The St. Helena area was home to the Wappo people, a Yukian-speaking group who were the area's earliest inhabitants.
The local Callajomanes tribelet village was called Annakotanoma or Anakanoma and was located where Sulphur Creek meets the Napa River. The earliest white settlers in St. Helena were John York, who lived on what is now Dean York Lane, and David Hudson, whose house is still located at Beringer Winery.
Dr. Edward Turner Bale was a British surgeon who was appointed to General Vallejo's California forces. When he married Maria Ygnacia Soberanes, a niece of Vallejo's, he converted to Catholicism and became a Mexican citizen. This allowed him to receive a Mexican land grant in Napa Valley of 17,962 acres. Bale and his wife moved to their home on Whitehall Lane in 1843 and their family grew to six children. After Dr. Bale died in 1849, his family began selling portions of their vast holdings. One such sale was recorded in 1854 when Henry Still and Charles Walters bought 126 acres from Señora Bale. Lots on the property, which lay on the west side of the county road from Sulphur Creek to the future Madrona Avenue, were given to anyone who would start a business.
There are two theories about how the town was named. One says it was after the local branch of the Sons of Temperance; another gives credit to Mount St. Helena, a prominent landmark to the north. On March 24, 1876, St. Helena was incorporated as a town and by 1886 the population was 1,800. People from many lands and walks of life continued to relocate here, all adding to the town's complex and diverse history.
The railroad came to town in 1868, providing an important shipping nexus for fruit, grain, and mining products. New arrivals began planting vineyards and making wine in the 1860s. The wine industry began to thrive, encouraging more immigrants and more vineyards.
From early on St. Helena was the commercial center of central Napa Valley, including settlements to the east on Howell Mountain and in Pope Valley and the villages of Rutherford and Oakville to the south. To buy shoes, see a dentist or doctor, attend a lodge meeting, or hear a politician required a trip into town. Students from outlying areas went to high school in St. Helena after attending rural schools. Churchgoers rode into town on Sundays to attend services. Tourists arrived by train, to be met by stagecoaches transporting them to resorts, spas, and other vacation destinations. Local people worked hard, but they knew how to have fun, too, as evidenced by the many saloons and eateries in town, as well as the numerous parades, dances, and other well-attended activities.
Today, three blocks of St. Helena's downtown are listed as a National Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. Efforts to preserve agricultural land have helped the town retain its rural charm. St. Helena is proud of its heritage; besides preserving many of its fine old buildings, it has not lost deep traditions of camaraderie and generosity. St. Helena continues to reflect its history as a small town that is also one of the great wine-growing capitals of the world.
Reprinted from the book "St. Helena" with permission of the St. Helena Historical Society.
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