Beginning today, and over the next year, the City of Calistoga will be celebrating 125 years of cityhood.
The first of the celebrations will be held today at 1 p.m. in front of the Sharpsteen Museum, where a reasonable look-alike for Sam Brannan, a chief player in Calistoga’s history, will share some thoughts on the anniversary.
Brannan’s “ghost” will appear in the person of Dean Enderlin, a local history buff and lecturer who regularly dons the Brannan persona for school children attending programs at the museum.
Mayor Jack Gingles will also read and present a proclamation to “Brannan” at the museum.
In July there will be a birthday party to mark the city’s anniversary. Details of the party are still being worked out by a citizen’s committee.
According to historic reports from “The Independent Calistogian,” as this newspaper was known at the time (not “The Weekly Calistogian” as previously reported), the vote to become a city came upon a midnight clear when, on Dec. 23, 1885, the population of Calistoga voted to incorporate. The citizenry numbered 1,000, including “34 Chinamen,” wrote Kay Archuleta in her book “Early Calistoga.”
Actually, slightly more than 10 percent of the residents voted. In the late 19th century, women had not yet gained the right to vote, so newspaper notices of the upcoming election urged all men, “not younger than 21 years of age, and living within the proposed boundaries of the incorporated area,” to turn out to vote on making Calistoga an incorporated city.
For weeks ahead of the vote the local newspaper printed articles on the local discussion of incorporation.
“The Independent Calistogian” editor of the day, one J. Multer, clearly observed growing local support for the notion of incorporation as the election date approached. “We are pleased to know there have been many changes from the wrong to the right side of the question during the past week,” he wrote in the Dec. 16, 1885 issue of his paper.
Although reportage of the issue was not in depth, it was direct. There was no opinion page and the news articles were a reflection of the editor’s viewpoint, which presumably was the majority viewpoint of much of the community of the day.
“There should not be a single voice raised in opposition to any movement that has for its object greater progress than has been made here in the past,” Multer wrote.
In short, if Calistoga wanted to grow it had to incorporate.
One of the chief reasons for incorporation at the time was “to improve the streets and sidewalks.”
Supporters argued that Calistoga should follow an example set by St. Helena voters, who had originally incorporated that community on March 24, 1876. It was re-incorporated May 14, 1889.
Calistoga needed people if it ever hoped to prosper, the newspaper argued.
“Neighboring towns; particularly St. Helena, have many people to-day (sic) who would have located in Calistoga had citizens here been awake to the demands of the times.”
Multer went on to charge that agricultural towns in California were growing and prospering chiefly through “rapidly increasing population” and the resulting public enterprise, or business activity.
Another issue — which still comes to the minds of Calistoga residents and voters 125 years later — was taxes.
On Oct. 21, 1885, in one of the first articles on the subject, Multer wrote that the oppression of business activity “by high license” (charging fees for licenses and permits) “is not entertained.”
Instead, he continued, the “intention is to keep the tax rate for town purposes down to 15 cents per $100 (valuation of property), the same as St. Helena, where the rate for all purposes, town tax included, is several cents less this year than outside Incorporation (city limits) or in Calistoga today without incorporation.
“It is the object to make incorporation beneficial, not detrimental, to citizens living in the corporate limits.”
Two days after the Monday election the headline read “Municipal Government Secured.”
Officially, the City of Calistoga was incorporated by a vote of 135 “yes” and 19 “no” votes.
Additionally, the first trustees of the town, Calistoga’s earliest “official” city council, included names well-known to Calistoga history buffs today, some of whom still have families in Calistoga — L. Kortum, A.M. Gardner, H.E. Cyrus, S.C. Way, William Bounsall, City Clerk G.F. Boynton, Treasurer H. Getleson and Marshal Cornelius H. Nash, the city’s first marshal.
“We have never known an election held for the purpose of deciding the question of incorporation wherein the vote approached so closely to unanimity as did that polled in Calistoga Monday last. The result was a signal victory for friends of progress, so complete that several of the opposition unreservedly expressed friendly feelings for incorporation,” the paper announced.
The vote was, Multer said, seven-to-one in favor.
Even with such approval of local voters, the paper reported that it would take time before any real changes would be made or before a system was in place to collect taxes and begin improvements to Calistoga’s infrastructure.
It was also pointed out that, although the business of a marshal is often “disagreeable” it was necessary, and that Nash would soon begin his duties.
Brannan and celebration
At a dinner party more than 20 years before the town’s incorporation, Sam Brannan, heralded as the founder of Calistoga, was alleged to have sampled a little too much of the product of his own local brandy distillery when he started to boast that he would make the fledgling community of the late 1860s “The Saratoga of California.” Instead, what spilled from his lips was that the town would become “the Calistoga of Sarafornia.”
The name stuck, at first as a joke, but it caught on and the rest is history.
Brannan first visited the hot springs in the upper Napa Valley around 1859 and planned his resort here. Today, Indian Springs Resort is what remains of that original resort. He had purchased a lot of land containing the springs in the northern portion of the Calistoga area.
Brannan was also part of a partnership that founded the Napa Valley Rail Road Company in 1864 to provide tourists with an easier way to reach Calistoga from the San Francisco Bay ferry boats that docked in Vallejo.
The railroad was later sold at a foreclosure sale in 1869.
In 1872, Brannan’s wife, Anna Eliza Corwin, divorced him. He lost much of his personal fortune after his divorce, as it was ruled that his wife was entitled to half of their holdings, payable in cash. Because the vast majority of Brannan’s holdings were in real estate, he had to liquidate the properties to pay the full divorce settlement.
Following the divorce, he became a brewer and developed a problem with alcohol.
Forsaking the cities he helped grow — San Francisco and Calistoga — he drifted to San Diego where he remarried and set up a small ranch. He became a land speculator for the Mexican government in the state of Sonora.
In 1888, at 69, he was paid $49,000 in interest from the government of Mexico. He quit drinking, paid all his debts.
Brannan died in Escondido on May 14, 1889, without leaving enough money to pay for his own funeral. He was interred in Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego. There was no gravemarker until many years later, when a nephew purchased one for Calistoga’s founders.