One of the stars in Sonoma County’s lovely constellation is the town of Windsor, just off Hwy 101 north of Santa Rosa. With a population of 24,000 and growing, this town is blooming. Beginning in the 1850s as rural farming community, settlers came from all over the United States, as well as Scotland, Ireland, England, Germany and France for the natural beauty and rich farmland of this warm Northern California spot.
Henry Bell established the first mercantile store on a part of the 160 acres he purchased (for about $1.25 an acre in 1853). His 160 acres encompassed the land where Windsor now thrives. It was early in 1855 that Windsor got its name from Hiram Lewis, a pony express rider for the county, naming the community “Windsor,” presumably after Windsor Castle in his native England.
In 1872, the railroad came to Windsor and the town migrated from east to west, closer to the rail line. This enabled farmers to boost fruit production, and there was a ready market waiting in San Francisco and on down the line. The telephone and electricity came to Windsor in the first decade of the century, and in 1915, the Old Redwood Highway was paved for the very first time. During the early 40s, a U.S. Army base was built and has become what today is Sonoma County Airport.
While Windsor’s economic growth was built on agriculture—wine grapes, hops, prunes and other crops—its warm summers and easy access to Highway 101 and points North, South, East and West drew families looking for homes. Residential growth has far outpaced agriculture’s contribution to the economy. Windsor has become not only a lovely place to live, but a delight for visitors as well.
With an emphasis on smart growth, the Town of Windsor has overseen a dramatic reinvigoration with a meticulously developed, beautifully landscaped Town Green, complete with outdoor stage, fountain and play structure. An infusion of candy shops, local novelty stores, toy stores, wine shops, restaurants, fine jewlery stores and clothing boutiques have added to its charm. Windsor’s reputation as an epicenter of smart growth is relatively new in the last decade. Its downtown core was revitalized through a partnership with private developers, resulting in a charming mixed-use development offering pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly access to local schools, library, gymnasium, shopping, restaurants and Windsor’s bustling four-acre Town Green. The architecture is a mixture of New-Age urban design and a recreation of the historic look and feel of Old Downtown Windsor, with smart, comfortable town homes built right above lovely little retail shops. In 2006, the Sierra Club named Windsor’s Town Green Village a “Top Smart Growth Project.”
Windsor’s focus on community-minded innovation shows no signs of stopping. In 2008, the American Institute of Architects Center for Community Design selected the town of Windsor to receive a Sustainable Design Assessment Team grant. This grant will help Windsor with a strategy to keep development within the town footprint, with an emphasis on public transit and pedestrian and bicycle access to local shops, historic downtown and the Town Green where the town’s many wonderful community events are held.
Every summer thousands of families bring their lawn chairs and picnic baskets to the Town Green for free outdoor concerts and al fresco moonlight movies. You can also find them shopping and dining in the family-owned boutiques, charming restaurants and artsy cafes that line the Town Green and nearby Old Downtown streets. The Windsor Farmers Market’s bounty of ripe, seasonal fruits, heirloom vegetables and specialty home-grown items is on the Town Green twice a week from May-October. The Annual Shakespeare Festival brings lovers of the Bard to see local actors tread the boards of Windsor’s newly upgraded outdoor stage. Windsor is also home to the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic, a breathtaking mid-summer celebration of balloon flight that draws balloonists and spectators from all across the U.S.
Windsor is the perfect place to spend a day. Its proximity to wineries and tasting rooms, as well as casinos, museums, golf courses, Russian River beaches, shopping, movie theaters, over 1,000 acres of regional and community parks and its own beautifully restored small-town charm makes it a relaxing, affordable stopover on any journey through Sonoma County.
For more information, call the Windsor Chamber of Commerce at (707) 838-7285.