A return to Napa Daily Journal news briefs from the first half of the 20th century provides new and additional insights into local life and living during that era. However, these items focus on the activities of and actions taken by the Napa City council.

The Journal printed accounts of some unique ordinances proposed and even approved by these local politicians. For example, in 1908, the Napa City council voted in favor of several ordinances pertaining to morality. These codes prohibited card playing, dice games and gambling and/or betting pools. They also banned restaurant booths with curtains and doors. Plus, driving a vehicle faster than 15 mph within Napa City limits became illegal with the council’s approval of these 1908 ordinances.

Then in 1921, an attempt was made to implement another ban. The Journal continued, “...an ordinance forbidding the sale of intoxicating liquor in the limits of the City of Napa and prescribing penalties for violation of its provisions...” was brought before the council by temperance proponents.

Although that proposal met with opposition from the council, who expressed the following opinion. They said, “...it would (only) help to produce more bootleggers outside of the city limits, and that the matter should be dealt with by the Volstead Act. (The federal law that ultimately created America’s Prohibition era.)”

However, before that hotly debated question of a local prohibition ordinance was placed before the council, a year earlier, the local politicians approved a change to Napa that remains in place today. In January 1920, the council voted in favor of changing a number of street names in town. They were: Grant to Brown street, Union to Coombs street, Cedar to Adams street, the northerly branch of Calistoga avenue to Jefferson street, Sebastian to “G” street and Linn to Laurel street.

A decade later, or so, other council actions also continue to be relevant today. For example, the local politicians took steps to enhance Napa life and living. In December 1930, they contracted with PG&E for natural gas services.

Then in 1946, the council gave great consideration to the question of waste disposal. According to the Journal, the council debated at great length the three methods and/or options for garbage disposal set before them. This discussion had been prompted by the pending termination of the existing and 20-year-long contract with a local company.

According to the Journal, A.C. Umhalt—a council member and head of Napa’s department of health and safety, had “made an exhaustive study of the subject, and he recommends that Napa not enter the business as a municipal enterprise, but rather sign a contract for garbage disposal which would give the city government a sizable part of the returns of the contract.”

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The Journal added, “The councilman also suggested that private individuals (residential customers) pay 65-cents per month for weekly collections of 25-gallons of garbage.” Although there have been some modifications over time, Umhalt’s recommendations continue to be followed today.

In addition to taking action on local issues and services, the council also received frequent updates on the status and viability of Napa’s municipal activities. A 1936 Journal article illustrates this point. It said, “Napa’s tonnage as a seaport was 6,630 tons during the month (of January 1936), City Wharfinger H.A. Harrold reported last night to the city council. Of this, 5,060 tons of freight was received here by water and 1,570 tons shipped.”

The Journal also included some other interesting Napa statistics detailed in the 1936 report. It said, “Police Judge Handel collected $67 in fines and Chief of Police Eugene Riordan reported 19 arrests...”

While a few of these Napa City council actions and reports remain relevant today, the majority no longer serve the community. However, they do provide interesting insights into the local way of life and living during the first half of the 20th century.

Rebecca Yerger is a writer and historian living in Napa. Reach her at yergerenterprises@yahoo.com.

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