The first paragraph of a new history of the Napa Valley makes plain: many of the people and events that helped form a community were far removed from the vineyards and their now-famous growers.
“Countless books, articles, documentaries and blogs have claimed to tell the ‘real’ history of Napa County,” Alexandria Brown writes in the opening page of her book “Hidden History of Napa Valley,” which The History Press will publish March 4. “Yet, nearly all of them tell different versions of the same story of how white men civilized the untamed wilderness and conquered the valley with grapes. The very mention of the Napa Valley conjures images of expensive wine and wealthy winemakers.”
A Napa native and former research librarian for the Napa County Historical Society, Brown has devoted her 192-page volume to bringing to present-day readers the lives and personalities of those ignored or marginalized in the valley’s early years – from the Wappo and Southern Patwin peoples, to the Chinese, Mexicans, African Americans and other minorities that settled in the future wine country.
Brown’s inspirations for “Hidden History” are several, from her work as research librarian at the Historical Society from 2011 to 2016 to her upbringing as an African-American in Napa County. “Being one of the few black people in the county, I knew there had to be some stories, and all these other stories about people of color cropped up,” the Marin County resident said during a Thursday interview at Napa’s Goodman Library, the society’s home base.
After The History Press contacted the Historical Society in 2017 for a book proposal, Brown, now a librarian at the Marin Academy in San Rafael, pitched a history of Napa County’s underrepresented peoples. The resulting work would draw on the Goodman Library’s text and photo archives and Brown’s own dissertation at Adams State University in Colorado, as well as generations-old issues of the Napa Valley Register and Napa Journal, as well as histories of early California and its people of color.
Deep dives into newspaper archives, with their virtually unfiltered pictures of everyday life in the 19th and early 20th centuries, proved especially illuminating to Brown.
In reviving tales from the long-vanished Chinatowns of Napa, St. Helena and Calistoga, for example, “I went through every article that had ‘China’ come up as a keyword,” said Brown, a librarian at the Marin Academy in San Rafael. “And as I started reading the articles, I realized there was a whole other story that was not being told. I read of wedding ceremonies, church services, and there were other stories that started to unfold.”
Amid the retellings of racism and anti-Chinese immigration laws, “Hidden History” features accounts of people who persisted in the face of such hostility – people like Sam Kee, the Napa launderer who allowed himself to be arrested to protest an 1887 anti-laundry ordinance targeting Chinese merchants like himself; and Chan Chung Wing, the son of a Napa Chinatown store owner, who became California’s first Chinese-American lawyer.
Elsewhere, “Hidden History” also uncovers some of the uglier chapters in Napa’s past, including the often-vivid presence of the Ku Klux Klan and its white supremacist platform in the 1920s. The book identifies Eugene Potterton and Charles Brisbin – candidates in the 1926 Napa City Council election – as Klansmen, and recounts KKK rallies that included a 1923 cross-burning near Napa State Hospital attended by several hundred people.
“If we cover up our negative history, we lose our history,” Brown said about her book’s accounts of Klan activity. “The Klan was a part of Napa Valley life in the early 20th century and we can’t not talk about it.”
Even some of old Napa County’s better-known episodes became surprising and even shocking through Brown’s research. In reading about the once-famed Napa Soda Springs resort – where the first hotel was built in 1855 – she uncovered a tortured birth marked by property disputes, lawsuits, assaults and the burning of a bottling plant by armed men.
“I knew the general history, but as I dug into it further, I learned these crazy stories of land stealing and shooting and violence – and that was just the first five years!” she recalled “It was crazy story after crazy story that I didn’t know about, until I started digging.”
A month away from the publication of “Hidden History,” Brown was hopeful that her book would not be the last of its kind to shine a light on Napa County’s past.
“I have two hopes – one, that people realize our history is bigger than we think,” she said. “And two, that many groups I couldn’t talk to for this book – Japanese, Filipinos, Muslims, LGBTQ people – I would love for people from those communities to be inspired to look for the histories of their community members.”
Wine label printer ASL Print FX has a robust plan for growth at its new south Napa location ... if it can obtain electricity, according to vice president and general manager Travis Pollard.
The Canadian-based company recently spent more than $1 million on a custom printing press shipped from the Netherlands to the ASL Print FX office. Pollard has also hired four employees — and that number could top 20 as the business grows.
“This has been our CEO’s dream for more than seven years to put a facility in Napa” to produce wine labels, said Pollard, who is from California. “But until we get our power situation sorted out, each day is spent with uncertainty.”
Only after the press was delivered to its building at 871 Latour Court did the company discover it would have to upgrade the power coming into the building.
In October, Pollard hired a local electrical engineer and put in an application with PG&E for the upgrades in the 6,000-square-foot space.
He’s still waiting.
Pollard said he originally was told by PG&E that the process could start as soon as the end of November.
As of Tuesday, he had regularly both emailed and called PG&E for an estimate and work start date, but with little result.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Pollard said during a phone interview on Tuesday.
“I was thinking this was a no-brainer,” he said. “I find it truly amazing that we can have a printing press designed, manufactured and shipped to Napa, then installed, quicker than PG&E can process paperwork to have power upgraded to our building.”
“Now we’re getting into February and I still don’t have an estimate of what it’s going to cost” — let alone when the work will begin, he said.
He’s afraid that Tuesday’s news that PG&E had declared bankruptcy will only delay the project further.
“And I don’t have an alternative,” he said. “They are a monopoly. I can’t go to another power company.”
That doesn’t mean the company isn’t printing labels. “We are persevering,” Pollard said.
To run the press, the general manager has rented an industrial generator. The lease fee for the generator and fuel tops $6,700 per month. That’s more than half of his monthly rent for the space, said Pollard.
“We are functioning with the generator. We are able to manage our power; it’s just coming at an incredible cost.”
On Thursday, PG&E spokesperson Deanna Contreras explained that PG&E scheduling “depends on the project and the scope of work but this is a normal timeline for this type of project.”
“Our goal is to address the necessary next steps as quickly as possible so that we can complete this job very soon,” she said.
PG&E’s chapter 11 bankruptcy filing “has no relation to this project,” according to Contreras.
Pollard said PG&E called him Thursday to say he should have the estimate on Monday.
“I am cautiously optimistic” to hear that news, Pollard said on Thursday.
“I do hope this is true. We want nothing more than to put this behind us so that we can focus on our business plan by adding growth and jobs to the Napa community.”
Devastating wildfires in recent years have underscored the need for Napa County’s volunteer emergency animal rescue team and helped volunteers refine their response tactics.
More than 60 prospective volunteers from Napa and neighboring counties crowded into the Napa Valley Horsemen’s Association on Saturday to receive the first of many training sessions needed to join the county’s Community Animal Response Team, or CART. The organization was established in 2017 with the goal of aiding animals whose owners have fled because of a natural disaster.
Such an organization is important, group leaders say, because people may disobey evacuation orders if they do not have a plan for their animals. Stacy Willett, a Federal Emergency Management Agency expert, found that pets were one of the main reasons that people ignored mandatory evacuation orders issued in response to Hurricane Katrina, according to the University of Akron site.
“When we help animals, we help people,” said CART president Claudia Sonder. “And we do that by giving them options for their animals.”
Some team volunteers may lead animals away from danger, but others must man the CART hotline, check on an animal’s health, drive trailers, monitor police and fire scanners or even search for surviving people, leaders said.
Lake County’s 2015 Valley Fire taught volunteers that they were not prepared to respond to such a disaster and needed to work in conjunction with the county. Residents may receive little to no notice of an incoming fire, flood or earthquake, Sonder said.
The issue of timing was key in last year’s Butte County Camp Fire, Sonder said, which was the deadliest and most destructive in California’s history. The county was criticized by some who claimed official warnings came too late — or did not come at all — and contributed to many deaths.
Hundreds of animals at Butte County’s shelters still have not been claimed, Sonder said.
CART is usually notified that its response is needed by an animal’s owner. The team usually knows what to expect, but volunteers must first assess the scene, see what animals are on the property, and determine whether pets are injured, depressed, hungry or thirsty.
Animals who seem to be relatively happy and healthy are usually given supplies and left to shelter in place, while others who are alone, injured or in poor conditions are loaded into a trailer, tagged and taken away to a temporary animal shelter, CART leaders said. Volunteers leave a notice on the door and head off to the next call.
Some calls may require volunteers to enter a home to care for indoor animals. Volunteers are trained to look for, document and report signs of forced entry, leave supplies, and leave toilet seats up to provide animals an emergency source of water.
Volunteers will contact pet owners after they have visited the property. Animals who have been hauled away can be picked up by owners later. CART can deliver animals when necessary, said Nancy Kerson, an evacuation leader.
Joining the team isn’t as simple as signing up.
Volunteers must take FEMA courses and pass a background check, since they may be entering homes. Those who want to work directly with animals should have a decade of experience with large animals and should be able to lift 50 pounds, said Megan Van Coutren, head of CART operations.
Response to the Camp Fire taught volunteers that they should spend a maximum of 72 hours on a shift, followed by 72 hours of rest, Sonder said.
The job can be an emotionally trying one.
Volunteers must prioritize the safety of themselves and their team, and accept that there will be times that animals must be left behind, Sonder said. Volunteers responding to Lake County homes arrived to find people with guns waiting in the driveway, protecting their property from being looted again, she said.
Team members should be able to think like animals and keep their adrenaline under control.
“Trust the little hairs on the back of your neck,” she said. “If you feel threatened by something, the animal already knows.”
Volunteers who did not participate in Saturday’s session can still get involved by signing up for classes beginning March 16. Annual membership fee is $40. For more, visit napacart.org/events.