Aug. 7 is International Friendship Day. In honor of this auspicious occasion, this column will feature two stories about friendly local gatherings, circa 1883.

The more unusual of these gatherings was a Soap Bubble Party. The Napa Register reported, “About 80 of the friends of Mrs. E.B. Sherwood assembled last Thursday at Fraternity Hall to participate in a complimentary soap-bubble party tendered to Mrs. Sherwood by Napa Council, A.L.of H.”

The Register continued, “The principal amusement of the evening was blowing soap-bubbles for prizes. Only the ladies were permitted to test their skills, while the gentlemen applauded success or laughed at comical failures. The judges were Dr. M.B. Pond and George T. Smith, and their decision was based on the approximate number of inches in the diameter of the bubbles.”

According to the Register, the largest bubble was 9 inches in diameter and blown by Mrs. D.S. Kyser. It added, “The prizes consisted of books, cut-glass ware and macramé lace work, and were quite valuable.” The article also mentioned that after the contest, “cake and ice cream were served, and a sociable time prevailed until after 11 o’clock.”

The same edition of the Register reported the details of the formal event held at the home of Chancellor and Electa Hartson. The Hartson residence was quite large and the property encompassed an entire block between Third, Fourth, Main and Coombs streets. The county compound now occupies this site.

Regarding the gala, the 1883 Register said it was “a brilliant gathering in honor of Senator Miller and Family.” About 200 people assembled “and witnessed a social event of more than ordinary note — a gathering in which the most exalted public stations of the land and the highest realm of literary, musical and social attainments had worthy representation.”

Even with such a large number of attendees, the newspaper printed the guest list in its entirety as well as those who provided the entertainment for the evening. The entertainers were “Rev. and Mrs. Richard Wylie, Miss Bertha Reynolds, Miss May V. Gibbons and Mrs. M.E. Gates (who) contributed much to the enjoyment of the large company by artistically rendering selections of music and recitations,” said the Register

The Register elaborated on the setting found at the Hartsons’ that evening. “The large, luxurious and tastefully adorned parlors were brilliantly lighted and the radiance of the illuminated grounds without in some measure betokened the joyous festivities within.”

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And, of course, no Victorian soiree would be complete, or socially acceptable, without a sumptuous repast. “The large porch on the northwest side of the house had been enclosed with canvas and converted into a dining hall of goodly dimensions. Here, at a reasonable hour, choice refreshments were served with a lavish hand, and toasts were proposed and responded to in a most felicitous manner. The health of the hospitable host and hostess was drank in sparkling Napa soda at the suggestion of Judge Estee, who, in his happiest vein, spoke in behalf of the assembled guests, and Judge Hartson related some pleasant reminiscences in reply. Post-prandial speeches then being in order, Dr. E.T. Wilkins, Senator Miller, Rev. Richard Wylie and Rev. Jno. Coyle were in the above order called upon and appropriately responded.”

In conclusion the Register said, “Not until the small hours of the morning were the banquet halls deserted, when guest after guest withdrew, leaving with the distinguished host and fair hostess congratulatory expressions as sincere as they must have been pleasant to the princely entertainers.”

Whether blowing or drinking bubbles, Napans of 1883 thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to gather with friends.

Rebecca Yerger is a Napa-based writer and historian. Email her at yergerenterprises@yahoo.com.

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