Dozens of history buffs, including a few tourists, got a close look at the Fuller Park neighborhood on Saturday during a guided tour that Napa County Landmarks organized to showcase one of Napa’s earliest developments.
For an hour and a half, about 60 people followed Napa County Landmarks docent Tom Kennelly as the retired criminal defense attorney spoke on the history of the area, where Napa’s early merchants, contractors, doctors and lawyers built homes that reflected their wealth.
“Originally, this area that’s known as Fuller Park was known as ‘Campbell’s Grove,’” Kennelly said, standing at the American Legion memorial dedicated to soldiers of World War I, one of many memorials at the park.
The 10 acres were half orchard and half playing field, Kennelly said. The city, which purchased the land in 1905, turned it into a public park. In 1919, the park was renamed after C.H. Fuller, Napa’s mayor at the time of the purchase, Kennelly said. Over time, the city planted trees, built formal flower gardens, a greenhouse and a small museum.
“When the park was developed by the city of Napa, it was quite elegant,” Kennelly said.
The group also stopped by some of Napa’s oldest houses. One, on Seminary Street, was designed by Napa architect Luther Turton in 1892 for William Andrews, a miller from England who immigrated to the United States during the Gold Rush.
Across the street, Kennelly stopped by an apartment complex, the site of the long-gone Napa Ladies’ Seminary, a finishing school for girls from 1860 to the late 1880s.
The group then moved to the adjacent site, where a house built in 1852 still stands. There, Kennelly invited former state Sen. John Dunlap to speak.
Dunlap, 89, told the group he lived in the house for three years after his grandparents had died in the early 1930s.
“It was a great place to grow up,” he said.
As a young boy during Prohibition, Dunlap remembers relatives at Christmas and Thanksgiving moving a big chest in a space under the grand stairway. The stairway held a secret, he said.
“I remember the chest got moved off, and there was a trap door there, and you opened the trap door, and it went down just a few feet and there, buried in the dirt, was a lot of wine,” he said, as the group laughed.
“Thank you Sen. Dunlap. You are part of the history of Napa,” Kennelly said before heading back toward Oak Street.
The group included longtime Napans, newcomers, and tourists from as far as Canada.
Suzanne Kovacs, who lives near Toronto, came with her son Andrew, who lives in Palo Alto, and a friend, Ursula Bennett.
“It’s beautiful,” said Kovacs, who was visiting Napa for the first time.