The Petaluma Historical Library and History Museum, one of 22 registered historic Petaluma landmarks and a work in itself , is currently showing ‘The Imaginative World of William Caldwell ‘ folk art exhibit through December 19, which we are featuring in this episode of Bay Area Backroads.
Bay Area Backroads took us to the once sleepy town (and former ‘chicken capital of the world’) of PETALUMA, California for the Caldwell exhibit. What we found was much more than we ever remembered seeing in past visits. In addition to the wonderful, ‘Hobby-Horseman’ exhibit, we tacked on more town treasures at the end of this tour in videos and photos,below.. Pictured above is Real life-size PETALUMA ‘postcard’ as you enter town on Petaluma Blvd exit off 101

Petaluma may be the third largest city in the famous Northern California wine country, literally next to Santa Rosa ( #1) and Napa, yet it has maintained its small town feel through low growth legislation. History buffs can delight in the many preserved buildings such as the McNear Building, used in a number of Hollywood films such as ‘Back to the Future’. And one will notice a lack of corporate and chain stores and more ‘mom and pop’ shops. No wonder this quaint town has been used as a backdrop for many movies.

Currently on exhibit at Petaluma Historical Library and Museum ‘Imaginative World of William Caldwell , 20 Fourth Street, Petaluma, CA, through December 19. See videos below.

Tour Video #1 Background of ‘Hobby-Horseman‘ Wood Carver William CaldwellA fan of the old west, William Caldwell grew up in Oklahoma, where he began his life-long craft hobby before moving to Petaluma. Here he created most of his craftwork during the 1950s and 60s. Caldwell passed in 1971. Petaluma Historical Library and Museum collection manager, Solange Russek, takes us on this video tour of the life and times of ‘Hobby-Horseman’ and one-time Petaluma resident William Caldwell. (video 1)
16 Mule Team

Caldwell’s work is defined by accuracy and detail. Note, for example, how all the horses pulling vehicles, though individually crafted, are precisely the same dimensions with exacting horseshoes and other adornments. For the many animals he liked to work with, Caldwell would start with two blocks of wood, one for the body and one for the head, connecting them with dowells and such, mostly all wood, according to Solange Russek, museum collection manager who leads us on this video tour.5

video 2 – Imaginative World of William Caldwell , Museum collection manager Solange Russek continues tour currently on display at Petaluma Historical Library and Museum. Caldwell developed this unique hobby of carving folk art, mostly of the Old West including a range of animals, stagecoaches and farm equipment . it took him ‘only’ 16 hours ,on average,  to create each detailed piece -even the horses have horseshoes-according to Petaluma History Museum curator Solange Russek, who takes us on tour here.
Hunting Buffalo
George Caldwell at his pride and joy, carving a horse circa 1950s
Get out the cavalry!
Stage coaches extraordinaire!
Video – Side Exhibit – There’s much more to see in the museum, like American Graffiti exhibit which features movie ‘clapboard’ loaned to the museum by the famed movie director, George Lucas, himself, a nearby resident in Lucas Valley
Video 4-More Caldwell- 20 Mule Team
Video 5- Buffalo and Farm Equipment
Video 6 – Caldwell People and Pet
…and remember, the Historical Library and Museum (pictured above), that houses the Caldwell exhibit, is one of 22 Historic Landmarks in Petaluma and well worth a tour itself. Check with the docents inside.

More Petaluma

After that rousing museum exhibit tour of William Caldwell’s carvings – thank you Solange and staff at the museum! – we couldn’t leave the area without backtracking to some of the sites we passed coming into town such as the Petaluma sign.

First, we will explore some of the downtown area all within walking distance of the museum…

Video- Downtown Petaluma River Walk tour -just look for the river not far from the museum and You’ve got a number of nice places for lunch or dinner along the Petaluma River Walk
Then take a walk around Washington and Petaluma Blvd and you’ll find lots of historic buildings like the McNEAR building -circa 1886 -near the clocktower , both used in multiple movies as previously mentioned.
And there is that famous clocktower you can see from the River Walk
And again , up and close
Old buildings like this ‘Lanmart Shops ‘ make great edifices to house the many antique stores with wonderful nostalgia, such a part of old Petaluma…
Perhaps Leftovers from Halloween could cause quite a stir for some unsuspecting visitors who venture into one of several ‘mini-malls’- more like back alleys.
Remnant from Petaluma’s formative years seen in another antique store window

Along the river again…
Captivating scene and restaurant along the river
A collective of boutique shops also near the river

some local color and philosophy
Petaluma Farmers Market happens every Saturday 2-5 pm in the park near the Old Post Office on 2nd Street. You might be lucky enough to get serenaded as we did this day


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Away from Downtown

VENTURING away from downtown Petaluma the fun continues with more interesting old haunts and newer restaurants and shops such as Sonoma Portworks. It’s the only port-only location of its kind in Northern California, according to co-owner Karen. Petaluma has become quite a wine town, in the shadows of bigger Napa and Santa Rosa wine country. Portworks is one of the older ‘wineries’ where one can taste, dine and shop. Karen is proud to be among a burgeoning network of lesser-known, under-the-radar wine and beer (hard cider and kambucha anyone?) establishments nearly untouched by corporate influence that you see more of in trendy Napa and Sonoma . We noted this difference representative in Petaluma’s lower prices’ where one can get a delicious bottle of port at Portworks for $20.
A town like Petaluma has to have its retro bowling ‘alley ‘ (though they have advanced from calling them ”alleys’ what with this 40 lane complex repleat with arcade, bar and billiards) . While other cities are tearing down their history, Petaluma revels in its vintage palaces like AMF Boulevard Lanes, 1100 Petaluma Blvd. So.
Perhaps this review of Heritage Salvage (1473 Petaluma Blvd.) Defines the character of Petaluma and its people as much as anything…
Reis Winery on many beautiful acres on the outskirts of town

More SEEN Around Town

Well, that will about do it for this episode of Bay Area Backroads and our brief tour of Petaluma. There is a lot we left out so you’ll need to come by for your own up close–in person experience of a town that has aged gracefully combining both the old and new.

Bye Bye!

More Bay Area Backroads


and visit another retro kind of place in OLDIES COUNTRY


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