P.O. Box 747, Angwin, California, 94508   (707) 965–2867

[Howell Mountain’s Wine History]Angwin: Then and Now

Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese, English and Spanish explorers, the Wappo tribe numbered only a few thousand, and lived in small groups scattered around the Napa Valley, the south shore of Clear Lake, the Russian River — and Howell Mountain. There are still several locations in Angwin that provide evidence of their habitation. The Wappo lived in an area rich in natural resources; a plentiful supply of game animals, fruit and nuts provided filling meals for the Wappo villages.

Around 1831, George Yount, a North Carolina man who had emigrated to Northern California in pursuit of the sleek, five-foot long otter that dined on abalone in the state’s coastal surf, was guided through the Napa Valley. Stopping short of the coast, he began working as a carpenter for Mariano Vallejo, the top military man of Mexico’s California Governor Figueroa. In payment for his work, Vallejo offered Yount a large grant of land. By 1836, Yount owned 12,000 acres in central Napa Valley. A few years later he applied for and received a grant on Howell Mountain, which he called Rancho La Jota for the Wappo leader whose village he had helped destroy.

While the Wappo and the Mexican military signed a peace treaty in 1836, by the spring of 1850, tensions between the Wappo and the white settlers had reached a point of no return. A Wappo war party had killed a white man; within a few weeks, Howell Mountain saw a contingent of armed, uniformed soldiers march through its forests looking for any Wappos they could find as they made their way to Clear Lake, where they planned to kill all the Indians they could find there. Within a few years, only a few hundred Wappo survived. (By the 1910 census, only 73 could be found.)

By 1853, with the Indians having been dispatched, the first roads began to appear on Howell Mountain. They were rough, narrow, often dangerous passageways between thick forests. One of the roadways, running from St. Helena up what is now called Old Howell Mountain Road, ran through the heart of Angwin, down into Pope Valley to the east, and then northward through Aetna Springs and Butts Canyon into Lake County. It became the stagecoach route between the Napa Valley and Lake County. In the 1860s some of Howell Mountain’s trees were beginning to fall to crosscut saws in favor of small vineyards.

In the 1870s two Frenchmen, Jean Brun and Jean Chaix, had started a winery in Rutherford in the Napa Valley named “Nouveau Medoc.” There they made wine from cuttings taken from the French region of Medoc. The book, Old Napa Valley, by Lin Weber, relates that

They (the Frenchmen) established a vineyard on Howell Mountain in 1876, and built a tiny winery of 20 by 34 feet by the Rutherford depot. The distance from the vineyard to the winery was inconveniently long, so to expedite communication they built a tower that could be seen on Howell Mountain. They tried to send messages by code to a watchman with a telescope situated in each place. Perhaps it worked: their business expanded. By 1881 they needed to enlarge the Rutherford crushing and storage facility to 160 feet by 34 feet, and even this wasn’t enough.

They built a second winery near the Howell Mountain vineyard to accommodate the 130,000 gallons they produced and obviate the need for watchtowers and telescopes. Their Howell Mountain Winery is still owned by French vintners and now operates as Chateau Woltner.

As the 19th century drew to a close, an Englishman, Edwin Angwin, had purchased land on Howell Mountain, and is said to have been “growing potatoes and preaching the gospel.” This description of Angwin’s holdings from the St. Helena Star speaks to the attractiveness of his place:

This is the Howell, Yount, Smith, Brown place, it belongs to Mr. Angwin now. And we all agree that Mr. Angwin has a beautiful place situated in a little valley on the top of the mountain, the land is very rich, an abundance of water, mountain springs, running streams and the healthiest place in the county. Mr. Angwin should make of it a resort for health and pleasure of others and profit for himself and add to the many attractions that surround the pleasant town of St. Helena.

During the latter part of the 19th century, Abraham Clark of Angwin and Pope Valley owned the most acreage in all of Napa County. It was planted not in vines but in wheat. Some Howell Mountain acres were even given over to stock farming. Edward Payson Heald, founder and president of Heald’s College, raised prize-winning trotting horses on a farm he owned on “The Hill” — as Howell Mountain began to be called at the dawn of the 20th century.

In 1908, in the town of Healdsburg, California, those in charge of the small Healdsburg College which was sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist faith, felt that the school, then located in the heart of the town, was becoming too crowded by its neighbors. The institution was closed and a search began for a new location. For a time it appeared that the school would be relocated in the Buena Vista area of Sonoma County, but negotiations were never finalized.

A member of the Adventist church who was employed by the St. Helena Sanitarium told the college locating committee of Edwin Angwin’s resort on Howell Mountain. A thorough study of that property was made with the result that on September 1, 1909 some 2,000 acres were purchased from Angwin for $60,000. Classes at the school, now renamed Pacific Union College, began in September 1909 with 42 students.

In October of 1918, influenza struck the Napa Valley with a vengeance. Angwin was not spared. Serious cases of the disease were reported throughout the village. John H. Paap, farm manager and science teacher at Pacific Union College, died while in Lodi, California. Edwin Angwin, whose land the Adventists purchased for the college, died of a heart attack the last week of October, a tragedy that was thought to have been brought on by the disease. Angwin’s daughter, Mrs. Ethel Sylvia Johnson, died of the flu. Pastor H.C. Shropshire, who conducted the funerals of both Angwin and his daughter, saw his own six-year-old son succumb to the disease. Edwin Laurence Angwin, Ethel’s brother, and Edwin’s oldest son also died of the disease in January of 1919.

The passage of the Volstead Act that brought Prohibition to America in the 1920s had almost no effect on the citizens of Angwin, practically all of whom were now teetotalers. However, not everyone in the village was unaffected by its main provision: no brewing of alcoholic drink. On December 21, 1922, the Wright Act, the California law enforcing the Volstead Act, began to be rigorously enforced.

One of the targets of Napa County sheriffs, constables, district attorneys and other peace officers charged with enforcing Prohibition was a major production facility which had been concealed in the bushes off of Angwin’s Ink Grade Road. In August 1923, the place was busted. Peace officers charged D. Samuels of Pope Valley and Harold Stevens of Vallejo with running six stills at the location. The equipment and inventory were said to be worth thousands of dollars. Built next to a stream, the stills had not only an excellent source of water for brewing, but also a ready-made thoroughfare for moving the product. Runners were able to travel along the stream bed up and down the mountain without leaving an easier-to-locate trail in the brush.

In order to better serve its ever growing faculty and staff needs, almost all of whom lived within a mile or two of the school, Pacific Union College started a number of businesses in “The Crater,” as the location of the college’s main campus came to be known. A college-owned and -operated grocery store was later joined by a hardware store, a commercial garage, service station, bookstore, laundry and other businesses. In more recent years, the laundry was expanded to serve the needs of Napa Valley motels and other businesses. Most folk who moved to Angwin, whether connected with the college or not, also took advantage of these local, college-operated businesses rather than choosing to make the long trip to St. Helena. In the earlier days the trip could be made only on a narrow, sometimes dangerous road which sported, according to one mathematically inclined observer, seventy-six curves between the college campus and downtown St. Helena.

By the mid-1900s most of the buildings of what had been Angwin’s resort had been replaced by newer structures to form an attractive campus for Pacific Union College. The educational institution continued to dominate Angwin life as enrollment moved toward 1,000, and faculty and staff member numbers increased to accommodate the growing student population. In the 1930s the school received accreditation as a four-year, liberal arts institution from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. At its high-water enrollment mark in the late 1970s, more than 2,200 students were enrolled. As the college moved toward the beginning of the 21st century in the 1990s though, enrollment stabilized at about 1,600.

To most people in the Napa Valley, according to Lin Weber, the Angwin of the mid-1900s was “up there on Howell Mountain,” where the college “matriculated some 500 students a year who became the doctors, nurses and teachers who were the pillars of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination and a source of healing for the community at large. The village of Angwin was up there, and beyond that Pope Valley. The roads were unpaved. Many people carried guns for protection against rattlers and rustlers.” However, officials point out, firearms were not allowed on the college campus.

Though Pacific Union College has been the training ground for an inordinately largenumber of outstanding physicians, dentists, nurses, teachers and theologians, it has also numbered among its well over 50,000 alumni many who have excelled in diverse walks of life: Arna Bontemps, one of America’s leading Black poets received his undergraduate education in Angwin; past presidents of large educational institutions like Arizona State University and the University of Houston were PUC graduates; revered U.S. Congressman Jerry Pettis graduated from the college. Gary Simpson, Napa County’s long-time sheriff is a PUC graduate. World Christian leaders and missionaries to foreign lands form a special corps of graduates of the college. Each year, a number of students at Pacific Union College take a one-year leave of their studies to serve as student missionaries in scores of countries around the world.

The Angwin of today is no longer the Pacific Union College-dominated village it was for three-quarters of the 20th century. Some of its homes continue to house faculty and staff of the college, but increasingly they also shelter small business owners, vineyardists, field workers, medical staff people and “weekenders,” those who are employed or retired elsewhere but maintain a second, vacation-type home in Angwin. Howell Mountain’s forests which drew many to the area in an earlier time are today yielding to the bite of chain saws as grape vineyards replace stately pines, firs and oaks. Continuous efforts have been made to slow the clear-cutting of Howell Mountain’s forests in favor of vines, but with little success. For good or for ill, Angwin is today a village in transition. What the result will be only the future will tell.