Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine History Article February 2009.
History Isn’t Always Taught Properly: The Legacy Of Ivy Loeber
By Lauren Coodley and Lauren Ellsworth
The young Ivy Loeber, as many students today, “positively abhorred history,” but she became one of Napa’s finest historians and advocates for history. As Miss Loeber told a reporter for the Sacramento Bee, “It all started when Charles White of Calistoga asked me to serve as chairman of a research committee in Napa County for the state centennial celebration in 1945.” Finding a new passion at the age of 65, she would profoundly impact how Napa perceived and maintained its history. In l948, she was a founding member of the Napa County Historical Society, begun with eighteen citizens at the Plaza Hotel in l948. As part of a pioneer picnic at the Old Bale Mill in May of l948, she helped conceive the Napa County Historical Society, which was incorporated a few days later at the Plaza Hotel in Napa.
It was Ivy Loeber’s work ethic and vision for what history could mean for everyday people that inspired her fellow citizens. Editor of the Register Ross Game wrote:
You have brought so much leadership and enjoyment to so many people through the years, and you have made history a living thing for so many, that any contact anyone has been fortunate enough to have with you, will long be remembered.
When Loeber entered the field of local history, it may have been with memories of her own youth and how disinterested she was in history—despite the fact that her own connection to Napa was so rich. Her assessment of why young people aren’t interested in history has a special resonance: “As I see it- -history isn’t always taught properly in the classroom. There should be more emphasis on local history, on the romance of the past that’s closest to home.”
Loeber’s grandfather, Calvin Griffith, arrived in the Napa Valley in 1845, when it was still Mexican territory. Like most local men, he left town during the Gold Rush Days and, as Miss Loeber put it, returned “when he realized he could get more gold out of his farm than from the hills.” While her mother grew up in Napa, her father came to Napa from Baltimore. They married and started a family. Ivy was born in l880. At age fifteen, Ivy moved with her family back to Baltimore: She told interviewer Jerry Cornell: “My father said he was raising three tomboys and he had to take them East so that they could become ladies.” In the Nineteenth Century, “ladies” were distinguished from other women by their purity, piety, and domesticity.
From the time she was 16, Ivy Loeber taught Sunday school, resulting in 23 godchildren—“all ages, colors, and sexes.” There is much to be learned about Loeber’s life before her return to Napa County. During World War II, she presided over the Women’s Improvement Club and worked for the Red Cross. She also chaired the Well Baby Conference and quietly helped the poor to get access to used clothing.
After the founding of the Historical Society, Ivy Loeber spoke about California history all over the state; in San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, Shasta, and Sutter counties. As she told Jerry Cornell, “My job is to stimulate an interest in area history so that our youth will appreciate their heritage and understand its connection and influence with the present and future.”
The Solano County Historical Society began “when an organizational meeting under the direction of Miss Ivy Loeber of St. Helena, president of the Napa County Historical Society and a regional vice president of the Conference of California Societies, was held at the old County Library in Fairfield.” Eventually, Loeber was also involved in the Conference of California Historical Societies, served as state chairman of history and landmarks for the California Federated Women’s Clubs and, finally, played a major role in the Bale Mill’s preservation and success as a historic site, which was achieved in l972.
The park, the site of a water-powered grist mill that was built in 1846, was once the center of social activity as Napa Valley settlers gathered to have their corn and wheat ground into meal or flour. The owner of the mill, Dr. Edward Turner Bale, had received the property in a land grant from the Mexican government and lived near the site until his death in 1849. The slow turning of the old grindstones and the dampness of the mill’s site gave the meal a special quality for making cornbread, shortening bread and spoon bread. According to the California State Parks website: “As old timers put it, “When meal comes to you that way, like the heated underside of a settin’ hen, it bakes bread that makes city bread taste like cardboard.” Undoubtedly, the taste of that bread helped inspire Ivy Loeber’s crusade on behalf of local history.
“Ivy Loeber, Historian” Positive Living, Spring 1998.
“Ivy Loeber—First Lady of St. Helena” An Interview. St. Helena Star, n.d.
Cornell, Jerry. “In The Spotlight: Ivy Loeber’s Name Synonymous With Napa Valley Historical Studies” Napa Register. Aug 5, 1959.
“Valley History Her Specialty” Napa Register, 1968.
Game, Ross. “An Open Letter To Miss Ivy Loeber” Napa Register. Dec 5, 1968.
“Descendant of Napa Pioneers is Historical Chairman for CFWC” Sacramento Bee. Jan 30, 1961.
With Ralph Cross and Anne Roller Isler, Anne Roller, Biographical Sketch of Mary Frances Lawley Patten: Lake Berryessa
Loeber, Ivy, Report of Trip to Identify the Battlefield of Soscol Indians and White in l836, l962
History of St. Helena: A century of progress: Napa County Historical Association, 1955
With Jess Doud, “The Good Old Days,” St Helena Star 1967-1974
The Legend of Spanish Mustard
“May I tell you a story? A true story ~ the story of the beautiful Spanish mustard, a golden carpet of which now practically covers the floor of Napa Valley; but not only of Napa Valley ~ all of the valleys of California that were visited by the early Spanish Padres. “This is the story of our early California when it was only a wilderness, with great quantities of trees, beautiful plains, all kinds of wild animals and birds; many, many Indians, and no white men at all.
“Father Serra had come from Spain to Mexico to spread the religion of Jesus Christ, and hearing about this beautiful, vast country to the north, decided to explore it. With a few faithful followers and Indian guides, he traveled north through what is now our glorious and loved California. As he traveled he scattered to the right, and to the left, the mustard seeds which he had brought with him from Spain.
“The following year, as they returned south they followed ‘a ribbon of gold;’ and following that path again Father Serra established his ‘Rosary of Missions,’ beginning in San Diego and ending in Sonoma.
“So wherever you see the Spanish mustard in California you know the Spanish fathers visited there. This is the early California legend as told to me by my Grandfather, whose father told it to him.”
Provided by the Napa County Historical Society, as told to Ivy May Loeber by her grandfather, Calvin Chesterfield Griffith, Napa County pioneer, and authenticated by Edwin Markhom.