Last week, Memory Lane began to recount Fred Hutchinson’s childhood memories of his paternal grandmother, Amanda Brannan Hutchinson Chapman and the details of her life. These recollections, among others, were eventually compiled into a family biography written by Fred. They are the informational source for this Women’s History Month feature.
The first installment of this two part series ended with Amanda marrying her second husband, Sam Chapman, in 1872 as well as the 1873 financial ruin and departure of her uncle, Sam Brannan, Calistoga Hot Springs Resort founder.
The following year, 1874, Amanda faced another upheaval in her life. Chapman moved his family into his newly acquired Silverado Hotel. Once again, Amanda took an active roll in the business. She mastered the post of lady innkeeper, as reported in the 1875 Calistoga Free Press. “Mr. Chapman and Lady do everything in their power to make their guests comfortable.”
By June 1875, Amanda’s hopes were dashed once more, which her grandson Fred tried to explain. “Either Grandma Chapman didn’t like her husband or she tired of running a boarding-house and then a hotel, for the issue of the Calistoga paper on June 26, 1875, carried the following: ‘I hearby warn all persons from harboring or trusting my wife, Amanda Chapman, on my account, as she has left my bed and board without cause and I will pay no bill of her contracting. Calistoga, June 9, 1875. Sam Chapman.’”
Amanda and her son Tom returned to their Main Street property to rebuild their lives. Following her mother’s example, Amanda provided a comfortable life for herself and her son via dressmaking. According to Fred, “I don’t know if she got anything from Chapman but she was able to keep body and soul together, and bring up her son, and I can imagine that her early training as a dressmaker paid off dividends at this time.”
From that point forward, Amanda devoted herself to the care and education of Tom. In a San Jose Daily Mercury newspaper article written in 1898 by Will Beasly, Amanda was highly praised for her loving efforts. “Mrs. Hutchinson was thrown up on her own resources for the rearing and education of her son. He was educated in the common schools of her home in one of the smaller towns of Napa County but by far the greater part of his book training he obtained at home under the tuition of his mother herself.”
By 1882, 14-year-old Tom had completed his public school education. He opened a small grocery store, The Model Fruit Store, on Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga. From then on, until his untimely death from diabetes in 1904, Tom supported himself, his mother and family.
For many years, Amanda worked in the store with her son. Fred wrote, “Grandma Chapman and father had rooms in the back of the store, and while he wasn’t waiting on customers, he was studying and improving his mind. When Grandma Chapman wasn’t waiting on customers, she would sit in her rocking chair knitting. She usually had a paisley shawl over her shoulders as she would knit and rock, rock and knit.”
In later years, Amanda lived in Napa with Tom, and his family. Her room was downstairs, next to the dining room. Drawing upon his childhood memories, Fred warmly wrote of his fondest remembrances of Amanda. “She loved to sit in the dining room by the window in her rocking chair. She was a wonderful singer in her younger days and she was always ready to join in the hymns.”
Although Amanda never held a station in life that received public notice, acclaim and/or acknowledgment, she contributed positively to society through her role as a mother and grandmother.