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Forthcoming book tells a visual history of Angwin, Howell Mountain

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Sanitarium band, 1917-1918

The Sanitarium band warms up for its annual Fourth of July concert in either 1917 or 1918.

Upvalley history buffs know all about settlers like the McCormicks, Krugs and Cranes. But what about folks like John Howell and Edwin and Elvira Angwin?

The history of Howell Mountain and Angwin has often been relegated to a footnote, but it’s about to get its moment in the spotlight thanks to Katharine Van Arsdale’s upcoming book “Images of America: Angwin and Howell Mountain.”

“I was struck by the richness of life on this mountain and just how long people have lived here, even though it’s not a place with a large established community,” said Van Arsdale, special collections librarian at Pacific Union College’s Nelson Memorial Library.

Her book is part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series, comprising more than 8,000 hyperlocal books featuring period photos and detailed captions by historians from across the country. The late Weekly Calistogan editor John Waters Jr. with the Sharpsteen Museum published a Calistoga entry in 2008, and the St. Helena Historical Society with Mariam Hansen published a St. Helena volume in 2010.

Angwin's Summer Resort, 1890s

Angwin's Summer Resort, built between 1887 and 1889 for $20,000, could accommodate up to 100 overnight guests and 150 diners.

At the prodding of Angwinites and with access to PUC’s formidable photo archive, Van Arsdale wrote a book proposal for an Angwin/Howell Mountain volume and got the green light from Arcadia Publishing.

The book tells of the days when resorts drove tourism, and the roads coming down the mountain were so steep and treacherous that vintners couldn’t transport more than two wine barrels at a time.

Rather than limit the book strictly to Angwin, Van Arsdale included images from surrounding communities like Deer Park, Elmshaven and St. Helena Hospital, as well as many of the resorts that dotted Howell Mountain. She didn’t include Pope Valley, adding “there’s still room for a history of Pope Valley, absolutely.”

In deciding which photos to include, Van Arsdale said she first looked for images that would tell a rounded story about the whole community, not just PUC.

“Second, I looked for images that told the story about both the human-made places and the land itself,” she said. “And third — which is going to make it fun for people — I tried to prioritize images that hadn’t been published anywhere else.”

Pacific Union College Elementary School, 1916

Pacific Union College Elementary School students, photographed in 1916. The school met in the Dance Hall of the former Angwin's Summer Resort.

Readers will learn about pioneers like John Howell, who operated a blacksmith shop in St. Helena and once traveled with the Donner Party. Eccentric and talented, Howell built several cabins on the mountain that was to bear his name, including one overlooking Glass Mountain and the future site of Elmshaven.

They will also read stories of the often-neglected indigenous people who called Howell Mountain home long before European settlers arrived. Dubbed the Wappo by settlers, those original Napa Valley residents established a permanent settlement north and west of Howell Mountain called Tsemanoma, according to Van Arsdale’s introduction.

“From valley to summit, they left footpaths, grinding stones, arrowheads, and campsites on Howell Mountain and many other places now known by other names,” she wrote.

While researching the book, Van Arsdale came across the story of an indigenous man who approached Elvira Angwin, who in 1874 had purchased what’s now the center of Angwin. He told her he’d grown up there and wanted to see his native land one last time. She welcomed him to look around.

“He looked across the valley for a second, said ‘All right, thank you,’ and he left. She never saw him again,” Van Arsdale said. “It was so poignant to me.”

Edwin and Elvira Angwin after 1909

After the summer of 1909, Edwin and Elvira Angwin sold their resort to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, complete with furnishings, farm equipment, livestock and parlor piano. The resort would become Pacific Union College.

Since the late 1800s there’s been a rich history of people “getting away” to Howell Mountain, drawn by its reputation as a rustic vacation spot to relax and recover their health, Van Arsdale said. Merritt Kellogg built the Rural Health Retreat (later St. Helena Hospital) near Crystal Springs in 1878, and a few years later Edwin and Elvira Angwin opened Angwin’s Summer Resort.

“People from urban areas in the Bay Area would travel as far as they could go into the mountains and into the wild,” Van Arsdale said.

Sanitarium Food Company, 1920s

From left, Will Bogart, Archie Bogart, Oscar Haub, Rob Keller and Rollins Rose work during the 1920s in the factory of the Sanitarium Food Company, which produced crackers, cereal flakes and peanut-based protein foods like Nuteena. The company was established in the 1880s to produce vegetarian food for what is now St. Helena Hospital.

Howell Mountain resorts like Woodworth’s (on the Pope Valley side of Old Howell Mountain Road), Toland House (at the corner of Old Howell Mountain Road and Deer Park Road) and White Cottages (on, you guessed it, White Cottage Road) were popular destinations.

Howell Mountain’s resorts declined in the 1900s, first when cars changed vacation habits and then when the Great Depression changed everything. The Angwins retired in 1909 and sold their resort to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which transformed it into Pacific Union College.

One of Van Arsdale’s favorite photos is of a few young people vacationing at Angwin’s Summer Resort in the early 1900s. The clothes and hairstyles may be dated, but the youthful smiles and carefree expressions are timeless.

Young people vacationing in Angwin, early 1900s

Young people vacationing in Angwin's Summer Resort in the early 1900s.

“I like candid photos like that, especially the old ones,” Van Arsdale said. “We’re so used to seeing people of the past standing rigidly in a formal portrait, so it’s fun to see people looking so comfortable and relaxed. It makes the history very immediate.”

“Images of America: Angwin and Howell Mountain” will be published March 1 and is available for pre-order at arcadiapublishing.com. All royalties will be passed on to PUC students.

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Adventist Health St. Helena began vaccinating its ICU staff Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. Captured here: Monica Flores, 26, of Napa, is the first person to receive her vaccination. Flores, a Registered Nurse, was deployed to New York City in the early spring, when the pandemic was at its worst there.

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You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or jduarte@sthelenastar.com.

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