Rebecca Yerger is a local historian and historic preservation consultant. Her Napa Valley Register column, Memory Lane, offers an insight into Napa Valley's past through lesser known historical account and recollections. Memory lane runs every Sunday.

  • Updated

The 2018 harvest is rooted in a long history of those who were willing to take a chance. Two such viticulture pioneers were George Belden Crane and Henry Alphonse Pellet. In the mid-1800s they helped transform local fields into world-class vineyards by planting European varietals, however th…

Trains played a vital role in the economic development and growth of Napa County communities. An integral part of that transportation system was its depots. However, only a few of the once numerous local train depots and stops still exist. One survivor is the St. Helena Southern Pacific depot.

Wildfires and fires in the city have always been a frightening reality for Napa County residents and all Californians. During these infernos, as private citizens evacuate, emergency response personnel rush in, especially the firefighters. So, in honor of all those individuals who willingly p…

The local agricultural fairs have been a summertime tradition for generations. Over those decades, these events have typically offered similar programs and features including carnivals rides, live entertainment and exhibits. However, in the late 1930s Napa’s agricultural fair also featured o…

Some individuals believe the criminal justice system is a confusing and unpredictable roller coaster ride. While most cases are typically routine, two long-ago local cases validate these opinions.

Traditionally June is the month for weddings. In honor of this long-standing custom, this column will feature a collections of marriage related articles. These stories, ranging from the usual to the unexpected, were pulled from the local newspaper pages of the 1800s and 1900s.

For 36 years, 1903-1939, the Vallejo, Benicia and Napa Valley Railroad Company, AKA the Napa Valley Interurban, provided an affordable, reliable and convenient transit system for regional communities. While many of its days were routine, the Interurban was plagued by frequent problems, espec…

The local newspapers of yesteryear filled countless column inches with the details of the harsher side of Napa Valley life. This point is substantiated by the following excerpts gleaned from circa 1890—1916 Napa newspapers.

Congratulations to the Class of 2018, and thank you to all of our educators! This year, like all the years before it, the calendar overflows with school related activities. The school year ending in June 1890 was no exception to this tradition. However, it featured a special end-of-the-year …

During America’s involvement in World War I about 100 years ago, the Napa Valley newspapers were filled with accounts of the wartime activities of area residents. For example, both the Napa Daily Journal and Napa Register informed their readers of fund-raising for a local military unit, a fe…

The biographies published in the 1881 “History of Napa and Lake Counties, California” by Lyman L. Palmer featured about a dozen local physicians. While their individual paths to their mutual profession and journeys to Napa County varied widely, more than half of these doctors highlighted in …

The local history books of the late-1800s and early-1900s, including the 1881 “History of Napa & Lake Counties, California” by Lyman L. Palmer, featured biographies of local residents. While many of their respective stories are typical for their time, some of the biographies hold insight…

For 160 years St. John the Baptist Catholic Church has served as a religious center for many generations of Napans. Since the 1850s, it has been tended to by numerous resident priests. The first of these, Father Peter Deyaert, was highly regarded, if not cherished by all Napa County resident…

Many of the stories of Napa County’s pioneer women settlers or early residents were but a mere footnote to their husbands’ or sons’ biographies in history books. Even these brief notations, as well as the rare personal biography of a woman, provide insights into the hardships endured and ove…

Over the past several weeks, two local history books have been the primary sources of information for the Memory Lane columns. One of these is the 1901 “History of Napa County” by Tillie Kanaga and W. F. Wallace. The second reference book is the 1926 “History of Solano County and Napa County…

Today is the 209th birthday of this country’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. His life story is fairly well known, especially his assassination on April 14, 1865. In contrast, however, most present-day locals are generally unaware of the strong reaction and emotional response of mid-1800s N…

Although Napa County residents were thousands of miles from the battlefields of the Civil War, they deeply cared about those involved in and the course of the conflict. Locals also eagerly demonstrated their allegiance and patriotism by participating in Napa County military companies, relief…

At one time, livestock was an essential part of local life and Napa County’s agriculture based economy. In fact, during the mid-1800s livestock was more numerous than the people living in Napa County and its communities.

For today’s citizen, it can be challenging to imagine what Napa looked like, let alone what local life was like, during its settlement era. Two local history books provide some assistance with this endeavor by offering glimpses into Napa’s past.

  • +3

The vast selection of wines available on the market can be overwhelming, if not intimidating. While many are confused as they ponder, “Which one?,” the advice within a nearly 70-year-old Napa Daily Journal article will hopefully help alleviate those wine selection jitters.

Editor’s note: Beginning on Jan. 1, Rebecca Yerger’s trips down Memory Lane will be running on Monday’s on the Connections features pages. Look for her column there.

December usually inspires generosity and compassion even in the most guarded of hearts. However, a story that was printed in the Napa Register during the holidays 53 years ago could have moved, or possibly even melted, the icy hearts of the Scrooge types.

Stories about the ordeals of children have always tugged at the heartstrings, especially during the holidays, the season for children. One such story appeared in the 1900 editions of the Napa Daily Journal. The subject was a young boy named Henry Brunner.

During the days of late autumns from Napa County’s past, local residents generally preferred an indoor venue as the site for an evening’s entertainment. Also, the quantity and variety of those amusements of yesteryear parallel the amount and diversity of today’s events.

The east Napa County community of Monticello, a once thriving Berryessa Valley town, no longer exists, but within the pages of the 1878 book, “Illustrations of Napa County California with Historical Sketch,” authors Clarence L. Smith and Wallace W. Elliott provide insights into the early day…

Today, most Thanksgiving Day celebrations revolve around camping out for retail super sales, watching football games on the television and the traditional turkey meal that brings families together around one table. While family gatherings and feasts were an important part of long ago Thanksg…

Andrew Rasmussen, a Danish native, worked his way up from vineyard worker to a highly regarded vineyard and winery superintendent in Napa Valley. He credited his success, at least in part, to taking advantage of every opportunity to learn about viticulture and enology.

With Halloween just days away, it is time for a chilling piece of local history and its related ghost stories. The perfect candidate is the riveting circa 1890s Greenwood incident of a tragic home invasion as well as subsequent ghostly sightings.

In light of recent events of the Napa and Sonoma counties fires, including the evacuation of Calistoga, an historical perspective of past fire threats is timely.

Born nearly 200 years ago on Oct. 11, 1820 and living into his 90s, Elias Bender lived a life full of variety and changes. Although not to be defined as a Napa County pioneer settler or mover-and-shaker, Bender lived far more than an ordinary life as he was a productive and influential man o…

Over the past month or so, Memory Lane’s subjects have been individuals featured in Tom Gregory’s “History of Solano and Napa Counties, California” book published in 1912. Today’s column will highlight the life of Patrick H. Maloney as well as his law enforcement and political appointee career.

One man, his agricultural estate and business illustrate the diversity of Napa County agriculture and its allied businesses that existed only a few generations ago. He was William Watt, the owner of Napa’s Longwood ranch and Ambrosia creamery, circa 1912.

By 1912 adult women residents of California had gained the right to vote. However, long before then, women held political posts. Frequently, those political offices were associated with education. The political career of one local woman, Margaret May Melvin, spanned both the pre- and post- w…

The Napa Register Sept. 1957 editions featured numerous interesting and even unique stories. These accounts covered a wide array of topics, including a winery event with international connections, a consumer friendly competition and other noteworthy tidbits from 60 years ago.

Chauncey B. Seeley was one of Napa’s early civic-minded residents. In 1912, he was one of the many area residents featured in the book, “History of Solano and Napa Counties, California.” However, his entry is unique as it is a verbatim quote of Seeley’s own handwritten essay—an action rarely…

The Sawyer Tannery, still located on South Coombs Street in Napa, is both a structural icon and remnant from Napa’s early industrial history. Over the course of its long history, Sawyer would become a giant in its industry. Also during its years of operation, Sawyer and its surrounding resid…

In the past, the desire to surround oneself within the beauty of nature was satisfied at any of the numerous Napa County retreats. One well-known and popular local retreat was Hudeman’s. It was once located in an area known as “The Redwoods”—the Mt. Veeder and Hess Winery area.

The sight of big top tents going up in Napa during the early 1900s brought delight to Napa County residents. Although these massive canvas structures were a trademark of traveling circus troupes, these tents also housed touring theatrical companies, such as “Sweeney’s Big Top Show” in June 1904.

In February 1904 a contingent of Napans participated in a unique event at Mare Island. In addition to the rare opportunity of being granted full access to the Navy shipyard, they witnessed Napa City’s receipt of a Spanish-American War relic, a cannon or “big gun,” during an elaborate militar…

Twenty-two years ago today, Memory Lane debuted in the Napa Valley Register. It has been a pleasure sharing Napa County’s past with you, and I look forward to continuing this joint exploration of our heritage. Also, I thank you for all of your comments, contributions and support.

Tuesday will mark America’s 241st birthday. Independence Day has been celebrated throughout the U.S. even in the smallest of communities during the earliest days of their existence. Napa was no exception to this tradition as documented within the journal of Frank Marryat, an English traveler…

Entertainment — in the form of live stage performances and, later on, movies — has been a mainstay of Napa Valley living for generations.

The productions and consumption of alcoholic beverages has always been a part of Napa County living, regardless of their legality. During this long history, especially during Prohibition, the local newspaper coverage of these libations and lifestyle ranged from tragic to sensational in senti…

The local newspapers of the 1940s frequently offered unique and interesting stories about Napa County residents, their talents, abilities and even their dreams and aspirations.

Following the repeal of the Volstead Act, or Prohibition, the Napa Valley and County wine industry was slow to re-awaken and revive itself. However, there were early indicators it was destined to have a bright future.