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 Hudeman retreat was the subject of a Napa County Reporter newspaper article. The majority of this summertime 1879 article was a reprint of an unidentified woman’s letter as will be this column.
She began, “I am so sorry you left California without having visited this beautiful place. Imagine the wildest and most romantic mountain glen, in the midst of which, like a trick of enchantment, you suddenly find yourself confronting a cottage embowered amidst vines and rare flowers of every variety and description, with fountains sparkling in the sunshine and rendering the air cool and pleasant. A running rippling brook making music as it goes; through dense shade and flickering sunshine paths lead still further down the glen to a lake surrounded by flowers, tropical fruits and masses of shrubbery, which combines so naturally with the native growth that it is impossible to tell where nature ends or art begins.
She continued, “Several islands adorn the artificial sheet of water, on which are summer houses artistically constructed of rustic work covered with vines and furnished inside with seats and tables of sylvan character. Upon mounds and rockeries and along the margin of the water bright colored geraniums, fuchsias and other lovely flowers, both wild and cultivated, grow in gorgeous profusion. Picturesque rustic bridges lead to these islands, and a commodious row-boat to navigate the lake leaves nothing to be desired in this scene of enchantment.”
Nearing the end of her letter, she noted her reaction to the atmosphere of Hudeman’s. “It is impossible to describe the mingled charm of water, sunlight and shade, the fragrant air cooled and freshened by the play of the water from a graceful jet, rising perhaps 50 feet from a fountain in the midst of the lake and falling in silvery spray. The soft, undulating weeping willows trailing their branches in the water, in striking contrast to the towering and regularly shaped firs and redwoods in the shadowy background, and the pure white water lilies floating on the calm surface of the water. A beguiling influence to linger here indefinitely takes possession of one almost like a spell.”
The woman closed her letter with details of her dining experience at Hudeman’s. “The romantically inclined, which I am not, you know, are awakened as from a dream by the dreadfully prosaic suggestion of lunch. So as the accommodations for visitors are thoughtfully provided and carried out in every particular by the benevolent ‘Lord of the Isles’ ( and retreat proprietor) — who, by the way is a wealthy bachelor — we had no difficulty in finding rustic table and chairs under huge oaks, or the still denser shade of redwoods, the immense bodies of several of the latter being sawed off to a suitable height, forming convenient dining tables for our accommodation. The drive and open air exercise, and the sight of (the retreat proprietor) Mr. T’s advertising display of good things from the lunch basket, released us at once from any spell of sentiment incompatible with healthy appetites. And we did full justice to his very nice and bountiful lunch.”
The 1879 Reporter followed her detailed letter with a highly complementary editorial regarding the retreat. “It is a matter of surprise that this lovely resort is thrown open to strangers free of charge. And we beg to acknowledge our indebtedness to the benevolent and public spirited proprietor on behalf of all visitors.”