The Grace Family Saga

The Grace family currently spans six generations in Sonoma County history. It is a proud history and I hope to do it justice in the following pages. Some timeframes are covered more fully than others. The family’s departure from Ireland and their beginnings in America are a bit scant. The major areas I have covered are from the 1920’s to the middle 1960’s. My hope is that this brief narrative can serve as a basis for more exploration for someone, but if it doesn’t at least the younger generation and their children will know of the history of their family. It is a family and a history I am very proud of, and I hope I do them justice. Our history is inextricably wound up in the history and growth of beautiful Sonoma County. Read and, I hope, enjoy.

The Grace family has been involved in the business community of Sonoma County for over 100 years, in groceries, farming (over two generations), beer, ranching, dairy, ice, wine, a hockey team, a restaurant, a vineyard management business and real estate. In the beginning, farming drew the first generation of Graces to Sonoma County. Thomas A Grace left Nenaugh, Tipperary County Ireland and moved to Oswego, New York in 1850 to chase the American dream. The move may have been in reaction to the Potato Famine of the 1840’s or just plain wanderlust and the hopes and dreams of a new start in America. At this time he was 32 years old. It is not known if Thomas was married to Catherine Bergen since she would have been sixteen – certainly not an unusual age for marriage at the time. She well may have met Thomas in Oswego. We do know that Catherine Bergen Grace owned property in Oswego prior to their move west. We know nothing else about their lives in Oswego other than they decided to come to Sonoma County in the 1870’s and try their luck at farming, and that they were married in the 1850’s.What drew them here I haven’t any exact answer, but the lure of the moderate climate and cheap land to farm must have entered into the equation.

They started their family in Oswego with Frank P Grace as the first born in 1858 followed by Anna, Pierce, Ella, (Nellie), Kate, Joseph T. and Mary. Seven children in all made the trip to California to help their mom and dad in their new home and in their new lives. By 1880 they were living at 56 Humboldt Street, in Santa Rosa. Frank P was employed as a gardener, and he later worked for Northwestern Railroad. Anna was a cook, Pierce was a laborer, and father Thomas was a farmer. By 1900 Joseph (age 25) and Ella (age 28), and Kate (age 26) still lived at home. That seems like a normal Irish family, the kids staying at home until early adulthood-and perhaps even later. By 1900, Catherine Grace had passed away, and the family had moved to 1116 4th Street, Santa Rosa. Soon after, Ellie left the home and married, and the rest followed soon after. Ellie married James M Donahue. James died in 1926 and Ellie died in the last part of World War II, in March 1945 at the age of 72. Ironically, that was the same age at which her father and sister Annie passed away.

Annie married John Hayes, who passed away in 1918 at age 58, and Annie lived on until she was 72 years old. Katie never married. She apparently lived with her parents until their death. Mary Grace died in December 1880 at age 20 and was buried at the rural cemetery. Pierce retired from the railroad business and moved to Los Angeles from Petaluma where he passed away on February 15, 1934. He also remained single. I don’t think Pierce was ever involved in Frank and Joseph’s business ventures. At least three of the siblings lived to see the development of Sonoma County in the early part of the 20th century and witness their brothers’ business successes. Frank P became Sheriff and Tax Collector of Sonoma County, and he and Joseph T owned a grocery store, a brewery, a winery, and JT became vice-president of the Bank of Italy and then Chairman of the Board of the Bank of America. He joined Ernest Finley, owner/publisher if the Press Democrat, in reviving the Sonoma County Fair and Horse Show in 1936. The January 1, 1943 Press Democrat stated, “ …It was largely through Grace’s efforts that the old fairgrounds and race track were improved, and the present modern fair plant was erected…”(Grace Pavilion was named in his honor). These two Irish kids from Oswego, New York did pretty well in their new town. They were both pillars of the community and business leaders. The Grace family started early in community involvement.

There are countless immigrant stories just like theirs –the huddled masses leaving Ireland bound for the new world with dreams of success racing through their heads. Once the Grace family arrived, it did not take them long to achieve success and they definitely displayed an entrepreneurial bent early on.