The Susanne Salvestrin Memorial Lecture Series

Lecture #2, 2024: Gabriel Moraga: The North Bay's Unknown ExplorerSHHS Moraga

April 3, 2024 @ 4:00pm

Gabriel Moraga was a Spanish Army officer known for exploring the Central Valley in the early 19th century. His travels took him deep into the interior of California as far as the Sierra Nevada. Yet few people know about his reconnaissance missions to the North Bay. Learn more about this soldier-diplomat, his encounters with Native people, Yankee sailors, and Russian colonists, and how he affected the region.

In addition:

  • The town of Moraga is named for his son, Joaquín Moraga, whose adobe is still there.
  • He is responsible for naming a number of important California landmarks, including the San Joaquín River, the Sacramento River and the Merced River.
  • His explorations led to founding missions north of the San Francisco Bay: San Raphael and San Francisco Solano.
  • He established trade between Fort Ross and the San Francisco Presidio.

About Dr. BacichSHHS Damien Bacich

As a college student, Damian Bacich worked at the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park, where he developed a love for California history. As Professor of Spanish-American Literature and Culture at San José State University, he specializes in researching the history and culture of pre-statehood California, especially its Spanish and Mexican periods. Damian has a Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literatures from UCLA and is the founder of the California Frontier Project (www.californiafrontier. net).

At the Heritage Center Museum | 1255 Oak Avenue 

Lecture #1, 2024

Pioneer Families: The Taplin Family

March 13, 2024 @ 4:00pm

Dr. Stephen Taplin will be our featured speaker, talking about the fascinating story of his family's journey to the Napa Valley.
Stephen is a descendant of two historic families: The Taplins and the Lewellings. The Taplin family property is part of the Lewelling estate south of St Helena; it's the oldest continuously held and farmed property in the Napa Valley.
‎SHHS taplins on bikes.‎1
Stephen's grandfather and grandmother are on the left and his great uncle and aunt are on the right. His uncle Lester and his grandmother were Lewellings
Stephen is the 10th generation of Taplins in the US
The Taplins in St. Helena begins with John Orange Taplin, a dairy farmer. His great-great-great grandfather immigrated from England and was granted land in Vermont. John Orange moved his dairy west for the Gold Rush, settling first in San Francisco and then along the Silverado Trail in St. Helena (1871). He died of tuberculosis but his wife and sons took over the farm.
At the Heritage Center Museum | 1255 Oak Avenue 

Lecture #5, 2023

Bandits, Bars and Bordellos

November 15, 2023 @ 4:00pm

The Readers Theater will be bringing Napa Valley’s history to life in an St Helena historical society readers theater in novemberoriginal production of "Bandits, Bars and Bordellos”. Characters are based on both real people and fictitious characters who were part of the area’s history in the late 1800s.

According to longtime member Dianne Fraser, “You'll meet Buck English, a  slick robber who raised havoc with the stagecoaches carrying payroll to the mines during the gold rush. Sheriff Brownlee pursued a host of elusive criminals up and down the Valley. You’ll also meet two madams who competed for customers at their successful bordellos.” While most of the characters were real people, the group has embellished by adding some fictitious characters and details to enhance the narrative.

At the Heritage Center Museum | 1255 Oak Avenue 

Guest Lecture with RLS Museum

Robert Louis Stevenson's Napa Valley

With SHHS Research Director Mariam Hansen

May 10, 2023 @ 5:00pm

Admission is free • At the RLSM

SHHS Stevensons Napa Valley according to Mariam Hansen


Lecture #3, 2023:

The Rise of Napa Valley Wineries: How the Judgment of Paris Put California Wine on the Map

With Dr. Mark Gudgel

May 17, 2023 

Dr. Gudgel talked about his new book

SHHS: Dr. Gudgel will talk about his new book about the Judgment of Paris

Dr. Mark Gudgel will talk about his new back that tells the story of the Judgment of Paris

In 1976, Napa wines were little known to those who lived outside the area. All that changed in 1976 when Napa wines bested those of France in a blind wine-tasting event.

Since then, the growth of the Napa Valley wine region has been explosive and is now one of the greatest wine-producing regions in the world. This story is the stuff of legends. Dr. Mark Gudgel unpacks these legends in The Rise of Napa Valley Wineries: How the Judgment of Paris put California Wine on the Map.

A picture containing person, person, outdoor, wearing Description automatically generatedAbout the author: Dr. Mark Gudgel

Dr. Mark Gudgel is a Nebraska native. He has an Ed.D. in Character Education, is the author of numerous books and articles, and is a regular contributor to several periodicals. His book, Think Higher Feel Deeper: Holocaust Education in the Secondary Classroom, was released from Teachers College Press in 2021.

At the Heritage Center Museum | 1255 Oak Avenue 

Listen to this program on our YouTube channel.

SHHS Judgment of paris when Napa Valley Wines became recognized

Lecture #2, 2023:

Napa Valley's Pioneer Women of Diversity and Influence

Featuring local historian Rebecca Yerger

March 16, 2023 

Rebecca Yerger will be discussing some of the remarkable pioneer women of St. Helena.

It all began with the Wappos. The area's Native Americans date back some 10,000 years. In addition to the Hispanic immigrants who came to the Napa Valley and shared their dynamic culture, there were African Americans and the Chinese, a labor force that worked in vineyards, quicksilver mines, hop farms, leather tanneries, laundries and helped build the railroads--ultimately driven out by discrimination.

SHHS Laura Somersall, minority women of napa valley

Laura Somersall, famous Wappo basket maker, lecturer, teacher and linguist. Photo courtesy of courtesy of Bellacana Vineyards

Yerger talked about the influence of Laura Somersall, a famous Wappo-Pomo basket maker, teacher, lecturer and linguist. She’ll talk about Eva Jennings, an African American who was St. Helena’s 1975 Citizen of the Year.

Emma Eels, another of these remarkable women, was one of the owners of Callustro Corporation. Callustro manufactured household cleaning products made from a refined, sand-based native stone. In the 1880s the widowed Emma Eels purchased 108 acres of UpValley property and the company planned to take on rival brand cleansers Old Dutch and Sapolio.

At the Heritage Center Museum | 1255 Oak Avenue 

Listen to this program on our YouTube channel.

Lecture #1, 2023: Chinese in Napa Valley: The Forgotten Community That Built Napa Valley

January 25, 2023

The Chinese were an important labor force in the Napa Valley’s SHHS: The Chinese in Napa Valley. Join us at 4pm on January 25 for our first program of the yearvineyards, quicksilver mines, hop farms, leather tanneries and laundries. At one time, more than 2000 residents lived here and started businesses to serve their community. 

The contributions to the economy and culture did little to deter discrimination. Anti-Chinese Leagues sprang up to harass and intimidate immigrants like Chan Wah Jack, who ran the successful Sang Lung store in Napa’s Chinatown. 

About the author, John McCormick. John McCormick is our presenter for this program. He's a fifth-generation Napa Valley resident.John McCormick grew up in Napa and is descended from five generations of Napa Valley residents. He received his bachelor’s in engineering from the University of California, Berkeley and his master’s in history from Harvard University.

An in-person event at the Heritage Center Museum, 1255 Oak Ave., St. Helena

Listen to John McCormick's presentation on our YouTube channel.

Lecture #9: Congressman Mike Thompson: "Growing Up in St. Helena"

Nov. 2, 2022

The St. Helena Historical Society hosted Congressman Mike Thompson on SHHS Mike Thompson will be talking about growing up in St. HelenaNovember 2 at 7:00pm at the Heritage Center Museum on 1255 Oak Avenue. Thompson, in the middle of a reelection campaign, took a night off to talk about “Growing Up in St. Helena”.

Mike shared the stage with Stephen Taplin, MD, former SHHS president. While Stephen left Napa Valley, pursued a career and came back to his hometown after 50 years, Thompson stayed right here in the community where he grew up.

Two families with deep roots in the Napa Valley

According to Taplin, “We've known each other since kindergarten. Both our families have deep roots in Napa Valley. I remember that he was a member of the Future Farmers of America, and he now owns and farms a small vineyard.  Mike was friendly and eager to participate in social activities. I think it is his friendly, calm style and hard work ethic that have contributed to his success as a legislator.”

Another in-person event at the Heritage Center Museum, 1255 Oak Ave., St. Helena

SHHS Congressman Mike thompson in dialog with stephen taplin, talking about growing up in St. Helena SHHS: Stephen Taplin talked with Congressman Mike Thompson about growing up in St. Helena

Shhs the chaix family of st helena

Lecture #8: The Pioneer Families of St. Helena: The Chaix Family

Sept. 14, 2022   |  The Heritage Center

Our deep dive into the history of St. Helena's pioneer families continues. Lois Day, a descendant of Jean Victor Chaix, talked about the influence of the Chaix family on the St. Helena area.

News about Napa Valley's winemaking potential had reached France
The Chaix brothers were born in Provence, France. Jean Chaix was a horticulturist who had heard about the rich soil and winemaking opportunities in the Napa Valley. He was just 23 when he set off for California. In 1874, he began working at Yountville's Gottleib Groezinger’s cellars (now Vintage 1870), “one of the most prosperous winemaking plants in the country.” It was here that he met his future partner, Jean Adolphe Brun. It was an auspicious pairing. Brun had winemaking experience, while Chaix, the horticulturist, had experience growing grapes.

Learn more about the Chaix Family on our YouTube channel

SHHS The lyman Family program on July 13 in St. Helena

Lecture #7: The Pioneer Families of St. Helena: The Lyman Family

July 13, 2022, 7:00pm

The Lyman family name is recognized today for Lyman Park, but the first Lyman, Right Reverend Theodore Benedict Lyman, owned 800 acres in Napa County in 1871. His son William W. Lyman took over and was a member of the German Social Club, whose building was on the site of Lyman Park until 1924. When the family donated the land to the City, it was named in his honor.

The Lyman Family program is available on our YouTube channel

SHHS the history of the cameo theater in st helena ca

Lecture #6: Cathy Buck & The History of The Cameo Theater

June 8, 2022, 7:00pm, at the Heritage Center

The Cameo. Despite new streaming media and distribution channels, there’s still a place for those who love the smell of popcorn and the full movie-theater experience. For the old timers among us, you'll be surprised how many times our local theater has changed ownership. Each regime change came with extensive renovation--one remodel included a loge section, another included seating for 400 people!

St. Helena’s movie theater history dates back to 1909
Joe Galewsky and Julius Goodman started the G & G Theater in St. Helena Turnverein Hall. It was a wooden building on land that later became Lyman Park. In 1915 the theater was renamed the “Liberty Theatre”, and it remained a center for silent films, community events and programs for decades, seamlessly transitioning to "talkies" and technicolor.

Watch "Cathy Buck & The History of The Cameo Theater" on our YouTube channel

SHHS Braceros arrive in St. Helena area

Lecture #5: The Braceros in the St. Helena Area

May 18, 2022, 7:00pm, at the Heritage Center

As local men went off to fight in WWII, it created an agricultural crisis, with no one to work in the fields and harvest the crops. A contract was signed between the United States and Mexico in August 1942, and a few hundred experienced Mexican agricultural laborers arrived in the Stockton area to harvest sugar beets.

They arrived by train, then were bussed to the Napa Valley. They're credited with saving the walnut, prune and grape harvests. The bracero program ultimately spread over most of the United States. By fall 1943, 700 braceros were working in the St. Helena area.

As the Braceros began building a life in the Napa Valley, they were also supporting their families back home

The hourly wage was 60 cents plus housing. Piece work, such as picking prunes by the box, was paid the prevailing wage. The braceros worked ten-hour days and were guaranteed employment 75 percent of the time.

The Braceros brought their families to join them, and like so many other ethnic groups, St. Helena became their home.

Watch this program on our YouTube channel.

SHHS John York at the Bale Grist Mill
John York at the Bale Grist Mill

Lecture #3: Pioneer Families of St. Helena

The Yorks, Their Descendants and the Stories They Tell

Speaker: Beth Fidiam Clark, Descendant of John and Lucinda York

March 16 @ 7:00pm. Zoom information to follow

Pioneers John and Lucinda Hudson York were among the first white people to arrive in Napa Valley in 1845. Ms. Clark’s lecture will trace the roots of the Yorks and the families into which they married. You’ll hear stories of their wagon-train journey over the Sierras, of having to totally dismantle and hoist the wagons over sheer mountain cliffs.

The Yorks were involved in the Bear Flag Rebellion

Lucinda York reportedly donated her petticoats to make the Bear Flag! The family also took part in the Civil War--an event that tore the family apart.

Our speaker, Beth Fidiam Clark, is a descendant of John and Lucinda York. She has researched the extended York family and authored a book titled “St. Helena Roots: The Palmers, Thompsons, and Yorks and the Families They Joined.”

Join us for our continuing series on the Pioneer Families

You'll be surprised by some of the other descendants of the York family here in Napa Valley!

Watch this program on our YouTube channel.

SHHS Lisa and Ralph Shanks
Ralph and Lisa Woo Shanks

Lecture #2: Basketry of the Wappo and Central California Native Americans

Presenter: Author and Scholar Ralph Shanks

February 16 @ 7:00pm. This will be a Zoom event. Zoom info to follow

Shanks is vice president of the Miwok Archaeological Preserve of Marin, and his wife Lisa Woo Shanks is the editor of the Basketry of California and Oregon Series. They are the authors of The North American Indian Travel Guide.

He is also the author of California Indian Baskets, illustrated with photographs of rare baskets from collections from the University of California, Harvard, the Smithsonian, the British Museum, Madrid's Museo de America, Royal Museum of Scotland, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Southwest Museum and other world-class museums and private collections.

Watch this program on our YouTube channel.

SHHS Pope St Bridge 1907
The Pope Street Bridge 1907

Lecture #1: Napa: County of Stone Bridges

We kicked off the Susanne Salvestrin Lecture Series with a presentation on Napa: County of Stone Bridges. Most of St. Helena's stone bridges built after the mid-1890s were replacements for old wooden spans. The stone bridges were notable for their low cost to build and maintain.

Immigrants brought their skills to their new home

Not surprisingly, it was an immigrant and famous stone builder, Scotsman Robert H. Pithie, who introduced the stone bridges to the Napa Valley. Pithie collaborated with another group of skilled immigrants, Italian stone masons, to build the Pope Street Bridge.

When: January 19 @ 7:30pm

Presented by: Mariam Hansen, SHHS Research Director