As part of our First Annual Napa Valley Lodging Industry Hall of Fame Ceremony, we have compiled a series of biographies of the historic inductees. Local historian Tom Spaulding has contributed this history of J. P. Jackson, the fifth of five articles.
When hot and mineral (soda) springs were discovered by white settlers in Napa in the 1850s, resorts sprang up near the springs including Calistoga Hot Springs, Aetna Springs, and Napa Soda Springs. Chief among the resort founders was Colonel John Putnam Jackson of Napa Soda Springs. Like many who settled here in the early years, Jackson was a Renaissance man who pursued a successful business career, and built his dream resort nestled in the eastern hills.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, the young John P. Jackson showed great promise as a scholar. He worked in the law office of former Congressman Bellamy Storer along with future US president Benjamin Harrison. After his admission to the bar in 1854, he partnered in law with George Hoadly, future Ohio governor. In 1857, Jackson married Anna Hooper of Newport, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Their first 5 children were born there. Pursuing his law practice instead, Col. Jackson went to Europe in 1867 to negotiate bonds for the Central Pacific Railroad. Work for the Central Pacific brought him and his family to California in January 1869. He served as president of the railroad from 1870-1871. Settling in San Francisco, Col. Jackson bought the San Francisco Daily Evening Post, and later published a satirical magazine. The Jacksons added four more children to their family in San Francisco.
In 1872, Col. Jackson bought the land where the Napa Soda Springs flowed and built a lavish resort there, spending $80,000 on buildings. The grand Rotunda was known as “Jackson’s Folly” because the extravagant structure supposedly was originally designed as a horse stable. When the resort opened to overnight guests in 1881, a grand ball with 1,100 invitation-only guests was held in the Rotunda.
The papers claimed that “His Napa Soda Springs…yielded him a fortune in a very few years.” In 1890, President Harrison appointed him Assistant United States Treasurer there and in March 1894 the former president was Col. Jackson’s guest at the Springs. It was a grand occasion for Napa; children were let out of school early, and a crowd of “several thousand” turned out at the train station for his arrival though this number seems highly unlikely, since the population of Napa was just over 4,000 in 1900.
President McKinley appointed Col. Jackson collector of the Port of San Francisco in 1897. In 1900, with his health failing, he acceded to the advice of loved ones and headed to Napa for rest. Once there he “worked night and morning upon speeches which he proposed delivering during the present campaign.” He died shortly thereafter. At his death, Napa Soda Springs was at its prime as a destination for relaxing and socializing among San Francisco’s elite, but before long it would begin to decline.