For well over a century, Napa Valley and County have attracted and impressed even the most discerning of tourists as illustrated by an 1895 Napa Daily Journal article about the “Half Million Club’s” excursion of the area.
Its headline said, “The Valley Seen.” The article continued, “The excursionists of the Half Million Club reached Napa shortly after midnight Saturday morning, and were met at the depot at about 8 o’clock by a committee of the Improvement Club and a large number of other citizens.”
Prior to embarking on their Napa Valley tour, the visitors convened in the train’s dining car to hear the presentations given by the 30 men and women who were members of the group, which included Southern California movers and shakers, San Francisco Chronicle correspondent G. Hazelton and artist F. Holmes, Los Angeles Express writer J. W. Elliot and the event photographer, A. M. Jones. There were also people from the East and California’s Central Valley.
Originally, the tour of Napa County was to be by buggy and road but due to the inclement weather “the tour was run up the valley as far as St. Helena, thus giving the visitors a chance of a passing glance at what they agreed to be one of the most delightful sections (of California) they have visited.”
The Journal continued, “The excursionists were surprised to learn that oranges, lemons and even dates can be and are raised in the valley, which they supposed was given up almost entirely to wine growing.”
As the train rolled through the Oak Knoll area north of Napa, Drury Melone of the once-famed Melone ranch, “had a large quantity of fine cut flowers for the excursionists,” said the 1895 article.
After returning to Napa, the visitors listened to a few mores speeches before disembarking from the train. Napa Register owner and publisher G. M. Francis spoke on behalf of the Napa Improvement Club while other local residents extolled the virtues of Napa County.
Then, Major Woodward of Sonoma spoke briefly about the next day’s Sonoma and Santa Rosa tour itinerary. “D. M. Bunker closed the speech-making with a concise statement of the objectives of the Half Million Club,” said the Journal. Currently, the search is on for information about this late-1800s organization, but for the moment, not much is known other than what appeared in the 1895 article.
After the speeches, the visitors enjoyed an evening of taking in the hospitality of Napa restaurants and entertainment venues. The Journal reported, “They are quite enthusiastic over the results of the excursion.” The group left Napa for Santa Rosa the next day at 12:30 p.m. aboard the special excursion train.
The local news reports about the tour continued a couple of days later with a reprint of J. M. Elliot’s Southern California newspaper article that had run in the Los Angeles Herald. It contained more details about the tour as well as his personal thoughts.
Under the headline, “The Half Million Club at Napa,” Elliot wrote, “NAPA—Despite the drizzling rain, the citizens of Napa in numbers entertained the Half Million Club to-day. A committee consisting of Henry Brown, G. M. Francis, W. M. Fisher, Henry Hogan and many others waited upon the club at the station and accompanied the party up the valley to St. Helena and return.”
His perceptions of Napa County included his observation: “Nature has dressed the vale in glowing tints and the party is enchanted.”
Elliot provided a rather interesting notation about Napa County residents and their lifestyle: “Champagne is so cheap up here that people wash their buggies and sprinkle their lawns with it. Wine baths are the order of the day.”
In closing, Elliot wrote, “A fine luncheon concluded the entertainment and the party leaves with regret.”
Granted, one would assume, Elliot was exaggerating to make his point that he was impressed by what he saw and experienced during his brief Napa Valley visit.
As illustrated by these articles, this place known as Napa Valley and County has drawn, and continues to draw, many visitors and admirers to enjoy its special attributes and way of life.