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A Brief History of Navarro

Your remarks about the Navarro Ice House in the May 27 AVA Valley People provoked my own reflections about the place and a multitude of memories of the characters and activities inhabiting the Deep End when I first settled here almost fifty years ago.

Navarro's birth, like that of many other rural American towns, was provoked by the new railroad line.  The Albion Branch of the Northwest Pacific began on the river flat under the bridge where the Albion Mill stood.  As the mill logged out the forests upstream, the railroad expanded east via Keene Summit, Bob Dutchman Creek, then the North Fork, arriving in Navarro in, I believe, 1906.

Wendling with railroad tracks (photo courtesy

At that instant San Francisco capital in the name of George X. Wendling arrived in Navarro.  Wendling bought up from the Southern Pacific Railroad what became the town from the flat west of today's village all the way to the Guntly Ranch, now Wiley and Rhys vineyards.

He also platted and filed with the County dozens of individual quarter acre lots in strips along the railway, the old wagon road, up Russian Hill to Salmela, and Wendling Soda Creek Road, past Counts School and the mill Doctor's grand house almost to the old Navarro Dump.  He even drew up lots and a servicing street, aptly named Laguna, right up to the seasonally flooded headwaters of Perry Gulch Creek east of current Highway 128.

George Wendling was a model of multi-dimensional entrepreneurial capitalism, manufacturing and real estate, that thrived all over America back then.  How many of those platted lots did he sell?  Hard to rediscover, but I was told when I first arrived that 800 people, mostly Italians with a sprinkling of Finns, lived in the town when the mill closed for good in 1927.  I do know, for example, that of the twenty-five or so lots laid out on today's Salmela Road only three existed when I arrived in Navarro in 1971, Osana Pardini's, Danny Gentile, and Cap Salmela the rancher and tree faller.

Among the earliest Wendling residents though were the refugees from Hop Flat, a settlement five miles up the Navarro River and at the end of the logging railroad.  The second Navarro mill at tidewater burned down in 1905 and the employees, including the Hopper, Price and Mabery logging families, moved to Wendling about that time seeking work.  The Bloyd family also moved from their homestead along Flynn Creek to live locally and become woodsmen, surveyors and heavy equipment operators.

Wendling's mill opened in 1907.  And as the working population grew, so did homes, a general store, medical dispensary, dance hall, Post Office, railroad station, small commercial brick kiln using local clay, hotels, a photographer's shop, alleged whorehouses, and your article claims a land office (real estate office?).  Rena Nicolai's house, the stately two story Victorian on the old highway south of the current store, for instance, has been claimed to me a home, whorehouse and hotel.  Maybe it was all of the above at one time or another.

Now the Ice House.  Interesting name.  When I first read your piece, I wondered how and for what purpose would there be an ice house in the village.  I was speculating about the matter with distinguished Boonville historian, Jeff Burroughs the other day.  And he immediately reminded me how cold it can be in Navarro in January on the back side of a storm when the sun clears the surrounding hills around eleven and sets about two.  Frost on the ground for days sometimes.

So that's some of the historic framework underlying today's Navarro, undergoing its Third Renaissance, I claim since George X. Wendling first "saw the light" back in the early twentieth century.  But those stories come in another chapter — maybe next week.

Coda:  When did Wendling become Navarro?  I am told during World War I.  Another round of American jingo zenophobia, all over America German culture, place and family names migrated to an acceptably "Americanized" version or replaced.  Thus Wendling became Navarro, in my view another lyrical name for Our Town in the Deep End.

Some of my reminiscences here come from formal records, much more from stories heard over the decades.  Error creeps in, either from the telling or the listening.  If you have a more accurate, or better version of Navarro's story, don't hesitate to report it.

Wendling Woods circa 1890 (photo courtesy

George Hollister Comments: Brad Wiley does some good writing on the history of Wendling/Navarro. It is always good to see him in print. A minor detail; Bob Henry Creek is actually Dutch Henry Creek.

Marshall Newman Comments: My understanding is that Wendling was renamed Navarro because there already was a Wendling in Oregon, which caused postal service confusion.

Malcolm Macdonald Comments: Another minor quibble with the Navarro history piece: The Albion River railroad did not begin at the mill in Albion. It was constructed eastward from the boom on the Albion River, a couple of miles east of the town and mill. Several years later, construction connected the rail line back to the west to the mill at Albion.

One Comment

  1. Paul Hamby June 13, 2020

    Pardini Hotel, in Navarro. In the thirties, family would stop and have dinner there, on the way to the Halfway House on Navarro Ridge. Mom explained that the matron Pardini, would scold my young aunt if she did not finish her soup.
    Mom said theu would stop there every time they passed through.

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