Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Eco-Touring” March 2008.
St. Helena – End to End
Ramblin’ On by the Napa Nomad, Eco-excursions in the Napa Valley
By Arvis Northrop
If you’ve ever been to St. Helena, you know how pleasant it can be to take a stroll along Main Street and enjoy the ambiance of this charming town with its historic architecture and special shops. I’ve been known to drool in front of Foot Candy’s display on more than one occasion! That’s mostly what the tourists see, but we know there is more than immediately meets the eye. Recently I was informed of five historic stone bridges from one end of St. Helena to the other. Which is “one end” of town and what is “the other”? Well, I mapped out a way to see these five stone bridges in one easy, not-too-long walk or bike ride through town. So how far is this stroll going to be? I figure a two- to three- mile walk, one way, is not so bad for most active and even semi-active folks. For a bike rider, it’s a cinch. For the return, you can hop on the #10 Vine bus to get you back where you started, or all the way back to points south of St. Helena.
Of course there are also a number of great restaurants and cafes to stop into for a well-earned lunch or snack after your expedition!
Begin at the largest and most visible stone bridge that crosses the Napa River at Silverado Trail and Pope Street: the “Pope Street Bridge”, built in 1894. It’s easy to pull over and park on Pope Street and there is a small wedge of a green, grassy park right next to the bridge. From the park you can get a good look at this bridge’s impressive masonry. Let’s see: in 1894 there were still horse-drawn buggies clip-clopping across this bridge, just on the verge of Henry Ford’s automotive revolution. Later, in less than twenty years, small but mighty Model A’s were be-boppin’ along and today it’s, “watch out for that SUV!” These bridges are quaint, but narrow! I love to fantasize my own version of time travel, but onward for the treasure hunt of stone bridges.
Continuing on Pope Street, about half a mile, you’ll find a trail that meanders through Jacob Meiley Park. Take this to a modern pedestrian bridge and proceed to Chiles Avenue which will bring you to the north side of the second Pope Street stone bridge. Double back down Pope Street to get a look at this one, built in 1908. The bridge spans Sulphur Creek and on one side you’ll see a rugged, old red barn and a huge oak tree creating one of the most picturesque scenes in town.
From Pope Street and Chiles Avenue, walk a couple of blocks up to Main Street and turn right, heading north. In less than a mile, turn left onto Madrona Avenue, going west. Madrona Avenue is a wonderful walk all on its own. I recommend a leisurely stroll up this street some time to enjoy the view along vineyards and the lovely old-fashioned neighborhoods of St. Helena. But to seek out the stone bridges, go just two blocks from Main Street and turn right onto Spring Mountain Road. The first bridge is about a half-mile up the road and the second is just a half-mile farther. Both of these bridges were built in 1902 and are hard to discover when zipping by in a car. They are at street level, with low sides. The stonework is pitted and rough, in contrast to the lush green tufts of moss that are scattered over the tops and sides. Unruly vines from the banks of York Creek clamber up and over, taking possession of the bridge’s old stone walls.
So far this excursion has revealed four stone bridges, easy to walk to. The fifth bridge of this journey is just around the corner! Go back down Spring Mountain Road, left on Madrona and back to Main Street. Turn left and go just three tenths of a mile to Pratt Avenue. Now, how could anyone miss this beautiful bridge? This bridge proudly displays the history and splendor of St. Helena with large, antique lamp posts on each side. Travelers coming south and entering St. Helena are welcomed with the famous charisma of the town. At a final departure out of town, this elegant bridge sends you on your way through the canopy of trees covering Highway 29 and the glimpses of majestic wineries all along the way.
The stone bridges of St. Helena and throughout the Napa Valley are stalwart landmarks of the early industry and population of this area. How much longer will they endure? Many residents of Napa Valley love their history and beauty. If you would like to learn more about the stone bridges, there is an excellent opportunity coming soon! The non-profit organization, Friends of the Napa River, is hosting Al Edmister’s slide presentation of Napa Valley’s stone bridges at their headquarters, 68 S. Coombs St. in Napa on Tuesday, March 18th from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Edmister is a local historian, photographer and expert on the stone bridges.