The Susanne Salvestrin Memorial Lecture Series
Lecture #9: Congressman Mike Thompson: "Growing Up in St. Helena"
Nov. 2, 2022 at 7:00pm
The St. Helena Historical Society hosted Congressman Mike Thompson on November 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
Lecture #8: The Pioneer Families of St. Helena: The Chaix Family
Sept. 14, 2022, 7:00pm | 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.
Spirits of St. Helena Cemetery Discovery Walk
October 9, 2022 | Tours at 1:00 and 2:30
After a two-year Covid hiatus, the cemetery tour has returned! We partnered with the St. Helena High School Drama students to reenact scenes from the lives of Italian and Italian-Swiss settlers with familiar St. Helena family names, including Forni, Rossi, Pestoni and Mondavi. We've included some photos of the event.
A New Exhibit Celebrating Napa Valley's Hispanic Culture: Hilos Visibles/Visible Threads
October 16, 2022, Heritage Center Museum
The St. Helena Historical Society is partnering with the Napa County Historical Society to present a new exhibit, Visible Threads. Students and other groups have created quilt squares that tell their immigration stories or what it means to be Hispanic in Napa Valley. The quilt squares can be about a person, a place or a thing that provides inspiration. With themes of family, unity, country, ancestors, faith and love, the art "untangles the invisible threads that tie us all together to make visible the individual stories of our community," quilt artist Arlene Correa Valencia.
Hilos Visible is a county-wide project
It includes contributions from students and other groups who are telling their stories with quilt kits that are available at local libraries. The exhibit will be on display at both the Heritage Center Museum in St. Helena and the Napa County Historical Society through March 2022. For SHHS, part of Hilos Visible will become part of our permanent exhibit showcasing the importance of the Hispanic culture in the Napa Valley.
A mariachi band helped launch the opening of the Hilos Visible exhibit.
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.
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.
Historic Marker Dedication of the Birthplace of St. Helena
June 11, 2022 • 10:04am
Mariam Hansen, SHHS Research Director; Archie Eckles, E. Clampus Vitus; Anna Chouteau, City Council; Jay Smith, Owner, Sunshine Foods; and Stephen Taplin, SHHS President dedicated the birthplace of St. Helena!
The fraternal historic preservation group E Clampus Vitus Sam Brannan Chapter #1004 and St. Helena Historical Society installed a plaque adjacent to the Sunshine Foods parking lot marking the birthplace of St. Helena.
St. Helena was founded when Henry Still and Charles Walters bought 126 acres from Maria Soberanes de Bale, the deed recorded in 1854. The first buildings were built on the west side of the intersection of the county road and the road to Pope Valley.
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.
Lecture #4: Open House and Launch of History of Firefighting Exhibit and Lecture
May 1, 2022, at the Heritage Center
The History of Firefighting in St. Helena, with a presentation by longtime volunteer fireman Art Carr
- This event was SHHS's annual membership meeting.
- Wine and bites and opportunity to gather together with our community.
- Art Carr was the presenter, sharing anecdotes along with his collection of artifacts, including helmets that date back to the late 1800s.
Being able to respond to fires and building a fire department were important parts of the town's infrastructure
The first hose cart was purchased and arrived in the fall of 1878 and housed on Spring Street. A group of businessmen donated funds to purchase a fire bell which was installed in a 20-foot tower in front of company headquarters. The bell rang every night at 7:45.
By 1881, fire assets included a one hose-cart, six hundred feet of hose, hooks, ladders, lanterns, axes, etc. The Company numbered twenty-two members. There were ten (10) hydrants, and the head of water was strong enough to force a stream over the highest building in town. Hydrants were located six on Main Street, two on Spring and one on Charter Oak.
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!
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.
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
Annual Spirits of St. Helena Cemetery Tour
Vive le Vin: French Winemakers at St. Helena Cemetery, September 2019
- Our guided walks through the cemetery begin at 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm
- Feature actors from St. Helena High School Drama Department
- Each tour visits selected grave sites
“This event paid homage to the French who brought their culture to St. Helena more than 150 years ago. Winemakers on the tour included Jean Brun, Adrien Chaix, Henry Pellet, Germain Crochat, plus others who made a difference but were long forgotten,” explained Mariam Hansen, Research Director for the St. Helena Historical Society. Participants learned life in St. Helena and the contributions of these immigrants to the development of St. Helena.
2019 marked 163 years since the first burial at St. Helena Cemetery. Our annual Spirits of St. Helena Cemetery Tour celebrates the listing of St. Helena Public Cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places.
Museum for a Day
Founding Families of Napa Valley
There are many multigenerational families that live in St. Helena. They are born here, grow up, marry and come back to raise their families right here in St Helena. In 2019, the Bedolla, Lincoln, MacDonald, McCormick, and Money families shared their family’s stories with us.
These are the histories of the Bedolla, Lincoln, MacDonald, McCormick, and Money families.
In 2017, the biannual event honored Hispanic families who have shaped the culture and history of St. Helena. Besides the family displays, attendees were entertained by Ballet Zenoalxochiti dancers and the Gastelum Family Band.
History Becomes Art
St. Helena Historical Society’s third annual History Becomes Art fundraiser was a tremendous success, thanks to artist participation and turnout from our community.
What: Original Art Auction with Devon Bell
When: A Saturday afternoon in March 2019, from 1:00-4:00
Where: The Gallery at Brasswood Estate
What made this event special: Artisan hors d’oeuvres , live music, Local wine from Brasswood and other vintners
Help us raise funds to establish a permanent home for our collection. With such a facility, the public will be able to learn about the history of our area and enjoy some of the amazing historical artifacts that have been so generously donated to us over SHHS' 20 years.
St. Helena is known primarily as the center of the Napa Valley wine industry. That aspect of our heritage is a great source of pride and is well documented. It represents one aspect of our multifaceted history. The land upon which our heritage stone buildings and cottage-lined neighborhoods rest hosted a parade of pioneer-spirited populations from all over the globe drawn here by the richness of the land. The downtown core of St. Helena is a National Register Historic District. Many of the building’s historic exteriors reflect the commercial districts early days.
It is the rich diversity of heritage that the St. Helena Historical Society seeks to illuminate through our exhibits, educational programs, signature events, research services, oral history program and publications. We tell the stories that expose the impact of values held by our predecessors and inform the decisions we make today about our future.
The Historical Society is currently located in a newly leased and renovated space in the former Catholic Elementary School at 1255 Oak Avenue. This new Heritage Center houses office space, collections storage space, a permanent exhibit room, a rotating exhibit room, and a community lecture room. It is here that we have created a place to preserve, document and exhibit local history, provide a meeting place for local organizations and offer research facilities for local students and residents.
Stephen Taplin, President
Kathleen Coelingh, Vice President
Nancy Caffo, Secretary
John Sales, Treasurer
Memberships Kim Farmer
Research Mariam Hansen
Collections & Acquisitions