Alexander Valley is named after a man who arrived here on horseback in 1840. Pioneer Cyrus Alexander had ridden from San Diego, hired by Captain Fitch to look for unclaimed, frontier land suitable for ranching. A Pennsylvanian who sought adventure and fortune as a trapper in the Rocky Mountains and later as a gold miner in California, Alexander identified 48,000 acres of land which Fitch then acquired as a grant from the Mexican government. Fitch hired Alexander to set up a working ranch and promised to award him with land of his own. The Mexican land grant became Rancho Sotoyome, and when Cyrus Alexander settled there in 1841, the as-yet-unnamed valley was the northern frontier of Mexico.
In the eyes of Cyrus Alexander this land had tremendous potential – good soil, temperate climate, plentiful water and abundant timber. As caretaker of Fitch’s property, Cyrus was responsible for guarding the owner’s 1,000 horses,14,000 cattle and 10,000 sheep. Cyrus was well acquainted with this ranch, and when it came time for him to collect on Fitch’s promise of land, he selected the 9,000 acres he described as “the brightest and the best”. Located on the eastern side of the Russian River, the land had an ideal homesite - atop a prominent knoll, near a large spring, alongside a brook. On this site Cyrus Alexander built his family home; it now belongs to Alexander Valley Vineyards and is the heart of the Wetzel Family Estate.
Cyrus built the valley’s first schoolhouse. Today
the building is a guest house on the Wetzel Family Estate.
While still overseeing Fitch’s Rancho Sotoyome, Cyrus built adobe and redwood buildings(sometimes without nails), planted fruit trees, grew wheat and took care of livestock. A vigorous, skillful outdoorsman, he gave more of himself than his contract with Fitch required. Industrious Cyrus built a lime kiln, erected a grist mill and developed a tannery. He planted the area’s first grape vines in 1846. He thought nothing of traveling great distances by horse and cart - to Sonoma to buy building supplies; to Fort Ross to trade for fruit tree seedlings; to Cache Creek, 100 miles east, to court Rufina Lucero who, at age 14, became his wife.
In 1847 Cyrus began developing his homesite, first constructing an adobe building with walls two feet thick and a foundation 80 feet long, 20 feet wide and 12 feet high. In 1863, just to the north of the adobe, Cyrus built his family home, the largest residence in Alexander Valley at the time. Outbuildings included barns, stables, granaries and a smoke house, all built of the best material.
Alexander became the community’s leader, building the valley’s first schoolhouse and founding three local churches. He continued to develop his orchard, always obtaining the best stock available. A fig tree planted by Cyrus in 1850 is still bearing fruit in the 21st century on the Wetzel Family Estate.
The Wetzels purchased a large part of the Cyrus Alexander homestead in 1962, including the old adobe and the family home. Ravaged by time and the 1906 earthquake, the buildings needed restoration. From 1967 – 1968 the Wetzels restored the adobe, keeping the original glass, window placements and surrounding wisteria and trees. In 1972, they purchased the old Alexander Valley schoolhouse and moved it to a hillside north of the family home and gardens. Several years later, they completed the restoration of the Cyrus Alexander family home, now the principal residence on the Wetzel Family Estate.
Cyrus and Rufina Alexander are buried in their family cemetery on the Alexander Valley Vineyard property. Five of the ten Alexander children are also buried there.
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