Native Americans have lived in Lake County for about 12,000 years and may well have
witnessed the last major volcanic eruptions here 10,000 years ago. An abundance of water and a plentiful wild food supply attracted many different tribes here. Before European colonization it was thought to be one of the most dense concentrations of Native Americans in California. Hundreds of Pomo, Wappo, Lake Miwok, Wintun/Patwin and Yuki peoples all co-existed here, living in dozens of small independent tribal groups. Many different languages were used and at least 3 of the 7 distinctly different Pomo languages were likely spoken. Mostly hunter-gatherers rather than farmers, the tribal people moved about freely using well-established trails to Napa, the Pacific coast, and beyond for trade. Without metal, they fashioned tools from local obsidian rock (volcanic glass) to hunt elk, deer, and other wildlife. Lake and woodland vegetation supplied ample raw materials to construct fishing boats, multi-family dwellings, communal sweat lodges, and dance houses.
Early Visitors, Pioneers, and Settlers
In the 1830s, other people began to discover the bounties of Lake County. Russian pelt and fur trapping teams arrived from the north, and a Spanish land grant given to Salvador Vallejo in 1844 brought herds of longhorn cattle from the south. In 1847 the first white settlers, Kelsey and Stone, arrived, brutally abused the Natives and paid the ultimate price. The 1849 Gold Rush and the establishment of California in 1850 brought a great wave of new settlers eager to stake a claim in the west. In 1854 the first of a succession of covered wagon trains arrived.
Many crossed the plains from Missouri in arduous journeys in covered wagons; others arrived by steamship from the east coast. Some came to mine, but most of the permanent settlers were farmers who raised livestock, grain, and other vegetable crops.
Top: An early horse-powered hay baling machine in Lake County in the 1880's.
Center: The Copsey family arrived in Lake County in 1855; one of the sons has extracted a cart of cinnabar from their Helen Mine near Middletown.
Below: Teams of oxen haul logs at the Akers & Specks sawmill on Mt. Hannah.
Early settlers soon began putting in fruit orchards and grapevines, recognizing the climate was ideally suited, having a cold dormant season and long hot summers. The settlements grew rapidly. In 1860 there were about 1,000 people registered; by 1870 about 2,500; and by 1880 over 6,000. Wood was needed to supply this rapid expansion and sawmills flourished in the Cobb, Elk, and Pine mountain areas. There were no redwoods, but local pines, firs, and cedar trees provided good lumber. Local geology brought the mining of cinnabar (a mixture of sulphur and quicksilver), the mercury extracted being essential in gold ore processing. It was water, however, from the same ground that really put Lake County on the map, as the discovery of many hotand cold mineral springs with “medicinal” effects drew visitors from all over the world.
Top: Travelers to Lake County, c.1875, outside the Lake County House hotel and stage stop in Middletown. The horsedrawn stagecoach departed from Calistoga and took three hours to get over Mt. St. Helena on steep, winding dirt roads.
Bottom: A natural artesian well gushes water from underground in the Scotts Valley area. Early homes near such powerful wells were able to pipe water to upstairs rooms.
Where to see more
Lower Lake Schoolhouse Museum
A restored schoolhouse built in 1877 with many local settler artifacts.
16345 Main Street, Lower Lake
Tel. (707) 995-3565.
Open Wed–Sat 11 am-4 pm
The Ely Stage Stop
An original 1882 stage stop with old farming equipment and antique barns that house interesting events.
9921 Soda Bay Rd (1 mile from
Highway 29 Junction), Kelseyville.
Tel: (707) 533-9990.
Open Sat-Sun 11 am-3 pm
Tourism Erupts across Lake County
Lake County exploded as a tourist destination from the 1870s onward as word spread of
its natural beauty and the beneficial effects of the waters. The large lake, encircled by
mountains, reminded many immigrants of Europe. The reliable Mediterranean climate
and pure air drew many from the San Francisco Bay Area to fish, sail, and hike in the wide
open spaces. The unique local geology produced abundant natural springs that were hot,
cold, and carbonated, with a wide array of differing mineral properties. World-class
luxurious resorts, hotels, spas, and “sanitariums” appeared with remarkable speed all
over the county, with claims to alleviate or cure a catalogue of medical ailments. “If you
build it, they will come”–and they did, in the thousands.
Top left: An extravagantly themed Venetian Carnival held in Lakeport in 1897. The stage for Highlands Springs Resort, one of at least 18 resorts operating at the time, passes through a festival arch.
Top right: The cozy open-sided oak cabin at Hobergs Resort was where guests could gather and sample the water.
Bottom left: Adams Springs Stage traveled from Calistoga three times a week. Guests from San Francisco came by ferry, then train, and finally this stage over Mt. St. Helena. This typical journey took over nine hours, and guests often stayed for months at a time to “take the waters.”
Bottom right: Laurel Dell Resort on tranquil Blue Lakes was built by Henry Wambold in 1890. The dining room overlooked the lake and a small steamboat enabled guests to explore the lakes. He also owned the Blue Lake Bean Cannery in nearby Upper Lake.
Top: This large hotel complex, built in 1905, was an expansion of the original Witter Springs Hotel. It boasted 100 rooms. Sadly, the 1906 earthquake–and resultant decline in guests–halted its financial success. It closed in 1915, although the Witter Springs bottled water continued to be sold until the 1950s.
Center left: A poster, circa 1885, advertising Highland Springs as “The Great Sanitarium of the West.” It boasted the “only” golf links and “The best paid orchestra in the county” (how did the others sound?). Situated on 2,500 acres near Kelseyville, it also had croquet, tennis courts, riding stables, a bowling alley, and a dance hall. It could accommodate 400 guests (for $10 a week!) and had a dining room that could seat up to 500 people.
Center Right: A hiking party from Adams Springs Resort enjoys a healthy hike through mountain trails.
Bottom: Bathers enjoy soaking in the 86°F iron-rich pool at Newman Springs, built by a Swedish immigrant in 1898 in the hills near Bartlett and Upper Lake.
Before Wine...there was Water
Lake County was established officially in 1861. It was formed with the lake as its natural center by adjusting the boundaries of Napa, Mendocino, and Colusa counties. It had previously been known as the “Clear Lake Township of Napa County− Hot Springs
Section.” This was certainly a prophetic label as many thousands poured in from all over the world to take the waters for their health. One of the fastest growing resorts was Bartlett Springs, which turned from a few cabins in 1872 into a small town with its own shops, hotels, and cabins that could accommodate 5,000 people. The water’s popularity led to a demand for it to be bottled and shipped. Bartlett Water traveled as far as Alaska, Honolulu, and Central America. Bartlett Springs Soda Water was also served on Cunard liners.
Top: The Bartlett Springs Mineral fountain with guests, circa 1890.
Below: Contemporary advertisements. Allen Springs was close to Bartlett.
Bottom: Visitors to Bartlett, on the last leg of a very long four-part journey by ferry, train, stage, this boat from Lakeport, and then stage again.