Mission San Francisco Solano (Sonoma, California)

Mission San Francisco Solano, Sonoma, CA
Photo by Ashleigh Nushawg

Founded by Father José Altimira on July 4, 1823, Mission San Francisco Solano was the 21st, final, and northernmost mission in Alta California. Located 40 miles north of San Francisco, in what is now Sonoma, the mission was built after Mexico gained independence from Spain. As the only mission founded without approval from the church, and the only to be constructed after Mexico’s independence from Spain, San Francisco de Solano is something of a bastard child of the Mission Trail.

Father José Altimira, while working at nearby Mission San Francisco de Asís, wanted to start his own mission and was granted permission from California Governor Don Luis Arguello. Because of its proximity to Mission San Francisco de Asís and San Rafael, it was possible to both serve as a station for transferring goods and a mission to convert the Indians to Christianity.

Governor Don Luis Arguello, wanted to insure that the area remained part of Mexico and that the growing number of Russians working in the area were kept out of the interior of the region. Despite the diocese feeling that the era of the mission was finished, San Francisco de Solano was built nonetheless.

The original idea was that two nearby missions would close and their supplies would be moved to San Francisco Solano. As you might have guessed, these two missions didn’t want to close and they made something of a scene that resulted in work at Solano stopping till an agreement could be met.

The agreement was that the two other missions would remain open and Solano would not have as much money to build as they originally intended. This is part of the reason that the church lacks much of the decorations of earlier mission churches, and why it never really was as successful as Father José Altimira hoped it would become. By most standards it is still a lovely adobe and wood-framed structure built in what is known as the mission style, with its beautiful yet simple designs.

In 1906 an earthquake destroyed most of the original mission, and the current church at the site is an authentic reproduction of the 1840 building. Though it is not the original mission building, it is built in the same style with many of the same materials and technology. This was easy to accomplish because many of the building methods had not changed greatly between 1840 and 1911-13 when it was rebuilt. The last major restoration was in 1943-44.

The 1911-1913 effort to restore the mission was led by The Historic Landmarks League, who had only acquired the property in 1903.

Mission San Francisco Solano circa 1853
1853 photo of Mission San Francisco Solano taken prior to 1906 earthquake.

Mission San Francisco Solano Facts

  • The mission is now part of the Sonoma State Historic Park.
  • Mission San Francisco Solano marks the end of the mission trail.
  • On June 1, 1932, Mission San Francisco Solano was designated California Historical Landmark #3.
  • The highest mission population was 996, in 1832.
  • Mission Solano is located across the street from the Sonoma military barracks, built in 1836 by General Vallejo.
  • The church measures 105 feet long and is 22 feet wide.
  • The names of the Indian neophytes of the Sonoma Mission have been carved into a commemorative wall on the west side of the mission church.