How St. Helena Was Founded and Named

Henry Still, an Englishman, purchased a tract of 126 acres of the Bale Mexican land grant, lying on the west side of what is now Main Street, St. Helena.  The deed was filed May 16, 1854.  In that year, he built a small split redwood building, which was only a shanty, and put in a stock of goods.  He had foresight enough to see that this was in the heart of a rich agricultural section, and he surmised that the time would come when there would be a flourishing town grown up around the nucleus that his store had formed.

To be sure to give the embryonic place a good footing, he made the liberal offer of donating to actual settlers a lot on which to build and start a business.  This was in 1855, and among those who accepted the offer was Mr. John Kister, who erected two buildings on the lot near the northwest corner of Spring and Main Street.  The Van Tassel Hotel occupied one of the buildings in 1881.

In 1855, Augustus Tainter erected a building just south of Still’s store.  This was a small one and a half story redwood building that was fenced with wooden stakes.  In 1856, Christian Turkelson erected a store building, which was the first building to be erected on the east side of the street.  It was a good substantial building. In the fall of 1857, W.A. Elgin erected a small building for a store just opposite the termination of Spring Street.

There are several stories about how St. Helena got its name.  One story says that “The infant town was christened St. Helena from the St. Helena Sons of Temperance group” established there about this time in 1856.

Another story says that the town took its name from Mt. St. Helena, the large mountain that can be seen to the north of Napa Valley.

Yet another story says that to Messrs. Henry Still and James Booker belongs the honor of naming the town.  During an evening game of horseshoes out in front of the blacksmith shop, the subject of a name for the town came up.  The name St. Helena was suggested by those gentlemen, and finally adopted by the entire party.  Since then, the name has been St. Helena.

St. Helena was incorporated by a special act of the legislature on March 24, 1876.