Turning Stones - George McKale


Temelec is not a cheese

Temelec is not a cheese.  It is, however, a census-designated place, also known as a CDP. The United States Census Bureau created the designation for statistical purposes, and defines it as a concentration of population other than cities, towns and villages. As most of you know, Temelec is located on Arnold Drive, southwest of Sonoma.

There’s more to Temelec than a CDP.  Located at 220 Temelec Circle, one will find a beautiful home, now used as the Temelec Adult Community Center.  The home was designated California Historical Landmark #237.  Also known as Temelec Hall, the building was constructed in 1858 by Captain Granville P. Swift.  Captain Swift ventured west with the Kelsey Party in 1843.

The building is a large, two-story home and is an excellent example of a modified Classical Revival.  It is constructed with cut stone and field stone, and included numerous elaborate outbuildings.  I think of it as a “diamond in the rough,” as many people don’t know it is even there.

Swift had an extreme distaste for Mexican California and Mariano Vallejo.  It is thought that Temelec was built in such a grand style as to outshine Vallejo’s Lachyrma Montis and Vallejo’s Petaluma Adobe. On June 19, 1858, the corner stone was laid.  Swift paid between $125,000 to $300,000 for the construction, a huge amount for the time given that much of the work was completed by Native Americans.

Swift was born in Kentucky in 1822.  He claimed to be related to Daniel Boone and was quite the horseman and knew how to handle a gun.  Upon his arrival to Mexican California, he settled at Sutter’s Fort near Sacramento and was a member of the 1846 Bear Flag Party. Because of his role as a Bear Flagger, he was given the name “Captain.”

Swift moved on from Sutter’s Fort and established a ranch near Colusa.  He used Native American labor on his ranch, and when gold was discovered he moved his indigenous workers to the Feather River, collecting about $5,000 a day in gold.  Before moving on to other ventures, he accumulated about a half a million dollars in gold.

Captain Swift was not a humble man.  He took his gold and had it formed into $50 octagonal pieces with his personal mark on them.  He then took his personal gold pieces, packed them onto mules and horses, and headed out to one of the greatest little cities in California.  He arrived in Sonoma in 1854.

He then took some of his gold and purchased about 15,000 acres from Major Beck.  Swift was known for his poor treatment of his Native American labor force.  In fact, many of the stories are down right outrageous.  He was evidently known to have tied workers with chains to the walls in his basement and secured cannon balls around their ankles.

Swift eventually made some unsound investments and lost most of his fortune. He sold Temelec to William Kissane, a fugitive running away from some legal problems in the East. Upon his arrival in California, Kissane changed his name to W. K. Rogers, sticking a “Colonel” in front for good measure. The “Colonel” purchased the property in 1863.

Swift moved to Green Valley where he began to drink heavily.  In 1875, he was interested in the silver rush and headed to the hills once again to try to regain his lost wealth.  He, however, fell from his mule and died.

As for the name, it may have derived from a Coast Miwok chief named Tamuleko.  Given Swift’s predilection for cannon balls, it seems interesting that he would name the property, in essence honoring in memoriam, the Native Americans that built this magnificent home.

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