April 19, 2024

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Napa Valley news goes on display at Napa County Historical Society exhibit | Local News

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Did you know that Napa County has been home to more than 30 local print newspapers, covering as far back as the 1850s?

From the short-lived Napa Sun to the longtime Napa Valley Register, each newspaper chronicled the life and times of Napa County.

Articles have covered events, emergencies, features, sports, social happenings and more. Editorials, advertisements and even the smallest “lost dog” classified ad all tell the “story” of our lives, said Sheli Smith, executive director of the Napa County Historical Society.

“The newspaper of course is a wonderful way to look at the stories of the valley,” said Smith.

But, “A newspaper is more than just print,” said the historian. “It is an incredibly rich visual accounting of what’s going on in your community.”

Smith and her team at the Historical Society recently launched a five-year theme for the library. Called “Who Tells Our Story,” it has already featured an exhibit on Napa County books published by Arcadia Press, then photography of the Napa Valley, and then the wineries and vintners of the valley.


Napa County Historical Society opens new exhibit on the local wine industry

As the first deep-dive exhibit of the “Who Tells Our Story?” series, the “Wine: Our Story” installment at Goodman Library in Napa features photos, artifacts and other educational materials about the industry’s reach in Napa Valley.

The Napa County Historical Society’s newest exhibit, “News: the Story of our Lives,” opened on April 8.

“News” explores how newspapers like the Napa Valley Register and others brought news to Napa residents and how it reported on the people and events of the valley over time.

Over several months, the Historical Society gathered significant items, photographs and examples of newspapers in the valley, and newspaper people doing their jobs.

Items currently on exhibit include front pages from significant moments in local and national history such as Nixon’s resignation, the first man on the moon, Napa’s 2014 earthquake, the repeal of prohibition, many photos (including Napa pressmen covered in ink), printing blocks, a route collection bag used by Napa youth carriers, old typewriters, the mastheads of most of the 30 local newspapers, “vintage” office equipment and reporter tools (such as one of the first iPhones), ledgers from the 1940s, metal press plates, bound volumes and examples of stories and ads.

Smith is particularly thrilled to have some very old print newspapers on display, such as the March 13, 1875 edition of the Napa Register and the April 24, 1908 edition of the St. Helena Star.

“The fact that we have some 1800s newspapers is stunning,” said Smith.

There’s even an interactive feature: Visitors can even “punch” in and out using the Register’s old-time clock.

On April 11, the historical society hosted the debut of the exhibit, which runs until Sept. 26.

Liz Alessio, president of the Napa County Historical Society board, spoke at the opening. Such exhibits are important “because it’s a visual way to link the past of our city and valley with the present,” said Alessio. “I like to call them living objects,” she said of the items on display.

“Being able to appreciate the craft and art of the past, the fonts, the ads, headlines, stories — to have that all on in one place and in one room, it’s really special. It’s a bit of going into a time capsule if you will. It’s very powerful.”

“We want to capture the valley and history. And it’s a shared history,” said Alessio. “This is something that belongs to all of us. And if we don’t share these stories and exhibits, it’s easily forgotten.”

Jim Beazley is a new Napa County Historical Society member.

“I was blown away,” by the exhibit, said Beazley. “I’ve been in there before and I’ve never seen an exhibit that was that well done. Seriously. It was absolutely fantastic.”

He plans on at least a second visit to the exhibit. “It is just so chock full of information, and for a news guy and history buff that’s just a treasure chest of information. Talk about right up my alley.”

And it’s comprehensive, he said. “All at once a person can get to know an awful lot more of Napa.”

History really resonates with visitors, said Laura Rafaty, executive director of the Napa Valley Museum Yountville.

At that museum, “we find that our local history exhibitions are among our most popular,” said Rafaty.

“Not only are locals fascinated to learn more about our shared history, but visitors often tell us that they want to take a deeper dive and really get to know who we are as a community.”

Rafaty said their exhibition on the 50th anniversary of Napa County’s Agricultural Preserve was a great example of this. “Locals and visitors alike got to see how our beautiful valley came to be preserved for future generations, and learn about the individuals who were instrumental in making it happen.”

“These kinds of participatory and interactive exhibits make sure that people get to tell their stories, and demonstrate how many experiences and emotions we’ve all shared,” Rafaty said.


12 Days of Giving: Napa County Historical Society works to share the valley's past more widely

The historical society’s staff works to make the Napa Valley’s past more vivid and accessible, whether at the Goodman Library or online.

Smith said she’s already thinking about the next set of “stories” to be told at the Napa County Historical Society. Starting in October the library will feature an exhibit called “Hilos Visibles y Los Visibles” (or Visible Threads) which will feature work from the Napa County Hispanic Network quilt program.

Other ideas include doing exhibits on the music of the valley, stories of Napa State Hospital and mining or horse ranching in the valley.

For now, she’s enjoying the reactions of those who discover the news exhibit.

“The funniest thing is that not a single person has gone in there that hasn’t used the time clock,” Smith said with a laugh. “I can hear it.”

They punch in and then they punch out, and leave carrying their time “cards,” she said.

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