Petaluma's Leghorn Legacy
Baby chicks hatch, thousands daily, leaving eggshell mountains piled roof-high. Trains rattle eastward, every car filled with crates of glistening white eggs. Skillman Lane has more egg producers in one place than any other road in the world. It's the hey-day of the poultry industry, when Petaluma was "The World's Egg Basket."
San Francisco's Gold Rush population explosion created a demand for fresh eggs that local farmers could not meet. During the century from 1850 to 1950, one small town thirty-eight miles north of San Francisco grew from a hunter's camp to the richest city of its size in America. Its hatcheries produced ten million pullets per year. At one time, nine out of ten families in southern Sonoma County were engaged in the industry.The Single Comb White Leghorn hen made it all possible.
Empty Shells salutes the poultry pioneers and their amazing day-to-day lives during Petaluma's "Golden Poultry Age." Immigrants from around the world settled in the valley to raise chickens. The story of these family farms is recounted from newspaper files, old journals, tattered scrapbooks, and personal recollections detailing hard work and frugal lives. Here are dog-eared postcards and yellowed newspaper clippings from the Ed Mannion Collection, early photos from the Library of Congress and antique glass slides from the Farm Bureau. Ink drawings of the dilapidated chicken houses in their present weathered, picturesque condition capture their idiosyncratic collapse. Most of the old chicken houses are simply melting away. They will soon all be gone.