Supervisor Diane Dillon to Speak at Sharpsteen Museum

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The Napa County supervisor will speak on Tuesday, Jan. 24.

Diane Dillon

As part of the current lecture series sponsored by the Napa County Historical Society, the Sharpsteen Museum is proud to host Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24. Dillon will give an update on the compilation of her research project, the History of the Napa County Supervisors, subtitled “Late Arrivers Must Buy Cigars” (a carefully recorded note which appeared in the minutes of an 1890 Board of Supervisors meeting).

Since 2011, Dillon has been carefully and painstakingly researching the long-forgotten history of the Board of Supervisors, collecting stories, biographies, and photos of all 115 men and women who have sat on it. While accumulating little-known details of county supervisors dating back to Napa County's inception in 1852, the more the personal lives of these figures curiously come to light.

Take, for instance, Jesse Warren Whitton, who in 1852 sat on the first Napa County Board of Supervisors. Born in Kentucky in 1812, Whitton traveled to California as part of a John Fremont expedition.

In Sept. 1859, Whitton found himself in the midst of a political argument with a fellow Napan, Charles Marks, on the streets of downtown Napa. The paper had described Marks as “an average-size, very peaceable, inoffensive German who ran a bakery and a candy store. He was a Republican, but not a noisy one.” Whitton himself had been described as “big and strapping and a man of violent passions.”

Nevertheless, Whitton was offended by Marks' politics, knocking him to the ground and nearly stomping him to death. Many other Republicans in the mob that gathered called for lynching Whitton. Whitton was forced to hide out inside a nearby brick building, subsequently being smuggled out the back by a sheriff. Whitton was arrested and put in county jail but escaped serious punishment. Whitton felt it best at this point to leave town.

Another discovery of Dillon’s: the Board of Supervisors had only three seats between 1852 and 1874 when it transitioned to today’s five seats. But, in 1874, it had eight seats. Apparently, as the five new supervisors came in, the three already seated refused to go.

And as for William Greenwood Raney? He took office in 1910 serving less than six months having died of ptomaine poisoning after eating a bull’s head breakfast in Monticello.

Dillon’s personal history runs deep through the Napa Valley, being the fifth generation of her family to live in Napa County. Conn Valley and Conn Dam should be familiar. Dillon is descended from these early valley settlers: John Conn who arrived in the 1840s and helped Dr. Bale build his grist mill, and Connelly Conn who followed in 1852. Dillon grew up hearing stories about her grandmother’s trips to St. Helena by horse and buggy over the Pope Street Bridge, and over Mt. St. Helena to visit family in Lake County and at the quicksilver mines. Dillon’s understanding of the importance of local history and preservation organizations is not surprising.

After graduating Napa High School, Diane earned a B.A. degree with honors from UC Santa Barbara, a master's degree in library and information science from UCLA with a specialization in law librarianship, and a J.D. from UC Davis where she was a member of law review.

As for her visit to the Sharpsteen Jan. 24, she said, “I hope to focus on the supervisors that were from the Calistoga area. It’s convenient that there is (at least) one for each of the first four decades when the Board of Supes as an entity was being shaped to look pretty much as it does today.”

They are Leonard Lillie (1856), Joseph Mecklenberg (1865), Andrew Safley (1874), William Lyman (1883) and Samuel Collins (1885).

While Kathy Bazzoli, who sits on Sharpsteen's Board of Directors, is hoping that past county supervisors from Calistoga didn’t try to stomp anyone to death or die from ptomaine poisoning, she believes the stories will be just as interesting. There will be time for questions so be ready!

Scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m., Dillon will share some of these little-known stories discovered during her research project. Please join Sharpsteen Museum Tuesday, Jan. 24. Seating is limited, so please be prompt. Coffee and sweets will be provided.

For more information on this lecture series and future events sponsored by the Napa County Historical Society, please visit their website at http://www.napahistory.org

About Sharpsteen Museum:
The Sharpsteen Museum's permanent exhibits are designed to present the history of the upper Napa Valley from its pre-history to post-World War I with an emphasis on people and changes brought by the period of U.S. emigration and development.

In addition to its many historical exhibits, the museum uses unique and extraordinarily extensive dioramas to depict Calistoga during its period as the elegant 1860s Hot Springs resort developed by pioneer, promoter, publisher, entrepreneur, and California's first millionaire, Sam Brannan. Sharpsteen Museum has special exhibits which change twice a year, every six months, and reflect the varied interests of the people of the Valley. They have ranged from antique silverware to model ships to historical musical instruments.

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