Historic Calistoga Tour

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Tourist Information: Calistoga Chamber of Commerce – 1133 Washington Street

Public Restrooms: Pioneer Park – Cedar Street; Calistoga Community Pool – 1745 Washington Street

Brief History of Calistoga

Samuel Brannan’s hot springs resort helped put the sleepy little farming community on the map. Author Robert Louis Stevenson also helped popularize Calistoga. He and his new bride Fanny Vandegrift honeymooned in a cabin near the abandoned Silverado Mine, and he later wrote the popular book Silverado Squatters.

Homes were built along Washington Street, and the railroad connected the upper valley to Napa and Vallejo. Calistoga was incorporated as a town in 1876, and reincorporated as a city in 1886. The town has steadfastly retained its 19th century air by banning fast food franchises and maintaining a walkable downtown area. Its biggest business is tourism connected with the hot springs and wineries.

Special thanks to the assistance of the Sharpsteen Museum with historical research. All contemporary photographs courtesy of Seymour & McIntosh Photography.

Pioneer Park

Cedar and Spring Sts.

The Napa River cuts through what is now known as Pioneer Park, but in the early 1850s this area was home to one of the first bridges in Calistoga. The Lincoln Avenue Bridge became the main river crossing after it was built in 1880, and the smaller, older crossing was more or less abandoned. The City of Calistoga purchased the parkland in 1935 and was dedicated to the early founders of the city by the Native Daughters of the Golden West. Jeffrey David Allen constructed the gazebo in 1986, and it has been repaired or restored several times since. The park has been used as a concert venue, for movie nights, and as a site for town festivals.

Judge Augustus C. Palmer House

1300 Cedar St.
Built ca. 1873
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access
National Register landmark

The Judge Palmer house is one of the few examples of French Second Empire Victorian style in Napa Valley, and one of only two in Calistoga. Judge Palmer was the first Justice of the Peace in Northern Napa County, and operated a lumber yard across the river (where the police station is today). He had a footbridge built so he could go directly to business. He also had a stable and an insurance agency during his residence in Calistoga, and did various business transactions with Sam Brannan, Calistoga’s founder. After filing for bankruptcy in 1869, he and his bride Serilda may have honeymooned in France where they were inspired to build their new home in Calistoga. Serilda died in 1873 and Augustus and their young son Frank moved away in 1880.

The house has had a series of additions over the years, but still appears much as it did when it was completed. Additions to the house in the late 1800s and early 1900s included bay windows on each side and a 3-story addition in the rear. A one-story rear bedroom addition was completed in 1995. The Palmer House was converted to a B&B called “The Elms”. The house is rumored to have been a bordello at one point, and local legends tell of several ghosts that supposedly haunt the property.

Brannan Cottage, aka “Brannan’s Folly”

1311 Cedar St.
Built 1862
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

This Brannan Cottage is one of only a few original cottages remaining from the original 25 that were part of Calistoga Hot Springs, established by Samuel Brannan in 1862. (Another fine example is part of the Sharpsteen Museum.) The National Register nomination form for another Brannan cottage with a slightly different design at 109 Wappo Ave. notes that “The cottage’s architecture utilizes classical elements to convey a feeling of civilization and leisure in the rugged early days of Calistoga in the 1860s. Brannan’s selection of this design with gabled roofs and large arch-enclosed porches was enhanced by great attention to the landscaping around the hot springs, including the palm tree planted in front of each cottage.”

In 1876, a year after Brannan’s hot springs closed due to financial difficulties partly caused by his tumultuous divorce, Thomas C. Brown relocated this cottage to its current location on Cedar St. Brown was an Indiana native who came to California during the Gold Rush before settling upvalley in the 1860s. He married Maryann Rebecca Owsley, a descendant of the Cyrus family who crossed the summit just ahead of the ill-fated Donner Party. Brown worked as a farmer and miner and is now buried at the Calistoga Pioneer Cemetery. The interior has been remodeled several times since, but the exterior is largely intact.

Former Methodist Church

1323 Cedar St.
Built 1902; Romanesque Revival architectural style
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

The early history of when the first church built on this site is a bit murky. One version says that Sam Brannan donated a lot to the Methodist Church which built a one room church on the site in 1869. Another claims a church was already under construction at the location which the railroad depot now stands and that Brannan paid the church for the land and value of construction completed, which was in turn used to purchase this property. The current structure was built in 1902, and the steeple removed in 1973 when the Jehovah Witnesses purchased it. Today it is a private residence.

The first full-time preacher at the Methodist Church was Henry Doty Bryant. From 1863 to 1867 he was a circuit rider in Kelsey Creek in Lake County; he relocated to Calistoga in 1868. As early as 1790 Bishop Francis Asbury (founder of American Methodism) established the precedent for circuit riding. He himself claimed to have preached more than 16,000 sermons as he traveled throughout early frontier America. Circuit riders were assigned a territory and rode on horseback to preach the gospel.

Francis House, aka Calistoga Hospital

1403 Myrtle St.
Built 1886
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access
National Register landmark

This Second Empire building was designed by architect John Sexton. It is constructed of native Napa field stone quarried just south of town by John McPherson and is believed to be the only stone Second Empire building left in the county. It was built on the edge of one of Calistoga’s oldest neighborhoods, the Western Addition, for James H. Francis. James was the brother of George Francis, the owner and editor of the Napa Register newspaper, and owned a mercantile store at Lincoln and Washington as well as several ranches, one of which produced silver ore.

Upon his death in 1891, the home was purchased by Colonel M. E. Billings, a Justice for the US Criminal Courts, and his wife, Julia C. Churchill, who was also an attorney. It was converted to the Calistoga Hospital and operated as such from 1918 to 1964. It was recently purchased and is in the middle of an extensive restoration project.

Wright House

1410 Cedar St.
Built 1890; Queen Anne architectural style
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

Based on the drop pendant brackets in the corner window chamber and porch entry that are designed in his style, the house was likely built by local carpenter A. D. Rogers. Elizabeth Cyrus Wright, another descendant of the Cyrus family from Donner Party fame, was an artist, local historian, and amateur environmentalist. She is well-known locally for her 1928 history book The Early Upper Napa Valley, which includes her own family history as well as that of the Calistoga area. In the Sharpsteen Museum is one of her paintings of the old White Church that was built on the Tucker property.

Elizabeth married George Wright and by 1895 the couple had moved into the house on Cedar. Before marrying Elizabeth, he had been a stagecoach driver for Spiers Stage Lines. Their stables, located at 1429 Lincoln (see the mural there today), were destroyed in a fire. Spiers Livery Stables served the Calistoga Hotel across the street and offered services to Clearlake and intermediate locations for passengers arriving by train. One of the Spiers stagecoaches is also on display at the Sharpsteen.

Lillie House

1413 Cedar St.
Built ca. 1870; Gothic Revival architectural style
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

The Lillie House is believed to be the oldest structure in Calistoga to originally be built as a private home. (Although the Brannan cottages were built several years prior, they were not private homes but vacation residences through the resort.) The redwood frame and clapboard siding with center gable was inspired by a design promoted by Andrew Jackson Downing in his 1853 pattern book The Architecture of Country Houses.

The house was built for George Lillie, a surveyor and engineer for the Napa Valley Railroad, and his wife Eliza Cheatem. George was the son of Nancy and Leonard Lillie; Leonard was a millwright who built the overshot wheel for Maria Bale’s mill and was also the first owner of White Sulphur Springs, the first resort in California. George was also a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

Saint Symeon of Verhotursk Russian Orthodox Church

1421 Cedar St.
Built 1976
Historic Site

In 1841 Count Alexander Rotchev, a commander at the Russian outpost in Fort Ross, lead an expedition into northern Napa County in 1841, making them the first Russians in the Calistoga area. In the 1940s, 11 nuns opened the Holy Assumption Monastery for congregants practicing Russian Orthodoxy. Nearly 30 years later they founded Saint Symeon of Verhotursk Russian Orthodox Church a few blocks away.

1304 Berry St.

Built late 1860s
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

Sam Brannan is believed to have constructed this little Victorian cottage for his niece, Sara Adelaide Badlam. Sara was the daughter of Brannan’s sister, Mary Ann Badlam. She likely didn’t reside in the home for very long, as by the 1870s a Mrs. M. C. Ayer occupied it. This structure was used for many years as the Christian Science Church and then converted back to a residence. In 1854 Sarah wed lawyer Joseph Webb Winan in San Francisco. After several months of being stricken by an unknown illness, Joseph passed away in March 1887. Sara survived him until 1921.

Frank/McGreane House

1317 Washington St.
Built 1887; Queen Anne architectural style
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

Like the Wright House, the Frank House was also built by A. D. Rogers. Both were constructed of local redwood and contain his signature carved brackets with drop pendants over the front bay windows.

Rogers was hired by Moses and Camille Frank to build their Calistoga residence. Moses was the son of German immigrants who had settled in Suisun and opened a dry goods store. In 1887 he opened a mercantile store in the IOOF building, making him one of its first tenants. The McGreanes made renovations about 1938, including replacing the front porch and altering the doorway. Dr. Frank McGreane used his family home as an office and delivered many babies there. Today it is used as an administration office by the Sharpsteen Museum.

Piner’s Hot Springs/Roman Spa

1300 Washington St.
Historic Site

The property was originally purchased by M. Selas Friedburg. Friedburg is famous both for opening the first mercantile store in Calistoga (in 1866) and for suggesting the abandoned Silverado Mine as a place honeymooners Fanny and Robert Louis Stevenson might stay for free. He generously drove them up to the Toll House in his wagon. Friedburg was married to a German immigrant named Henryetta and had one son, Charles, who also worked in his shop. Friedburg was born in Kurland in 1823. Kurland, now part of western Latvia, was incorporated into Russia in 1795 and at one point held a substantial Jewish community; in 1850 there were nearly 22,000 Jews living there out of a total population of about 600,000.

Friedburg’s residence is now 1410 Second Street just around the corner and was used as the dining room by Piner’s Hot Springs, a resort developed by Charles and Sarah Piner who bought the property in 1914. Part of the property was also used by the Ida Easley Mining Company and Spiers Stage Lines. Today it is the Roman Spa.

City Hall

1232 Washington St.
Built 1902; Mission Revival architectural style
Historic SiteFormer Site

Calistoga has suffered from several devastating fires over the years including one in 1901 that took most of the downtown commercial district with it including the old city hall building and Badlams Opera House on Washington (named for Sara Adelaide Badlam). After the fire Badlam sold the property to the City of Calistoga for $250 in gold coin. On the site of the former opera house a firehouse was built and designed in a pioneer false-front style. It was converted to the Calistoga City Hall, and in the 1930s the building was expanded and renovated into the Mission Revival style. The 1885 bell in the tower was salvaged from the original hall.

Armstrong Building

1403-1407 Lincoln Ave.
Built 1902
Historic Site

Charles W. Armstrong was born in the Oregon portion of Washington Territory in 1859. His father, a brick maker, moved the family to Lake County in the late 1860s. There Charles became a druggist. He divorced his first wife sometime between 1880 and 1900, and that might have instigated his move to Calistoga in 1886. He married his second wife, Leslie, in 1898 and the couple remained together until his death in 1921. Armstrong founded the Calistoga Oil and Development Company, became the town postmaster in 1895, and managed the Calistoga and Clear Lake Telephone Company in 1910.

Armstrong operated his drugstore in the northern half of his building and a grocery store rented out the southern half. In the pediment of the northern half is “Armstrong 1902,” and on top of that there used to be a mortar and pestle.

Mount View Hotel

1457 Lincoln Ave.
Built 1919; Mission Revival architectural style
National Register landmark
Historic Site

Louis Banchero built the Europa Hotel on this site in about 1890 and again after the 1907 burned it down. Due to poor health, he leased the business to Charley Ratto. In 1912, Johnny Ghisolfo bought the lease from Ratto and the property from Banchero. Ghisolfo operated the hotel without any changes until 1919 when he moved the wooden European Hotel towards the back of the property and built the concrete Mt. View Hotel. (The original wooden structure is long gone.)

The hotel was enlarged in about 1938 to include 45 rooms, all of which were equipped with running hot mineral water. The hotel also boasts a restaurant and bar. In 1905 Ghisolfo purchased a one-half partnership with his father in the Calistoga Wine Co. which they ran until prohibition, although rumor has it liquor could still be obtained in the back room well into prohibition. After prohibition was repealed they re-opened their winery and began selling wine. He used to serve it at his hotel restaurant. Ghisolfo was a mayor and city council member for 32 years.

Brannan Stables

1506 Grant St.
Built 1859
Historic SiteGhost Winery

Brannan built these stables to shelter racehorses for the resorts racetrack. Located just behind the old Brannan Store, racehorses belonging to powerful men like Stanford, Lick, Hearst, and Hopkins were stabled here. The original stable construction was shiplap but was later concealed with stucco.

Ephraim Light purchased the stables in 1915, converting it to a winery. Local legend holds that one day Light had drilled a well down to 140 feet. Around midnight there was a massive explosion and when he ran to see the cause he found a giant geyser had erupted nearly 100 feet in the air. Nearby fields flooded and it took several days to finally cap. Napa Valley Co-Op Winery purchased the structure which by 1960 had been converted to a bottling facility for Calistoga Mineral Water.

Brannan Store

302 Wappo Ave.
Built 1862
State Historical Landmark #684
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

A few alterations have been made to this structure over the years, but it is largely intact and still in its original location. According to the California Office of Historic Preservation, Brannan made $50,000 in just one year from this store. This was not the first profitable mercantile store operated by Brannan. In 1847 he opened the first and only near Sutter’s Fort on the way to the gold fields of the Sierras. Then, according to legend, he purchased as much mining equipment as he could on the cheap, flooded the streets of San Francisco with the slogan “Gold! Gold on the American River!” and sold off his merchandise at a steep markup rate. Eventually he made enough money to become known as California’s first millionaire.

Napa Valley Railroad Depot

1458 Lincoln Ave.
Built 1868
Historic Site
National Register landmark

The Calistoga Depot of the Napa Valley Railroad is believed to be the oldest surviving railroad depot in California. The railroad itself has a long and complicated history in the valley, but the short version is that Sam Brannan realized early on that a railroad was vital to the survival of Calistoga the town and Calistoga the hot springs resort. It took some convincing, but eventually he had the railroad extended to Calistoga. For a time there was a push to extend it all the way to Lake County, but those plans were never realized. Today the depot contains shops.

Del-Mar Building

1400 Lincoln Ave.
Built ca. 1895
Historic Site

Originally a hotel, saloon, and mud baths, local lore holds that the saloon was very boisterous, with bar fights and gunslingers. For several decades it housed the All Seasons Bistro. In the 1970s it was purchased by a local couple who renamed it to Del-Mar. The couple did extensive repairs to the dilapidated building, including converting the upstairs hotel rooms into apartments. This building was one of a few to survive the devastating 1901 fire with only roof damage. The charred beams are still in place. It also survived the 1906 earthquake. That 7.8 earthquake killed nearly 3,000 people, left 300,000 people homeless just in San Francisco alone, and was felt as far north as Oregon, as far south as Los Angeles, and as far east as Nevada.

Masonic Hall

1334-1336 Lincoln Ave.
Built ca. 1902
Historic Site

The Masons were a very active fraternal lodge in early Napa County. They built this false-front lodge after their previous one was destroyed by the 1901 fire. The Calistoga Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons was formed in 1874 and by 1881 had 35 members. Just like in many towns, the Masons and Odd Fellows built their halls across the street from each other in the commercial district. The Masons met in the hall upstairs and rented space for shops downstairs. In 1940 the ground floor storefronts were altered and stucco added to the facade.

Winan’s Vault

1207 Foothill Blvd. (Buster’s BBQ parking lot)
Built 1870
Historic Site

In 1854 Sarah wed lawyer Joseph Webb Winan in San Francisco. After several months of being stricken by an unknown illness, Joseph passed away in March 1887. Sara survived him until 1921. The Winan’s have a rather unusual connection to Calistoga besides it being their vacation residence. Joseph traveled to China and in 1870 the stone he brought back with him was used by San Francisco’s Deputy County Assessor Ezra Brannan Badlam, son of Alexander and Mary Ann Badlam and cousin to Sara, to build what is now known as Winan’s Vault on part of Ezra’s property.

The vault held the bodies of 9 to 12 Brannan relatives including Mary Ann and Alexander Badlam, Joseph and Sara Winan, and two of Sam Brannan’s infant sons, Patrick and Don Francisco. Sam Brannan requested Ezra construct the vault. Brannan’s son Don Francisco had been interred in the Yerba Buena Cemetery in San Francisco, but in 1870 the graves were dug up to accommodate a new City Hall, so Brannan reinterred his family in Calistoga. After an ordinance was passed in 1913 that prohibited housing non-cremated remains above ground, the bodies were once again removed, this time reinterred at St. Helena Cemetery.

C. A. Stevens Bank

1339 Lincoln Ave.
Built 1890; Romanesque Revival architectural style
Historic Site

Charles Alexis Stevens built his bank of locally quarried rough cut stone, and the original stone vault and safe made in 1880 by the Webb Safe Company of Portland, Oregon, are still intact. This was Calistoga’s first bank, and competition with the second bank encouraged Stevens to include a stock of men’s furnishings in the bank to draw customers. He also owned a hardware store in Calistoga. Stevens life came to a tragic end on November 29, 1907. While on a trip to Elk in Mendocino County, he committed suicide due to depression and his failing finances. He left behind a wife and two young children. After his death the building was bought by C. A. Carroll, publisher of the Weekly Calistogan, and was the home of the newspaper until the 1970s.

International Order of Odd Fellows Building

1343 Lincoln Ave.
Built 1887; Romanesque Revival architectural style
Historic Site

The Calistoga Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows was founded in 1874 and included many of the same early members as the Masonic Lodge. By 1881 it had 45 members. The brick IOOF building survived the Calistoga fires that burned through commercial district. At the time it was built it was the largest building in Calistoga. The Odd Fellows were formed in the east coast in 1843 and promote charity, ethics, and philanthropy.

Calistoga National Bank

1373 Lincoln Ave.
Built ca. 1921; Neo-Classical architectural style
Historic Site

This bank building was built by Broadwell and Zimmerman and is constructed of reinforced concrete poured by Banta and Coulter. It was taken over by the Bank of America, but in 1961 the B of A relocated up the street to the former site of Spiers Stables. Subsequently, the building was used as a photo finishing business, a camera store and studio, and shoe and accessory business. The interior ceiling height is 2 stories and it still retains the original decorative ceiling moldings.

Sharpsteen History Museum

1311 Washington St.
Built 1978
Historic Site

Ben and Bernice Sharpsteen retired from Southern California to a ranch originally owned by his grandmother in the late 1800s. Ben was an Academy Award winning director, producer, and animator for Walt Disney Studios, and some of his work is on display in the Museum. In 1978 the Sharpsteens constructed this museum dedicated to the history of Calistoga. A Brannan Cottage was relocated to this site and contains an interesting display of Victoriana.

From this location you can see the former site of one of Calistoga’s most famous shoot-outs. About where the Calistoga Police Department is today (1234 Washington St.) stood a sawmill. Brannan loaned money to the owner of the mill but he died before repaying. Brannan claimed ownership of the mill, but the late miller’s brother contested his ownership. One evening in April 1868 Brannan and a group of men stormed the mill to take it by force, but the brother and his associates were waiting for them. Brannan was shot 8 times and might have died if not for a surgeon brought up from San Francisco. Upon his dramatic recovery, the doctor supposedly said “Well if it was any other man but Sam Brannan I know it would kill him. But I don’t think anything will kill Sam Brannan.”

Bingham Ranch House

512 Foothill Blvd.
Built 1880
Historic SitePrivate Residence/No Access

The Bingham brothers, both lifetime bachelors, built and lived in this small cottage on the outskirts of town until the 1930s. The home was originally only one room wide and two rooms long. Their descendants still own the property today.

Also located on this property between the highway and river was a campground surrounded by prune orchards that was used by travelers in the 1870s. Not far from here was the Silverado Bowl, a skating rink and dance palace.