Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back from California

In my last post, I described the new Graves family treasure I recently acquired, a collection of letters, photos, and other items from the family of Eleanor Graves McDonnell's daughter Mary Greene. Last weekend I made an all-too-brief visit to California to show some of the pictures to Graves family descendants in Sonoma County. Friday night we shared a great dinner, visiting and chatting, and then I hauled out the photos. Wish I'd had a tape recorder to capture all the stories and their variants ("Well, the way I heard it...") that were told that night!

The following afternoon, some of us made a pilgrimage to Knight's Valley, where Eleanor and William McDonnell homesteaded. It's on the eastern side of the county, near Mount St. Helena and southeast of the Geysers (now a geothermal plant). The ranch, sprawling over as many as 3,000 acres of rolling hills, passed down through the family for two generations, then was divided into several large parcels and sold. We visited the lot where the ranch house was located, with the owner's permission (it's on a private road). The original building is long gone, but the modern house occupies pretty much the same location. The well house, much modified, is still in the front yard, the garden where Uncle Will Graves grew vegetables he liked (but no one else did) is a bit further down, and a tiny private cemetery
perches atop a steep hill behind the house.

After a hot tramp around part of the property and up to the cemetery, we looked at photos again. The owner is very interested in the history of the property and was eager to see what the 1870 ranch house -- the one so many people remembered so fondly -- had looked like. As it turned out, there'd been no known photos of it until the Mary McDonnell Greene collection showed up this spring, and I was delighted to be able to display three close up views of the house taken at different times, and a fourth, taken from the road, that shows it with the hills behind. After a pleasant visit, we set off again.

Calistoga is in the upper Napa Valley about ten miles southeast of the old McDonnell place. Many emigrants of 1846 settled in the area, including the Ritchies, Tuckers, Kelloggs, and some of the Graves family. Eleanor lived there before moving up to Knight's Valley and her sister Lovina lived all of her adult life there. Their sister and brother, Sarah and William, also lived there for some years. (Louis Keseberg was a short term resident, too -- he was a partner in Sam Brannan's distillery
in the 1860s.) We stopped at the Pioneer Cemetery on Highway 128, where several of the family and their descendants are buried, and after poking around a bit, detoured past some other family sites. Then we headed back toward Santa Rosa via Kortum Canyon Road, which I'd never taken before, a marvelous narrow twisty road overhung with gnarled branches dripping Spanish moss... Ah, California!