The Iconic Greystone Cellars

Greystone Campus

By Rebecca Yerger

Envisioned by William Bowers Bourn, Jr., the son of an Irishman, the visually impressive Greystone Cellars is the perfect historical subject for the month of March; the time to celebrate all things Irish.

With its solid, native-stone edifice rising from its terraced hillside site, Greystone has commanded notice and attention since its 1887 construction. While being physically solid, stately, and even formidable, Greenstone’s history has changed over time due to the influences of socio-economic changes.

Greystone began as a brain-child, business concept of William Bowers Bourn, Jr. who was the son of the late William Bowers Bourn, Sr. The elder Bourn had amassed a great fortune from his shipping company partnerships, and especially from his Empire Gold Mine during the mid-1800s. While both Bourns had many business interests and residences throughout California, they had strong ties to Napa County, and especially to St. Helena where Bourn, Jr. spent the summers of his youth.

Although an heir to his father’s estate, Bourn, Jr. was a savvy businessman in his own right and created an even greater financial dynasty. This entrepreneurial aptitude helped him recognize the opportunity and potential of a facility such as Greystone.

The genesis of Greystone was Bourn Jr.’s response to the autocratic, price-fixing conspiracies found throughout the Bay Area wine mercantiles. By imposing those unfair practices, wine dealers forced local grape growers and winemakers to take below-market prices for their commodities.

As a remedy to those underhanded tactics, the Greystone concept included creating a cooperative. In addition to building the one-million gallon winery, terms and options were drafted for those wanting to conduct their business with proposed Greystone. First off, it was emphatically stated, “NO Malvoisie, Mission, inferior grapes or grapes in bad condition will be received for winemaking.” As for the options, they were: 1) Greystone would produce wine, on shares, from anyone’s grapes, plus store the wine separately. 2) That wine, or any wine stored at Greystone, would be held until the highest price could be secured. Then, following the sale, the wine owner would be paid his share of the profits. 3) Any grower could sell their quality grapes directly to Greystone.

Bourn, Jr. began his Greystone campaign by first forging a business partnership with another young businessman, Everett Wise. Both of these men were in their early 30s. The next step was to find and/or rally support for the cooperative within the Napa County wine industry. To that end, Bourn, Jr. met with Henry Pellet, president of the St. Helena Vinicultural Club before meeting with the general membership. Pellet fully endorsed the idea and strongly encouraged his fellow associates to do the same.

After successfully gaining the backing of the local wine industry, Bourn, Jr. and Wise hired the San Francisco architectural firm of Percy and Hamilton to design Greystone Cellars. Some individuals believe Greystone was designed to resemble a castle in Ireland.

The final plans called for the use of cutting-edge materials and technology of that era, such as the brand-new, Portland cement. During the construction, that cement was used as mortar, as well as poured over the iron reinforcing rods built within the first and second floor elevations. The heavy timber construction of the third floor provided structural support for not only that floor’s cask, barrel and bottle aging space but also for the gravity-flow crushing area located within the floor above.

As for technology, Greystone was the first California winery to be operated and illuminated by electricity. A boiler and gas generator, located in a mechanical room below the central front wing of the building, produced the electricity. Another accolade garnered by Greystone was due to its massive dimensions. Greystone Cellars was the largest winery in California.

All that grandeur and state-of-the-art design came with an equally grand price tag, $250,000. That figure was an exorbitant amount of money in the late 19th century, even for the ultra-wealthy.

Then, within less than a decade of its completion, Greystone began its succession of property owners. By 1894, it was owned by Charles Carpy, and became the trademark for the CWA – California Wine Association. By late 1924, CWA had removed all of the 200,000 gallons of wine stored at Greystone. A year later the Bisceglia brothers of San Jose purchased Greystone, where they produced sacramental wines until 1930. Following a three-year hiatus, the Bisceglias restored operations at Greystone in October 1933.

Christian Brothers entered the picture in 1945 when they signed a lease agreement for the cellar. Five years later they bought Greystone. Decades later, faced with declining market shares and vineyard yields, as well as the very costly prospect of seismically retrofitting Greystone, Christian Brothers winery was sold to the Hueblein Company of Canada in 1991. A year later they sold Greystone to the Culinary Institute of America for $1.68 million. In three short years, after opening in August 1995, Greystone had been retrofitted and remodeled into the western CIA campus.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, Greystone Cellars is now enjoying a renaissance in purpose and popularity. However, it still lives up to the sentiments expressed in a circa-1900, CWA brochure. “Whoever visits Napa Valley…must inevitably have his attention called to ‘Greystone,’ our magnificent stone cellar which is a landmark for miles around, and which, for centuries to come, will be an enduring monument to its builders and owners…” and community.

The Highly Spirited – Beringer Brothers Winery

The Highly Spirited – Beringer Brothers Winery

By Rebecca Yerger

The Rhine House 1884 WP


October is a very spirited month in Napa Valley and County as winemaking and ghost stories abound. One Napa Valley winery, well known for both, is Beringer Brothers Winery, with its iconic Rhine House, fine wines and, it is said, extraordinary paranormal activity.

Beringer Brothers, located near the northern edge of St. Helena, was founded in 1876 by its namesakes – Jacob and Frederick Beringer. Jacob was the visionary who made the wines and managed their winery. Jacob also supervised the construction of the winery buildings and wine-aging caves. The cornerstone for the first winery building was laid in March, 1877. A year later,  Chinese laborers began excavating the caves.

The first Beringer Winery ghost story involves those very caves and laborers. The late Kathleen Kernberger, a local historian and author, recounted the story told to her by her aunt, Virginia Hanrahan. She spoke of how, on windy nights, crying and sad moans would come from deep within the caves. According to Hanrahan, those sorrowful sounds were the wails of the ghosts of the Chinese laborers who had been entombed deep within the caves. That theory was dispelled when records proved that no laborers had been buried there.

Kernberger also explained the eerie sounds were created by strong winds forcing air through fissures in the rocks. Following the application of a spray-on, cement compound throughout the caves, those openings were sealed off, which silenced the chilling wails and moans. However, even after the caves had been coated with that compound, people continue to report feeling exceptionally cold spots in the caves, and hearing faint whispers of the long-since-gone Chinese laborers. Also, photographs of the caves frequently capture images of odd orbs of light.

Returning to Jacob and the creation of the iconic winery; he and his family lived in the L-shaped, wood-frame farmhouse, originally built around 1860 by David Hudson, an early Napa County pioneer settler. However, this residence, with its Greek Revival influenced architectural features of a low pitched, gable roof with a wide band of trim, front porch supported by prominent columns and overall symmetrical form was originally located about where the Rhine House stands today. The Hudson House was moved to its present location using logs placed under the house and rolling it into its current position.

Frederick, the financier and promoter of their winery, was accustomed to living in grand style. In 1883 he commissioned San Francisco architect, A. Schropfer to design his country wine-estate home which was to be built on the visually prominent site formerly occupied by the Hudson House. Frederick was very specific about its design. The future , three-story house was to be a replica of the brothers’ ancestral home located in the Mainz, Germany area.

According to its Historic Resources Inventory form, the Rhine House was, and is, “…a residence in the Chateau style…” The Rhine House possesses this style’s impressive visual mass and scale; steeply pitched, hipped roof with many vertical elements, such as shaped chimneys and roofline crest details; multiple dormers; stone walls; elaborate moldings, doorways and more. To enhance the authenticity of the Rhine House, many of its architectural elements were imported from Germany, including the interior moldings, stairs, mantles, flooring and art glass windows.

The Rhine House also features Stick, style elements which are clearly evident at the second floor level with its smooth exterior plaster walls, ornamented with decorative patterned boards, or “stickwork.” The Stick style also features steeply pitched, hipped roofs similar to the Chateau style found on the Rhine House.

Purportedly, the Rhine House also possesses considerable paranormal activity. In fact, the winery has an overflowing file, documenting numerous encounters.

For example, one evening, just after closing, two employees were cleaning up the downstairs of the Rhine House when all of a sudden a loud crash came from the upstairs, Founders’ tasting room. That room had been Frederick’s bedroom and the place where he died in 1901. The two employees each took a different staircase upstairs and did not pass any mortal on their way to the room. They entered the room to find a heavy silver tray had been thrown across the room, and broken stemware was strewn everywhere. Many attribute this occurrence to Frederick and his apparent disapproval of his private quarters being used as a public space.

While others have heard footfalls ascending the stairs when no other mortal was present, there have been even more unnerving encounters within the Rhine House that have profoundly frightened workers. After hours, the night crew thoroughly cleans the house. And, on numerous occasions, those workers have been startled, or worse, by the sight of Frederick walking through his Rhine House walls. In fact, one worker was so frightened by the sight he ran out of the Rhine house and has never returned to Beringer Brothers Winery.

Apparently, the iconic and architecturally grand Beringer Brothers Winery and its Rhine House offers mortals more than one kind of spirit to sample.

Local Legends

Local Legends

By Kristin Ranuio

Every town has a story. Our valley has many tales to tell. When we asked locals what their favorite Napa legend was, most had a hard time choosing just one. A favorite we heard time and again was about the downtown Cinedome theater, in particular, theater 4, towards the back. Former theater employee, Amanda Rogers, said everyone that worked there knew about it. Legend has it that a man hung himself in the space and, that if you went to the last showing of the night in theater 4 and looked up, sometimes you could see him hanging from the rafters. Employees also noticed the lights often flickered, but only in that theater, not the others. Again, it was attributed to the ghost.

“It was a freaky story everyone knew about,” said Adriana Delgillo. “I would never sit in the back row. People said they felt people, or something, touching them if they sat back there.”

Another theater came to mind for Tom Fuller, the Uptown, also located downtown. Once again, the back row was mentioned. This time, the story goes that there was a gentleman who went to the Uptown every day, always sitting in the same seat in the back row. On occasion, he would fall asleep, and one day when a theater employee went to wake him, he had passed away. People are said to still see or smell him on occasion.

He is considered the cranky guy that haunts the place, but he is not alone. There is a young woman there as well However, legend has it she is not cranky, but confused. Some wonder if she knows she is dead. As the story goes, she was a performer, on stage in the beautiful old theater in the thirties or forties. During a performance she fell off of the stage and died instantly. She is said to still be there today.

Luis Uribe remembers hearing a lot of stories, especially when he was in middle school and high school, about the slaughterhouse that once stood on Old Sonoma Highway. Rumor had it they had hung people there, and their ghosts remained. Many students headed over to see if they could catch a glimpse on clear dark nights.

Another legend in the Carneros region was recalled by Amanda Rogers, at what she and other kids who grew up in the area called “the IRA house”, so named because someone had spray-painted IRA on the side. Standing on the corner of Las Amigas and Duhig Road, the house stood abandoned and falling apart. Legend says that robbers hid out there and hid their treasure in the floorboards. Many a Napa kid has gone searching for said treasure, but it has yet to be found.

A popular ghost in the the Valley seems to be one of its founding fathers, George C. Yount. He is said to roam the streets at night, and his most popular legend is that of his gravesite. If you drive by the Yountville cemetery late at night and pay attention as your headlights skim across the graveyard, you will see Mr. Yount keeping a watchful eye out.

The most popular legend of the Napa Valley has to be that of the Rebobs. Almost every single person we spoke to about this story mentioned them. Some even spoke of being told the story by school teachers that had grown up here.

As it is told, at the very end of Partrick Road, a long, lonely, winding road in Browns Valley, lived a scientist. He was no ordinary scientist though, but a mad scientist. For one of his experiments he decided to sew wings on to the backs of monkeys (think Wizard of Oz). His experiment was a success and, after he passed away, the flying monkeys, called Rebobs, continued to breed and their numbers grew to be many. To see the Rebobs, one needed to go all the way to the end of the road at midnight (a very popular time for Napa legends), and wait. There are two popular versions; one says you wait in your car and they will jump on top of it, screeching and trying to attack, the other says that they hide up in the trees and that you need to search for them. If you are lucky if you get to see one.

Whichever local legends you believe, one thing rings true. The stories of the Napa Valley live on and are passed down from one generation to the next. Look around, especially at midnight, and you
never know what you might see.

Local History – April 2011

Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Local History” April 2011.

Rocks Were Broken and Foundations Were Poured

By Lauren Coodley

Farmyards were stages for concerts of sound.  Doors squeaked and slammed.  Boards were sawed and hammered.  Boots made great sucking sounds when pulled out of the mud.  Sweeping was a snare drum, raising clouds of dust.  Rocks were broken and foundations were poured.  Restive horses whinnied and neighed, cows bellowed…all the while the clinking and sucking pump filled buckets with splashing and swirling water. ~ Joseph Amato, Rethinking Home

Recently, I wrote about the challenge of finding the story behind a box of artifacts given me. It contained receipts for egg sales, pages of farm labor minutes, and a few photographs with obscure handwritten notes on the back.  I asked the public to help me identify those pictured.  Marilyn Grover responded.  As a close friend of Beatrice Luhmann, she was uniquely able to paint a word picture of this Napa pioneer. The two women met in l972, six years before Beatrice’s death, when Luhmann was already eighty one years old.

Beatrice and Henry Luhmann had travelled by covered wagon in l9l3 to Napa and “pitched their tent downtown,” until they earned enough to buy the farm on Big Ranch Road. They lived their whole lives on that farm.   Marilyn commented, “Her marriage was tough, life was hard.” Beatrice Luhmann wrote: “My upbringing was, ‘if you owe money, never buy anything you don’t need.’  We had a mortgage with crop failures and low prices for poultry.” The neighbors’ friendship began when Beatrice came calling on behalf of her church, St Mary’s Episcopal. As the friendship developed, Marilyn, who lived at the end of Soscol, would bike over to visit.  Beatrice told Marilyn how she would gather up the neighborhood kids and carry them to Sunday school in a wagon along the dirt trail of Big Ranch Road, “always getting more kids to come along.” She also gave Marilyn a handwritten story about her discovery of a cross from the original church.  It is a rare document of one woman’s life:

Planted a young orchard of prune trees. While we were waiting for fruit, went into the chicken business.  The babies survived that meant more chickens…To make ends meet we raised fryers, the wholesale price was so low we dress them, price 20 cents a pound…(illegible) for the pan and delivered, that was my job, at the crack of dawn would get dressed from l to 3 in the morning and deliver in the afternoon.

Now the cross enters. A Mr. Jorden, living on Calistoga Ave., whose business was buying old houses wrecking them and selling the lumber. He bought our lovely old St. Mary’s church. Underneath the stage was a catchall for junk.  He found the old cross all broken in pieces.  One day his wife ordered some fryers.  He came to the door.  He asked me if I taught Sunday school at St Mary’s.  I said yes.  He says “come with me, I have something you should have.”  Went down in the basement, on the wall was hanging a cross.  He told me where he found it and spent a lot of time fixing it.  I thought he was going to give it to me. How wrong I was.

He told me that was how he made his living and it would cost me five dollars, a lot of money to spend on something I loved but did not need.  One Sunday morning at Sunday school, I told Mrs. York about the old cross.  She was the superintendent of the Sunday school.  She said “Don’t worry. Connie, one of the workers on the altar guild, she will get it.”  They both belonged to the same lodge.  I waited a long time, one day I asked.  She said Connie had no luck.  A few weeks after, Mrs. Jorden ordered more chicken.  Mr. Jorden came to the door; I asked if he had the cross.  He said “you can have it for $4.50”…just about as bad as $5.  This went on for over two years, every time it was 50 cents less.  One day I saw him walking in town with a cane, barely able to move.  It flashed into my mind if something happens to him, the dear old cross will be lost to us.  Soon after, Mrs. Jorden ordered more chicken as usual.  He came to the door.  I asked about the cross, price $2.50.  I said,
“Sold at last”—it was safe.

At the time the women met, Beatrice still tended a garden and fruit trees. She also “grew beautiful orchids to give away,” as well as gourds: Marilyn Grover remembers, “I never seen such large gourds.”  Beatrice used a special drying process for her figs, and she kept boxes of feathers from her chickens, separated carefully by colors. With those feathers, she decorated hats.

Marilyn and Beatrice took drives around the valley together, an experience Marilyn loved, because “she knew everyone, and could point out much of what you were looking at.” In her last years, she had a dog, MacGregor, who “wouldn’t let me near her bed,” when she became ill.  She died within a few days of her illness, working on the farm right up to the end; she was “energetic, animated, and generous.” Marilyn’s last act of friendship was arranging her friend’s funeral.  Out front of the farm was a thick plank painted with the letters Luhmann; Marilyn herself repainted the sign.  It is still there, the old name covered with the name of the new residents, JK Farm.

Beatrice Luhmann is buried in the family plot at Tulocay with her husband, two brothers, and two of their three sons. George Nichols, pictured in the photograph, was also laid to rest at the end of the family plot.  Who was George Nichols? I wondered in my earlier essay.  Marilyn Grover knew the answer.  “He had done the chores around the farm, feeding chickens, always pushing a broom around.  Had a railroad pension…lived at a little place on their farm.”  When Beatrice died, Nichols had nowhere to live, and Marilyn became his conservator. Beatrice left her beautiful silver service to the church before she died, and the cross she found is still displayed in the lobby of St Mary’s on Third Street.

Beatrice and Henry Luhmann are included in the upcoming book by Arcadia Publishing, Napa Valley Farming, by Paula Amen Judah and Lauren Coodley. Thanks to Marilyn Grover for sharing her memories and of Beatrice Luhmann, and to Lauren Ellsworth for recording Marilyn’s story and helping to interpret Beatrice’s handwritten memoir.

The Construction of History – February 2011

Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “History” February 2011.

Bernadine and Henry Luhmann of Napa

The Construction of History
By Lauren Coodley

How is history constructed? All we have to help understand the past are the traces that people leave behind. It might be a rusting tractor, or a quilt glowing with color; it may be a Corona typewriter or a Magnavox record player. With these traces which are all around us, we can try to imagine what came before.

One such box of traces was handed to me several months ago. It was found in a barn, and bore the marks of many rainstorms. What emerged from the box were the farm records of one man, Henry Luhmann. He was an egg farmer who had invented a particular kind of brooder; his patent slip was in the box along with numerous guidebooks for raising poultry, and his receipts for the eggs which he shipped to San Francisco by steamer as early as 1926. There were only two or three photos in the box. So, I am hoping that those who remember them might tell more of their story. The first photograph is inscribed “building a garage for the Platts”; on left, wife Bernardine; on right, Ally Platt. The second photograph is Bernadine with her dog; in the third, she is pictured with farm manager, George Nichols. How photographs long for a story to go with them! If you can contribute a memory of the Luhmanns or Mr. Nichol, please contact the Napa Historical Society.

Henry Luhmann was not only an egg farmer and a husband, he was also a leader in the community of farmers that came together during World War II. In the box were carefully typed minutes from a farm labor committee which he chaired. The minutes for the first meeting on April 24, 1943 note: “The committee asked Mr. Henry Luhmann and others to interview Mr. Owen Duffy regarding the use of the buildings at the Napa State Farm for housing seasonal labor.”

At another meeting on June 17th: Henry Luhmann explained the progress made in securing housing facilities at the Silverado Farm Labor camp. “Andrew Fagiani suggested that part of the camp at Yountville be set aside for family groups. …The chairman stated that Mr. DB Parker had offered to give Napa County a building located at the Stockton Japanese relocation center. HJ Baade offered to take the Monticello committee to Stockton to look over the building…Will Gosling submitted data about the production of Berryessa Valley in l943: nearly 3000 tons of hay; about a thousand tons of grapes; 700 tons of dried prunes; l000 tons of pears; 90 tons of plums; almost 4000 tons of grain; almost 7000 head of cattle; 2000 head of sheep; 3000 head of hogs; all of this entailing about 45,000 ‘man hours.’ The period of harvest was August l5-October l5; 150 laborers needed.” This information about the Berryessa Valley is especially poignant since it would all be destroyed with the building of the dam in 1957.

The committee met on May 13th 1944: “Mr. Fruehauf, treasurer of the Napa Valley Farm Labor Association and a member of this committee, stated that there are now working on the ranches, 78 Mexican nationals, and that there will be 492 working in this county at the peak of the harvest season…the labor shortage in Napa County is more critical than that in many other parts of the state, and therefore a special effort must be made at once to provide housing for harvest help if a portion of the crops now in prospect are not to be lost.” Later that month, “It was agreed that the District Fair would put up a building. The state would try to supply cots, mattresses and blankets, housing l50 persons at the Fairgrounds. The committee asked for a 500 man camp to be established at the Silverado Farm Labor Camp at the State Farm at Yountville.”

Six months later, June 1945, a new dilemma emerged for the committee. Clyde Casady, secretary of Napa Valley Farm Labor Corporation, wrote to Mr. Luhmann asking him to “lend every effort possible in helping us solve the problem of security measures at the Silverado Trail camp. This camp is to be used to house German prisoners-of-war…The prune and grape crops…look to have the greatest tonnage to be harvested in the history of the valley…With a definite shortage in Mexican nationals, the only other source of labor available is prisoners of war.”

In July of 1945 the minutes of the Farm Council reveal an interest in the wartime temporary housing: “The committee urges the state to take all possible steps for bona fide farmers of the state to acquire such of these facilities as are needed for housing of themselves and/or personnel working on their farms. …members of the Armed forces during the War should have the first opportunity to obtain units of these facilities for housing themselves and their immediate families [and] the farmers of the state be given the next opportunity to acquire the units.”

That same month Henry Luhmann wrote to Dr. Theo Miller of the Napa State Hospital to say that the farm labor committee had been advised of the “splendid help the patients have been in past years in our harvest….We were also advised that you have again granted permission to certain patients to aid in our harvest again this year. Indications are that we will have a very heavy crop of prunes and tomatoes and every person who is able and willing to help with this harvest will find employment.”

In April 1946 Henry Luhmann recorded “the amount of foreign labor in the county last year, reaching a peak of 345 Mexican nationals in July and a peak of 645 foreign laborers in August, including Prisoners of War and Jamaicans.” In July 1946, Luhmann was able to write triumphantly “There have been allocated to Napa County seven steel barrack buildings: portable, prefabricated, angle frames, insulated, two doors, sixteen windows without partition, equipment of plumbing. Size 20 x 48.”…It will be the duty of the committee to select the first seven growers to whom the offer to purchase shall be made.” A week later his last letter from this box is to W.D. Butler. It reads: “According to the decision of the committee, a notice has been put in the Napa Register giving all farmer veterans a chance to purchase surplus housing allotted to Napa County… Please be present and assist in allocating these buildings.”

We can only imagine the emotion behind these letters, as well the conflicts that undoubtedly occurred behind closed doors over the complex challenge of harvesting Napa’s crops in war time. Surely, other farmers recorded their own impressions of these discussions. Did any of the State Hospital patients or prisoners of war write letters or diaries about being here in the Forties? What about the groups described as Mexican nationals and Jamaicans? What did they tell their families about their experiences in this luscious valley? We do know that, until very recently, Napa was dotted with the Quonset huts built during the war, and that State hospital patients were prevented from helping with the harvest after the 1950’s, when drugs replaced vocational therapy.

For all we know, there are a hundred things we don’t know. Because someone saved these minutes, we know a little bit about the official business of growing crops during World War II. We don’t know what Bernadine Luhmann was doing during that period at the family farm on 2275 Big Ranch Road. Perhaps she has neighbors, relatives or friends who can help fill out the picture. All history is a mixture of official sources and private memories. Every document saved is a gift to the future, and for that we can be grateful to Henry Luhmann for saving his records, and to Deb Jachens for preserving them.

Local History – January 2011

Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Local History” January 2011.

Every Memory a Door
By Lauren Coodley

Every memory is a door into the past. Andrew Clerici offers this remembrance of being a child in Napa when the circus trains came to town:

“I used to go to the Depot in the morning and wait for the train. They would unload and set up for the 2 o’clock show and then another show in the evening They also had a little parade of animals through town about noon to advertise that they were there.. By eight the next morning  they were gone …everything was clean and you could not tell they had ever been here.”

Clerici remembers that the Depot was at Fourth and Soscol. The circus train would enter town on the tracks of the Napa Valley Rail Road (NVRR), built from the head of navigation in the Napa River, in 1864. The route ran from Skaggs Island all the way to Calistoga. California Pacific purchased the NVRR in 1869; Southern Pacific bought Cal-Pacific in 1885, and operated passenger service to Calistoga until 1929. Freight trains would continue their runs into the 1980s.

In the Thirties, businesses such as the Napa Glove Company already employed hundreds of Napans when Julian Weidler brought Rough Rider north from San Francisco in l936 and built his clothing factory between the river and the Depot on land donated by the Chamber of Commerce.  Napa High taught girls to operate the power sewing machines. Once hired, they became proud members of the United Ladies Garment Workers Union.  Raw materials were delivered by steamboat to the factory, fashioned into shirts, pants and skirts, loaded onto freight cars, and sent across the country.

Across the river, Sawyer Tannery developed new kinds of baseball and softball mitts. Wayne Taylor describes his childhood on Pine Street near the tannery:

“I recall going to a side door of the building on a warm summer day and getting free leather scraps from a kindly gentleman employee whose machine was close by.  A leather scrap combined with rubber strap cut from an old auto inner tube formed the action (parts for a slingshot)!  Of course this all started with a forked piece of wood trimmed from a tree.   Now we had a neat toy for free!  Several of the neighborhood kids would then compete to see who had the best accuracy in hitting tin cans with our homemade slingshots.”

Peter Manasse remembers the tannery whistle blowing every day at seven, one, and four, the barges coming up the river bringing diesel fuel for their boiler, and the rawhides arriving by freight train. He would drive a big flatbed truck across the Third Street Bridge to pick them up at the train depot. Manasse says “Most people did work at the tannery in high school or grammar school.” Napa was so small with just over 6,000 people. “If I drove my parents’ car too fast downtown, a police officer would call them.”

In 1930, Dave Cavagnaro organized the first Italian-Catholic Federation convention and Napa’s firefighter parade. Cavagnaro, son of Italian immigrants, had arrived in Napa as a baby in l883. He had been fascinated with what he could see, hear and smell of the circus ever since Al Barnes and the elephants paraded past his front door in l9l8. Alpheus George Barnes Stonehouse was born in Canada in 1862, and ran his circus until 1929. His elephant parade included ten Asian elephants, among them the bulls Tusko, Black Diamond, and Vance.  They must have been a magnificent sight as they were taken off at the train depot and paraded through the quiet town.

When Cavagnaro married, he and wife Nellie ran the Brooklyn Hotel at Third and Soscol, the gathering place for the Italian-American community. Dave tended bar, sang, and played his concertina. He, Nellie, and kids Anita, Ray and Robert lived upstairs. They also rented rooms to single Italian men working on the railroad.

In 1933, cowboy movie star Tom Mix began touring with The Tom Mix Roundup, which included two Liberty horses and the Ward sisters’ aerial act. By 1934, the Tom Mix Circus was traveling with a cast of up to 50 performers, including a twelve piece band. On April 18, 1935, Cavagnaro hosted a dinner at his hotel for the all the performers from Mix’s circus. But, in 1938, the Tom Mix Circus folded in the middle of the Great Depression.

That very year, when Dave Cavagnaro was 58 years old, he decided to set aside 12 weeks of every year to travel with Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey or the Clyde Beatty Circus. In a family history, Martin Mini writes:

“He pitched hay, ran errands, helped in the front office, sold tickets, collected tickets, unloaded animals, set up and tore down tents, carried water to the animals…acted as a booking agent, functioned as an advance man and a roustabout.”

The Ringling Brothers Circus traveled from town to town in small caravans led by animals until it became so large that it required a train. Setting aside the travel restrictions of World War II, President Roosevelt made a special declaration that allowed circuses to use the rail system.

At age 18, Clyde Beatty left the family farm in Ohio on a one day “city visit” to see a real circus. In l92l he left his life on the farm for good and began working for the circus as an animal groom. By his second year on the road, Clyde was assigned a small polar bear act to train for the show. Acclaimed for his expertise with animals, by 1944 he formed his own Clyde Beatty Circus.

In 1955 Dave Cavagnero lost his wife Nellie. That year, Cathy Mathews was six years old, and her mother Lucille   brought her to see the Clyde Beatty Circus at the Napa Fairgrounds. Cathy remembers: “The trapeze artists came out in those big showy costumes. I was very impressed. Clyde Beatty had this whip that he snapped in the air at the lions and tigers…the smells of sawdust, peanuts and popcorn.” Dave Cavagnero must have been working backstage, and Andrew Clerici might have brought his own children to the Big Top that day.

In the Fifties, Rough Rider was still flourishing, shipping American made clothing to people all over the country. Sawyer tannery was still selling baseball mitts, although as Japan began competing with American manufacturers Sawyers was forced to switch to making shoe leather. Pete Manasse would work at Sawyer’s until cheap imports began destroying the American leather industry a quarter century later.  All of these people were alive here, together in the Fifties, in a town that was by then home to 14,000 souls, some of them surviving long enough to find their names in this very story. The circus trains are gone. and today, Ringling Brothers performs once a year in Oakland or Sacramento.

Local History – September 2010

Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Local History September 2010

Rediscovering Robert Louis Stevenson
By Lauren Coodley

I have loved the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson since I grew up hearing them sung on an LP record. Decades later, I recited them with my own children. Thus, the brief intersection of Stevenson’s life with that of the Napa Valley is of great interest to me, and I finally had a chance to visit the exquisite museum about his life in St Helena. Robert Louis Stevenson was born in 1850. He had a Victorian childhood: in that era, boys played with tea sets and dolls, which are preserved at the museum, along with his lead soldiers. His nursemaid didn’t cut his hair until he was four and a half years old; that first haircut is also preserved at the museum, along with a curl of hair from that nursemaid, Alison Cunningham, to whom he would later dedicate A Child’s Garden of Verses.

Stevenson’s father, Thomas , was a civil engineer, specializing in the development of new light apparatuses for Scotland’s many lighthouses. Stevenson dedicated his Familiar Studies of Men and Books “To Thomas Stevenson, civil engineer, by whose devices the great sea lights in every quarter of the world now shine more brightly, this volume is in love and gratitude dedicated by his son the author.” His mother, Margaret Balfour Stevenson, kept a journal of her child’s doings, his games and toys. Elizabeth Waterston explains why:

The blocks and the toy boat, the storybooks and picture-books and the pretend tools, the chisel and hammer of “My Treasures,” all reflect modish “Froebelianism.” Friedrich Froebel had convinced mid-century parents that all children should be offered “gifts” in simple shapes, that they should be entertained with nursery rhymes, traditional folk songs, and taught crafts such as simple weaving, and digging and planting. “Kindergarten” is an innocuous word to us today. In 1850, when Stevenson was born, it was a term fraught with controversy. Froebel, a German educator, wrote that children should be treated like little flowers. Not as little beings born in sin, to be trained and directed with an unsparing rod toward adulthood: childhood should be a time of gentle growth toward happy and sociable maturity.

In l876, as a young man, Stevenson travelled to Paris and met a married American woman and mother of three, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Alhough they were ten years apart in age, the two became friends and, eventually, more. By 1877 they were romantically involved. In August 1879 Fanny returned to Oakland to obtain a divorce and Stevenson sailed from Scotland for America in hopes of persuading Fanny Osbourne to marry him. Though he considered the voyage a romantic adventure, Stevenson’s friends were opposed to it on the grounds that it would affect his fragile health and further alienate him from his parents. He travelled by steamship to New York, and on to California on an immigrant train, becoming more ill with each mile (he wrote Amateur Immigrant based on this experience). Robert and Fanny did marry—and when his family found out, they cut off his trust fund.

The couple travelled here in l880, for what writer MFK Fisher describes as a few “poignant and enchanted months in the Northern California valley named Napa by its vanished Indians.” In his memoir of their visit, Stevenson offers a rare picture of the Napa Valley in the late l9th century:

Bucks, bears and rattlesnakes and former mining operations, are the staple of men’s talk. Agriculture has only begun to mount above the valley and though in a few years from now the whole district may be smiling with farms, passing trains shaking the mountain to the heart, many windowed hotels lighting up the night like factories, and a prosperous city occupying the site of sleepy Calistoga; yet in the meantime, around the foot of that mountain the silence of nature reigns in a great measure unbroken.

To reach Mt St Helena from San Francisco, the traveller has twice to cross the Bay: once by the busy Oakland ferry, and again, after an hour or so of the railway, from Vallejo Junction to Vallejo. Thence he takes rail once more to mount the long green strath of Napa Valley….for some way beyond Vallejo the railway led us through bald green pastures but by and by these hills began to draw nearer on either hand, and first thicket and then wood began to clothe their sides; and soon we were away from all signs of the sea’s neighborhood, mounting an inland, irrigated valley. A great variety of oaks stood, now severally, now in a becoming grove, among the fields and vineyards. The towns were compact, in about equal proportions of bright new wooden houses and great and growing forest trees; and the chapel bell on the engine sounded most festally that sunny Sunday, as we drew up at one green town after another, with the townsfolk trooping in their Sunday’s best to see the strangers, with sun sparkling on the clean houses, and great domes of foliage humming overhead in the breeze…at Calistoga the railroad ceases, and the traveller who intends faring farther must cross the spurs of the mountain by stage.

With determination to overcome the daunting challenge of renovating an abandoned bunkhouse high up on Mt St Helena, they were delivered by that stagecoach to their new home on the mountain. Fanny mended the bunkhouse while he wrote. The parents relented, the Stevensons returned to the British Isles, and Robert Louis Stevenson wrote –first Treasure Island (1883) and then A Child’s Garden of Verses (1885). About this book, Elizabeth Waterston writes:

It is a book for children too young to express an opinion of its charms; but many of us re-open it as adults to discover just how deeply it has sunk into our pores. Poem after poem chants itself: “I have a little shadow…,” “The friendly cow, all red and white…,” “The world is so full of a number of things….The treasures in A Child’s Garden of Verses, in their lyric clarity, their whimsy and rhythmic excitement, offer great pleasure to the very young child, and to the adult who must act as mediator for this preliterate being. The poems recall exactly the earliest responses to language: the delight in reiteration, the pleasure at new words “The Swing,” for instance, catches the child’s fondness for repetition: “Up in the air and over the wall up in, the air and down” — that last phrase adding the joy of antithesis and surprise.

Within this beautiful collection, we can sense glimpses of Stevenson’s travels to this valley. This poem calls forth visions of cherry trees (grown plentifully in the l9th century in this “foreign land”), along with a “dimpling river” that goes out to the sea:

Up into the cherry tree
Who should climb but little me?
I held the trunk with both my hands
And looked abroad in foreign lands.
I saw the next door garden lie,
Adorned with flowers, before my eye,
And many pleasant places more
That I had never seen before.
I saw the dimpling river pass
And be the sky’s blue looking-glass;
The dusty roads go up and down
With people tramping in to town.
If I could find a higher tree
Farther and farther I should see
To where the grown-up river slips
Into the sea among the ships,
To where the road on either hand
Lead onward into fairy land,
Where all the children dine at five
And all the playthings come alive.

Citations: Introduction MFK Fisher, Napa Wine, chapter from Silverado Squatters, copyright James Beard, 1965. Robert Louis Stevenson, Silverado Squatters, first published in Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, November-December 1883, published by Silverado Museum, St Helena, Lewis Osborne, l974. Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child’s Garden of Verses, l885. Wordsworth Editions Ltd; New Ed edition, 1994
Arthur Orton, Reconstructing the Robert Louis Stevenson Silverado Squatters Cabin, 1980, is a fascinating brochure with illustrations by the author based on Stevenson’s memoir, and available at the museum. Transactions of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts, Vol. VIII, 1870-71. Edinburgh, Neill and Company, 1871. Elizabeth Waterston, 1999: “Going for Eternity: A Child’s Garden of Verse,” Canadian Children’s Literature, 96: 25,4.

The Robert Louis Stevenson Museum is located next door to the St Helena Library, call 963-3757 or