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Long-lost historic map sheds light on St. Helena history

Long-lost historic map sheds light on St. Helena history

Cemetery map

Susanne Salvestrin, Mariam Hansen and Alan Fowler celebrate the hanging of a newly restored and framed map that shows the St. Helena Cemetery as it existed in 1882.

Soiled by vermin, faded with age and stashed in an attic, a piece of local history has now been restored to its rightful home at the St. Helena Cemetery.

The map, hand-drawn by surveyor W.A. Pierce, shows the cemetery as it existed in 1882. Back then the property was smaller than it is today, and the various landmarks shown on the map – a Chinese cemetery that’s since vanished, a “Hudson Park” named after the pioneer family who donated the land – show how the cemetery’s history mirrored that of the city.

“This map was missing for a long time,” said Mariam Hansen, research director for the St. Helena Historical Society and a boardmember of the St. Helena Cemetery Association.

The map’s restoration was prompted by a new effort to add the oldest part of the cemetery to the National Register of Historic Places. Kara Brunzell, who specializes in historical research and preservation, is compiling an application that could result in a determination by the State Historical Resources Commission this fall.

The map had spent decades in an attic at Steves Hardware, which was founded by John Henry Steves, who was secretary of the cemetery board for 50 years. When it was rediscovered around 1990, the Menegon brothers who own Steves Hardware today turned it over to the St. Helena Cemetery Association.

The map was stained with rat urine and its edges were curling with age. It stayed in storage until recently, when the cemetery association hired paper conservator Antoinette Dwan to restore it. Today the creases and stains that marred the map are barely visible.

Alan Fowler of Alan’s Saint Helena arranged the map in a period-appropriate wood frame he had shipped from New York and hung it on a wall in the cemetery office on Friday morning. Fowler is also providing framing for the St. Helena Historical Society’s “History Becomes Art” fundraiser.

One small strip of land on the banks of Sulphur Creek is shaded orange and labeled “Chinese Cemetery,” a reminder of the Chinese immigrants who helped build the railroad, dug wine caves, worked in the fields and in service jobs, and in the 1870s made up 10 percent of the Napa Valley’s labor force.

As a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment swept the nation, an Anti-Coolie League formed in St. Helena and in 1887 – just five years after the map was drawn – forced the sale of the local Chinatown, which was on Main Street near Charter Oak Avenue. The Chinese population rapidly dwindled.

At some point their tiny, low-lying cemetery, where about 60 people had been laid to rest, was washed away by Sulphur Creek.

Another much larger area, labeled “I.O.O.F. Cemetery,” depicts a separately managed section of the cemetery that harkens back to the days when plots were offered as a membership perk by fraternal organizations like the Odd Fellows, Masons, Druids, Grand Army of the Republic, and the Italian Societa Operaia.

The origin of the cemetery lie in a triangular lot named after the Hudson family, who traveled west with the Grigsby Ide Wagon Party, arrived in the Napa Valley in 1845, and participated in the Bear Flag Revolt in hopes of wresting California from Mexican control.

The Hudsons acquired a vast swath of what is now western St. Helena, extending all the way to the hills. With the death of matriarch Sarah Hudson in 1856, the family established a private cemetery that is labeled “Hudson Park” on the map. As the need grew for a public burial site, the Hudson descendants deeded over the parcel as a public cemetery.

Over the years the cemetery has grown another four or five times, and is now about 25 acres. Some of the landmarks on the map are gone, like a tree that was planted in memory of President James Garfield, who was assassinated in 1881.

Historically notable people interred at the cemetery include prominent attorney, judge and law school founder Serranus Clinton Hastings, Congressman and Prohibition-era wine advocate Theodore Bell, Dr. Edward Turner Bale and his wife Maria Soberanes Bale, Charles Krug, Robert and Margrit Mondavi, Jacob Schram, and early St. Helenans with familiar names like Crane, Chaix, Chiles, Edwards, Richie and Money.

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