Berryessa Valley Exhibit Moves

Berryessa Valley Exhibit Moves to the Winters History Museum

Although the devastating fires destroyed much of Spanish Flat, Carol Fitzpatrick's Berryessa Valley Exhibit survived. It has now been moved to the Winters History Museum and is on display there.

I visited Carol there a week ago. She was in the middle of an interview with PBS scheduled to air in early June. Carol and the museum's president, Woody Fridae, have done a great job in reproducing the Spanish Flat exhibit.

The Winters Museum is located at 13 Russell St. and open to the public Thursdays through Sundays between 1 and 5 p.m. Admission is free. It is located in a concrete blockhouse of a building that was originally built to house the offices of the Bureau of Reclamation people responsible for building Monticello Dam.

According to Woody Fridae, the Historical Society of Winters has chosen to gather photos, artifacts, and speakers to commemorate the lost town of Monticello because they share common history. The high school students from Monticello attended Winters High School. Many of the Winters Youth Day Sweethearts were from Monticello. Locals remember going up to the famous Monticello Rodeo the first Sunday every May.

The Historical Society of Winters fortuitously teamed up with Carol McGinnis Fitzpatrick, whose family lived in the lost town of Monticello. Society President Woody Fridae said it would have been impossible if it weren’t for Carol specifically.

For about 10 years, Fitzpatrick operated a one room museum in Spanish Flat, displaying Monticello artifacts and memorabilia until 2020 when the LNU Complex Fire threatened her building and she lost her lease. Fitzpatrick said Fridae connected with her after the fire, asking to borrow a few items for the Winters Museum. 

According to Fridae the Town of Monticello drew in farmers due to its temperate climate, prompting them to grow wheat, fruit, hay and other crops. By the 1870s, it had become a full-fledged community with a general store, blacksmith shop and cemetery. Later amenities included a nine-hole golf course, billiards hall, tavern that hosted live music, 76 service station and the rodeo which was established in 1920 and drew up to 1,500 attendees each year.

The scenes of life in Monticello in these carefree pre-dam days were captured in photos by the Muller family, which will be on display at the museum. These color photos feature people dancing, a naval officer returning home from World War II, teenage girls riding their bikes down the street, people playing pool, swimming in the Putah Creek and students riding a bus to attend Winters High School. These photos show a valley that was full of life and had its own unique characters going about day-to-day business.

The dam project was widely opposed by Monticello residents (and Napa County). Fridae said they designed a pamphlet and sent it to Congress to encourage them to resist it. Their goal was to emphasize that Monticello was a vibrant town with an active agricultural economy and annual, well-attended rodeo and even suggested an alternate plan with a smaller reservoir that would not damage the town’s fertile land. 

********                       © Peter Kilkus 2021