During the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were several small resorts in the area of the Napa Redwoods west of Napa, mostly on Mt Veeder. One not in that area, though, was located halfway up the steepest grade of what is now Partrick Road. Called Hillside Farm, it was owned by Wenzel and Barbara Kunzel.
I visited the property with Bob Streich Sr. and Bob Jr., grandson and great-grandson respectively of the Kunzels, whose daughter Lily was Bob Sr.’s mother.
We knew the resort existed because the Streichs owned the original of a beautiful hand-inked and water colored rendition of the resort drawn by a J.B. Gordon in 1897. It had apparently been commissioned by the Kunzels at the height of the resort’s 10-year run, which according to local lodging historian Don Winter, was from 1888-1898.
Like many Napa Redwoods-area resorts, Hillside Farm billed itself mainly as a clean country getaway, but one on a real farm with “fine spring water, fresh butter, eggs and milk, magnificent location, grand scenery.” The hillside below the resort was cleared, giving the resort a view below to Browns Valley and out to Napa itself.
Born in 1841, Wenzel came from Bohemia (now western Czech Republic) where he had become a stonemason and then had served six years in the Austrian army. In 1866, while in battle on the losing side during the short-lived Austro-Prussian War (it lasted seven weeks and established Prussia as the power in Germany), his horse was shot and collapsed. The fall injured Wenzel’s left knee so badly that he limped heavily for the rest of his life.
Four years later, at 29, he came to the United States and worked as a mason in Ottawa, Kansas for a year, and then moved to Denver, where he lived for 12. In Denver, he met 23-year-old Barbara Klein who had recently arrived a few years before with her parents from, of all places, Prussia.
They married in 1879, and had their daughter Lily Mabel three years later. In 1883 they arrived in Napa and purchased the 227 acres for $4,500. Very little of the acreage was actually flat, but it had a small redwood grove nearby for lumber and a lot of rocks for walls. In 1887, they had son Gustave, and one year later, they opened Hillside Farm. Barbara ran the business; Wenzel ran the surrounding farm, with a dairy and orchards.
Wenzel also used his masonry skills to build all the buildings’ foundations, low-walled terraces, and a stone-lined runnel that took water from the spring near the top of the resort area across the terraced area to a pond below. He also built the foundations for a large barn and for several small cabins.
Ads for the resort appeared in San Francisco Call newspaper’s “summer resort preview” section, and community news notes from Oakland and San Francisco periodically included announcements of visits to the farm by local residents. On July 4th 1897, at probably the height of its run, the resort hosted 60 visitors.
After the resort closed, Wenzel continued to farm the property while Barbara bought a longtime restaurant in downtown. The restaurant was located on Main Street likely where the parking lot between the Winship Building and the Downtown Joe’s is now. The restaurant seems to have no name, always referred to as “Mrs. Kunzel’s restaurant.” It was the kind of local restaurant where clubs held meetings or award dinners, where people waited for the regional bus which stopped outside the door and that served holiday dinners. “For a nice turkey dinner and all the good things usually served with such a dinner,” wrote the Napa Daily Journal, “go to Mrs. Kunzel’s restaurant on Christmas Day.”
In 1902, Lily married Ernest Streich over the ridge at Castle Rock Vineyards on Redwood Creek. In 1904, the Kunzel house accidentally burned down due to a blocked flue. The next year, Barbara sold the restaurant and Wenzel leased the farm. They moved to San Francisco with Gustave, where he attended mining school. They moved to Oakland after the 1906 earthquake and fire (it’s not clear how the earthquake and fire affected Gustave’s coursework).
In 1907 Gus contracted a kidney infection in Nevada, perhaps while on a mining job, and returned to the Oakland house and convalesced there until he died. He had gone through public school in Napa and the local newspaper relayed the news of his death: “The youth had lived in Napa and was one of Napa’s most popular young men” and local friends would be “grieved” to learn of his death. Lily Kunzel Streich died from tuberculosis in 1909, at 28 years old, after only seven years of marriage, leaving behind her husband and the two children, Emily, then four, and Robert (later Bob Sr.), who was two.
At some point after this trauma, it appears the Kunzels separated. In the 1910 census, Barbara is a boarder in a house in Oakland, and Wenzel is living at Castle Rock with his son-in-law (although listed as being married 32 years). He was still healthy and living “independently,” according to Bob Sr., in a separate cabin and had “some cows” to mind.
In 1917, Wenzel’s by-then-failing health drove him to commit suicide in his cabin at Castle Rock. The family had just had a meeting where they discussed the possibility that Wenzel may have to move into a nursing home, according to Bob Sr., who was 11 at the time. Whatever was decided at the meeting and whatever Wenzel may have threatened to do to himself there, when the shot went off, Bob and his older sister Emily knew exactly what had happened.
“We were playing on the other side of the house,” Bob said in an interview a few years ago,” when we heard a shot. Emily said ‘Grandpa shot himself!’” They ran around to the cabin in time to see Barbara, who was visiting, come running out of the front door crying, “Oh, how could you?”
With Wenzel’s suicide, Barbara had lost her parents, her husband, and both children. She continued to live in Oakland and San Francisco after that, but little else is known of her other than that she passed away in 1934 in Oakland, according to the Napa Journal, “after an illness of a year’s duration.”
Thanks to the Streich family, Jerry and Louise Levitin, Napa County’s Library’s online newspaper archive, ancestry.com, and the historical research of Larry Hicks and of Don Winter.