Calistoga Bike 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.

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.

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.

Pioneer Park

Cedar and Spring Sts.
Park

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.

Calistoga Historic Commercial District

Lincoln Avenue between Cedar and Wappo Streets
Historic Site

Calistoga has suffered from numerous fires over the years, the worst in 1913. Few buildings survive from its earliest period, making the downtown district an eclectic mix of architectural styles. A few buildings date back to the late 19th and early 20th century, but most are from the 1920s or 1930s.

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.

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.

Chateau Montelena

1429 Tubbs Lane
Built 1886
Ghost Winery
National Register building – No appointment required: website

Alfred L. Tubbs bought over 250 acres at the foot of Mt. Saint Helena in 1882 and established Tubbs Winery. Tubbs’ first harvest was in 1886, and 50,000 cases were produced. Tubbs hired Hamden McIntyre to construct his gravity flow winery and then brought in French architects to turn McIntyre’s utilitarian structure into a stunning castle. By 1896, his winery was one of the top ten largest wineries in the valley.

Like most vintners, Prohibition shuttered Tubbs Winery as a producer, although they continued to grow grapes to sell to other vintners and home winemakers. In 1958, the Tubbs family sold the estate to Chinese engineer Yort Wing Frank and his wife Jeanie. They planted the beautiful gardens and built Jade Lake. A decade later Helen and Lee Paschich took over the property with James Barrett and Earnest Hahn. They hired Mike Girgich as their winemaker, and in 1976 Chateau Montelena won the Judgment of Paris, thus kickstarting Napa’s wine resurgence.