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Police batons, pocket watches featured in Napa County Historical Society's reopening

Police batons, pocket watches featured in Napa County Historical Society's reopening


Outlaws. Lawmen. Pioneers. Rebels. And at least one brothel owner.

Napa had all of the above. And the Napa County Historical Society has their stories to share with you.

After a six-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Napa County Historical Society reopens to the public on Saturday with a new exhibit called “Who Tells Our Story.”

“It feels great to reopen and have such an incredible exhibit,” said Liz Alessio, executive director at the historical society. “It’s like a breath of fresh air.”

“Who Tells Our Story,” produced in partnership with Arcadia Publishing, the Doctors Company, Aegis Living Napa and the Jewish Society, pivots on 20 published books local historians have written about Napa County.

The books are grouped into five categories for this exhibit: places, people, livelihoods, leisure and governance.

Each category has its own exhibit including photos and memorabilia items – many of which belong to the historical society.

Take those lawmen and outlaws, for example. On display in the “governance” section of the exhibit are photos of those officers and officials going back to the 1880s. Artifacts on display include a vintage police officer badge, handcuffs dating to 1901, a wooden police baton from the 1930s (decorated with carved shamrocks) and a straw skimmer hat from the 1920s— the kind a politician might have worn back in the day.

Via this new exhibit, “We hope to entice the public to think about the stories that are yet to be told,” said Alessio. There are many voices “heard and unheard in our ongoing quest to discover and preserve Napa’s heritage,” she said.

“Who Tells Our Story” opens on Friday at 7 p.m. with a virtual event for members and special guests. The Napa County Historical Society is located inside the Goodman Library at 1219 First St. in downtown Napa.

The exhibit highlights those 20 books with more than 100 historic photographs and more than 70 memorabilia items from local families and businesses of the Napa Valley.

Other ephemera includes such gems as pocket watches that belonged to Napa educator Dee T Davis, a glove die from the Napa Glove Co., a signed baseball from the Coast League of 1909, souvenir plates from Napa Valley, a cement marking block, scrapbooks and even the old Salvador School Bell.

“This visually rich exhibit covers the period of 1830 to 1930, a blink of an eye, in the 10,000 years of habitation in the valley,” reflected on the new timelines installed at the Goodman, said a news release.

“Who Tells Our Story” also includes other programs such as:

  • Small group tours by appointment.
  • Virtual lectures that showcase the Arcadia Press historians who have written books on Napa County and are featured in the exhibit.
  • Virtual tours that connect cultural enrichment programs with at-risk and sheltered-in-place residents at Aegis Living, the Meadows and others.
  • Digital educational programs created by the Chinese Historical Society, the Napa Valley Farm Bureau, the Yountville Chamber of Commerce, the Napa County Regional Parks and Open Space District and the Suscol Intertribal Council “to enhance and engage distance learning.”

Over the past six months, from the outside, it might have looked dark and quiet inside the Goodman. But much was still happening behind the scenes, said Alessio.

“We have been working diligently to continue to bring our programs to Napa County residents and beyond through virtual presentations, lectures and tours,” she said. Everyone has had to adapt during COVID-19, including the historical society, “by embracing a new vision to blend technology with traditional exhibitory.”

To bridge the gap during the closure, the nonprofit was able to receive a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan of $12,500 and Economic Injury Disaster Loan of $67,900. There are just two part-time staff members, Alessio and Research Librarian Nikelle Riggs.

“If we didn’t have that we wouldn’t be here,” said Alessio. The nonprofit also relies on donors, sponsors and members to sustain it, she said.

Two new volunteers have raised the game at the society, said Alessio. They are Board Vice President and Anthropologist Dr. Sheli O. Smith and guest curator Cultural Anthropologist Dr. Monica Hunter.

Smith lives in Yountville and Hunter in San Luis Obispo.

Both “have really elevated what we can offer the community,” Alessio said.

Smith described the Napa County Historical Society as a cultural touchstone.

“It’s a jewel, a gem, in downtown Napa,” Smith said. Hosting such exhibits “makes history relevant, engaging and exciting,” and that’s what brings a community together, she said.

It can also inspire a community, said Hunter.

The anthologist pointed out that telling such stories can help today’s citizens look back and appreciate the strengths of our ancestors. That in turn can help us “see ourselves as having the strength to carry on,” and remain resilient during our own hard times, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch now: take a tour of Napa’s historic Horrell House

You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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