Western Trips

Western Trips

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

St Helena California

The founding of St Helena California had a lot to do with Mexican land grants. The Mexican government granted a large part of the upper Napa Valley to a doctor from England. The doctor, Edward T. Bale, was one of the many pioneers who arrived in Alta California during the early 1840’s. Dr. Bale then traded off sections of his very large land grant to American pioneers who arrived on the scene between 1844 and 1846. Many Americans were arriving in California at a time when Mexico was involved in a conflict with the U.S.

hotel st helena california
Hotel St Helena
 Americans Arrive in California
The Bear Flag Revolt was a result of this large American immigration into California at a sensitive time. The Bear Flag Revolt resulted in an attack on the Mexican headquarters in Sonoma. Not too long afterward California was annexed into the United States as a result of the peace agreement with Mexico. As we all know, the California Gold Rush which began very shortly the annexation changed things in the Golden State in a big way. In fact, California gained statehood in 1850, just a few short years after the American government took over the region.

Beautiful St. Helena California
Where St. Helena California is today was once the home of Native American people who were called the Onastis, which translates to the "outspoken ones." The Spaniards and the Mexicans after them called these people the "Wappo," The tribe was considered warlike and as such the name translate into "brave," or "handsome." 
The first settlers to the area were farmers. As early as the year 1860, some of these farmers determined that the soil was advantageous for growing grapes. Two men are considered the pioneers of the Napa Valley wine industry. These were Dr. George Beldon Crane and Charles Krug. Interestingly enough, the areas very first resort, White Sulphur Springs, opened in 1852. The wine industry grew considerably in the region and would not be seriously affected until January 1920.

St Helena California architecture
St. Helena California and several other wine country towns were able to keep their rural setting in place partly due to the  their location. During the age of stagecoaches, getting there was not the easiest thing to do,  mostly because of the hills. This kept the rural atmosphere intact for quite a long time. In fact, today you would still call it rural. There is no heavy industry in the area and therefore the population growth was slow. St. Helena was fortunate to keep hold of  it’s agricultural heritage and the rural character is kept that way today by design.

Prohibition and the Great Depression Years
Like the entire nation, in 1920 St’ Helena was affected by the passage of the 18th Amendment. If you’re growing grapes and selling wine, this was not a good thing. Despite the new law, Napa County and St. Helena continued to attract tourists. The road traffic to St’ Helena during the dry years to buy bootlegged wine was so large that little Highway 29 was considered the state’s second busiest road. When you look at a map of Napa Valley , you'll see that Hwy 29 is it's main artery. Prohibition lasted some thirteen years until the law was repealed. At that time however the nation was in the grip in what would become the Great Depression.

st helena main street
Main Street, St Helena
The Great Depression put a damper on the sale of premium wine and as a result St.’ Helena became more quiet and more rural. It actually lasted that way for several decades until the American wine industry took off again in the early 1970’s. During that decade Americans took to the road to enjoy the fine wines produced in and around St. Helena as well as the beautiful hills the general landscape and elegant architecture of the area. It has continued ever since.

Things to Do in St. Helena
It’s interesting to note that about 95 percent of the vineyards in St. Helena are family owned. Among the many events going on each year in St. Helena is the Easter Egg Hunt, free summer outdoor concerts, the Harvest Festival Pet Parade and the very popular Annual Wine Auction put on by the Napa Valley Vinters Association. St Helena Wineries are fun to visit.

The Charles Krug Winery, established in 1861 by this Prussian immigrant, is the oldest winery in Napa Valley. Krug made his first commercial wine in the town of Napa in 1858. Charles Krug became the major local winery figure in Napa Valley of his era. He influenced Napa Valley's development as a world renown wine producing region.

shopping in st helena california
Shops of St Helena California
You’ll also find interesting our article and photos on the Buena Vista Winery in the town of Sonoma. The Buena Vista Winery was the first commercial winery established in Sonoma County. 

In St. Helena you will also want to explore the Berringer Winery Historic District. This is one of the most popular sites in Napa Valley. This includes six buildings and three structures. The address is 2000 Main Street.
Another area of note is right in the middle of St. Helena. This is the St. Helena Historic District along Main Street between Adams and Spring Streets. Among the historic buildings you’ll see thirteen cast metal street lights with Doric Columns and triple globes.

A very short drive north of St’ Helena is the Bale Grist Mill. The Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park is a grist mill that was built prior to California’s statehood. It’s a great side trip to add to your itinerary. The park is located just three miles north of St. Helena in Hwy 29.

See our Western Trips articles and photos of the Bale Grist Mill.and Things to See and Do in La Jolla California

When your western travels take you to the beautiful California wine region, make sure to make a stop at the very historic town of St Helena. The St Helena restaurants are great, the town is elegant and the choice of fine wineries are numerous. Some of the best Napa wineries you'll find are all around St Helena. You'll also get some terrific St Helena pictures of the town's unique architecture.

(Photos from author's private collection)

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