More than 500 years ago, members of the Wappo tribe discovered a natural volcanic hot springs in a valley near the base of Mount St. Helena. The first American settlers began to arrive in the area in the 1840’s and news of a hot springs with “healing powers” spread quickly to nearby communities.
Samuel Brannan first visited the upper Napa Valley in 1859, drawn by tales of a hot springs with “healing powers”. After he visited the region, Brannan decided to build a hot springs resort to rival Saratoga Springs, New York, which catered to wealthy visitors from all over the world. Brannan purchased more than 2,000 acres and sold off plots of land to finance his dream – Calistoga, Hot Springs of the West.
After Brannan opened his Hot Springs Hotel in 1862, wealthy San Franciscans journeyed to Calistoga during the summer months to relax and enjoy the natural volcanic hot springs. To simplify the long, overland journey, Brannan and a group of businessmen built a railroad that streamlined travel to the upper Napa Valley. The Napa Valley Wine Train recreates this historic journey in lavishly restored 1915-1917 Pullman dining and lounge cars on its daily round-trip service from Napa to St. Helena.
In 1880 Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Vandegriff-Osbourne spent their honeymoon in Silverado, an abandoned mining camp on Mount St. Helena. In the opening chapter of The Silverado Squatters, Stevenson describes his first impression of the City of Calistoga. “It is difficult for a European to imagine Calistoga, the whole place is so new, and of such an accidental pattern; the very name, I hear, was invented at a supper-party by the man who found the springs.”
In 1920 Giuseppe Musante, a soda fountain and candy store owner, was drilling for a cold-water well at the Railway Exchange in Calistoga when he struck a hot springs geyser. In 1924 Musante set up a bottling line and began selling Calistoga Sparkling Mineral Water. In the 1970’s, Elwood Springer bought the small bottling plant and Calistoga Mineral Water became a popular national brand. Today, the Calistoga Beverage Company, bottles its famous Calistoga® Brand Mineral Water from the same natural source.
Visitors still arrive in Calistoga from all over the world to enjoy the fine dining and local wineries, relax in the natural hot springs and volcanic mud baths, bicycle among the vineyards, and hike among the wild, pristine beauty of the Mayacamas Mountains.
If you would like to learn more about the history of Calistoga and the upper Napa Valley, visit the Sharpsteen Museum, located at 1311 Washington Street.