Thomas Lake Harris and Fountain Grove

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.

 

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