Napa City Bike Tour

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Tourist Information: Napa Valley Welcome Center – 600 Main Street; Napa Tourist Information Center – 1331 First Street

Public Restrooms: Napa County Library – 580 Coombs Street

Parking: All-day parking garage – Fifth Street Garage

Brief History of Napa City

Nathan Coombs received 80 acres from the original holder of the land grant Rancho Entré Napa, Nicolás Higuera, in 1847 in exchange for some carpentry work. Coombs was only 22-years-old when he laid claim to the land. He had surveyed the land between what is now Brown Street and the Napa River extending 600 yards from Napa Creek to the steamboat landing, and in 1848 he founded Napa.

The site was the perfect location for the fledgling town since it was at the uppermost point of river navigation. Not surprisingly, the first building in the frontier town was the Empire Saloon – built originally in the middle of Main Street. A general store was erected a year later, and soon other small, temporary buildings of canvas or lumber cropped up along the riverfront. Miners fled the snowy Sierras in the winter for the milder weather of the Napa Valley, and prices reflected the abundant supply of gold.

Napa River and Waterfront Businesses

Main Street between First Street and Fifth
Historic SiteFormer Site

At Fifth and Main Street, a plaque marks the spot where Gen. Charles Fremont crossed the Napa River to eventually lay claim to California for the United States during the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846. If the tide is low, you may see wooden pilings cutting diagonally through the river to the bank near Soscol Avenue. They are all that remain of the original train tracks. For the first decade or so of the railroad, it crossed the river; it was later redirected to cut through town.

The pilings running along the bank closest to you are the remains of the passenger and freight piers. The river ferry marked the beginnings of a progression of boat, stage, and rail service that greatly influenced Napa’s growth. The first steamboat navigated the Napa River from San Francisco in 1850. Passenger and perishable freight traffic were carried by steamboats even after the railroad was established in 1868.  Much of Napa’s waterfront industry was located between First and Fifth Streets; today all that remains is the Borreo Building at Third Street and Soscol Avenue and the Napa Mill/Hatt Building at Main Street and Fifth Street.

Napa County Courthouse Plaza

Block bounded by Coombs, Second, Brown, and Third Streets
National Register building
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

This courthouse is actually the third in this location (the fourth and main courthouse is across the street on Third). The first was a wooden structure shipped over from the east. When the need for a jail became apparent, they built the second courthouse. It was replaced by the current one in 1878 after years of disrepair made it somewhat unsafe to practice court in. It was designed by Joseph and Samuel Newsom with assistance from Ira Gilchrist, the architect who also designed the Napa Opera House.

On the property is a flagpole designed to look like the Eiffel Tower (at Second and Brown), as well as a large, centuries-old communal Wappo grinding stone (at Third and Brown). The cupola was removed in the years after the 1906 earthquake. It suffered significant damage in the August 2014 earthquake and is currently closed to the public as it undergoes repairs.

Goodman Library

1219 First St.
National Register building
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

The Goodman Library was financed and donated by George Goodman, a local banker. Goodman hired Luther Turton to design the castle-like building out of native Napa field stone. It is the longest continuously operating library in the State of California. The cornerstone was laid in 1901, and it opened officially in 1902. Goodman wanted the building to function like a community center, so he had what is now the exhibit room was the billiard hall for men, the front west office was the ladies’ tea room, and the front east office was Goodman’s office.

In the mid century it was converted to the Children’s Library, but in the 1970s when the City built the new library on Fourth Street, Napa County Historical Society moved in and established a research library for local history. It suffered significant exterior damage in the August 2014 earthquake and is currently closed to the public as it undergoes repairs.

Winship-Smernes Building

Main and First Streets
National Register building
Historic Site

Like the Goodman Library and the Semorile Building, the Winship Building was designed by Luther Turton in 1888. E.H. Winship came to Napa from Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1887, and got involved in real estate. This building has housed many local businesses over the years, including Levinson’s Drugs.

Semorile Building

975 First St.
National Register building
Historic Site

Bartolomeo Semorile came to California from Zoagli, Italy during the Gold Rush as an eight-year-old cabin boy on his father’s ship. The rest of his family came over in 1854, and by 1869, Bartolomeo, his wife, and their seven children moved to Napa and set up a small grocery next to the future site of the Semorile Building. A fire destroyed his original shop, but in 1888 he hired Turton to design his new brick grocery. From 1889 until Bartolomeo retired in 1924, the Semorile family lived above their store. They also owned the land to the right of the grocery extending to the Napa River, on which they built a two-story rooming house and shop, and a single-story commercial building mostly occupied by a bar.

The family moved to Piedmont, California, in 1924 and the lot passed between a furniture store, antique store, and second hand shop. By 1965 it was virtually abandoned, and had fallen victim to vandalism and neglect. Eventually it was renovated and seismically retrofitted. Today it houses a wine bar.

Chinatown

Land on the South side of First Street Bridge
Former Site

By the late 19th century, both St. Helena and Napa had small but thriving Chinatown districts. Chinese immigrants frequently worked as house servants, laborers, and gardeners. They built several wineries in the area, including digging the tunnels for the Schramsberg and Beringer wineries. They also developed many of the early vineyards, which involved clearing the fields of stone and building stone walls.

With the passage of anti-Chinese legislation beginning in the 1860s, life became immensely more difficult for Chinese immigrants in the United States. St. Helena’s Chinatown suffered several fires, and ranches all over the valley began siding with white labor unions to deny jobs to Chinese labor crews. In Napa anti-Chinese speeches were given at the Opera House. By 1929, all of the valley’s Chinese settlements were gone. In 2015, the Flood Control Project wiped out the last traces of the Napa Chinatown. On the south side of the First Street Bridge is a plaque that once stood on a now gone spit of land on the river on the north side of the bridge marking Chinatown. On the north side of the bridge are panels explaining the reasons behind the drastic but necessary alterations to Napa Creek.

East Napa/ Little Italy

First St., east side of the Napa River
Former Site

This area in East Napa was historically a working class neighborhood and is near “Little Italy.” Brothers Antonio, Lorenzo, and Nicola Carbone were some of the first Italian immigrants in East Napa, arriving in 1863. Soon after, hundreds of Italians, many from the Swiss and German border regions, immigrated to Napa in the late 19th century, to work general labor and in the vineyards. Many, like the Anton Nichelini and Felix Borreo, even opened their own wineries and businesses. Because of the frequent flooding in winter, some homes were built upside down, with their bedrooms on the ground floor and expensive and difficult to replace kitchens on the second floor.

Before the Oxbow Public Market was developed in the 2000s, this area was dotted with businesses and single family homes. If you arrived by train in the late 19th century, there were several hotels right near the tracks to choose from. The two story white building on the west side of the train tracks on the north side of First Street was the old Brooklyn Hotel. For those with more money to spend, the Palace Hotel was down the street about where Soscol is today. Most of the older structures in this neighborhood were torn down starting in the 1970s. The large building on the other end of the Oxbow parking lot is the former COPIA property, a multi-million dollar arts and culture center that never managed to catch on. Visit the farmer’s market here on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

Tulocay Cemetery

411 Coombsville Road
Historic Site

Before the Bear Flag Revolt, this land was part of Rancho Tulucay, granted to Cayetano Juarez in 1841. Juarez had been a well-respected soldier and fought alongside prominent Californio Salvador Vallejo in the “Indian Wars” in the Bay Area. Acting Governor Jimeno gave him this 8,866-acre land grant, and Juarez soon built two adobes in Napa County (the second, built in 1844, is the Old Adobe on Soscol). He donated 50 acres of land to lay out Tulocay Cemetery in 1859. Tulocay is a non-profit, private, non-sectarian cemetery, and contains the plots of some prominent citizens, including Salvador Vallejo, the “Mother of Civil Rights in California” Mary Ellen Pleasant, and the Coombs and Juarez families. It also has a small Chinese burial section and a potter’s field where a survivor of the Titanic is buried.