A few days ago, I posted some photos of what we used just call the Castle, a cluster of ruins up in the hills of my hometown. As a teenager, no one really knew anything about the ruins, which are on private property. I’d tried researching it online but to no avail. Turns out I was googling the wrong thing. The Castle was actually the Napa Soda Springs, a very fancy spa/springs resort as well as the home of Napa Soda bottling company. So, I was right when I said the rumors were that it was a spa and soda factory, but I didn’t have all the details. So, I asked the internet, and thanks to Robin Moore and my pal Rod Perry, the mystery was solved.
Brochure from 1930
According to the Western History Project, beginning in 1856, the “Napa Soda Springs hosted the elites of San Francisco and beyond… Situated above the Napa Valley in the eastern hills, it presented a Victorian world at its most pleasant. It remains now as forest-covered ruins, as obscure as its history. Though a common feature of documents and books of the time, more modern writers of California histories seem oblivious of the once-famous Soda Springs. It might well have never existed.”
The Soda Springs Resort in 1888:
The remaining Soda Springs now:
It seems strange to me to have grown up in Napa and never heard about the Soda Springs. I’m pretty embarrassed that I didn’t know the grandiosity of its history until now, but as teenagers, we were afraid to ask for details for fear of getting caught. I’m still a little nervous about posting this. I know that it wasn’t entirely unknown, as I once heard about some fancy people talking about it while dining at the restaurant where I was a busser. However when I mentioned that I’d been there, I was met with four horrified faces, two of them severely botoxed, and one of the faces said “and just exactly how did you get on the property? We know the owner…” so I mumbled something unintelligible and scampered off to hide in the dish pit until they left.
Before it was a hotel, the springs has a much more colorful past. The area had 27 different mineral springs that were used by local Indians. Then it was “discovered” by George Yount in 1837. Around 1856, Colonel John Putnam Jackson acquired the land and had Chinese laborers build a resort hotel. Public records noted that, “on July 21st, 1856 Allen writes to tell Sullivan that this is the first day he’s officially opened the bar and dining room; they take in $93. The only complaints, he says, concern the inferior cigars. Allen requests a better brand.” Unfortunately, in that same year, the hotel burned down, which was the first of many fires.
The dining room:
The ruins where the dining room stood (as far as I can tell from the placement of the metal handrails which still stand)
Around 1860, the Napa Bottling Co is established, using the natural mineral springs to make soda water. There was a flurry of lawsuits regarding the property and in 1861, “J.H. Wood and companions attack Mrs. Buckman and workers at the springs, beat them, and destroy the bottling works.” Shortly after, the second fire occurs when “masked men set afire the bottling works operated by Whitney and Wood.” The bottling company was quickly reestablished.
The bottling building:
Mint condition Napa Soda Springs bottle:
The area is rebuilt and continues to run as a bottling company while a new resort hotel is constructed. Then, “on April 21st, 1877, a Saturday night ball introduces the just completed Rotunda to the Napa Valley. Pugh’s Quartette Quadrille Band performs, and a “first class” supper is served to the 75 couples who attend.”
Two views of the rotunda then:
The rotunda now: (also, one view at the top of the post)
Views from inside the rotunda looking out:
In 1881, the Soda Springs resort opened. on January 1886, “The Napa Register reports that the springs will now be open year-round. It goes on to say that it’s a great stimulant to the local economy, and what’s good for Napa Soda Springs is good for Napa. It notes that the previous June, the resort spent $1000 on meat alone.” The Napa Register is still around, and, coincidentally, it’s editor is my step-father, Kevin Courtney. In another funny turn of research related events, the only other current Napa resident who seems to have taken up exploring the history of the Soda Springs and even wrote the (apparently currently nonexistent) book called “The Haunting of Soda Springs” was my college professor and the mother of one of the kids I went to grade school with as well as was a close friend during high school. Here he is at the ruins in the late 90′s:
For some reason I don’t remember him mentioning that his mom knew about the history of the ruins, but it’s possible that he did and that he knew the full extent of it’s history, but, well, incase you’re not aware of the location of the Napa Valley, it’s in Northern California and kids in that area tend get up to a very specific manner of no good so I wouldn’t doubt that I was actually was informed of the Napa Soda Springs and then completely forgot.
The fountains in the illustration on the left (below) are actually still there, however, again, the photo I have of them isn’t scanned in
However, this part is remaining wall and house structure that’s a little to the left of this area:
In 1895 “The Napa Register reports the wonders occurring at the springs. It suggests that the tallest century plant ever known in California is blooming at Soda Springs, almost reaching 40 feet in height, and the bottling plant is shipping two million bottles annually.” We knew about the century plant, and I even have a photo of it, however, it’s a real, live photo in a photo album in the attic of my mom’s house and not on my computer. In 1889, “The Napa Register reports Colonel Jackson’s new residence–Bellvue–is almost done.
as far as I can tell, none of Bellvue remains today. However, there is this smaller structure that has similar stairs to the ones at the bottom right leading up to it:
The Clubhouse, however, still remains:
The original illustration is a bit hard to see, but I can tell it’s the same building by the size, windows, stairs and columns, which have horizontal bricks:
All the walls remain standing, however the roof is gone and the insides have been gutted and overgrown with eucalyptus. (photo late 90′s w/my friend Laura)
Inside, there’s the only area (with a few, small exceptions) that has graffiti. Kids who have come up there in the past mostly just carve their name into the soft sand stone of the interior wall. The floor is covered in broken and melted glass from the old bottles of the Napa Bottling Co.
This structure I believe was called the Lemon Spring, which has a faucet that still turns on and runs today:
Courtney and Nils in high school:
Oliver and Jonathan in 2010:
the still running springs faucet:
more dilapidated but still bubbling springs:
One of the houses on the property:
This structure is gone, however this is the mountain that appears behind it, now half covered in vineyards:
This isn’t the house, however the structure of this building is very similar in that the brick work of the doorway and the windows are exactly the same. And from the view behind the original house, I know the structure below was in the same area, just a little to the left of the original house.
Another photo of the rotunda, but from the back.
In order to access the rest of the ruins, you have to climb into and through the rotunda and up out the back. This is the current area where the house/back end used to be:
The History Project reports that in the 20th century, “vacation habits change, and the Soda Springs Resort begins a slow decline. The First World War and Prohibition lead to the closing of its doors to guests.”
I’m able to place these structures from the location of the tower, so I can say with certainty that they are the same:
Inside the structure are many old wood window panes and original glass windows:
The roads leading from building to building, spring to spring, now look like this (minus whatever it is I’m doing in this photo)
Two more fires went through the area, totaling, as far as I can dig up from reports, four fires: “Napa Soda–or “Jackson’s Napa Soda”–continues to be sold through the Second World War, despite a devastating wilderness fire in the ’40s which spares the bottling plant. What’s left is consumed in another conflagration in the early 1960s.”
Some photos of unidentifiable structures and areas:
From the History Project: “Haunting ruins peak from behind thick groves of eucalyptus; the water still bubbles up from the Lemon and Pagoda springs, the stone pllars still guarding their entrances.”
“Most of the masonry walls still stand, but the proliferating trees are bound to destroy them eventually. Plans to develop the property have never progressed.”
So, that’s that. Circled are the areas that are currently (somewhat) still standing that I showed you above:
Most of the information I cited here was from the Western History Project, that posted a timeline of events according to public legal documents. Some of the photos were taken from their summary of the Soda Springs resort. I still welcome more information, and especially photos not posted here. I can be reached at juliajwertz.com. And as I said in the previous post, if the owner of the property reads this, please note that I will not provide anyone with directions to the ruins and my profuse apologies for trespassing. Please don’t sue me.