaars, dinners, and the Harvest Festival, which was the big event of the year--many farm products were displayed and sold. The Harvest Festival had first been held by the Salvation Army. The produce was sold by auction. Mr. Lee Dudgeon is remembered as a most persuasive auctioneer with a booming voice. The dedication of the church was held in November 1916. The cost of the building was $1,265.

Mission Methodist Episcopal Church (formerly Salvation Army office)

Fort Romie Houses

    1. The Enos Vosti house on Foothill Road was a Salvation Army house on Pete Violini's farm.

    2. The A.C. Carle house on Colony Road. Now the McRae house on Foothill Road. (Torn down in 2004.)

    3. The Ghilardi (Harding) house on Foothill Road was a Salvation Army house.

    4. The Radavero (Hodge) house on Mile End Road was a Salvation Army house.

    5. The McClosky house (Matheson) on Colony Road.

    6. The DeCarli house (Sam Handley).

The Nelson House

Harding Place

Pura farm

No history of a community would be complete unless there was an obituary, as reported by the Soledad Bee.

April 25, 1913

Winfield J. Scott
Passes Away

Last Friday, W.J. Scott of Fort Romie entered into eternal rest. He had been in poor health for a number of years but was confined to the house only a few days and his sudden passing was a great shock to his friends and neighbors.

He was born January 4, 1850, in Sullivan County, New York, and moved with his parents when about ten years of age to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Here he spent his boyhood and youth in the lumbering business. Reports of large corn crops from the plains of Nebraska enticed him with many others to that state where they made homes in the fertile plains whose only inhabitants up to that time were Indians and buffaloes. Here he met Miss Mary Olive Spafford to whom he was married July 6, 1879. They resided on the homestead for several years, but failing health caused him to seek a climate with warm winters, and the came to California.

After several years in the San Joaquin Valley, they heard of the new colony of Fort Romie and came here, one of the earliest settlers.

He was held in high esteem by his neighbors, and the entire community feels the loss of a kind friend, and a citizen of sterling quality.

He leaves to mourn his loss a widow, Mrs. Mary Olive Scott, a son Roy Scott, and an adopted daughter, Mrs. S.P. (Annabel) Anderson.

Funeral services were conducted Sunday from the Grange Hall by Adj. Stedman and funeral director Thomas B. Pettitt. A large number of sympathizing friends followed the remains to their last resting place in the Fort Romie Cemetery where loving hands gently laid him away. The following poem was read:

"He is sleeping on the hillside,
In a quiet little spot.
With the loved ones we have laid him,
Our friend and neighbor, Mr. Scott.
One more soul is called up yonder
To His mansion in the sky.
On his face a smile to greet us
In the sweet bye and bye."

--Kezia Jane

Fort Romie/Salvation Army Pictures Available

Mission Methodist Episcopal Church
Grange Building
Mailman William Boswell
Fort Romie Cemetery
Commander Booth Tucker
Store fronts on Lucerne Road
The Rochdale Store
Pump House and Flume
Grange Band
Numerous other Salvation Army photos

Articles Available

"The Poor and the Land" (H. Rider Haggard)
"All the World-London" (Commander Booth-Tucker)

Special comments gleaned from newspaper and memories recalled

Dec. 29, 1911 "Ripples from Fort Romie" (Soledad Bee)

The Spreckels Co. has finished work on the canal, which has been considerably improved upon this season. Being now in first class condition, all is in readiness for the rain--when it comes--and everybody can irrigate to their hearts' content.

Jan. 19, 1912 "Ripples from Fort Romie" (Soledad Bee)

The Rochdale Co. held a meeting on Jan. 13, 1912. It was decided to close the store, further business being impossible.

Jan. 26, 1912
The Fort Romie Rochdale Co. held a stockholders meeting last week where it was decided to close the store permanently. An auction sale will be held Feb. 10, when the entire stock will be disposed of.

Jan. 26, 1912


I have for sale at my ranch Fort Romie about 100 Belgian Hares. Will sell them very reasonable. J.F. Vreiling

Fort Romie

Mrs. George Martin, of Castroville, arrived Monday for a few days with her sister, Mrs. Charles Handley.

Mrs. W.H. Boswell is spending vacation week at home on the Colony.

Mrs. Amy A. Hodges and Miss Keomecke, teachers of the Mission School, are attending institute in Pacific Grove this week.

Miss Ethel Hodges, who is attending high school in Salinas, is spending the week at home on the colony.

S.J. Galloway and wife are spending a few days in Monterey.

Jim Lee came near being killed last week. He became overbalanced and fell under a wagon which was loaded with beans, and one of the wheels passed over his arm and shoulder, barely missing his head.

Tom Day's horse fell with him while he was riding after cattle last week in the Palisade country and bruised him up considerably but did not injure him seriously.

Miss Jessie Romig went to Pacific Grove Monday for a week's visit with friends.

Special Comments Gleaned from Newspapers--Personal Items and also Memories Recalled

Salinas Daily Index

Fort Romie

We are having an abundance of rain the past few days, for which we are very grateful. It brings new courage to the dry land farmers in the surrounding country and makes us all rejoice.

One of our colonists took unto himself a wife last Wednesday in Salinas, when the Rev. C. McCoy of the Methodist Church united in wedlock David Wheeler Wiley and Miss Marguerite Wood of Prunedale.

Envoy Mallory, better known as "Happy Jimmy," has arrived and is assisting Captain Buchanan in the work here.

Harry Hoopes (or Hoops) came to Fort Romie looking for work. He helped at Alan Roddick's chicken ranch because Jessie Roddick was ill and couldn't help with chores. Later he worked with Bob Eggebrecht on his chicken ranch.

Mrs. Winfield (Mary) Scott was a midwife and practical nurse. She helped everywhere and helped everyone. People ran to her for help with any illness or accident. (Note: Her husband's Obituary)

A man by the name of Evans was a roving photographer and responsible for many of the early Salvation Army pictures. He came to the area about every two years. (Nothing is known about where he came from or with which family he stayed with while working here.) (10-8-86)

Rose Marci Lanini attended Mission School in the old building. She remembered that Mr. A.L. Roddick brought a barrel of water each day to the school for their drinking water. He delivered by horse-drawn vehicle. There was a cup attached by a chain to the barrel and each student and teacher drank from the same cup. There was no concern about germs in those days. She also recalled that May Day was one of the biggest holidays. Which ever day the First of May fell on, there was a gathering at Oak Park for a day of food, fun, and games. Very special occasion.

Auction Sale at Fort Romie

Sunday, Feb. 10, 1912

The Entire Stock of the Fort Romie Rochdale Co.

Slaughter House and Delivery Outfit, wagon, double and single harness, hoisting wench, blocks and tackle, splitting saw and cleaner.

Shop Fixtures--large safe (37x50x3), platform scales 600# capacity, counter scales 200# capacity, small scales, trays, sausage mill, large block, saws, knives, stubs, hooks, paper cutter and paper, Fairbanks scale 1200# capacity, coffee mill, tea canisters, wood patent improved, cash drawer, two glass showcases, Coats Thread, chest of drawers, tobacco cutter, lamps, and other appliances necessary to conduct a general merchandise business.

Entire Stock: an extensive list of first class groceries, dry goods, ladies' and gents' furnishings, boots, and shoes of the best make; potatoes and beans, 3/4 and 1 1/2 galvanized pipe and fittings, nails and staples, barbed wire and hog fence, 7 hogs, some yearling calves, fencing and shed, hog troughs, and other sundries too numerous to mention.

The Sale will be Conducted by Hutchinson Bros.
Grand Free Barbecue at Noon
Sales Commence at 11 a.m.
Terms of Sale--CASH

Feb. 16, 1912

The sale by auction last Saturday of the Fort Romie Rochdale Co's entire stock passed off very successfully; everything--lock, stock, and barrel--being sold.

Great credit is reflected upon Hutchinson Bros., who conducted the sale, for had it not been for their untiring energy, many items would have been unsold. The free BBQ was exceptionally good and was greatly appreciated by the 300 present.

March 8, 1912

W.C. Boswell has greatly improved the RFD #1, which covers Fort Romie and the Mission District, delivering there at 2 p.m. This is a real convenience, as it enables the daily newspapers to reach their destinations of time instead of being a day old as hitherto.

March 15, 1912

The Salvation Army pumping plant started up Thursday, Feb. 29. Charles Barney is chief engineer and Frank Rader is ditch-tender. The plant is running at full blast with a capacity of 5,000 gallons per minute, averaging ten acres in a twelve-hour day. There are six twelve-inch wells which are apparently inexhaustible.

March 15, 1912

Brigadier Burke, of New York, and Major Reid, of San Francisco, were visitors in the Colony last week.

March 1912

For Sale

Twelve acres of land for sale on the Salvation Army Colony. 8 1/2 acres under irrigation. Also 350 white leghorn hens--1 year old.

Apply to John Vrieling. (Note: The writer of this history of Fort Romie resides today on this property.)

March 22, 1912

Mrs. Anna Johnson, who just recently sold her place in the Colony, will, at present, occupy one of the new homes lately erected by the Jacks Corporation in Soledad.

April 19, 1912

John Vrieling left Saturday for Idaho where he will hunt up a location for a home.

Captain and Mrs. Vineijard of the Salvation Army, who have been spending the winter at the home of John Porter, left Friday for Globe, Arizona.

June 21, 1912

William Rothe made a good trade the other day by trading his ranch in the Arroyo Seco for six acres in the Colony, formerly owned by Sylvester Gilkey.

Nov. 29, 1912

Have Purchased Hall

The Fort Romie Grange has purchased the Salvation Army Hall at the Colony and will now have a home of their own where they can meet.

Sixteen have joined the organization in the past month and five more applications have been turned in to be acted on. Twelve will be taken through the mysteries of the Third and Fourth Degree tomorrow evening.

Mr. and Mrs. Lee Dudgeon were delegates to the State Grange held in Sebastopol. They returned with renewed enthusiasm for the success of the local organization.

Jan. 12, 1913

Fort Romie Concern to Dissolve

The Fort Romie Rochdale Co., through the Board of Directors, has petitioned the Superior Court for a degree of voluntary dissolution. The Company suspended business nearly a year ago, and the stock and fixtures were sold at auction.

All the Company's debts have been paid, and there is a balance on hand of $402 to be divided among the stockholders. Directors are: W.J. Scott, T.B. Bryant, John Porter, J.R. Gilkey, and Fred Evans.

May 9, 1913

Harry Hoop has bought Mr. Eggebrecht's chickens, etc., and will run the establishment for the present. Mr. Eggebrecht will take up his trade as machinist and engineer.

July 11, 1913

Dedication of Fort Romie Grange Hall

The dedication of the Fort Romie Grange Hall on July 4 at this place marks an epoch in Grange History and especially in the State of California, where but few of the Granges have homes of their own. This Grange is but 2 1/2 years old, had a charter membership of 23 members. For the first year, we struggled and tossed on the rough sea until some thought we might as well give up the ship, but the Master said "No," and with his faithful wife as secretary, and a few other loyal members kept the oars moving on, gaining speed, until now we are anchored with 62 names on board, and ten applications ready to be initiated.

The hall has been re-cleaned and decorated with bunting for the occasion, the flag waved in the breeze, as they marked the 137th birth of a free nation--a nation of which the oppressed of all lands rejoice and of which every true American is justly proud. The two sister Granges of this county, Greenfield and Aromas, were invited to join us. Upon their arrival at the hall, the Fort Romie Grange Band played the stirring air of "The Star Spangled Banner." The officers and members of the different Granges, together with the Worthy Master E.T. Pettitt of the California State Grange, as dedicating repaired to the old hall where the Grange was opened in due form by the Worthy Master Lee Dudgeon, after which they marched into the main part of the building where the dedication ceremony was completed. The Grange Band played several selections. Sister Vinnie Wiley presided at the organ, and a short program was rendered.

Worthy Master Pettitt was the principal speaker of the day--with short addresses by W.H. Livingston of Greenfield and Worthy Lecturer J.B. Hickman of Aromas Grange.

At the noon hour, the contents of the baskets were spread on tables in a large tent raised for the occasion. Hot coffee, ice cream and lemonade were distributed as a treat by the Fort Romie Grange to some 300 guests who had gathered there to celebrate the day.

Dec. 1914

Fort Romie Grange has New Officers

The Fort Romie Grange #358 met in regular session last Saturday eve, December 5 and elected the following officers:

MasterLee Dudgeon
OverseerCharles Barney
LecturerAttilio Binsacca
StewardSilvio Binsacca
Assistant StewardGilbert Tash
ChaplainMrs. Olive Scott
TreasurerFrank Rader
SecretaryMrs. Jennie Dudgeon
Gate KeeperAlfred Binsacca
CeresMiss Belle Tash
PomonaMiss Lottie Barney
FloraMiss Kate Binsacca
Lady Assistant StewardMiss Anna Binsacca
OrganistMiss Thelma Dunham

J.R. Dunham

Jan. 15, 1915

The Fort Romie Water Co. has elected the following as the Board of Directors: Lee Dudgeon, L.E. Pugh, O. Lindstand, Frank Nelson, and J.M. Pura. The company has erected a new house at their plant site and is contemplating making other needed changes.

Feb. 12, 1915

Quiet Wedding of Colony Couple

Solomon J. Nelson, age 28, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Nelson and Alice Mae Handley, age 18, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Handley, both of the colony, were married Wednesday in Salinas by the Rev. McCormick at the Jeffery Hotel.

A fine specimen of a carrot is on display at the Soledad Bee office. It is from Mrs. Baetschen's ranch at the Colony and weighs 18 pounds.

Solomon Nelson, Charlie Handley, and Gordon Handley, January 1919

Bits and Pieces of News and Comments

The Colony Band musicians at first called their organization "The Thoroughbred Tramp Band." Later wanting to promote the area, called themselves "The Fort Romie Band."

The Salvation Army had a colonization song:

The landless man and manless land
To landless, manless gold;
Forming today a trinity of
Revenues untold.
Thus saving the man, enriching the land
And robbing the poorhouse too;
Giving the child, now running wild
Something that he can do.

     By Brigadier Pebble


Clark, Donald Thomas
Monterey County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Kestrel Press, 1991.

Fink, Augusta
Monterey County: The Presence of the Past. Chronicle Books, 1972.

Fisher, Anne B.
The Salinas, Upside-Down River. Farrar Rinehart, 1945.

Guinn, J.M.
History and Biographical Record of Monterey and San Benito Counties and History of the State of California. Historic Record Company, 1910.

King City Rustler-Herald
Salt of the Earth, 1951.

Monterey County Chamber of Commerce
Souvenir of Monterey County: The Premier County of California. 1901.

Salinas Daily Index, 1898

Soledad Bee, first published in 1909.

Spence, Clark C.
The Salvation Army Farm Colonies. University of Arizona Press, 1985.

Vera, Dorothy H.
Our History and Heritage. Salinas Californian, 1970.

The Salvation Army St. Luis ARC
In Darkest England and the Way Out . . . continued

Salvation Army Collectables
Salvation Army History > Salvation Army Firsts

Salvation Army History

Fort Romie Photographs and Pictures
Courtesy of:

Margaret Pura Olson
Jennie Handley
Eva Nelson
Carl Baetschen
Margaret Berti
Doris Plummer Jones
Ada Plummer Wittman
Minnie Binsacca
Alvina Iverson Johnson
Salvation Army, London, England
--and the author's own collection

Carl Baetschen family

A little about Patricia Binsacca Terry, compiler of Fort Romie, Salvation Army History

Patricia has a sense of community with the Fort Romie people, as well as those of the Soledad Mission District. She was first inspired by articles written by Dorothy H. Vera, reporter for the Salinas Californian, who was the editor of History and Heritage, a column that ran every Saturday. Patricia saved and treasured Mrs. Vera's articles which gave her the incentive to collect pictures of Fort Romie and to seek out interviews with ancestors of colonists.

Since Patricia's parents, Alfred and Tillie Binsacca, were fourth-time owners of 12 acres in the Fort Romie Colony, she was inspired to write to Salvation Army in New York and London, England. She asked for names of the first Fort Romie colonists, but they were unable to provide this information. However, they did give her the name of a book, "The Poor and the Land," written by H. Rider Haggard, and the local branch of Monterey County Free Libraries was able to obtain the book through the Los Angeles Library. It contained wonderful information about the second group of colonists, garnered through interviews with the colonists.

Many friends shared pictures and photographs of Fort Romie times with Patricia. It has been a gradual research of history for her. She has compiled information, given talks at local schools and clubs. She truly cares about perpetuating the memory of these strong, brave pioneers.

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