The Jordans in the Redwoods – Part II: The Young Manager of Lotus Farm

This is the second of a three-part story about a Napa Redwoods family, the Jordans. This article is based on personal research, Harvard University Archives, and the written reminiscences of Rudolph Jordan Jr. provided by his great-grandniece Helene Belz via the District Archives at Mont La Salle, Napa.

The Jordan Family returns to San Francisco

After twelve years in Germany, the Jordans returned to San Francisco with three children. Jordan Sr., by then 64, went back to his properties and interests as a businessman in the city. His son, Rudolph Jordan Jr., then 12, was tutored privately for a few years and then entered private Urban Academy, which he attended through high school graduation in 1882.

Rudolph Jordan Jr. (center) and his sisters Marian and Vesta in a photo taken in Germany just before coming to San Francisco with their parents.

The Jordan family soon learned of the Napa Redwoods and vacationed at the tent and cabin resort of Herman Hudamann, which was a regular destination for German families of San Francisco. The resort, called Spout Farm, stood on the current Mt. La Salle property on Redwood Road. Hudamann had planted a vineyard and built a small stone winery, only 20 x 30 feet, and made wines primarily for his guests. But, as Jordan Jr. said, “flowers were his great hobby. He had all kinds of them.”

Jordan Jr. remembered that first visit: “It was a hot summer’s day and the road then led over the hills back of the place (from Partrick Road, as Redwood Road did not yet reach the area through the canyons).” There, the colorful and verdant work of Hudamann and his staff welcomed the visitors: “The splashing of the fountains and the volume of water from the great spring, together with the riot of colors in the garden, had a very soothing and delightful effect” on the arrivals. The garden had gotten established over the past 15 years and “had lost its human touch and presented itself as the handiwork of nature.”

Jordan Jr. searches for a vocation

After graduation from the Urban Academy, Jordan Jr. was accepted to Harvard University to study agronomy. He attended for his freshman year, taking general subject courses, but he did not return for his sophomore year, possibly due to health problems. (A fellow classmate who was also born in San Francisco did not return for his sophomore year as well, after being expelled: William Randolph Hearst did a bit better in most subjects, with a surprising 92 in Chemistry, to Jordan’s 62, especially considering Jordan’s future in winemaking.)

Jordan Jr. returned to San Francisco and the next year came to Napa as an apprentice in viticulture. “A friend of mine on the old Krug place near St. Helena …aroused my enthusiasms in 1883,” he said later, “and as my health was not very good, I chose this kind of out-of-door life for my vocation.” In May 1883, Jordan Jr. began a short apprenticeship at Simonton Ranch, one of the largest and best vineyards of the time. Located in what is now the Carneros region, just inside the Napa County line along of Highway 12, the vineyard was overseen by George Husmann. “Under him,” Jordan said, “I learned about the care of vines and winemaking.”

A week before he started the training, ten years after the family had first visited Spout Farm, his father purchased the property, not as a resort, but as a family retreat, farm and vineyard for Jordan Jr. to manage.

Jordan Jr. was not happy about the timing. “[My] intention was to gather more [vineyard] experience elsewhere before going to my father’s place, and the [early] purchase of the farm was therefore not quite to my liking, as I deemed myself too young to take charge of it.”

His apprenticeship with Husmann lasted only six months—through harvest to January 1884, when Husmann was fired. Without a job or other internship, said Jordan Jr., “my father prevailed over me and I arrived [at Spout Farm].”

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These two photos are taken in opposite directions. The first one looks downhill from the house along the line of spouts to the lower small pond. The second one looks back up at the house from the lower small pond. Both images are black and white photos have been hand painted by a Jordan family member to illustrate the colors found in the garden. (Courtesy Helen Belz)

Jordan Jr. takes over at Spout Farm

Jordan Jr. was 22 and still inexperienced. “Naturally, there was much fretting” by the staff of the farm, he said. Some of them, including the foreman, had been there with Hudamann and were likely agog at the arrival of a far younger, and green, manager—and one who had studied at Harvard, for that matter.

With the veteran foreman’s help and his own “careful training at the Simonton Ranch,” said Jordan Jr., “I had to apply my knowledge to new conditions.” Beginning then and continuing in various degrees over the next 40 years, “vineyard work and winemaking amounted to a great passion with me,” Jordan Jr. said. “It was always interesting and never tiresome. It involved special skill and required a combination of brawn and brain.” After planting phylloxera-resistant stock, Jordan Jr. and his team grafted them in the vineyard with wine grapes in the second and third year. “Those were pioneer days of [California] viticulture and much had to be learned by all engaged in it.”

More than vineyards on the farm

The Jordans also eventually changed the name of the property to Lotus Farm for the lotus flowers Jordan Jr. purchased and planted “in a shallow spot [of the large pond] where the sun could warm up the mud, as on the Nile.” Jordan said. “The plants did well in that rich soil and the next year there were a few of those magnificent flowers looming dreamingly over the water.”

With lilies (in June), blue hydrangeas (in July) and the lotus (in August), cut flowers became a decent side business for the farm. They were boxed and shipped express via electric rail and ferry to a florist in San Francisco. Jordan also raised cattle, ducks and chickens. His brother-in-law sent him a filly horse that was the accidental offspring of his mare and a racing horse at stud. The filly, named Adelina Patti (after the Italian-American opera soprano who happened to be appearing in San Francisco when the filly was born) actually showed promise as a trotter and Jordan sent her to be trained with the father of a fellow Harvard student in the Bay Area. Patti earned her keep on the racing circuit as a three-year-old, and then came back to the farm. Jordan tried to breed her and other mares as trotters, some of which were trained and sold for decent money, but none repeated the talent of Patti.

A retreat for the entire Jordan family

The farm became a never-forgotten haven for the extended Jordan family. A nephew, also named Rudolph, remembered as an adult the “calm paradise in the Napa Redwoods where mother (Anita) sang her lovely songs, Aunt Marian played the guitar, Aunt Vesta the mandolin and Uncle Rudy the banjo…..The early crowing of the rooster, a chicken calling her chicks, a dog barking, horses munching their food in the stalls…and, oh!, the sounds of birds, birds, birds–of quail and wild doves and blue jays in the orchards.”

The Jordan family in 1895 at the Lotus Farm with Rudolph Jordan Jr at the far right. Left to right: mother Maria, niece Vesta, sister Marian, father Rudolph Sr., and sister Vesta (Courtesy Helene Belz)

One rooster, Gickel, though, was “troublesome” for the boy, said his uncle. It had accepted men and workers as a “necessary evil,” said Jordan. Jr.,  but “when skirts appeared in summer time, or children came near, it was all off with his respect for mankind. His attacks were premeditated and energetic enough to scare grown-ups.” After rushing and knocking down the six-year-old Rudy, the Jordans had had enough. “Poor Gickel, but a mongrel without caste or breeding or influential connections….paid the penalty for his viciousness without benefit of clergy.”

Good years, stalled growth, property sale

After five years managing the farm, Jordan Jr. said later, he felt “I had gotten a good seat in my saddle” and that “prospects were fair.” Five more years later, however, his family ran into the Panic of 1893 and it’s slow several-year recovery (much like our own recent Great Recession). In 1895, after eleven years managing the farm, Jordan Jr. moved back to San Francisco. After leasing the farm for several years, the Jordans sold the property in 1900 for $10 and other Bay Area properties in trade to Theodore Gier, who had made his fortune selling whiskey. Gier built a stone winery and brandy distillery (now, respectively, the art gallery and tasting room at Hess Collection Winery) and began the first professional winery, called Sequoia Vineyards,on the property.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Paul Lawrence says:

    A most entertaining journal. I was stationed at Skaggs Island in the mid-80’s, and we loved the vineyards. We still buy Sutter Homes White Zinfandel for special occasions.


    1. Robin Lewis says:

      Paul -Thanks very much for note. Where do you live now? As you might know Skaggs Island was decommissioned and i snow a beloved waterfowl and kayaking area. Robin


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