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How Sebastopol got its name

Monday, August 6th, 2012 | Posted by

By ARTHUR DAWSON / Towns Columnist

Sebastopol’s original name was “Pine Grove.” In 1855, the town consisted of a few buildings that had sprung up where the trail running west from Santa Rosa crossed the one coming north from Petaluma. One of the first structures was a store owned by middle-aged immigrant John Dougherty.

Halfway around the globe, another crossroad sits at the tip of the Crimean Peninsula, where routes across the Black Sea meet. The Russians built a fortified port there in 1783 and called it “Sebastopol.”

During the Crimean War, British and French forces laid siege to Sebastopol. It took months, traveling by telegraph, ship and overland, for news to reach Pine Grove.

One day in Pine Grove, men named Stevens and Hibbs got into a fistfight. Hibbs sought refuge inside Dougherty’s store. Stevens tried to follow, but Dougherty wouldn’t let him. Stevens paced the road outside for hours while Dougherty kept an eye on him. Eventually Stevens left in defeat.

To the crowd that gathered, eager to see a fight, this was disappointing. They nicknamed Dougherty’s store, “Hibb’s Sebastopol.” When it came time to name the post office (Pine Grove was too common), someone suggested “Sebastopol.”

The town has come a long way from such beginnings. A declared “Nuclear Free Zone,” Sebastopol has sister cities in distant countries and hosts a National Peace Site at Ragle Ranch Park. Created by activists from around the world, the site features a pole reading “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in eight languages.

If anything, Sebastopol today seems inspired not by sieges and fistfights, but by peace and the idea of harmony among nations.

Arthur Dawson is a Glen Ellen-based historical ecologist. You can reach him at baseline@vom.com.


  • http://www.sonomahistory.com Arthur Dawson, author

    I received an email about the correct modern spelling of Sebastopol’s Russian namesake, which is “Sevastopol.’ Pronounced with the accent on the ending syllables: “SevasTOPOL.”

    “Sebastopol” is considered “a former and variant spelling” for the Russian metropolis.

    Arthur Dawson

    • james

      I’ve heard that, while spelled with a ‘v’, it is pronounced as a ‘b’ in Russian.

      • Domo

        Actually, it’s vice versa, it’s spelled with a B but B is pronounce like V in Russian. Coincidentally I am a sonoma county native and am currently in Ukraine where I recently visited Sevastopol…

  • pʰal:aʔčaywaʔa

    What about the original Southern Pomo name, baṭʰ:inkʰlehčawi?

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