After the statehood of California, a preteen named Frank A. Leach moved to Napa with his parents in 1857. For about a decade, as Leach grew up in his adopted hometown of Napa, he also witnessed significant daily events during those early days of Napa’s settlement and growth. Decades later, in 1917, Leach compiled those memories into a book called “Recollections of a Newspaper Man – A Record of Life and Events in California” — the source for this column.
Leach began his memoir with: “My life seems to begin, as far as I remember correctly, at the age of about five and a half; at the time, accompanied by my mother, I left New York in 1852 on a steamer bound for California. Leaving our old home in Cayuga County, New York, or traveling to New York City left no impression of any kind on my mind or memory…”
From his departure from that New York wharf aboard a steamer, and throughout his life, Leach’s mind and memory would eventually overflow with insightful memories of California and his life in his adopted country.
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His trip to Napa passed through San Francisco and then Sacramento. Although in love with the latter, her living conditions prove unsuitable for the Leach family. He explained, “There was a lot of malaria in and around the city (Sacramento) at that time, and our doctor advised a change in weather. It was in the spring of 1857 that we boarded a stagecoach and after a day’s walk we reached the city of Napa.
Leach lamented, at the age of about 10, he was deeply saddened and in tears at the thought of leaving Sacramento. However, this grief would be short-lived.
Apparently, when the Leach family arrived in Napa, it was late evening and everything was shrouded in darkness, allowing no opportunity to see their new hometown. Once they’d checked into the Hotel Napa (formerly located at the northeast corner of Main and First streets), weary, melancholy pre-teen Frank Leach arrived early, completely unaware of the pleasure that was was waiting.
He “was awakened soon after daybreak by music new to my ears, but so delicious and sweet, the impression on my memory was never faded”. Leach added: “It was the song of hundreds of species of wild birds, living and nesting in the trees and brush lining the creek that flows back from the hotel.” Leach later credited this experience and the bucolic countryside of Napa Valley as the source of his love of nature.
Leach went on to say, “Napa Valley is generally recognized as a state garden.” When he saw his new hometown in the morning sun for the first time, he quickly agreed with this opinion. Leach added, “My joy, delight and excitement were immeasurable.”
While exploring the surrounding countryside that day and many more to follow, Leach became acquainted with residents and visitors who strolled through the open spaces of Napa County. One of these nature lovers made a strong impression on Leach. He was Napa’s first resident Catholic priest named Father Deyaert. Leach wrote: “…we greatly enjoyed each other’s company, as people generally do when the source of their amusement is in the same direction, (to be) fond of life in the open air.” Deyaert, adds Leach, “was extremely popular with all classes. He was a very intelligent man, and his generous and charitable character as well as his cordial manners were the secret of his universal popularity.
Leach also wrote about other notable early residents of Napa. “Nathan Coombs, the founder of Napa, was a handsome character and possessed the native ability to an extraordinary degree. He was a natural leader of men. Leach noted that Coombs was also prominent, influential, and highly regarded throughout the state until ‘On Coombs’ untimely death from tuberculosis on December 26, 1877.
Another early pioneer settler highlighted by Leach was Captain Turner Baxter. In 1850, he piloted Napa’s first steamboat, the Dolphin, to Napa’s waterfront dock. However, according to Leach, Baxter apparently had many irons in the fire.
Leach wrote: “He (Baxter) was quite an enterprising man in his day. I remember in the latter part of the 1950’s he imported beehives, which were the first to be introduced to this part of the state (Napa County). Leach added, “He sold the honey for $1 a pound or a comb, and people were happy to get it at that price.” This trio of notable Napans were just three of Napa’s approximately 500 residents.
Leach’s recollections, while primarily focused on Napa, provided some up-front notations. “Calistoga at this time was unknown, no towns or settlements being there, but the site was known as Hot Springs, as several springs giving off a fairly large flow of host water had been discovered.” Leach continued with the historical account of Samuel Brannan and the development of his station “for the ultra-fashionable”. Leach added, “That was the beginning of the town of Calistoga.”
Leach then highlighted one particular spring. It “produced hot water which some people imagined to taste like weak chicken soup, and it was customary for visitors to carry with them pepper and salt to flavor the ‘soup’ to their taste. taste”.
Leach also wrote about a lesser known, but equally interesting story related to the source of “chicken soup”. He wrote: “A few years later, a forger claimed to have discovered that this source produced pure gold in solution. He announced, after a period of experimentation, that he had also found a way to recover the precious metal in a solid or metallic form. The “faker” attempted to back up his claim with displays of gold bullion allegedly recovered from the source.
According to Leach, for unknown reasons, the claim of the “faker” did not arouse public interest. This lack of enthusiasm for his claim “seemed to disgust the discoverer, for he soon abandoned the spring and left the country,” Leach added.
These are just a few of Leach’s Napa Valley memories. Future chronicles will feature more of his local memories.
Photos: Napan becomes the guardian of a precious collection of buttons