California will be celebrating the 165th anniversary of its statehood on Wednesday, Sept. 9. While this holiday is now nearly forgotten, Californians of yesteryear celebrated California’s Admission Day with flourish.
Before those celebrations could be organized and enjoyed, California had to become a state. California’s bid for statehood was championed by Kentucky Sen. Henry Clay. He introduced the Omnibus Bill, which included the admission of California to the U.S. as a free, versus a commonwealth, state. The Omnibus Bill was ratified on Sept. 9, 1850, creating California, the 31st state of the Union. As a gesture of appreciation to the Kentucky senator many California towns, including Napa, honored Clay by naming buildings, parks and streets after him.
Admission Day celebrations varied from year to year. At first, the local activities were understated and small with speeches, band music and flag-waving. Those wanting to participate in larger celebrations with fanfare, pomp and circumstance had to travel to San Francisco.
As the 25th Silver anniversary of California’s statehood approached, a group of proud Californians organized into the Native Sons of the Golden West. The first parlor was established in 1875 in San Francisco. The official Admission Day celebrations then became the domain of the Native Sons.
In 1885, the first Napa County Native Sons, Parlor No. 62, was established in Napa. They officially represented the entire county at regional Admission Day celebrations. In a show of local pride as well as support for Parlor #62, many Napans accompanied the local parlor to the hosting community.
Although formally engaged in official Admission Day celebrations elsewhere, the activities within Napa County remained much the same — speeches and flag-waving. But that all changed in 1887.
For California’s 27th anniversary the 2-year-old local Native Sons Parlor No. 62 decided to host the official Admission Day celebration. The guest list included all the Native Sons parlors in California. In 1887 Napa was only 40 years old and still relatively small with only a handful of hotels and restaurants. That posed numerous challenges for the local Native Sons.
Parlor No. 62 was quite creative in solving those shortages. In addition to arranging for rooms and bedding in private homes, the Napa County Court-House was converted into accommodations for the guests.
Then feeding all those guests was no small feat either. Every possible resource — restaurants, boarding houses and private kitchens — was fully utilized to meet the demand.
As more than 3,000 visitors descended upon Napa, the local Native Sons were also the porters for all of their luggage. That task might have been easier if the celebration was only a day or two long, but the festivities lasted nearly a week.
The 1887 celebration activity schedule included a dance and parade. The dance was a fundraiser, which ultimately replenished the local Native Sons coffers. The deficit had reached $1,000 a few days prior to the dance. The lavish event was a financial success.
For that dance, a large and spectacular pavilion was constructed on South Coombs Street. With typical Victorian flair, the pavilion was properly festooned in patriotic decor as was the entire town. Then during the dance, as the September 1887 skies grew darker after sunset, the pavilion was illuminated with electrical lighting. This marked the first use of exterior electrical lights in Napa. The dance was a great social success and topic of conversation for some time.
The festivities concluded with an elaborate parade. Then after the bands, precision teams and other entries headed north on Main Street, Napa’s first grand Admission Day celebration came to a close.
Happy 165th anniversary, California!