Napa County is a county located north of San Pablo Bay in the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 136,484. The county seat is the City of Napa. Napa County was one of the original counties of California, created in 1850 at the time of statehood. Parts of the county's territory were given to Lake County in 1861.
Napa County, once the producer of many different crops, is known today for its regional wine industry, rising to the first rank of wine regions with France by local wineries Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelena winning the "Judgment of Paris" in 1976.
In prehistoric times, the valley was inhabited by the Patwin Native Americans, with possible habitation by Wappo tribes in the northwestern foothills. Most villages are thought to have been constructed near the floodplains of watercourses that drain the valley. Their food consisted of wild roots, acorns, small animals, earthworms, grasshoppers, and bread made from crushed California buckeye kernels. In winter they would construct huts made of tree branches. In summer they camped near rivers and streams. In winter months, they were half clad in wild animal skins and at other times they wore no clothing. The maximum prehistoric population is thought not to have exceeded 5000 persons.
In 1776, a fort was erected by the Spanish Governor, Felipe de Neve a short distance northwest of Napa, on an elevated plateau. Russians from Sonoma County's Fort Ross grazed cattle and sheep in the Napa Valley in the early 19th century and in 1841 a survey party from the fort placed a plaque on the summit of Mount Saint Helena.
Francis Castro and Father Jose Altimura were the first Europeans to explore the Napa Valley in 1823. When the first white settlers arrived in the early 1830s, there were six tribes in the valley speaking different dialects and they were often at war with each other. The Mayacomos tribe lived in the area where Calistoga was founded. The Callajomans were in the area near where the town of St. Helena now stands. Further south, the Kymus dwelt in the middle part of the valley. The Napa and Ulcus tribes occupied part of the area where the City of Napa now exists while the Soscol tribe occupied the portion that now makes up the southern end of the valley. Many of the native peoples died during a smallpox epidemic in 1838. Settlers also killed several over claims of cattle theft.
Following his marriage to General Vallejo’s niece Maria Guadalupe Soberanes, Edward Turner Bale became a citizen of Mexico and was granted Rancho Carne Humana in the northern end of the valley. Bale completed building the Bale Grist Mill a few miles north of St. Helena in 1846. Colonel Joseph B. Chiles a guide for one of the earliest immigrant trains to California, was granted Rancho Catacula in 1844.
The Town of Napa was founded on Rancho Entre Napa by Nathan Coombs in 1847.
Following the event of the Mexican–American War, Bear Flag Revolt in 1846 and the Mexican Cession in 1848, settlers were granted deeds from the original ranchos during the 1850s through 1870s. To this day, a number of streets and landmarks around the valley reflect the names of these ranchos and original grantees.
John Patchett opened the first commercial winery in the county in 1859. The vineyard and wine cellar were located in an area that is now in the city limits of Napa. After working as a winemaker for Patchett, Charles Krug founded his own winery in St. Helena 1861.
Descendents of George Yount and Captain Edward Bale played key roles in the early development of Napa County. Yount's granddaughter Elizabeth Yount married Thomas Rutherford in 1864. The couple received as a wedding gift from George Yount, land in the area of the valley now known as Rutherford. Rutherford established himself as a serious grower and producer of fine wines in the following years. Bale's oldest daughter Lolita married the seaman Louis Bruck. When Bale died in 1848, Bruck became the executor of the will for the family. He was elected the first mayor of Napa City when incorporated in 1872. Charles Krug, a fellow Prussian compatriot and pioneer viticulturalist at Sonoma, married Lolita's younger sister Caroline with a dowry that included land near the Bale mill. Krug then moved north of St. Helena to establish the valley's first commercial winery.
Napa County was formed and became one of the original California counties when the state became part of the United States in 1850.
The county's population began to swell in mid century as pioneers, prospectors, and entrepreneurs moved in and set up residence. During this period, settlers primarily raised cattle and farmed grain and fruit crops. Mineral mining also played a role in the economics of the county. While gold was being prospected in other areas of the state in the 1850s, Napa County became a center for silver and quicksilver mining.
In 1866 John Lawley established a toll road from Calistoga over Mount Saint Helena to Lake County.
In the mid-1880s, entrepreneur Samuel Brannan purchased land in the northern end of the valley at the foot of Mount Saint Helena and founded Calistoga. He began developing it as a resort town taking advantage of or the area’s numerous mineral hot springs. He also founded the Napa Valley Railroad Company in 1864 to bring tourists to Calistoga from San Francisco ferry boats that docked in Vallejo. Brannan’s railroad venture failed and was sold at a foreclosure sale in 1869. The railroad eventually came under ownership of Southern Pacific Railroad late in the 19th century.
The Veterans Home of California Yountville was established in Yountville in 1884 by the San Francisco chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic. The State of California assumed administration of the Home in 1897.
Stevenson's book also brought attention to the various spas and hot springs in the county. From Calistoga to Æetna Springs in Pope Valley to Soda Springs Resort a few miles east of Napa, tourists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries made the county their destination much the same as modern day tourists. The resorts became very popular with San Franciscans anxious to escape the cold and foggy weather that often plagues the city to enjoy the warmer climate that Napa County offered.
In 1858 the great silver rush began in Napa Valley, and miners flocked to the eastern hills. In the 1860s, mining carried on, on a large scale, with quicksilver mines operating in many areas of Napa County.
During World War II, the Basalt Rock Company located south of the City of Napa on the Napa River, built 3 dozen salvage rescue tugs for the United States Navy. Following the war, several small and medium size businesses began operating in the County. A large majority of these businesses were related to the wine industry and tourism. Agriculture in the county remained very diverse until late in the 20th century when wine grapes again became the primary focus. While vineyards were planted on well over 90% of the agricultural land in the county, by the end of the 20th century, modern day farmers have recently begun exploring the possibility of raising other food crops in order to again diversify and take advantage of growing conditions.