The next time you visit Napa, stop by the Goodman Library for a tour of this marvelous historic Library which has the distinction of being the longest continuously operating library in the State of California. Sometime in the 1890s, the City of Napa approached local banker and philanthropist George Goodman and asked him to donate land for a public library. Throughout the history of the United States, the founding of a city library has signaled the transformation of towns from sprawling frontier conglomerations of buildings to established “cultured” municipalities.
Mr. Goodman not only agreed to donate the land but also offered to pay for the building itself. He commissioned local architect Luther Turton to draw up the plans for what he conceived of as the town’s community center. This forward thinking was one of the hallmarks of George Goodman whose career was filled with prescient investing and generous philanthropy. The building cost $15,000.
By the time Turton designed the Goodman Library, Richardsonian Romanesque had largely fallen out of favor. The rarity of the style had the benefit of making the building stand out and be easily recognizable amongst the brick and wood structures surrounding it. The English-inspired style also projected an air of wisdom, age, and stateliness. For these reasons, Richardsonian Romanesque was common on churches (such as the First United Methodist Church at 625 Randolph Street, also designed by Turton) and public buildings. The building was constructed using native Napa field stone, and features carefully carved raised grout, and a flat roof with castellated parapets along the roof line. The extraordinary ceiling upstairs is pressed tin, which was in vogue at the turn of the century.
The cornerstone was laid on May 2nd, 1901, where it still grounds the building on the northeast corner. The building’s dedication occasioned the largest gathering of people ever to occur in Napa at the time. The Mayor and a local reverend gave speeches, school children sang “My Country Tis of Thee,” and the Napa Parlor Band and Apollo Glee Club performed for the crowd. About 1000 people attended the event; schools were closed to enable children and their parents to attend, church bells tolled, and everybody who was anybody was there.
On his passing, Mr. Goodman left the building to the city stipulating that if it was not used as a library it would revert back to his heirs. During the 1970s, when downtown Napa underwent redevelopment, the Napa County Historical Society’s Executive Director Jess Doud worked with the heirs to acquire the building to house the Society’s Library. The Napa County Historical Society moved into the building in 1976 and has occupied the building to this day.
Upstairs, today’s Research Library was the city library, while a billiards room for the gentlemen and tea room for the ladies occupied the downstairs. The marble stone engraving on the ceiling in the foyer says “God And My Mother.” It was placed here by George Goodman when he gave the library to the City of Napa. This was the only sign he asked to be placed in the building. The circulation desk is the original desk from when the library opened in 1902.
You will notice that there are three sets of rails on the stairs. The taller set was built for adults and the other was built much lower when the building housed the children’s library in 1939. The brass railing is the newest, added for accessibility during the seismic retrofit which occurred between 2003 and 2007.
Today, the Goodman Library is home to Napa County Historical Society. Napa County Historical Society was founded in 1948 by a group of citizens who extended their research on Napa’s Centennial Celebration to form the Historical Society.