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A History of Knights Valley

Calvin and Elvira Holmes

Calvin Holmes came to California from Arkansas for the ‘49 gold rush. Finding almost no gold, he turned to freighting mining supplies and driving cattle from Texas, where he met and married Elvira Eliza Huffman, who gamely followed him back to California with a herd of cattle. He earned enough money to buy the present-day Cloverleaf Ranch and Fountaingrove area north of Santa Rosa, then began buying land in Knights Valley in 1858. By 1877, when the top illustration was published, the Holmes ranch included hundreds of acres in wheat, vineyards, and grazing land for flocks of Merino sheep. Two houses built by Calvin and Elvira Holmes still stand; one is used as a residence by the Michael family.

Knights Valley occupies the remote northeast corner of Sonoma County, dwarfed by Alexander Valley to the northwest, and the Napa valley to the southeast. Mt. St. Helena can be seen from much of Sonoma and Napa counties, but from Knights Valley it towers overhead with its slopes coming right down to the valley floor.

The beautiful valley and imposing mountain have always attracted settlers: the Wappo tribe arrived at least four thousand years ago, and the Spanish, followed by other Europeans, starting in the 1820s. Peter Michael Winery owes its favored position here, rooted in prized rhyolitic soil and enjoying one of the best wine-growing climates on earth, not only to geographic and geologic forces, but to the people who came before us.

Despite its relative youth and volcanic rock, Mt. St. Helena is not a volcano. Geologists now believe that a widespread system of fissures and vents laid down heavy layers of volcanic materials (topped by St. Helena Rhyolite), and later faulting raised the mountain. Along with volcanic soil prized by winegrowers, the volcanic vents distilled and deposited valuable elements that attracted miners, and created hot springs that warmed the imaginations of entrepreneurs.

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This area was farmed for at least four thousand years by the “Mutistul” (meaning central). The Mutistul is one of three sub-groups of the “Wappo,” the longest continuously inhabiting Native American Indian tribe in California. Two intersecting trails were known to have been used by the Wappo: the two trails crossed at the site of Peter Michael Winery. For a time, the Wappo resisted the invading Spaniards, but within a very brief time this ancient and proud people was brought to near-extinction through disease, slaughter and forced relocation. Eventually the Wappo culture and language were lost.

In 1843 a 17,742-acre land grant was given to Jose de los Santos Berryessa by the Mexican Governor. Most of Knights Valley (known as Mallacomes Valley) and Calistoga (known as Agua Caliente) was within this grant. Knights Valley became Berryessa's private hunting preserve where he built an adobe hunting lodge that remains to this day. Thomas B. Knight, a participant in the Bear Flag Revolt at Sonoma, bought a large portion of Rancho Mallacomes from Berryessa in 1853, and planted vineyards, peaches, apples and wheat. Mallocomes Valley would later be renamed “Knights Valley.”

Town of Kellogg

Though it still appears on maps, the town of Kellogg burned in 1964. It’s architecture inspired the design of the Peter Michael Winery buildings.

At that time, rumors of silver were sending hordes of hopeful prospectors to the slopes of Mt. St. Helena. The ore they brought into Napa was pronounced worthless, but in 1860 red rock being thrown away down the hill was discovered to be cinnabar. The Ida Clayton and the Yellowjacket mines were located in Knights Valley, and were among the earlier attempts to mine cinnabar. Ida Clayton Road was built to reach the mines, and named for the local schoolteacher. Mining was never successful here, and petered out at the turn of the century.

In 1861, Calvin Holmes purchased much of Knights Valley. He and his wife Elvira built a large Victorian house that stands to this day. Holmes also designed and began building the beginnings of a small town. Real estate moguls F.E. Kellogg and W.A. Stuart entered the picture and began building a small resort town modeled after Calistoga. This town, which was called Kellogg, can still be found on present day maps. At one time the town consisted of a general store, a school, several cottages, summer cabins, a hotel and winery, but railroad lines were never laid to the town, and it never developed into the vision held by Kellogg.

The original Sugarloaf Ranch house was built by the Holmes in 1887 for their son, Frank, and his new bride, Jennie. For half a century until 1939, several generations of the Holmes family prospered here. By 1912, the leading crop in Knights Valley was grapes. Prohibition, from 1917 to 1933, followed by grape vine diseases, brought an end to the three wineries and surrounding vineyards that had been established in the late 1800's.

In 1939 the Holmes family sold the ranch, and over the next forty years it passed through several hands before Peter and Maggie Michael purchased it in 1982. By that time very little remained of the town of Kellogg. A large fire in 1964 burned all of Kellogg except the winery, the Adobe, and the two houses built by Calvin and Elvira Holmes and another fire in '68 destroyed the Post Office and general store, and the original vineyard land was being used to graze cattle.

Today, Knights Valley looks almost as it did at the turn of the century. Wildlife is still prevalent. Vineyards grow on the valley floor and lower foothills interspersed by cattle ranches and fruit orchards. There are no mines, no towns, and no shopping centers. The rugged upper mountain slopes remain beautiful and pristine.

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