|Santa Rosa has been the site of several “utopian” experiments, some with religious foundations. One of these was the Fountain Grove community established just north of Santa Rosa in 1885.Thomas Lake Harris established the community with an initial purchase of 400 acres of rolling foothills just above the Santa Rosa plain. He built a three-story, Victorian mansion surrounded by lavish gardens which he called “The Commandery”. He continually added to the community’s holdings, eventually expanding Fountain Grove to over 1,500 acres.
Harris published a steady stream of booklets extolling his philosophical mix of socialism and mysticism which he distributed in both the U.S. and Europe. Eventually he was joined at Fountain Grove by people attracted to his teachings and writings. Members of the “Brotherhood of New Life” turned over their worldly possessions to the community and worked in the vineyards and winery which Harris established with the help of Dr. John Hyde. The winery was enormously successful eventually shipping 200,000 gallons of wine annually throughout the world.
Harris might have stayed at Fountain Grove for the rest of his life had he not been accused of adulterous behavior by a reporter writing in the San Francisco Chronicle. Despite the support of the local people and press Harris eventually left Fountain Grove and returned to a home he maintained in upstate New York. He turned the property over to his adopted son, Kenaye Nagasawa.
Nagasawa and Harris’ followers ran the winery very successfully for many years and built the now prominent “round barn” which has been preserved as a historical landmark. Nagasawa and Luther Burbank were well acquainted and during this period Santa Rosa was graced by Burbank’s horticulture on the south and Nagasawa’s viticulture on the north. In 1934 Nagasawa died and the property was sold.
Kanaye Nagasawa was born to the Samurai class in Japan. He was a very interesting man.. as a matter of fact, his name wasn’t really Kanaye Nagasawa, it was Isonaga, Hikosuke Isonaga and he was one of the first eight Japanese in the United States. He arrived in America by the way of England and Scotland where he picked up a Scottish accent, which he kept the rest of his life.
Nagasawa met Thomas Lake Harris the founder of the Brotherhood of New Life in London in the 1860’s and was one of four young Japanese men who followed Harris back to his colony in upstate New York. The four young men had been part of a group of fifteen students who were literally smuggled out of their homes in Satsuma, by the leader of the clan. He had chosen them because they were the brightest students and he wanted them to go to Europe to learn the ways of the western world. This move had been expressly forbidden by the Emperor.
It was 1865 when the young men were smuggled out of the Kagoshima harbor, taken to Hong Kong, had their hair cut, bought western clothes and changed their name. It was then that Hikosuke Isonaga, son of a wealthy Confucian scholar, stone carver and astronomer became for the rest of his life Kanaye Nagasawa.
Those fifteen students did exactly what the head of the Satsuma clan intended. Nagasawa the youngest of the group, was the only one who did not return to Japan after the Meiji restoration, when Japan was ready to take its place in the world. The rest returned and many of them became very important in the government of the emerging nation.
Arinori Mori, who also became a follower of Thomas Lake Harris, was the Japanese Ambassador to Washington and later minister of education for the Japanese cabinet. Others in the group who lived with Harris at his Brocton colony went home and were named ambassadors to Russia and Kanaye Nagasawa, still too young for government service and very much captivated by the “Father Faithful” of the Brotherhood of New Life, elected to stay at Brocton. When Kanaye was eighteen, Thomas Lake Harris made a move. He moved across the continent to Santa Rosa, California to build a new “Home” for his Brotherhood. The site he chose was Fountain Grove, which Harris called “The Eden of the West.” Members of the colony would be selected to live in peace and harmony around the “father,” Nagasawa was one of those chosen to make the initial trip. The land purchased was a 1500 acre estate on the outskirts of Santa Rosa.
Life at Fountaingrove in Harris’ time was apparently happy. Harris wrote immense number of tracts and books on his social and religious philosophy.
By 1880 more than 60 of his followers were living at Fountaingrove. At this time there were many more still living in Brocton and several hundred more scattered around the United States, Scotland, England and Japan. Scholars have estimated that Harris believers numbered about 1,000 at the peak.
All the building of Fountaingrove were constructed according to the precepts of the Brotherhood, which was supposed to be taken physically into the “Celestial Sphere” come the millennium. The Manor House, Harris’ own home, was the most important. He called it Aestivossa, which means the “high country of divine joy” in a language known only to Harris and members of his “Inner Circle” of which Nagasawa was included.
The “Commandery” an imposing three story structure of redwood with high beamed ceilings, sat on a ridge overlooking the town, this is where the men of the colony were housed. The “Cottage” was where the women lived. It was a cottage in the Victorian sense of the word, two stories with twin fireplaces surrounded by a high hedge. The Commandery burned in the 1880’s Aestivossa was torn down in 1969 and the Cottage a year later—to make room for the planned development at Fountaingrove.
The winery is still there, the original building dating to 1892. The original winery built in 1878, burned in 1892 and was immediately rebuilt. Before a German would be cowboy, named Siegfried Bechold, married a widowed owner of Fountaingrove and tore out the grapevines for cattle.