By KATHERINE J. RINEHART / Towns Correspondent
Bill McCarter opened his “Electric Hatchery” in 1927 at 5701 Old Redwood Highway in Penngrove. Today, it is an official Sonoma County Landmark.
Bill McCarter was born in British Columbia in 1897. Around 1915 he moved with his parents to Reno, and eventually to San Francisco. After hearing talk of chicken ranching up north, the McCarter family chose Penngrove as their permanent home, first as guests of the Penngrove Hotel and later in a house on Ely Road.
As a young man, Bill McCarter worked for Frank Denman at his chicken ranch. Denman sent McCarter to UC Davis to learn more about the “business” of chicken ranching and also provided financial assistance when it came time for McCarter to open his own hatchery.
Although the Penngrove Hatchery was established in 1919, the present building was not constructed until 1927 when McCarter purchased what was then a portion of the Rancho Cotati Subdivision No. 1 from Thomas and Hedvig Hedin. Its location along a major highway made it convenient to truck in eggs and ship out chicks.
Prior to this, there was a small building on the property that was later moved behind the Hatchery and converted to a small residence.
McCarter’s new building included a hatchery as well as a residence for Bill, his wife Lillian, and their daughters Jeanne, Wilma and Beverly. It had a large lawn that extended to Old Redwood Highway and a tennis court at the rear.
When McCarter sold the property in 1944, the Hatchery had a laying capacity of approximately 360,000 eggs at a setting.
During the 1990s, the Penngrove Hatchery was owned by Benson Investments. The building hadn’t been occupied for many years and was in a dilapidated state when Petaluma building contractors Dave Martin and Jim Nelson purchased it in 2003.
The plan had been to move their business into the structure, but after doing major rehabilitation work that earned them an award from the Sonoma County Historical Society, they sold the property in 2005.
The building’s current owners and occupants are Jay and Carleen Palm of Jay Palm’s Saddle Shop, although they have plans to relocate the business, and the building is once again up for sale.
Read about key stops along those early day Sonoma County roads in the special May 12 issue of Towns:
Windsor’s roadhouse with a reputation and Mark West market
Cloverdale’s barnside medical advertisement
Petaluma’s Poehlmann Hatchery and Cinnabar Theater
Guerneville’s former Murphy’s Guest Ranch
Stewarts Point to Point Reyes Station: The winding legacy of Highway 1