The east Napa County community of Monticello, a once thriving Berryessa Valley town, no longer exists, but within the pages of the 1878 book, “Illustrations of Napa County California with Historical Sketch,” authors Clarence L. Smith and Wallace W. Elliott provide insights into the early days of Monticello as well as descriptive details of Berryessa Valley.
During the late 1800s, Monticello was a thriving hamlet. It had a bright future being the primary community within Napa County’s prime cattle country and grain belt. In the 1950s, however, the town was razed, completely eradicated, in preparation for the construction of the Monticello dam and formation of Lake Berryessa. It was created by flooding Berryessa Valley with the waters of Putah creek.
Regarding this waterway, Smith and Elliott wrote, “Its (Berryessa Valley’s) river, called Putah creek — a beautiful stream — is larger than the Napa river, and, before reaching Berryessa has received the waters of 60 miles of country to the north. After passing lengthwise through this valley, it turns abruptly to the east and passes out of the valley through a narrow gorge called Putah Canyon in the mountain range that is the dividing line between Napa, Yolo and Solano counties, and sinks at last in the tules of the plains beyond.”
The authors continued, “The air is pure and free from fogs and disagreeable winds. And, the Berryessa Valley scenery is wild and beautiful, and in many respects is fully equal to that of Napa Valley. A grander view we have not seen in the county than that presented to the eye as you approach Wooden Valley.’”
They added, “A ride into this valley will well repay any one, and it is strange that this finely graded road is not selected for pleasure drivers.”
This road was the first transportation artery constructed for Berryessa Valley. This 24-mile long byway connected Berryessa Valley to Napa City. A second graded roadway navigated Putah Canyon to reach Winters in Yolo County. In the 1800s, this 16-mile long road was the shortest distance to the closest rail transit, the Winters railroad station.
These roadways were not only essential for the area inhabitants to receive goods and services but also absolutely critical for the farmers and ranchers to get their product and livestock to market. In addition to wheat, barley and other grains, Berryessa Valley was an abundant producer of corn, hay and vegetables. Besides cattle, sheep and hogs were raised in large numbers in Berryessa Valley.
As for the town of Monticello, Smith and Elliott credited Ezra A. Peacock with founding it around 1866. They wrote, “He came with lumber on his teams and immediately set himself up a shanty to ward off the driving rain, and he has ever since remained to cater to the wants of the traveler.”
Peacock replaced that shanty with the soundly constructed and much larger Berryessa Hotel. They wrote, “It is well kept and the table is spread with the best the valley affords. For the pleasure-seekers this is a good place to stop where every care will be taken (by Peacock and his wife) to make the stay agreeable.” They also noted Peacock knew and would direct his guests to “the very best places for fishing and hunting” which was abundant in the area.
Smith and Elliott also wrote, “Monticello is a neat looking town of perhaps 40 houses” two stores and several other businesses. In 1878, Monticello had no churches or schools. They added, “but without doubt, these will soon be supplied.”