by Lisa Adams Walter
This year brought on a celebration in the Napa Valley that’s set to last throughout 2015: the Town of Yountville is celebrating its 50th Anniversary. Similar to the world-class hospitality for which the village is known, Yountville is set to celebrate in inimitable Napa Valley!
When pioneer George C. Yount settled in what is now Napa County nearly 185 years ago, it is doubtful that he realized what his legacy would be. One of the first white settlers in the area, he was the first U.S. citizen to obtain a Spanish land grant in Northern California, and what is now Napa County, from the Mexican government. Respectful of the Native Americans who originally inhabited his land, Yount named his parcel Caymus Rancho after the tribe.
Among other firsts, Yount was the first to plant grapevines in the Napa Valley. He also built a large, water-powered flour mill that was called the “Star of the Pacific Premium Mill.” Originally, Yount named the tiny settlement within his grant “Sebastopol.” However, because there was another town with that name not too far away, soon after he passed away in 1865, the townspeople renamed the place he founded “Yountville” in 1867. Later in the 1860s, when a railroad was built in the Napa Valley, an increasing number of people became aware of Yountville. The site was very attractive to Gottleib Groezinger who bought a 20-acre parcel from the Yount estate and built a large complex that included a winery and distillery. The buildings remain as V-Marketplace (locals refer to it as Vintage 1870) which is still the bustling centerpiece of the town.
In 1884, right around the time of the peace agreement that ended the Civil War, the Veterans Home of California (now the largest in the state) was founded in Yountville on land adjacent to what was originally Yount’s grant.
A full century passed after Yount’s death, before the town was officially incorporated on February 4, 1965, fifty years ago. I spent many days of my childhood exploring Yountville with one of my best friends, who lived on Yount Street. There were more local bars than restaurants, we’d peruse Vintage 1870 and sample tastes from The Chutney Kitchen, I don’t recall a winery tasting room within the limits of the town.
“Yountville was a just a roadside collection of taverns supporting the Veterans Home until the locals decided to incorporate. That decision and subsequent improvements marked the beginning of the lovely town we, and thousands of tourists, enjoy each year,” said John Holt, an Anniversary Celebration Committee Member.
Still, with the rapid changes of the last twenty to thirty years, Yountville has maintained a sense of authenticity, and definitely its own charm. Today, less than 3,000 residents, many of whom live at the Veterans Home, inhabit the town which is quite likely one of the friendliest and happiest places on the planet. As the Napa Valley has evolved into a world-class destination, Yountville has been on the forefront of that evolution creating a peaceful, and elegant place to live, work and explore.
Yountville Town Council Member Margie Mohler and Anniversary Celebration Committee Member who moved to the town in 1999 said, “What is special to me about Yountville is the community spirit and the common feelings that we all live in a special place where neighbors are more like family and care for each other.”
Another celebration committee member, Napa Valley Museum Executive Director Kristie Sheppard added, “The 50th anniversary is a huge milestone for the town and a reminder that our rich history isn’t that old. It’s amazing to see how Yountville has changed over the past 50 years, more than 150 years since the town was first settled by Americans.”
The Yountville 50th Anniversary Celebration kicks off on February 4 at 5:00 p.m. with a free event at the intersection of Washington and Yount Streets that will feature an aerial photograph of locals that live and work in the town, as well as a celebratory toast and treats.
Other festivities planned for the year include a theatrical presentation of Yountville’s history by students of Yountville Elementary School during Yountville Days, a summertime White August Night, the installation of a pair of one-ton, quartz grindstones from George Yount’s mill near the Yountville Community Center and a historical film series.
“The significance of our 50th anniversary is that a group of people came together fifty years ago and wanted a better place to live – a place safe for the children and a place of which everyone could be proud,” Mohler added, “I think somehow we all continue to be part of Yount’s spirit – he was referred to as the ‘kindly host of Caymus Rancho’ – and we kindly welcome friends, new neighbors, and guests who come to visit our town.”
As a resident of Yountville, I agree. Indeed, George Yount would be proud.