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.

Susanne Salvestrin Memorial Lecture #4

Open House and Launch of History of Firefighting Exhibit

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 is SHHS's annual membership meeting.
  • Look forward to wine and bites and opportunity to gather together with our community.
  • Art Carr will be 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.

The Susanne Salvestrin Memorial Lecture Series

Lecture #3: The Yorks, Their Descendants and the Stories They Tell

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

March 16 @ 7:00pm. A Zoom event

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 California Native Americans

Presenter: Author and Scholar Ralph Shanks

February 16 @ 7:00pm. A Zoom event

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.

SHHS california native baskets

Lecture #1: Napa: County of Stone Bridges

We’re excited to be kicking off 2022 and 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. A Zoom event

Presented by: Mariam Hansen, SHHS Research Director

The Historical Society's popular lectures are now held in our Heritage Center, 1255 Oak Avenue

Previous programs include:

  • Tony Quinn discussed the influence of the Italian-Swiss winemakers on the St. Helena area.
  • Clint McKay talked about the Native American influence in Napa Valley.
  • Historian Jay Greene explored how purposes of governance change because of actions resulting from major shifts in political, social, and religious ideas and beliefs. He wove a historical tapestry based on the successes and failures of the American, French, Russian Revolutions and the Spanish Civil War.
  • Historian and painter Lin Weber presented a talk and slideshow on several local notable women who influenced the development of Napa Valley and, sometimes, the world.
  • Pacific Legacy archaeologists described their findings from an extensive archaeological dig near the confluence of the Napa River and Sulphur Creek done as part of the Napa Valley Flood Control Project.
  • Todd Shulman, Napa detective and founder of the Napa Police Historical Society, presented “Murder & Mayhem in the Napa Valley,”a slide show and lecture about researching the frontier justice, lawlessness and cold cases that still haunt the Napa Valley.

Watch Our Lectures on the SHHS YouTube Channel

We have a new YouTube channel where you can watch many of the 2021 lectures from our Susanne Salvestrin Memorial Lecture Series. Watch videos on the Mexican Land Grants, the Bale grist mill, Chinese immigrants in Napa County and Italian-Swiss immigrants. Open a browser and key in "St. Helena Historical Society Lecture Series". To subscribe, you'll need to create an account, sign in and click on the "Subscribe" button.

SHHS braceros arrive in stockton
SHHS Open House and launch of History of firefighting exhibit
SHHS John York at the Bale Grist Mill
SHHS Pope St Bridge 1907
The Pope Street Bridge 1907

Spirits of St. Helena Discovery Cemetery Walk

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 BrunAdrien ChaixHenry PelletGermain Crochatplus 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.

Jean Brun - French winemaker in St. Helena

Jean Brun, one of several French and Swiss winemakers who brought their culture to St. Helena over 150 years ago.



St. Helena High drama students re-enact history in several scenes at the 2018 Cemetery Walk.
Our 2019 poster features an image of Emma Roxanne Davis, from the Money family.
Each year's Museum for Day event gives us a glimpse into a different aspect of of St. Helena history.

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.

"Gleaners" by Christine Olivo, to be auctioned at the event.

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.