A history book focuses on a California utopian community from its 19th-century origins to the destruction of its remnants by wildfires in the 21st century.
Casey (The Double Life of Laurence Oliphant, 2015) and LeBaron (Santa Rosa, 1993) center their study of Fountaingrove on minibiographies of its three most famous members: Thomas Lake Harris, Laurence Oliphant, and Kanaye Nagasawa. Harris, Fountaingrove’s founder, was a product of the religious mania that swept New York state in the 1820s and ’30s. That wave created an array of new religions and philosophies that ranged from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, founded by Joseph Smith, to the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson. While Harris’ ideas challenged traditional social conventions with notions of the duality of masculinity/femininity that existed in every human and contradictory views on sexuality and celibacy, he managed to convince hundreds of followers to leave their homes and join his promised second Garden of Eden, Fountaingrove, in Santa Rosa. Indeed, two of his most famous followers, Oliphant and Nagasawa, made transoceanic journeys to join him. Oliphant gave up a career as a British diplomat and Member of Parliament, and Nagasawa left a life as a samurai in Japan. Nagasawa’s tale is the book’s strongest contribution, as he was one of the first Japanese immigrants to land in the United States. His story and eventual leadership of Fountaingrove are an important chapter of early Japanese-American history. Though essentially a small community in Santa Rosa, Fountaingrove had an impact that extended from New York during the Second Great Awakening across the globe to England and Japan. Featuring black-and-white archival photographs, this rigorous volume should be of interest not just to Santa Rosa residents curious about Fountaingrove’s presence (and uniquely designed round barn that left its architectural stamp for nearly a century) in their city, but also readers intrigued by the new movements of the 19th century. While the authors occasionally overuse lengthy quotes from primary sources, the narrative remains engaging as it deftly explores the captivating figures who defined Fountaingrove.
A well-researched and accessible examination of Fountaingrove’s utopian society.