In 1883 Julia Judah and Frances Bentley, two prominent California women who had children with developmental disabilities, established the California Association for the Care and Training of Feeble Minded Children. Its aim was “to provide and maintain a school and asylum for the feeble-minded, in which they may be trained to usefulness.” After casting about for locations for their institution, Captain Oliver Eldridge helped them purchase 1,640 acres near Glen Ellen from William McPherson Hill, and on November 24th, 1891, the facility opened its doors to 148 residents.
The facility at Eldridge has undergone many significant changes over the years since then, including four name changes— each reflecting significant changes in the attitudes, philosophies, values, and beliefs in the treatment of severely disabled people. In 1909 the name was changed from the California Home for the Care and Training of Feeble Minded Children to the Sonoma State Home, in 1953 it became the Sonoma State Hospital, and in 1986 it became the Sonoma Developmental Center, or SDC.
The importance of this institution to the Valley of the Moon, and to Glen Ellen cannot be overlooked. The institution has always been our greatest local employer, and its presence has always brought caring, altruistic people to live here in order to work with some of the most severely disabled people in all of California.
It can easily be said that the facility at Eldridge helped shape the character of our village as a gentle, friendly, and sometimes edgy place throughout the Twentieth Century, and that Eldridge and Glen Ellen grew up together over the years. Most people who have lived in Glen Ellen have worked in Eldridge, or are friends of people that have worked there— from the ones that provide direct care for the residents to those that provide all the necessary administrative and ancillary support, such as the police, fire and food services.