Sunday, March 24, 2013

Elmshaven, St. Helena

View from the front porch of Elmshaven
The theme of this year’s HALS challenge is to document historic landscapes that reflect the heritage of women. The purpose of this year’s challenge is to increase awareness of the role of women in shaping the American landscape. The idea started four years ago, when the Northern California Chapter of HALS challenged the rest of the nation, to prepare a HALS short form for a children’s theme park. We got the idea when Jennifer Liw, a PGAdesign employee wrote up a form for Fairyland in Oakland’s Lakeside Park.

Folks at the National Park Service liked the idea so much that they adopted the program and have been running it ever since. Each fall they announce the winners of that year’s challenge, during the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) annual conference, and they announce the theme for the coming year.
View of house from the entry drive with a large elm tree
Initially, this year’s theme had me stumped. Sites that came to mind had already been done. I kept waiting for an inspired idea, but nothing presented itself until last weekend when I’d promised to take my mom on a day trip. I decided to drive up to the Napa Valley which is a pretty drive any time of year but with flowering trees in bloom I thought it would be a perfect time to go. I was right. 

We headed for Elmshaven in St. Helena the heart of the wine growing Napa Valley. Elmshaven was the home of Ellen G. White from 1900 until her death in 1915. Ellen White was a founder of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. She was also an extraordinarily prolific writer who produced 40 books. Much of her writings were on religious topics – some inspired by visions she had or angles who spoke to her throughout her life. She also wrote about healthy living and the importance of education. She is associated with several major institutions including Pacific Union College, Loma Linda University and several medical institutions. According to the brochure available at the site, “She is the most translated woman writer in the entire history of literature, and the most translated American author of either gender.” 

SW corner of residence with vine covered porch & foundation shrubs
 In 1900 when Ellen White purchased the property there were 60 acres; what remains today is three acres. The site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993. Elmshaven is at 125 Glass Mountain Lane. There is a small parking area with an arched gateway to a narrow drive that leads up to the house complex. Three buildings define a central courtyard – the two-story Stick/Eastlake Victorian-style residence, an office and vault where White and her secretaries worked, and a Tank House where one of the care takers / docents lives. Today the courtyard space is paved with asphalt. In historic photos, I found online at the Ellen G. White Estate Gallery, it appears to be compacted earth. 

Room where Ellen G White wrote while sitting in the green chair

Narrow foundation planting beds surround the home and appear much as they did in 1915. The site is surrounded by a mixture of endemic and imported ornamental trees, as it was in Ellen White’s time. There are remnants of fruit trees and a small vineyard surrounding the structures. At its peak the property had 2000 plum trees, 5 acres of grapes, 5 acres of olive trees, and several peach trees. The household grew and processed the fruit and olives for their use and they supplied the nearby Rural Health Retreat and sold their products through the Home Fruit Company.

This site has so many stories to tell – it is fascinating. I am astounded that I’d never heard of Ellen G. White and knew nothing about her. It is well worth a day trip any time of year and a picnic lunch or stop at one of Napa Valley’s many wineries. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch at Mustard’s Grill in Yountville.
Portrait of Ellen G. and James White at Elmshaven