“Hillside Farm” Resort: Visiting the Ghost Buildings of a Former Napa Getaway

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Resorts in the Napa Redwoods area

During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there were several small resorts in the area of the Napa Redwoods west of Napa, mostly on Mt Veeder. One not in that area, though, was located halfway up the steepest grade of what is now Partrick Road. Called “Hillside Farm,” it was owned by Wenzel and Barbara Kunzel.

I visited the property with Bob Streich Sr. and Bob Jr., grandson and great-grandson respectively of the Kunzels, whose daughter Lily was Bob Sr.’s mother. We knew the resort existed because the Streichs owned the original of a beautiful hand-inked and water-colored rendition of the resort (below) drawn by a J.B. Gordon in 1897. It had apparently been commissioned by the Kunzels at the height of the resort’s ten year run, which according to local lodging historian Don Winter, was from 1888-1898.

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This pen-and-ink and watercolor illustration of the Hillside Farm was done in 1897 and is owned by the Bob Streich Jr. family, whose grandparents built and ran the resort. (Click on image for larger version; then hit “back” button to return to article.)

When Bob Sr, now 102 years old, pointed out the site of Hillside Farm, I was dubious. But it was definitely on the side of a hill, that’s for sure, and once we got out of the car and were in the trees, we could see we were in the right place. We met up with the current owners Jerry and Louise Levitin, who had once owned a bed & breakfast and even wrote a book about B&Bs, and who thought it nicely coincidental that their current property had this small-resort history.

Like many Napa Redwoods-area cabin/tent cabin resorts, Hillside Farm billed itself mainly as a clean country getaway, but one on a real farm with “fine spring water, fresh butter, eggs and milk, magnificent location, grand scenery.” The hillside below the resort was clear, giving the resort a view below to Browns Valley and out to Napa itself.

The Kunzel Family

Born in 1841, Wenzel came from Bohemia (now western Czech Republic) where he had become a stonemason and then had served six years in the Austrian army. In 1866, while in battle on the losing side during the short-lived Austro-Pr

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An ad from the San Francisco Call for summer resorts in Northern California

ussian War (it lasted seven weeks and established Prussia as the power in Germany), his horse was shot and collapsed. The fall injured Wenzel’s left knee so badly that he limped heavily for the rest of his life. Four years later, at 29, he came to the United States and worked as a mason in Ottawa, Kansas for a year, and then moved to Denver, where he lived for twelve. In Denver, he met 23-year-old Barbara Klein who had recently arrived a few years before with her parents from—of all places—Prussia.

They married in 1879, and had their daughter Lily Mabel three years later. In 1883 they arrived in Napa and purchased the 227 acres for $4,500. Very little of the acreage was actually flat, but it had a small redwood grove nearby for lumber and a lot of rocks for walls. In 1887, they had son Gustave, and one year later, they opened Hillside Farm. Barbara ran the business; Wenzel ran the surrounding farm, with a dairy and orchards.

Wenzel also used his masonry skills to lay all the homes’ and barn’s foundations and to create low-walled terraces and a stone-lined runnel, which took gurgling water from the spring near the top of the resort area across the terraced area to a pond below. He also built the foundations for several small cabins. Ads for the resort appeared in San Francisco Call newspaper’s “summer resort preview” section, and community news notes from Napa, Oakland and San Francisco periodically included announcements of visits to the farm by local residents. On July 4th weekend of 1897, at probably the height of its run, the resort hosted sixty visitors.

The only remaining building from Hillside Farm, though the top floor was likely completely rebuilt after a 1904 fire. Originally, a veranda went around the sides and front. The ground-floor stonework was done by Wenzel Kunzel.
One of the remaining local-stone foundations of a house/cabin at Hillside Farms, in the location of the three smaller cabins to the right of the main cottage in the large illustration up top.

Wenzel may also have been the mason who built the main stone winery building at what is now Mayacamas Vineyards in 1889 for John Henry Fisher. In an interview by Mt. Veeder historian Larry Hicks with Richard Brandlin, whose family owned the winery property for decades after the Fischers, a man named “Kinzel” was the mason.

The Streichs wandered around the property now, taking photos and comparing the layout to the illustration with them. The only older building still standing on the resort property appears from construction to be a later (1910 or so) remodel of an original building (likely the rebuilding on the main house that burned in 1904). The terrace walls and the runnel are still there, if overgrown. A small stone foundation surrounds an empty hole of what was likely a half basement. The large barn still stands—painstakingly repaired by the Levitins twenty years ago. Built on a slope, its lower story is made of stone walls likely laid by Wenzel.

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The arch and sides of the lower front door of the house has been repaired
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The barn built by Wenzel Kenzel, since repaired by the Levitins, current owners.
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The interior of the restored barn.
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Bob Streich Jr. and Sr. look at the barn at Hillside Farm
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Dorothy Streich documents Wenzel Kunzel’s stone work. on the side of the barn.

After Hillside Farm

After the resort closed, Wenzel continued to farm the property while Barbara bought a longtime restaurant in downtown Napa. (The owner, whose husband had recently passed, was selling everything and heading to Nome, Alaska, in hopes of opening a restaurant there and mining for gold.) The restaurant was located on the east side of Main Street likely where the parking lot between the Winship Building and Downtown Joe’s is now. The restaurant seems to have had no name, always referred to as “Mrs. Kunzel’s restaurant.” It was the kind of local restaurant where clubs held meetings or award dinners, where people waited for the regional bus which stopped outside the door and that served holiday dinners. “For a nice turkey dinner and all the good things usually served with such a dinner,” wrote the Napa Daily Journal, “go to Mrs. Kunzel’s restaurant on Christmas Day.”

In 1902, Lily Kunzel, then 19, married Ernest Streich over the ridge at Castle Rock Vineyards on Redwood Creek. In 1904, the Kunzel house accidentally burned down due to a blocked flue. The next year, Barbara sold the restaurant and Wenzel leased the farm, and they moved to San Francisco with Gustave, where he attended mining school. They moved to Oakland after the 1906 earthquake and fire (it’s not clear how the earthquake and fire affected Gustave’s coursework).

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Ernest Streich and Lily Mabel Kunzel Streich, circa 1902.

In 1907 Gus contracted a kidney infection in Nevada, perhaps while on a mining job, and returned to the Oakland house and convalesced there until he died. He had gone through public school in Napa and the local newspaper relayed the news of his death: “The youth had lived in Napa and was one of Napa’s most popular young men” and local friends would be “grieved” to learn of his death. Additionally that year, Barbara’s father Nicholas who had lived with them for at least seven years, passed away at Castle Rock at 90 years old. Then to top it off, Lily Kunzel Streich died from tuberculosis in 1909, at 26 years old, after only seven years of marriage, leaving behind her husband and the two children, Emily, then five, and Robert (later Bob Sr.), who was three.

Lily Kunzel Streich and her daughter Emily play in a pile of sand at Castle Rock, circa 1904.

At some point after this trauma, it appears the Kunzels separated. In the 1910 census, Barbara is a boarder in a house in Oakland, and Wenzel is living at Castle Rock with his son-in-law (although listed as being married 32 years). He was still healthy and living “independently,” according to Bob Sr., in a separate cabin and had “some cows” to mind.

In 1917, Wenzel’s by-then-failing health drove him to commit suicide in his cabin at Castle Rock. According to Bob Sr., who was 11 at the time, the family had just had a meeting where they discussed the possibility that Wenzel may have to move into a nursing home. Whatever was decided at the meeting, and whatever Wenzel may have threatened to do to himself there, when the shot went off, Bob and his older sister Emily knew exactly what had happened.

“We were playing on the other side of the house,” Bob said in an interview a few years ago, “when we heard a shot. Emily shouted ‘Grandpa shot himself!'” They ran around to the cabin in time to see Barbara come running out of the cabin’s front door crying, “Oh, how could you?”

Wenzel was 77 years old. The Napa Daily Register broadcast the news in an top-front-page article headlined “ENDS HIS LIFE” that the “venerable and highly esteemed resident of Napa County” had “suicided by firing a bullet into his brain.” His body was taken to Oakland for cremation and then interment.

With Wenzel’s suicide, Barbara had lost her parents, her husband, and both children. She continued to live in Oakland and San Francisco after that, but little else is known of her other than that she passed away in 1934 in Oakland, according to the Napa Journal, “after an illness of a year’s duration.” 

Thanks to the Streich family, Jerry and Louise Levitin, Napa County’s Library’s online newspaper archive, ancestry.com, and the historical research of Larry Hicks and of Don Winter.

 

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Tom Orr says:

    Nice article Robin. Interesting to follow a family’s history and journey through life here in the valley.

    Like

  2. Peggy J Aaron says:

    Thank you Robin,once again for such a wonderful look back in time. First I have heard of this history and resort. Keep up the fine work.

    Like

    1. Robin Lewis says:

      Peggy–so sorry for delay in reply, but thank you again, once again, for your thanks. How did your flowers do after the fire, if I can ask. I am not sure how things ended up there after the one video I saw. Thanks again, RL

      Like

  3. tonytomeo says:

    It is amazing how much history there is here where almost all of the old history has been lost, and documented history is not much more four centuries old, with most of our history happening in only the last century and a half or so. I happen to work at a Christian Conference center that was established in 1906, and on another property that had been growing apples and nuts longer than that.

    Like

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