A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: jl98584

Long Lost Family

How Genealogy saved the day!

sunny 82 °F

This will be a fairly short entry. I didn't want to upload a lot of pic's of folks since I hadn't asked them all if they minded, but will include a couple for reference sake (without names).

My maternal grandfather (Gramps to us kids) was married three times. His first wife died in the 1918 flu epidemic leaving him with an infant daughter. Six years later he married my grandmother and had three more surviving children, including my mother. When she was in college, that marriage broke up and he married again and had three surviving sons. There were some 'issues' between his second and third families, but we visited them occasionally and I had met my half uncles when I was a kid. My mom stayed in touch with her step mom a bit, and I guess the families kept track of each other through the moms. However when Gramp's third wife passed away (Gramps is long gone), the rest of us lost track of each other.

Mom and I tried to track them down a few times, but were unsuccessful. Likewise, they had tried to locate us unsuccessfully. Then the magic of technology stepped in. A couple of years ago, I posted a request for information on Phil Fox on one of the bulletin boards on Ancestry.com. A few months (or years, I didn't keep track) I got a poke from someone saying - sure, Phil Fox was his father! I immediately recognized the poke as coming from one of my uncles from the third wife.

We exchanged a little more information off and on, and finally one of my uncles was able to come up and meet us once when I was visiting my brother in CA (my uncle was still in CA as well). This was such a treat, not only were we able to reconnect with a long lost relative, he also brought a box full of pictures including a couple of pictures of Gramps as a little boy and the wedding picture of him with his first wife!

(Gramps is the boy on the left, he was in a play of some sort at the Virginia City, NV Opera House)

So now that we've gotten back in touch, I couldn't let a trip to CA like this go by without visiting my uncle again! When I let him know we'd be in town, he scheduled a nice lunch at his community clubhouse so we could meet his family also. I also let my brother know, and he and his wife (& grandson) also joined us. My brother is quite a bit younger then I and didn't realize he had this whole, extended family out there! Anyway, here's the clubhouse where we had the big get together. It was quite lovely.


The first thing of course, was Mom getting together with her siblings.


Later she was sitting with a couple of them and they started clowning around (so typical), so of course I had to bring out the camera (again, so typical):


Some of the CA folks were smart enough to bring their swimsuits:


Mom and I weren't quite that together, although I think my uncle had mentioned that they had a pool. Although we didn't have our swim suits, Mom wasn't to be shut out completely.


And my brother and his grandson were also a little better prepared.


All in all, a very successful reconnection. I am SO glad we were able to finally locate each other and get to know our relatives better. Hopefully we can stay in touch a little better going forward...

Posted by jl98584 21:25 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Family Visits Train Town (& goes boating)

My brother & his family came down to visit, and we all went for a ride on a 1/4 scale train!

sunny 76 °F

My brother and his family life just east of Lake Oroville, east of Chico. This is about a 3+ hour drive from the Napa Valley, but they were very nice about coming down to visit us while we were there. My brother has a boat in the Napa Valley Marina, so Saturday morning we drove the RV down to spend time with them (they stayed on the boat and we stayed in the RV, but otherwise had plenty of time to visit). I should say he had a boat, he may have sold it over the past week!

Anyway, we met them for lunch first - which includes my brother, his wife, my neice and great nephew (his dad, my nephew, couldn't make it this trip). I'm not sure why, but for some reason we rarely all have our eye's open or are otherwise smiling nicely for group photo's in my family!


After lunch, we headed off to Sonoma to visit a place I'd learned about from a tourist brochure. I'd never heard of this place before, but it really was quite fantastic, and once I'd mentioned it to my brother we were all pretty excited to go pay it a visit. This is currently a small, amusement park based on a 1/4 scale working railroad. However it was built as a hobby (labor of love?), it's just that the builders family now operates it so the general public can also enjoy it. The place is "Train Town" and it is very close to downtown Sonoma, CA. It covers 10 acres and includes 4 miles of 15" track, that's pretty surprising in itself, but maybe when it was built Sonoma was much smaller?

The first thing we did of course was ride the train! Even my (almost) 86 year old mother got in the act.


Besides just having fun riding on a 1/4 scale model train, the terrain they built is fantastic. The track runs past waterfalls, over railroad bridges, ponds, creeks, through tunnels and there are scale model features located throughout the ride. Sometimes the only thing that gives it away as a scale model is that the tree's are real and look overly large next to the 1/4 scale features.



In addition, near the front of the park are a model tower and an outstanding (& working) roundhouse! (Since they have multiple working engines they can pull the RR cars with...)



Also, while we were riding through the forest, past ponds and such, we saw the back side of a very realistic looking town.


The detail in this place was absolutely amazing. But the best was yet to come. The train came back through the town and stopped! (I suppose this is actually the place named "Train Town"?). It is all built to 1/4 scale.


Each building in the town has things in it appropriate for that building. Here are just a couple of examples.



General Store:


And Even a Jail! (Perhaps my neice & great nephew really belong there also? - Just Kidding, of course there was a bit of a line for these photo ops)


I must not fail to mention the petting zoo, since if you are ever so fortunate to visit this place you'll want to be sure to bring plenty of quarters for the food dispensor (which I failed to do, but fortunately my great nephew found food somewhere - or someone else found a quarter or two for him.)


It's probably safe to say everyone had a good time,


It was hard to leave the town, but we wanted to ride the train some more (and the ride is supposed to last only 20 minutes), so we all reboarded the train and headed back to the rest of the park.

We skipped most of the other rides (there are only a few), but my nephew wanted to ride the Carousel and my neice graciously offered to go with him. He is almost 3 and was a little scared to ride by himself, so she tried to ride with him. That wasn't allowed however, so for the actual ride she stood next to his horse - but this picture came out better then those, so...


This was the first time my great nephew had seen a train - how exciting is that! But we weren't done yet, he had never seen a boat before either. Since my brother and his family were going to stay on their boat for the night, after train town we headed back to the Napa Valley Marina. Of couse, my brother was very proud of his boat - although he admited he is a little behind on the brightwork... (aren't all boat owners, always?)


It was still relatively early (there was still daylight afterall), so my brother suggested we should take a short spin around the harbor. Mom stayed in the RV, which was fine, but the rest of us enjoyed the jaunt - my great nephew seemed to really take to the water.


That finally just about killed it for us old folks, so we all went to bed designing model train layouts with sailboat crossings?

Posted by jl98584 22:10 Archived in USA Tagged town Comments (0)

Napa Valley Wine Tasting

Mom was resting Friday, so I went wine tasting...

sunny 76 °F

Thursday we went on a wild goose chase to the Sonoma Valley. I wanted to try to find some more artwork from my great aunt, who had lived in Glen Ellen for many years. I tried the Sonoma Art History Museum, the Sonoma Depot (historical society) and Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa - and came away empty handed at all three. I've never seen county museums with so little info about county history (not just my aunt either)! But we had a good time at a cheese tasting factory, ate at a cool bakery in downtown Sonoma, and had a really nice visit with my Uncle Al (prior to Sunday's big bash).

This weekend my brother and his family are coming down to spend some time with us, so Mom spent Friday in the RV park resting up. During the week, we'd driven by a couple of wineries with really cool buildings so I thought I'd focus on those two on my off day Friday (Mom is NOT a wine drinker and doesn't even approve of wine or drinking really, so we pretty much agreed that these were not trips she wanted to take part in).

First, I went to Castle di Amorosa, or Castello di Amoroso in Calistoga (only a couple of miles from the RV park). This was the pet project of one of Napa Valley's wine makers, Dariou Sattui, who is as fascinated with medieval Italian architecture as he is with the wine business - so he decided to combine the two. He initially thought he'd build an 8,000 sq. ft Tuscan Villa, but somehow his plan expanded to 121,000 sq ft! It opened to the public in 2007, but so many people are already touring it that they give tours every 10 minutes.

Here is the entrance from the street:


This lies up on a hillside and has outstanding views of the valley.


Even with such outstanding views of the Napa Valley, you probably couldn't take your eyes off the castle turret however. So as you approach the castle, this is what you see:


To enter the villa, you first have to cross an actual draw bridge! The owner tried to make everything as authentic as possible, importing stone and bricks from France and Italy. He also hired iron workers to make the same types of door hinges and fasteners as would have been used circa 1100-1300 (the era the villa represents).


The entrance takes you into a courtyard, where a small room is used to organize the tours. The courtyard is also used for many public functions, including concerts (although none were taking place when I was there).


Our tour started in the Chapel, although as usual I wasn't paying much attention to my camera settings so didn't use the flash as much as I should have. A great deal of attention was paid to the murals by the builders, a special artist was brought in to make them as authentic as possible (they certainly look very old).


There is also a Great Hall (of course, as no self respecting medieval villa would be without one). Castillo di Amorosa was preparing for some sort of function in the Great Hall, so the tables were being set while we were there. The most impressive feature of the Great Hall has to be the murals however.


We went through the courtyard again, where we learned that Castillo di Amorosa has been used in a couple of movies. Since this is a fairly new site, I expect there will be more to come.

Then we went downstairs to the torture chamber. There are a few authentic artifacts (including this iron lady), but most of the objects here are reproductions.


Finally, we toured the wine tunnels and started some wine tasting.


This is where they offer you the option to purchase wine, which I did some. Then I toured around the grounds a bit more taking more pictures. I was impress with the efforts they made to make it as authentic as possible, even including farm animals and old carts around.


And of course, a couple more pictures of the castle!


Since most of the castle is off limit to folks just wandering around, I eventually did need to leave. (Also, I wanted to visit one more winery this afternoon!) So I decided to head back to the RV and stash my haul (the wine's I'd bought after the tour). Mom and I shared a nice lunch, when she insisted on taking my picture by the roses along the fence of the RV park.


As is recommended in most of the tourist brochures, I called the next winery to schedule a tour and got on the 3:30 PM tour. Since I had some time to kill, I decided to check out Calistoga a bit more. One of the places I stopped (just because it looked interesting) was Vermeil Wines.


There is also a nice mural on the back side of the building that they use on their postcards. The cards were pretty pricey (for postcards), So I just took a picture of it instead. However, given the trouble I've been having with the camera, maybe I should have bought the postcard.


I hadn't made the connection from the name, but once inside found that Vermeil Wines is the namesake of Dick Vermeil, an NFL superbowl coach. It turns out that his family is from Napa and he has some background/connections to the wine making industry, so this is a little more then just a famous person lending their name to a business venture. In any event, it was interesting seeing all the football stuff, including his superbowl trophy (which is probably the closest I'll ever get to one!)


I also liked their wines, so picked up a couple of bottles...

Finally I made it to the Beringer Brothers Winery in St. Helena, about 7 miles south of Calistoga. I had seen a cool, victorian style house from the Highway several times so figured this would be a good winery to tour. (It turns out however that the house isn't really much of a feature of the tour - it is used mostly for the gift store as far as the general public is concerned).


The tour actually begins in the Old Stone Building, which originally housed the winery operations in the late 1800's.


Inside were some very decorative wine barrels, probably just for the tourists.


Then we went straight to the tunnels. The Beringer Brothers had used tunnels to make wine back in Germany because it maintains a good (cool & even) temperature and humidity for the wine. They hand dug the original tunnels for the winery, but new ones have since been dug using concrete and steel reinforcement. The tour guide explained how the oak barrels are used in the wine making process. Both this tour and the Castillo di Amorosa tour were very informative, but quite different.


Off to the side of some tunnels are storage rooms that kept some of the oldest (family) wine. One of these was used for the movie "A Walk In the Clouds", which I've seen.


The end of the tour here also included wine tasting, but again I failed to use the flash and all of my pictures of that were out of focus. This is unfortunate, since here the focus was on pairing - why certain wines are paired with different foods. When we went into the tasting room (which was also in the big house by the way), each place setting had a small plate with bites of three diffent foods: a piece of bread, a piece of cheese, and a piece of chocolate. There were several empty glasses by each plate. The tour guide poured a little of the first wine and had us taste it, then eat the bread, then taste the wine again. He did the same thing with different wines for the cheese and the chocolate last. It was very interesting how the food affected the perception of the wines flavor! At the conclusion of all this, of course he offered us a price list from which we could order wines if we wanted.

So then we were left to our own devices to explore the grounds or the gift shop. While it was hard to enjoy the victorian character of the house furnished as a gift shop, at least I photographed a couple of the windows:


And, I do have to admit that the grounds were very nice. They clearly spend a lot of time and effort on the gardens and it shows.


Posted by jl98584 10:06 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Marin County Courthouse

(Frank Lloyd Wright), also brief visit to Robert Louis Stevenson Museum and dinner at Culinary Institute of America (CIA)

sunny 70 °F

Tuesday was an errands day, so I didn't write a separate blog entry for it.

Today however was a major day for me on this trip. I finally made it to the Marin County Courthouse, which was the last Ebuilding designed by Frank Lloyd Wright! I didn't just make it to the courthouse, I took the docent tour - and loved every minute of it. This was a big deal to me, this building is to blame for my closet obsession with FLW. When I was a kid, we occasionally drove up Hwy 101 north of San Francisco to visit my Mom's relatives in Petaluma and Glen Ellen. Every time we drove through San Rafael, I'd see this most unusual building and was fascinated by it. Later I learned it was a Frank Lloyd Wright building, and while I was no longer in this part of the country, I did have the opportunity to visit his original home in Oak Park, Illinois and also walked around several of the homes he designed in that area. Later I had a chance to visit Falling Waters, his fantastic design in Pennsylvania. I did stop by the Marin County Courthouse once, but when I asked someone in the parking lot about touring the building, they told me (incorrectly) that it was only open to the public for tours on Wednesdays. They only give tours on Wednesdays at 10:30 AM, but it is open to the public all week.

At any event, today at 10:30 I took the tour. Marin County had purchased a former dairy farm for the purpose of building a new county facility and interviewed several architects. There were several small hills on the site and all of the other architects recommended bulldozing the hills flat. Frank Lloyd Wright proposed instead to incorporate the hills into the design. At first, he didn't have a plan for the building, but they signed a contract with him anyway (he was already quite famous at this time of course). The county commissioners gave him carte blanche, and the 90 year old architect went to work. Reading some of the newspaper clippings on display, it wasn't all that rosy. People complained about signing a contract with an architect without a clue about what sort of design he'd deliver. Later after construction had already started, it was actually halted as a new board of commissioners voted to stop the work as the new building would cost the taxpayers too much money. Public support for the project finally swayed the commission however and the building was completed (on schedule and on budget by the way).

FLW never got to see the building, he died at 92 before it was completed. However, many, many people have enjoyed it ever since. It has also been used in several movies, including Gattaca and Star Wars (scenes from the planat Naboo).

While it was hard to get a bad picture of the building, it is hard to get a good overview from up close so I'm including a shot of one of the models that shows how it straddles the small hills. Wright's concept was a sort of Roman Aquaduct.


This shows the longer wing which is the Hall of Justice. It is 880' feet long and ranges from two to four stories depending on where you are (relative to the hills and the arches). There is a jail buried in the hill under the octagional roof, so prisoners can be transported to court through tunnels. To the left is an 80' dome, under which is the county commission chambers and also a library. The left wing houses the county administrative offices and is a little shorter then the right, 580' long.

The entry to the buildings is through the arch in the center.


There are a couple of art decco doors leading to an escalator.


FLW's original plan was for the building to have gold anondized paint for the roofs, but the paint products available at the time would not have stood up to the damp weather in Marin county, so his widow later suggested blue such as he'd used in other projects.


Another famous part of the structure is the 172' gold spire which originally held a radio transmitter and exhaust vent.


The spire is at the edge of a patio off the cafeteria (Room 233, where the tour begins), with a lovely pool and gardens. This is also near the center complex (under the dome) where the two wings meet.


Here's another view of the patio from above.


Another feature that isn't visible from the freeway is all the anondized aluminum 'balls' along the roof line. These extend the full length of the building, both inside and outside. FLW used these to break up the flat roof line. This view is from the patio on the hill at the end of the Admin wing.


There are two separate roofs/sides to each of the two wings. Originally, they were open to the sky - however it rains in Marin County more than FLW realized, so were covered over fairly quickly.


Inside, between the two sides, are atriums with offices, courtrooms, etc. along both sides. The top openings are wider and get narrower in each floor to allow as much light as possible to reach the bottom. This also results in very dramatic views throughout the interior of the building.


I also found the views through the round window openings very cool.


There was a meeting (celebration) starting shortly in the commissioners room, but we were allowed in briefly. This is under the dome in the center of the complex, which FLW left as a round room (quite unique at the time). Artistic details in a FLW building are never in short supply, even the recessed sections of the ceiling for the light fixtures.


The top room under the dome was the library. A cardboard cutout of Frank Lloyd Wright was supposedly full size, hmm,


So after the tour, I hung around a little longer taking pictures (trust me, I only uploaded a small portion of lot!). Then I bought some lunch in the cafe and ate out on that lovely patio, then headed back to Calistoga.

Again, we'd seen so many beautiful roses in this area I had to include another rose picture?


It was still relatively early, so I decided to take Mom down to the Robert Louis Stevenson museum we'd seen in St. Helena. I tried taking some pictures inside, but they didn't come out very good (probably should have used a flash), but this one of a statue outside is nice. It was inspired by a "Childs Garden of Verses", a book of poems he wrote.


Stevenson wasn't from this area, but honeymooned in Calastoga and liked the area so much that he wrote a book about it (Silverado Squatters), so they figured they have as much a right to have a museum about him as any place. It's small (just a large room really), but nice and has a lot of information.

We killed a little time here and at the adjacent library, then headed to the CIA. No, not that CIA, but the Culinary Institute of America - a cooking school housed in the former Christian Brothers Winery.


I'd never heard of this before, but I guess those into culinary arts are quite familiar with it. We didn't take a tour (I think they give tours), but were a little early for dinner, so visited the main building briefly and went through the kitchen store - which included a chocolate tasting...


My pictures of the restaraunt didn't come out too good either, but if you can see it - a table near us had a centerpiece of a tree!


And my shot of the Gazpacho came out pretty good, the gazpacho was pretty good too.


The rest of the dinner was mixed, some dishes were excellant - others not so much so. Overall, it was a very pricey meal for mixed quality. Maybe why there weren't very many customers? Anyway, it was an interesting experience and we both had fun talking with our student waitress, Sara.

Posted by jl98584 09:16 Archived in USA Comments (0)


Visited a couple of places, then one of the towns where Mom grew up & graduated from HS

sunny 85 °F

Ever since I was a kid, I'd heard Mom's stories about growing up in various places, but especially Petaluma. She graduated from High School there and probably spent more time there then other towns, although her family moved a lot when she was a kid. Anyway, I could recall having ever visited Petaluma myself, so thought it might be fun to give it a look.

Calistoga, where the RV Park is, is at the north end of the Napa Valley. To the west, one mountain range over, is the Sonoma Valley, then after another mountain range is the Santa Rosa/Petaluma area. There are several routes through the mountains (all fairly low, but the roads are quite winding and fairly steep - as in 12% grade in some places!). I decided to take the route that leaves from Calistoga and joins Hwy 101 just north of Santa Rosa. On the way, we decided to stop at the California equivalent of "Old Faithful". I've seen the real "Old Faithful", this one isn't even a distant cousin, but it is quite regular so I guess the name is OK. While we were there it went off about every 5 minutes or so.


When we started to head back to the parking lot, I spotted a red wing blackbird fairly close by in the grass. Usually they take off as soon as I get my camera out, so although I'd seen them several times on the trip, I hadn't been able to get a picture of one until now.


We did get into the car however and headed west over the pass towards Santa Rosa. There are a couple of tourist attractions along the way that I managed to skip, a petrified redwood forest and a 'safari west', might be interesting someday but I've already overscheduled the sightseeing this week so we kept driving. As we got nearer to Santa Rosa however, I did stop at an old (1850's?) place called "Mark West Lodge". It was closed, so we couldn't do much there, but there is a giant grape arbor that covers the road - very historic. (The place is also for sale if anybody has about $2M to invest in a labor of love, not sure it could be made to turn a profit these days.)


Petaluma was an interesting little town. They've done a pretty good job of preserving the historic downtown and many old, victorian buildings. It was used for some of the scenes in "American Graffitti" for that reason. Back in teh 1930's & 1940's when Mom lived there, they specialized in Eggs (they called themselves the Worlds Egg Basket). The Petaluma River was called the Petaluma Slough (the name was changed to "River" in 1959 so they could qualify for gov't funding to dredge it.)

I didn't take too much time to make sure I got good pic's of downtown, this one doesn't show it very well but it's what I got.


The Museum was once the library which was built using Carnegie funds in 1904. The Rotunda is the largest free standing leaded glass dome in northern California.


We were able to use the research library to find a picture of the old Petaluma HS (which is no longer standing) and the 1945 HS yearbook with Mom's Senior Photo. She seemed to enjoy going through the pictures and telling me stories.

(Mom's pic is on the bottom left corner)

We also found pictures of a couple of the grammer schools she attended, which I'll include in the family history I've been working on. (Probably no point to include them in the blog at this point?)

The library was on "B" street, which Mom said was one of the streets they lived on. Since so many of the old homes have been restored & preserved, I drove out a few blocks and sure enough Mom said this was either the house they lived in or one a lot like it.


Also, while driving around looking for the museum, I'd noticed an interesting spot for lunch. This was in the McNear's building, which was built in 1886 using an "iron front" that was painted to look like wood. According to a nice lady also eating lunch here, you could order these from a Sears catalog back then, have them shipped to your location, and voila - build a building!


So again, we're eating too much but having a great time!

Posted by jl98584 22:35 Archived in USA Tagged petaluma Comments (0)

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