Napa River 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. He hired E. A. D’Hemicourt to survey the land between what is now Brown Street and the Napa River extending 600 yards from Napa Creek to the steamboat landing, and in the spring 1848 he founded the city.

The “tent city” remained small for the first few years, as most of the young men in the area took off for the Sierras when gold was discovered in January 1848. Those who remained erected temporary buildings of canvas or lumber up along the riverfront. Not surprisingly, the first permanent structure built in the frontier town was the Empire Saloon. Because the proprietor, Harrison Pierce, could not determine where the muddy dirt road ended and the muddy dirt sidewalk began, he inadvertently built his bar in the middle of Main Street. A general store was erected a year later, and by the 1860s the town had churches, banks, shops, wineries, a lodging industry, steamship traffic, and residential neighborhoods.

In 1853, Joseph P. Thompson laid out Napa Abajo – Spanish for “Lower Napa” in relation to its location just south of downtown – on land that was also once part of Higuera’s rancho. The area was popular with well-to-do citizens who wanted the peace of the countryside with the convenience of living within walking distance of town, an easy feat with so few homes and little street traffic in the area. People involved in shipping, ferrying, and waterfront trades like milling and tanning, also took up residence in the area.

Captain Andrew Sampson House

1157 Division St.
Built ca. 1850 and ca. 1870
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

Stephen Broadhurst, a 25-year-old farmer from Ohio is believed to be the original builder of this home. Broadhurst purchased the property from another early Napa settler, Joseph P. Thompson, in July 1850 and soon after constructed a home for him and his wife Rebecca. They raised their daughter Ida there, and in 1871 sold to Andrew Sampson, a Swedish ship captain. Sampson operated a ferry service between Napa and San Francisco, as well as a drayage business.

Sampson’s wife Olinda planted the two Sequoias in the front yard in the not long after moving in. In the early 1900s the family had the house raised and rebuilt as a two-story house; the one-story bay window was added about the same time. The house remained in the Sampson family for nearly a century.

Theodore R. Parker House

1211 Division St.
Built ca. 1880
Historic Site

Theodore Roosevelt Parker was the superintendent of the early Napa Gas Works and Napa City Water. Napa Gas Works purchased the lot in 1877 and built the Stick-Eastlake style house as a residence for Parker. According to his biography in the Lewis Publishing Company’s 1891 A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California, Parker was born in New York in 1838. He got his start at 11-years-old working first in a doctor’s office (where he learned to write), then as a copyist for the office of Butler, Evarts & Southmayd – William M. Evarts eventually became a New York state senator. At 15 Parker worked in a hardware store and learned the art of gas-fitting, thus beginning his lifelong career. During a stay in Exeter, New Hampshire, for work he met and married Eliza M. Cate. After a brief sojourn in Mokelumne Hill and Marysville near the gold fields, Parker settled in Napa in 1869 to work for the gas company.

The Parkers had six children: William, Adah, Joseph, Caroline, John, and Theodore Jr. John went on to become a machinist, Theodore Jr. a plumber, and Adah a school teacher. The Parkers oversaw several renovations and alterations to the house over the decades. About 1891 the front porch was extended and the curved brackets added. The porch was enclosed about a decade later, and the rear addition constructed in 1972. Today, the building houses a law office run by the descendants of two old Napa families.

Theodore R. Parker House

486 Coombs St.
Built 1892
Historic Site
website

This two-story house was commissioned by Edward S. Churchill as a wedding gift for his son, Edwin Wilder, and his new bride, Alice Ames. Churchill hired Ernest Coxhead, a famous San Francisco architect, to design the home. Coxhead opted for a home in the style of an old-fashioned English country manor, a strong contrast to the grand columns of Edward S. Churchill’s adjacent home. Cedar Gables had five bedrooms, a library, parlor, dining room, reception room, and store room. The newlyweds hosted a spectacular housewarming in November 1892, just a month after their home was completed. The Napa Daily Journal wrote that affair included “a two-act farce, ‘A Box of Monkeys,’…Then came dancing and general sociability.” The Churchills regularly held plays in their home with Wilder often in the starring role.

The mansion was converted to a boarding house in the 1930s by Ella Ballmer. After World War II nearly two dozen rooms were rented out, including the cramped space in part of the tower. Five more rooms were added in the 1940s when the attic was added. The mansion has 11 bathrooms, 5 fireplaces, and approximately 33 rooms – the number is an estimate because the definition of “room” was often very loosely applied – It has been a luxury bed and breakfast since 1989.

George E. Goodman Mansion

1120 Oak St.
Built 1872-1873
National Register building
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

One of the few examples of the Second Empire style remaining in Napa, this home was built for George E. Goodman. Goodman, born in New York in 1823, arrived in California in 1852, two years after his older brother James. George ran his own grocery and general merchandise in San Francisco for a few years, then relocated to Napa and reopened his shop. James followed his brother to Napa, and in 1858 they opened the first private bank in the city. That same year George wed Carrie A. Jacks.

Goodman was deeply involved in nearly every aspect of Napa history. In 1901 he donated the land and financed the construction of the city’s first library, now home to Napa County Historical Society; prior to that he allowed an earlier rendition of the library to operate out of the second floor of his bank. Goodman foreclosed on a lumber yard and found himself with an excess of wood, so he constructed Eschol Winery, now called Trefethen. He was involved in the railroad, quicksilver (cinnabar) mining, and the installation of telephone lines in the city. Goodman also incorporated the Napa City Gas Light Company in 1867, which eventually became the Napa Gas and Electric Company; his forward-thinking attitude made Napa the 10th city in the state to be illuminated by gas.

The Goodmans decided to build a newer, bigger home for them and their two children, Harvey and George Jr., rather than remodel their home on the block of Oak and Brown (then Grant). They hired McDougal and Marquis of San Francisco, with the assistance of yet another New York native, Henry Knapp, who also ran a successful lumber yard in Napa. The Goodman Mansion cost $25,000, and employed numerous San Francisco craftsmen. The landscaping originally extended to Brown Street until zoning laws in the 1950s permitted the construction of the apartments on the former lawn. The mansion’s 19 rooms have since been divided into apartments. When the home was built, the Goodmans would have been able to see clear down to the Napa River.

Churchill Manor

485 Brown St.
Built 1889
National Register building
Historic Site
website

This Second Empire mansion was built for Edward S. Churchill, a prominent Napa banker. Like many of Napa’s founding residents, Churchill and his wife Mary hailed from New York. They settled in Napa in 1878 and Edward secured a position as a cashier in James Goodman’s bank. George Goodman served as president, and the two soon became both neighbors and devout members of the Presbyterian Church. Edward’s son’s home, Cedar Gables, is directly behind Churchill Manor. With 3 stories, 30 rooms, and nearly 10,000 square feet, Churchill Manor is one of the largest houses in Napa. The property once boasted tennis courts. During Prohibition and the Great Depression, the Churchills took in boarders, mostly “Bohemian” teachers (it is believed the family may have been hit with a prolonged financial downturn). They also started hosting weddings. After the Churchills sold the home in 1956, many different groups took over the property. Napa State Hospital, a collective of male college students, and even a commune passed through the mansion’s halls.

The current owners undertook an extensive restoration process when they purchased it in 1987. The Churchill Manor website described the damage thusly: “Although the museum quality redwood interiors fortunately had not been damaged, the place was in bad shape. Part of the floor on the second story bowed over six inches. It rained inside the sunroom as much as it did outside.” It still retains the original hardwood floors and massive redwood pocket doors. Today, it operates as a luxury hotel and premiere wedding venue.

Manasse Mansion

443 Brown St.
Built 1886
National Register building
Historic Site
website

This home was built for Emanuel Manasse and designed by William H. Corlett in the Stick-Eastlake style. Manasse immigrated to California from Beyenheim, Germany, via a short stay in New York, in 1864. He had been trained in the tanner since he was 14, and continued the profession in San Francisco. In1871 F. A. Sawyer, the founder of Sawyer Tanning Company, hired Manasse as foreman. Although several other leather, glove, and shoe factories operated in town, by 1939 the Sawyer Tannery was the largest tannery west of the Mississippi. About 1875 Manasse invented the tanning process to produce “Nappa Leather,” a lush, luxurious leather made from sheepskin. It is unknown what illness took his life in September 1899, but it afflicted him for nearly 2 years.

Manasse’s daughter Amelia married her beau, John G. Whitten, a representative of Swift & Company packing firm, in the Manasse Mansion. A Napa newspaper described the interior of the house during June 1903 wedding: “The spacious parlors of the Manasse residence were elaborately decorated with pink and white blossoms, ferns and twining vines and presented a most beautiful appearance. The bride, who is a beautiful statuesque blonde, was gowned in filet de main over white silk, trimmed with rare lace. The bridal veil was held with a wreath of natural orange blossoms.”

Today the Manasse Mansion is a luxury hotel and known as the White House. It has undergone extensive renovations over the years, including repair work after the 2014 earthquake. Little is left of the original material, save the leather panels along the stairwells and reception area. Like its neighbor, Churchill Manor, the Manasse Mansion continues to hold weddings on its stunning grounds.

1031 Laurel Street

Built ca. 1890
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

The earliest known owners of this Victorian house was Fannie Mellor. She was widowed in 1898 and living there with two of her children, her brother, and a boarder. Like most in this section of Napa Abajo, the family was blue collar. Fannie’s late husband may have been Charles Mellor, the owner of Mellor & Son, a furniture store, undertaker, and carpet beater. Today the house is a single family residence.

1041 Laurel Street

Built ca. 1910
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

This Victorian house may have been moved to this location in the mid-20th century. The structure on the site of this house was originally a garage for 396 Brown Street, which was expanded into a workshop for Greco Glove Company, owned by Joe Greco, after the 1920s. For most of the 1950s it was a workshop for children with mental disabilities, and by the 1960s it was converted into a private residence. The house had regular turnover in residents, with few people staying more than a few years. Today it is a private residence.

396 Brown Street

Built ca. 1870
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

It is unknown when this house was built, but the probable builder was carpenter Milton Ritchey (also Ritchie). He and his wife Margaret Jane Simms settled in Napa in the early 1860s. After the Ritcheys, the house was owned by William and Theresa Miller. William was a farmer, but he died shortly after purchasing the house. The next two owners were Italian immigrants: winemaker Gioseppe (Joseph) and Vittoria (Victoria) Medica, glovemaker John and Vincenza Cannelora. Franz Hammerich bought the house next as a rental then sold to Harry and Julia Greco.

The house remained in the Greco family for several decades. They immigrated from Italy to the US in 1890, settling first in Gloversville, New York where future mayor Joseph Greco was born. True to its name, Gloversville was once the center of glove manufacturing in the US, with more than 200 factories in the area by the time the Grecos arrived. When they relocated to Napa, Harry took up work as a glove cutter at Napa Glove Company. His son Joe was a popular basketball player as a young man, then transitioned into politics. He served as a city council member then spent another 15 years as the mayor – the first Italian American in Napa to hold that title. He stuck to his glovemaking roots, however, and in 1946 bought the Napa Glove Company from owner James Pritchett.

396 Brown Street

Built ca. 1889
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

A number of different people lived in this house in its early years. The earliest resident was S. F. Henry, a butcher in town. After Henry, W. A. Leonard (a laborer) and F. Martin (a saloon keeper) lived there. From at least 1906-1908, the house was owned by Mr. and Mrs. G. H. Gillespie, with John Henry Starr (a carpenter) renting a room. It is at present a private residence.

432 Cross Street

Built ca. 1885
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

In the early 1900s, the house was occupied by three brothers: Theodore M., Emil F. and Charles F. Marois. Theodore was a Justice of the Peace, while Emil and Charles were painters. They were three of seven children born to Charles and Hermine Marois, Canadian immigrants who arrived in California sometime between 1865 and 1868. Charles worked at Sawyer Tannery in the 1880s.

482 Cross Street

Built ca. 1870
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

This Gothic Revival home was originally built elsewhere and moved to its current site in 1883. From the late 1890s and into early twentieth century, the Hammerich (later Hammerick) family owned the house. German immigrant Franz Hammerich was the captain of the scow schooner Cinderella.

482 Cross Street

Built ca. 1885
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

This two-story house was occupied in the turn of the century by the Pederson family. John A. Pederson was born in Norway, and immigrated in 1872. John was a janitor at the old courthouse in downtown, and would have been working there when the third and current courthouse was built (the cornerstone was laid in 1878). The house is mostly original, save the front porch, which was added prior to the mid-1970s.

1015 Oak Street

Built ca. 1890
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

This house and its twin next door at 1019 Oak are interesting in terms of contrasts. 1015 Oak has had several alterations, including the addition of the porch sometime after 1924. Both houses had numerous tenants in their early years. One occupant was a clerk for the Southern Pacific Railroad, another a carpenter, and another a single woman who worked in a business in the Masonic Temple on Second Street (torn down in the 1970s).

1019 Oak Street

Built ca. 1890
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

Unlike its twin next door at 1015 Oak, 1019 Oak has not had much external modification. One owner was Frank Bruce Gibb. Gibb was the Marshal for the city, and had his office at the Brown Street Engine House, across from the courthouse. He later became a sign painter, and one of his children a local school teacher.

529-531 Brown Street

Built 1885
National Register building
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

Capt. George Grafton Pinkham, operator of the Steamboat Landing Wharf and commander of the side-paddle-wheel steamer Emma, owned this Victorian townhouse. Pinkham was born in Kennebunkport, Maine, about 1835. According to Nancy McEnery in her book The Napa River, when he was 9-years-old Pinkham’s merchant seaman father, Capt. Silas Gardner Pinkham, was lost at sea in a collision in the Bay of Fundy near Nova Scotia, Canada. George sailed fishing boats along the eastern seaboard until 1852 when he went west to California. He worked on the San Francisco docks bucking sacks of wheat until his employer refused to return the $2,000 he borrowed. Pinkham managed to scrape enough money together to purchase a schooner, and became so successful he was able to invest in the 178-ton steamer Napa City.

He and his wife Melissa settled in Napa with their children and George’s younger sister Matilda. The home was designed by John Lindsey and W. D. Voorhees, and is now broken up into apartments. Pinkham retired in 1902, and 12 years later passed away.

Riverboat House

538 Brown Street
Built 1910
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

Otto Franklin Walton worked for Capt. Wulff, owner of the house at the next stop, as the captain of the Zinfandel. Walton was born in Lebanon, Missouri, in 1872, but his family moved to Kern County, California, when he was still young. After his father, Levi, suffered an injury from a mule, the Waltons moved to Napa to be close to Otto’s maternal grandfather, Maxwell C. Alexander. Levi never recovered from his injuries and died soon after relocation. Otto worked on his grandfather’s ranch for most of his teen years, then got himself hired by Wulff to work as a deckhand on the Zinfandel. He was promoted to watchman then pilot on the St. Helena, then in 1911 became the master of the Zinfandel.

Walton had this structure built as a storage facility on the first floor and residence on the second. He may have even stored a riverboat on the ground floor. He and his wife, Marie Nielsen, raised their two daughters, Gladys Irene and Vivian Beryl, in their home. His house is now an apartment building.

Captain Nels H. Wulff House

549 Brown Street
Built 1885
National Register building
Historic SiteClosed to the Public/No Access

This Victorian Stick townhouse was built for Nelson “Nels” Hanson Wulff, paddlewheel steamer captain, and designed by William H. Corlett. The Corlett family originated from the Isle of Man and operated the largest planning mill in the North Bay. The Enterprise Planing Mill was established by his father, William P., and was involved in the design, planning, and/or construction of the Center-Martin Building on Brown, the St. Helena Public Library, the Napa County Courthouse, the Manasse Mansion, the Noyes Mansion, and dozens of other businesses and homes, including their own.

His biography in the Lewis Publishing Company’s 1891 A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California reveals that Wulff came to California from Denmark in 1850 at 20-years-old. As a teenager he became a sailor and travelled to ports all over the word. He worked in San Francisco in the mid-1850s as a ballaster and stone transporter. For a few years he worked in a mill in Folsom, a profession which brought him to Napa in 1859 where he began ferrying flour and wheat from Napa. In the mid-1870s Wulff knew the railroad would soon overtake ships for freight transport, so he sold his steamers steamer Zinfandel and Caroline. The Caroline had been fitted up for both passenger and freight and was for a time the only Napa River ship passengers could take between San Francisco and Napa. Wulff also captained the Cinderella before Franz Hammerich took over.

Wulff wed Irish immigrant Margaret O’Brien and had two children, Nelson Jr. and Annie (who died in childhood). A mural at Main and First portrays the Napa River at the turn of the century. The two ships are Pinkham’s schooner Emma and Wulff’s sternwheeler Zinfandel. The Zinfandel was purchased by Capt. Hatt in 1907 to transport lumber. The ship sunk in Miner Slough in the Sacramento River in 1922. The Wulff House now contains several apartment units.

Embarcadero

Napa River
Former Site

At this point, you should see a boulder with a plaque embedded in it. This marks the spot where General Charles Fremont crossed the Napa River to eventually lay claim to California for the United States during the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846. 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.

Before Americanos claimed this land for the United States and even before the Californios and Spanish padres used the valley for grazing livestock, the Wappo and Patwin lived along the banks of the Napa River. There were dozens of villages throughout the valley, and it was said that the river was so clear you could see all the way to the rocks at the bottom.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the river was used as a waste depository, was dredged and its gravel taken up and sold to pave San Francisco, and generally abused. After an extensive, expensive, and controversial Flood Control Project and river restoration, aquatic wildlife has finally begun to return to the tidal river. In recent months, beavers, river otters, seals, and waterfowl have all been spotted. Perhaps the Napa River might once again look like it did before Europeans arrived.

Hatt Building

500 Main St.
built 1884 and 1886-1887
National Register building
Historic Site

Capt. Albert Hatt, a Napa merchant born in Prussia, constructed the original portion of his building in 1884. Constructed of Napa River clay bricks as a two-story warehouse, it was used for production and storage for Napa’s fruit, wine, lumber, wool and leather industries. It also held a skating rink and dance hall. For many years it was known as Napa Mill, where it processed and shipped grain; it was during this era in the 1940s that the silos were added.

Today the property boasts a hotel, music venue, and several shops and restaurants. Inside the hotel lobby are many historical photos of old Napa that are worth popping inside to check out. Some of the structures are recent additions. The small white building on the Fifth Street side was formerly the headquarters for the Napa Police Department. Take a look at the several plaques along the front of the main brick building for more historical information. There is also a mosaic dedicated to Napa Valley’s history in the back garden area.

The Hatt Building is also rumored to be one of the most haunted buildings in the county. Albert Jr.’s wife died in 1906, leaving him with five young children. Subsequent financial and familial hardships took their toll, and at 46-years-old he committed suicide by hanging himself from a beam in the warehouse. A woman in white roams the halls searching for someone. Many people believe the woman is Margaret Hatt looking for her husband to stop him from his tragic final act. Robert Keig, the miller who bought the complex in 1912 after Hatt’s death, has been spotted, usually presaged with the scent of hay and grain. Other ghostly grain workers from the mid-century have also been seen in the former warehouse pouring phantom grain from the silos into sacks.