Brooks family legacy lives on
By DIANA GILBERT / Windsor Correspondent
Every other weekend you’ll find Edna Brooks Honsa at the Windsor Chamber of Commerce Visitor’s Center, chatting with locals and tourists alike, offering suggestions about what to see and do around town.
Visitors don’t realize that they don’t have to travel any further to experience part of Windsor’s history. Honsa herself is a piece of it.
Now in her early 80s, Honsa is the last living great-grandchild of James and Mary Brooks, among Windsor’s first settlers. During the more than 160 years since James Brooks arrived in Windsor, six generations have maintained a constant presence in the community.
The Brooks family’s prominence is evident all over Windsor. Brooks Road, Brooks Elementary School, Brooks Creek senior community and Brooks Creek, an actual waterway, are named for the long-present and prolific family.
James Brooks, his wife Mary and their three children arrived in Windsor in the early 1850s. Born in Tennessee in 1808, Brooks traveled first to Missouri then, via the Oregon Trail, to Oregon.
Their oldest son, William, was born in Tennessee in 1837. He married Eliza Buell in Windsor in 1858. The couple had 11 children, the youngest of whom was Honsa’s father, Arthur Brooks, born in 1881. Honsa is the only child from his second marriage to Ethel Kerr, although he also had two children during his first marriage.
“My great-grandfather was the first Brooks to buy property in Windsor,” said Honsa. “He was a rancher. By the time my grandfather died, the property was 160 acres.”
The family land lies at the end of Brooks Road North. At last count, more than 20 of his descendents still live there, giving the Brooks family the local record for early pioneer families remaining on their land.
The property was used mainly for raising sheep and growing hay, as it was not easily used for agriculture. “Every sort of field that they used had to have all the rocks cleared first,” recalled Honsa. “You can’t imagine the rocks up there.”
Those rocks eventually proved lucrative; a portion of the land became a quarry in the mid-1950s.
Although her immediate family was small, Honsa knew she was part of a bigger picture. “My mother would always tell me I had 42 first cousins,” she said. “And that was only on my dad’s side.”
Because Honsa was the youngest daughter of the youngest of 11 children, many of her nieces and nephews were closer to her age than her cousins.
To keep such large families afloat, especially during the Depression era, all of the descendants in her father’s generation earned incomes outside of the home.
“My dad was a woodcutter,” Honsa said. “During the Depression it was a barter economy. I remember I got my tricycle in exchange for a load of wood.”
She worked at the telephone exchange while she was in high school, which was housed just east of Robert’s Relics at the Cora Gutchell Home on Windsor River Road.
“I would chat with the telephone exchange operator in Healdsburg. We had the farmer lines that were F-lines, and the company lines that were Y-lines. Very few people had private lines.
“If you had a farmer line, that meant you had to keep your own line up. At our house, we had 12 people on our line. It would ring at your house and everyone else’s, so you’d wait to see if it was your ring before picking up.”
Unlike today, “you did not chit-chat on the phone. There was no private conversation.”
Honsa has kept a small piece of her history alive by maintaining what she believes is the only farmer line in Sonoma County, for which she pays $3.50 monthly before taxes.
In high school Honsa met her husband of 63 years, Bob Honsa.
“He was a Healdsburg kid, and we went to high school together,” she said. “He would ride his bicycle down to see me from his home on Eastside Road. My neighbors said you could hear him singing all the way home.”
Eventually she found her permanent workplace, spending 39 years with the local school district, first as a yard duty then as a secretary. She retired 12 years ago.
Honsa and her husband live on the 16-acre property off Arata Lane that her mother bought in 1921 before marrying Arthur Brooks. The house itself was built in the 1850s.
“It’s been modernized, so it’s lost some of the charm of an old house. My mother had the ceilings lowered and aluminum windows installed.”
The property is also home to four pet llamas and some 650 chickens, which they host on their land as part of California’s FarmLink program.
“My mid-life crisis was getting llamas,” said Honsa. “At one point I probably had 25. The four we have now are just pets. They’re very quiet, and they’re very intelligent. You don’t chase them around like you do other animals. We’ve had a lot of fun with them.”
Honsa has been a Windsor resident longer than almost anyone, and she’s proud of what it has become.
“I think Windsor has come a long way. It’s been well planned, and I’ve always been proud to be from here. I’ve seen a lot of changes. To me they have all been for the better.”
One that was especially gratifying to Bob Honsa was the naming of Honsa Avenue, which is off the Town Green by Café Noto.
“He just didn’t want to see another Brooks Road around here,” joked his wife.
At one time, that road’s name was in jeopardy.
“They were thinking of changing Brooks Road South to Hiram Lewis Road. The decision went before the planning commission and the Board of Supervisors, but it was the last thing on the agenda,” she said.
“Later, Rick Jones told me that he looked out across the room and saw a bunch of people with their arms folded across their chests,” waiting to dispute the change. “He thought, ‘I wasn’t going to fight with those Brooks.’”
The name remains.