Land was so plentiful in the Mexican era that General Vallejo, who came to the area in 1829, paid some of his soldiers in land. Juan Castaneda was one such soldier.
Castaneda, a native of Texas, received 11,238.6 acres in 1844. This was located north of Vallejo's Petaluma Adobe, south of Santa Rosa, and included present day Rohnert Park, Cotati, Pengrove, and surrounding areas. However, Castaneda decided to live in San Francisco, and he sold his holdings to Thomas Larkin (the American consul at Monterey).
In 1846, the Bear Flag Rebellion displaced Mexican control with American. The Bear-Flaggers were primarily Anglo-Americans who did not want to wait for the British, French or Russians to wrest lands from Mexican control. During the rebellion, the original ownership papers to Rancho Cotate were "lost".
Larkin sold the grant to Thomas S. Ruckel.
Ruckel sold the grant to Doctor Page for $16,000. The Page family, headed by Dr. Thomas Stokes Page, M.D., controlled the lands from 1849 to 1929. Page was born in New Jersey in 1815, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania at 21, and sailed to Chile to become a physician. In Valparaiso, he became friendly with the Atherton family, who convinced him to find an estate for himself in Northern California. They introduced him to an agent, Mr. Grogan. It took seven years to clear title to Rancho Cotate, since the original deed was lost.
Page also served as Sheriff for the Sonoma District. In 1849 he returned to Chile, where he lived until he became ill in 1869. He returned to Cotate with his wife and 8 of their 10 children to recuperate. The change helped for a little while, but he passed away in 1872.
The Rancho saw many changes toward the end of the 19th century. The San Francisco and No. Pacific Railroad laid track through the valley - the first run from Petaluma to Santa Rosa was in October 1870. The water-wood stop along the way was first called Page's Station, then Cotate. However, train conductors found people mispronounced the name "Kotate" with a long o and a, and thus they changed the ending from and "e" to an "I".
The Page house and ranch buildings sat on the east end of an east-west ridge, thus giving them a great view of both valley and mountains.
At the center was a large hexagonal barn, which may have been the inspiration for the town's later plan. Since Page's will stipulated that his land could not be divided until his youngest child was 25, Cotate Rancho was the last of Sonoma County to remain intact. In 1892 the Cotati Land Company was formed by the Page family to subdivide and sell the ranch. David Batchelor sold over 900 tracts at 5, 10 or 20 acre parcels. He also introduced poultry to the region.
By 1895 the hexagonal layout was created, and the new county road (now part of Redwood Highway) was built. Cotati became a convenient stop for travelers.
Surveyor Newton Smith was hired to lay out the streets from the hexagonal heart. The design was uncommon in America, but popular in Europe, as well as Washington D.C. It was designated unique enough to earn a State Historical Landmark in 1973.
The hexagonal design looked like a 6-sided hub of a wagon wheel - each spoke being named for one of the 6 Page sons: Olaf, Henry, Charles, Arthur, George and William. The 7th son Wilfred, manager of the Rancho, named a train station and a road north of town after himself.
By 1900, the Cotati Land co. owned only 4,000 acres - primarily the low black meadowland in the sink of the valley, which was crossed by several creeks, subject to frequent flooding, and used primarily for grazing.
George P. McNear was the next land baron to acquire the remainder of the Rancho. McNear did not take much of a personal interest in the Rancho, but rather, bought out the Cotati Land Co. and allowed the farm to be managed much as it had under the Pages.
It was Fred Keppel, born in Marin 1878, and a blacksmith by trade, who managed the farm for the company. As the foreman of the largest ranch and biggest employer in the area, Keppel came to be influential and respected.
After many ventures were tried in the ranch area, including an electric railroad and an auto speedway, the Redwood Highway was built in 1915.
The communities of Penngrove and Cotati reached a compromise as to the road's location, and the local farmers donated the needed land for the right-of-way.In 1929 the Rancho was sold to Waldo Emerson Rohnert, graduate of Michigan State Agricultural College, 1889. He became established with the C.D. Morse Company, the largest seed-growing farm in the west. In 1893, Rohnert also planted one of the largest prune orchards in the west, and then expanded into the San Juaquin Valley and Firebaugh in 1929.
His first order of business was to minimize the periodic flooding of the fields. His crude drainage system was sufficient - a 2-foot mound down the middle of the field, with 2-foot ditches on each side. Then he concentrated on enriching the soils. Rohnert hardly saw his seed farm produce. In 1933, at the age of 64, he passed away, leaving wife Edna and children Fred and Dorothy as heirs.
It was Fred, a Stanford Law School graduate, who took over the company.
Fred Rohnert farmed the Rancho, some as hay fields, some as seed farm, from his Hollister office. Nevertheless, the seed wholesaling business was successful, some say second only to the Luther Burbank gardens of Santa Rosa.
North of what is now Rohnert Park Expressway, was 70 acres of sweet peas. South were carrots, onions, and beets.
During World War II, it was difficult to find laborers, and many Filipinos were trucked in daily. That, added to the challenges of cultivating the adobe soil, caused Rohnert to be open to developers' plans. Such a developer with vision was Paul Golis.