Have you ever been wandering around Calistoga and come across a crumbling old building on the corner of Spring and Myrtle streets? Even though in near total disrepair, you can sense the building in its heyday, the grandeur and splendor of days past.
This unique Historic building is known as the Francis House, built in 1886 for James H. Francis. He owned a mercantile store on the corner of Lincoln and Washington plus a local silver. Upon Francis’ death in 1891 it was sold to a Col. M.E. Billings. In 1918 the home was sold to Mabel Peterson and the house changed from a residence to a hospital. It was a general hospital with 26 beds from 1918 to 1964.
In 1979 the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and still carries the name ‘Francis House’. According to the National Register it is believed to be the only stone residence in the ‘Second Empire style of Queen Victoria’s reign’ in Napa County. Here is the link to Napa County Landmarks about the Francis House.
The building survived the August 24th earthquake without any further damage even though it has nearly lost the battle to Mother time and continues to do so due to several recent owners unsuccessful attempts to restore and transform it into something new. The two most recent owners have tried to remake this into a 25 room inn & spa and now into a wine-related destination for private events and weddings.
This mansion has a fascinating past and for a complete story of this this historic building read the Napa Valley Register article, Will anyone restore Calistoga’s 140-year-old Francis mansion? by Tom Stockwell. Here are a couple of excerpts from it.
So when Francis — who happened to also own a silver mine — decided to build a house in 1886 to reflect his stature in the community, he contracted with John Sexton to build a mansion in the Second Empire style too. Only, instead of building his house of wood, Francis went one better: his would be constructed of stone, and no expense would be spared. John McPherson was paid to quarry the stone locally and Francis’ three-story structure began to rise. It must have been quite the beauty and perhaps the talk of the town.
That’s when Col. Billings – who had been appointed Justice of U.S. Criminal Courts in Calistoga by President Ulysses S. Grant – purchased the mansion.
Billings and his wife Delia ran their law offices from inside the mansion (Delia was a lawyer too) and besides his work as a justice, Billings served as the legal council for the town of Calistoga. When he died, in 1918, Mabel Martin rented the mansion to start the Calistoga Hospital.
Martin subsequently married the Rev. C.L. Petersen, and together they bought the property. Over time, as the hospital grew, the couple began purchasing adjoining properties for use as well. The Calistoga Hospital grew to be an active general hospital with complex of six houses, including the mansion housing about 30 beds for patients. The Petersens ran the Calistoga Hospital until the 1946 when it passed through a number of different hands. So it continued for nearly 20 more years, and today it’s known locally as “The Old Calistoga Hospital.”
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