Although not located in the heart of Napa Valley, it is the cultural, business, foundation and life blood of Napa Valley as well as the County Seat. Located near the southern tip of Napa Valley, Napa is the principal city of the Napa County Statistical Area with just over 80,000 residents. The City of Napa once the home to a lone saloon, the first recorded business within its current boundaries of almost 18 square miles, is today a thriving commercial mecca.
On land that was once the home to an indigenous people as well as a varied wildlife, the Napa of today is a pleasant mix of historic and modern. It is home to dozens of 5-star restaurants, cafes, ethnic eateries, coffee shops as well as two prestigious Michelin stars dining experiences at La Toque and Kenzo Napa.
Spanish missionaries first ventured into the region now known as Napa Valley and the City of Napa in search of converts. American Farmers started arriving in the 1830’s to homestead on this fertile land with a reputation for its Mediterranean Climate.
Nathan Coombs is credited with founding the city on the land that now comprises the city limits of Napa. The name Napa is thought to have been derived from the name given to a Southern Nappan Indian Village. The meaning of Nappan is understood to be “Fairy Valley”.
The city of Napa quickly expanded into a typical cowboy town after the brutal purge of 1850. The center of Napa hosted hundreds of horses while their riders took solace in the numerous saloons and gambling houses that had sprung up in this wild west city. Horse riders came from all directions for the climate, gambling and libations overbooking hotels on a continuous basis.
The thriving commerce of the early City of Napa also allowed culture to take hold. The Lyceum movement found the continuously growing city of Napa ripe for an agricultural society as well as a reading room. Two Newspapers began regular publication, the Napa County Reporter, and the Napa Valley Register that is still published today.
A lot of California cities were born and flourished during the Gold Rush, for Napa it was the failures of the Gold Rush that fed its growth. Fleeing the severe winters of the gold fields, miners escaped to the more welcoming climate of Napa, where they found respite from cold, snow, sickness and floods. Burying their dreams of gold wealth, the miners found plenty of work throughout the Valley with a flourishing lumber industry that was taking root. Lumbering led to lots of cleared land for the establishment of cattle ranches which were also able to provide jobs.
In 1858, Napa was home to a mining rush. It was the quicksilver rush, an industry that would maintain for decades. Tanning became a major economic engine because of the cattle ranches. In 1869 the B.F. Sawyer Tanning Company was established.
As the city expanded so too to the interests and needs of its citizens. On February 13, 1880 the Napa Valley Opera House opened, it continues to operate today.
The city of Napa has survived a tumultuous history spurred by the ever-changing times. It has endured 27 recorded floods from the river that runs downtown, it has remained firm during earthquakes, unbeaten during fires, and continued to reinvent itself during economic downturns.
As the wine industry of Napa continues to seed the economic activity of the Valley, its fruits continue to provide a fruited harvest for the city. This prestigious renowned wine valley has maintained its resilience as it continues to rebuild after a 2015 earthquake and the wildfires of 2017. Treasury Wine Estates based in Australia, a multi-billion-dollar worldwide wine distributor maintains a footprint in the city of Napa.
The economic renaissance of Napa is symbolized by the 10th Anniversary of Oxbow Public Market, a vision of a diverse group of investors led by a singular minded Steven Carlin who believed in the revitalization of the Oxbow District of Napa. Overcoming the doubts of business leaders, the pessimism of citizens, the national economic downturn of 2008, the Oxbow Public Market is a smashing success.
The Oxbow Public Market was the brain child of Steve Carlin, a real estate developer and specialty food consultant who has an affinity for the concept of Buy Fresh, Buy Local. Judging by the estimated 1.8 – 2 million visitors a year that buy at the Oxbow Public Market, it is a success in its planning, its utilization and its revitalizing impetus to a Napa District that sorely needed a shot in the arm.
The 40,000 square foot marketplace is the home to 22 merchants who entice visitors with artisan cafes. local food vendors, organic produce from local farms, wine, food, books, chocolates, breads, cakes as well as a selection that is found in most cities that are four times the size of Napa. The Oxbow Public Market boasts a relaxing deck area which overlooks the river that runs through the Oxbow District.
When visiting the city of Napa, there is the Historic Downtown, Cowboy History, the History of Indigenous peoples, Miners History, some Riverboat lore, and a touch of train whistle stop memories, Agriculture History, Wine Making History and now as it celebrates its 10th Anniversary, the living History of the Oxbow Public Market.
Story by Daniel Dachille