“Happy New Year!” has been a common refrain heard throughout Napa County for about 180 years. As with the present, past celebrations have ranged from the subdued to the ridiculous.

Regarding the latter, an early 1872 Napa County Reporter article announced there were some untamed local celebrants. It explained, “The town was startled from its propriety on New Year’s Day by a rumor that a wild woman had been seen among the hills east of the river (the Alta Heights area), reports added that all attempts to catch her had been in vain.”

In response to that news, a crowd of young Napa men piled into a wagon and headed to the scene to “rescue the suffering and perhaps insane damsel.” The Reporter continued, “Arriving at the hills the wild woman was soon discovered skulking about in the underbrush, and all started in hot pursuit.”

However, they failed every time as “the fugitive showed almost superhuman speed and agility,...” But they persevered with even greater determination only to make a startling discovery in the process. The Reporter continued, “...when to their utter discomfiture she turned out not to be she at all—but a young fellow who had dressed himself in woman’s clothes, and perpetuated the roughest kind of a ‘sell’ upon his cronies in town.” The Reporter added, “It is said, that the parties ‘sold’ have not done paying for ‘the drinks’ to this day.” (Thank you, Nancy Brennan for this story!)

A couple of years later, 1874, there still existed a rowdier side to the local New Year celebrations. The Reporter complained, “At 12 o’clock on Wednesday night last, the bells of the churches and the Court House, rang out upon the midnight air, shot guns and pistols were discharged, music was played, anvils fired and the New Year ushered in, in Napa City, in concatenation of noises that made night hideous.”

Part of the editor’s sour disposition may have been the fact he and some of his Reporter staff had to work on New Year’s Day 1874, despite the lack of adequate sleep. He wrote, “As we had so much work on hand, that had to be done, the employees of the REPORTER office did kindly forego their New Year’s Holiday, of which we thank them sincerely, as well as John S. Hogan (the proprietor of the Napa Hotel) for a brimming jug of Egg-Nogg, which seven thirsty printers and one editor demolished with thankful hearts.”

While the previous accounts revealed the rougher side of local New Year celebrations, Mother Nature also delivered some challenging conditions for the revelers as illustrated by the next two stories. But some local revelers did endeavor to celebrate with varying degrees of success one stormy January 1st, 1874.

Apparently several young Calistoga ladies had to seek shelter from the bad weather at Judge Palmer’s beautiful Cedar Street residence. They stayed “from early morning til late in the evening,” The Reporter continued, “...all were welcome and treated to the best of Champagne, the fattest of turkeys and chickens, the most delicate pastry and dough-nuts, etc., that could be found anywhere.”

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Also according to the newspaper, Palmer and a few of his friends entertained their day-long callers with vocal and instrumental musical numbers. It also seems others sought refuge at Palmer’s home as over 80 people signed his guest-book that New Year’s Day. The article added, and they “all went away well filled and well pleased.”

Although the weather was unpleasant, some Napans also ventured out to celebrate the holiday. For instance, an 1874 New Year’s Ball was held at “The (roller skating) Rink, which was one of the most sociable and happy parties ever assembled to pay homage to the Goddess ‘Terpsichord.’” The Reporter also noted, the large attendance was a surprise considering the muddy streets soaked by the previous day’s rain.

The article added, “Our reporter, who is generally present on such festive occasions, and is usually a ‘wallflower,’ says the ladies were gracious and charming and the gentlemen gallant and attentive. It is pleasing to witness with how much propriety, dancing parties are now conducted in Napa affording amusement to which no one can reasonably take exception.”

This genteel revelry was repeated throughout the county. In Yountville, for example, a “Gift Tree” and concert was held at the local church. The Reporter continued, “There were three beautifully arranged trees, and well loaded with presents, both useful and ornamental.” Those gifts were handed out with great ceremony and flair. The article continued, “After the concert closed, all adjourned to McDonnell’s Hall where ‘tripping the light fantastic toe’ was in order. All enjoyed themselves in a most agreeable way.”

Happy New Year to one and all! I hope 2017 brings you laughter, good health, joy and peace!

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