Sebastopol is a city in Sonoma County, California, United States, approximately north of San Francisco. The population was 7,379 at the 2010 census, but its businesses also serve surrounding rural portions of Sonoma County, a region known as West County, which has a population of up to 50,000 residents.
It is about a 20-minute drive from the Pacific Ocean, between Santa Rosa and Bodega Bay, and is known for its liberal politics and small-town charm. It was once primarily a plum and apple growing region; wine grapes, however, are now predominant, and nearly all lands once used for orchards are now vineyards. World-famous horticulturist Luther Burbank had gardens in this fertile region. The city hosts an annual Apple Blossom Festival and Gravenstein Apple Fair.
Sebastopol is also the home of publisher O'Reilly Media, which publishes books on open-source software and other topics, and international camera bag manufacturer Lowepro Inc. Primus lead singer/bassist Les Claypool, singer/songwriter Nick Gravenites, novelist Francine Rivers, musician Tom Waits and actor Peter Krause currently reside in the area. Sebastopol is home to Analy High School, Laguna High School, Brook Haven Middle School, Gravenstein Elementary School, Hillcrest Middle School, Twin Hills Middle School, Pine Crest Elementary, Apple Blossom Elementary, along with many other private and charter schools.
The area's first known inhabitants were the native Coast Miwok and Pomo peoples. The town of Sebastopol formed in the 1850s with a U.S. Post Office and as a small trade center for the farmers of the surrounding agricultural region. As California's population swelled after the westward migration and the Gold rush of the 1850s, more and more settlers drifted into the fertile California valleys north of San Francisco to try their hand at farming.
There is some debate about how the name "Sebastopol" came into being. At one time, four other California towns were also named Sebastopol (specifically, one in Napa County renamed Yountville, and others in Tulare, Sacramento and Nevada counties). The town was originally called Pinegrove, and how the name change occurred is rumored to have something to do with a bar fight in the late 1850s which was likened to the long British siege of the then-Russian seaport of Sevastopol (now part of Ukraine) during the Crimean War. The original name can be seen in the names of two of the longer standing downtown businesses, Pinegrove consignment store, and the Pinecone restaurant.
It is sometimes thought (mistakenly) that the name of "Sebastopol" is the result of an error in the transliteration of Sevastopol ("Севастополь", Sevastopol in Russian, "Σεβαστούπολη", Sevastupoli in the original Greek). However, both the Greek letter "β" (v) and the Cyrillic "в" (v) have been historically Romanized as "b" (other examples include "Βυζάντιον", Vizantion → Byzantium; the Greek name "Βασίλειος", Vassilios and the Russian "Василий", Vassily → Basil, the Byzantine title "σεβαστοκράτωρ"/"севастократор" sevastokrator → sebastokrator, etc.). In fact, even the eponymous city in present-day Ukraine is generally referred to in 19th-century English-language sources as "Sebastopol."
Sebastopol became known as the "Gravenstein Apple Capital of the World". The apple industry brought a steady rural prosperity to the town. In 1890 the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad connected Sebastopol to the national rail network. The town was incorporated in 1902 with schools, churches, hotels, canneries, mills, wineries, and an opera house to its credit. The 1906 earthquake reduced most of these early buildings to rubble, (Sebastopol is only seven miles from the city of Santa Rosa, the worst hit town in the 1906 earthquake) but as elsewhere in the county, the town was rebuilt.
In the second half of the 20th century, the apple industry struggled to compete with other apple producing regions and has gradually declined in economic significance. With greater personal mobility and the rise of larger shopping centers in other Sonoma County communities, many residents now often commute to work and shop in the neighboring towns of Rohnert Park or Santa Rosa, while Sebastopol maintains its small town charm.
It is often incorrectly claimed that Sebastopol was the last town in Northern California to have working railroad trains on Main Street. The tracks were actually removed in the late 1980s. Passenger service had ceased in the 1930s, and regular freight service ended in the late 1970s. This was documented by Analy High School students in a 1979 video, Our Train Down Main: a History of the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railroad. The canneries and apple processing plant are gone from downtown, and vineyards and housing developments have replaced many apple orchards, reducing the demand for freight service.
It is often also incorrectly stated that the tracks were removed in the 1990s when the downtown area was redesigned with two one-way streets to enhance traffic along Gravenstein Highway (Route 116). Main Street and Petaluma Avenue were actually designated one-way streets in 1985 in a perhaps misguided attempt to deal with the town's perennial traffic problem. Today the old train station is now the site of the Western County Museum.